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Drawbags Unite!

Jon Arthur looks back on winning the Tunnel Barn Farm Winter League.

Well I've had a (kind of) brilliant end to the 2012-2013 season. After 10 hard-slogged rounds, my team of four (Steve Ringer, Joe Carass, Paul Bick and yours truly) ended up winning the Tunnel Barn Farm Winter League. Then, just a week later, my ever-impressive Maver Midlands team won the Angling Trust Winter League Semi Final with an amazing points score! It was a nice end to my winter campaign – and it's definitely come to an abrupt halt now that I've cracked my rib! I am out of action for a good few weeks… but I always like ending the season on a high!

If I get chance I will tell you about the Semi Final but this blog is all about the hugely popular Tunnel Barn Winter League. Now, my Match Fishing Drawbags had a disastrous start last year as none of us could pull out a decent set of draws. In fact, I still remember one sorry individual gloating after Round One that "You cannot win a league after one round, but you can certainly lose one!" Well, that was a bit sad and unnecessary, I thought, and we eventually got our act together to have a late surge to end up 3rd out of the 18 teams - and well above that aforementioned individual I must add, ha ha!

This season, we had to make a substitution as Lee Kerry ("Lee who?" I hear you say!) couldn't commit to the league, so that opened the door to my old Shakespeare Superteam mate Paul Bick stepping into the fray. This guy is seriously underrated in my book and after 10 rounds he finished third individual, so it was an astute transfer to say the least (sorry Lee, but we don't want you back now x)!

Anyways, I'm getting ahead of myself. Our campaign started well with some great team finishes. We were starting to believe our own hype when, BANG, the wheels well and truly fell off! The whole team had a mega blowout and I think we only ended up beating one other team in the 18-strong league! The draw really was horrendous though – I mean, how often does Steve Ringer come second to last on a lake?! 

Until now I'd left the drawing to Joe, Steve and Bicky. They simply weren't doing the job so, I said to myself, "Sod this for a game of soldiers!" Old Jonnyboy here gave his faithful drawing arm a good old polish and wasn't going to take any prisoners the next round. From what I could see, you had to get in the draw queue before the likes of venue experts Pete Rice, Richard Knowles and Pete Caton to stand any chance of a good team draw! I was so determined to do it that I got there mega early and was first in the queue. Even if I needed a pee I wasn't moving from that prime position! Now it might well all be superstitious mumbo jumbo... but it worked – I pulled out four flyers and we won the round!

Coincidence? Perhaps, but I wasn't going to take any chances and it was my job to draw every round from now on. Believe me, Joe, Bicky and Ringer are all like a wet pile of flannels when it comes to drawing - you've never heard so much moaning and sulking! At least I'm man enough to say I can draw for England... some times!

Anyways, things really started to gain momentum and the MF Drawbags were on a roll. I even managed a few frame placings myself, including a 6th, 4th, 3rd and 1st overall. That match win was something special as it was one of those days where I could do no wrong. I was on House 31 (contrary to the rumours afterwards from people saying I was on known flyers 29 or 30, I must add!) and everything just went like clockwork. I bagged across on bread and maggots for two hours then caught shallow down the edges on maggots, getting through at least two pints of grubs in the process. I ended up with a whopping 131lb of F1s plus an odd better carp and about 75lb was second. It's not very often I get a match like this and I will never forget it. It certainly boosted my confidence for a couple of weeks. It was that good that I nearly got off my box to watch myself (always wanted to write that, ho hum)!

After some great team efforts, we eventually overtook the mighty Barston outfit (Des Shipp, Pete Rice, Craig Elkin and Paul Yates) as well as top squads MCM, Banbury Gunsmiths and Maver Gold to take the helm at the top. We were cruising. Then... something happened. I am not entirely sure what it was but my head went. I had a bad week personally and went to the draw in the morning half cocked. I feared the worst when I found myself well back in the draw queue. I even told Joe that I didn't have a good feeling about the day. Stupid I know, but I am a big believer in PMA (positive mental attitude) and I am without doubt a 'confidence angler'. Reading this you'd probably not realise but I am the world's worst self doubter at times and things can wear heavy on my shoulders. Some of the big names are totally unfazed and you can tell how much they believe in themselves (perhaps to the point of arrogance?). I certainly wish I could be as confident as them at times! Anyways, the inevitable happened and I pulled out some right duffers. In fact, I think I only beat one person on my lake and got a right arse kicking off Neil Machin on the next peg (admittedly, I'd given him one just a fortnight before, so I probably deserved it!).

