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A Flagship Final?

Anglers and organisers reflect on last week's Winter League Final.

Following last weekend’s Angling Trust Winter League Final – which saw a large proportion of the field blank – forums and social network sites have been awash with criticism of the event and its organiser, the Angling Trust.

To establish what went wrong, Match Fishing has questioned several of the sport’s top rods to gauge their opinion of the event and, importantly, see what can be done to improve proceedings next year.

To share your thoughts on the final, or offer advice on what you think could be done to improve it, click here to join our Facebook debate!

Des Shipp, Preston Innovations consultant and member of Drennan Team England
“The Angling Trust needs to tread very carefully or it will kill off the Winter League altogether. Anglers who know the tidal River Trent, where this year’s final was held, told me that the match was held at the wrong time of year, on a very bad tide. These are exactly the kind of people who the trust should have been talking to before booking the match!

“Our country has no shortage of good venues – Furzton Lakes, where the match was held a couple of years ago, was brilliant, and the River Yare is fishing really well. These are just two venues where all the finalists would have been guaranteed plenty of bites and a good day’s fishing.

“It cost our team £1,000 to go and practise for a couple of days on the Trent, and would have cost teams who practised for longer a whole lot more. The Angling Trust must surely be aware that anglers will not stand such costs when all they get for their money is the hope of one or two bites a session… if they are lucky.

“It needs to choose their venues carefully and consult with anglers who know the water well before booking. It also needs to let anglers who have paid into the league know where the money ends up going, as no end of people have asked me that question. The winning team picked up just £1,000 on Saturday, when just a few years ago the amount was five times that figure.

"Numbers may have dropped a bit, but not enough to warrant such a dramatic decrease!”

Ken Wade, former Angling Times Winter League organiser

“When I heard that the match was to take place on the tidal Trent, I must admit that I was surprised. It certainly seems strange that the venue was booked without consulting with anglers who know the tides on the river. That said, match organising is a thankless task and, to be 100 per cent honest, I don’t think that the River Nene – where the final used to be held – would have fished very well on a baking hot day like last Saturday.

“With regard to the payout, £1,000 doesn’t seem a lot, especially when shared out between a 20-man squad. However, I expect that the Angling Trust is having the same problem that we had when I ran it with the Angling Times – nobody in the angling trade seems to want to sponsor the event. If only it could get a