Despite a not-so-clever result we somehow managed to hold onto our lead at the top, as Barston, our nearest rivals, had also dipped on the day. That left Amer Jawad's Bagem team to suddenly make a bolt for the top. We were praying that they would'nt have the late surge that we experienced the previous year!

A week later, my head was screwed back on and I was in the draw queue quite early again. We drew four very steady pegs and did the team job again. All we now needed was to avoid a blowout on Round 10. People were saying we had already won it but you simply cannot make a bold statement like that with so many good anglers fishing and such a fickle sport as this one. I was about fifth to draw and all eyes were on us. I was so relieved when some of the nightmare pegs had already been pulled out the bag. In went the golden arm into the 'bag of doom' and we had four very reasonable pegs. Phew! Now the pressure was on to not bugger them up!

It was Club 15 for me, a very good section peg, but I knew I'd get a sore neck off end Peg 13 which had been on fire all winter - especially with Mr Knowles on it who I knew wouldn't make a mistake. Well, that was a chuffing understatement as he had 154lb (Yes, one hundred and fifty four chuffing pounds!) to smash everyone up! That was almost all chunky mirror carp from 1lb to 5lb on dobbed bread. Yes, he never fed a thing either, the tight git! 

Me? Well it was like there was an invisible brick wall between us. I had 43lb of little F1s plus one 2lb common and just two mirror carp. It didn't matter how far towards Rich I fished, I just couldn't get a bite. Admittedly, he couldn't get a bite towards me either as he had most of them off the island and down his right-hand margin. I did manage one 2lb mirror on my last cast as far towards him as I dared go, though. It was a really horrible squashed up runt of a thing – and I'm convinced all those handsome mirrors in Rich's peg had thrown it out the shoal for being butt ugly!

It didn't matter what a sore neck and arse whupping I had, though, as I was still the second best weight on my bank and only Mr Machin had pipped me from House 21, so I ended up with a solid 16 section points out of 18 for the team. Job done!

The rest of the lads had also done a sterling job. Joe was 4th from Extension 27, Bicky was 2nd from Club 1 and Steve was 5th from New 22. It meant that we had sewn up the league in style by winning it on the day with 62 points and our 555-point total was 39 points ahead of second-placed Barston. Get in!

On the league individual aggregate front we had all done well, too. Steve was 2nd overall, Bicky was 3rd and I was a point behind the mighty Des Shipp in 6th (but, typically, they only paid five!). The ever-consistent Stu Palser was top dog and I have to say that this man is easily THE bloke to beat at Tunnel Barn these days.

So, it was a mighty fine end to a fantastic Winter League campaign and, apart from a couple of hiccups, I really enjoyed it. With all the rain and freezing and thawing we've had this season it's certainly affected sport and it's been an unusual campaign. I have learnt loads once again and its been nice to catch fish on my favourite maggots – as I'm not a fan of trickling in six micro pellets unless I have to! There's been a few dobbing fish to be caught, too, but it hasn't dominated section results too much and feeding has still very much been the key to good points on most lakes. I suppose the best thing I've learnt the most is to watch and listen to all the experts around me but to still believe in myself and fish my peg how I feel I should. It's all about fishing your own match your own way rather than trying to be a clone of someone else.

Thanks once again must go to Sarah, Mike, Les, Pete, Graham and co at Tunnel Barn Farm for running what I believe is the most competitive and popular winter league in the country. I hope the Match Fishing Drawbags can once again unite to defend their title. Watch this space!

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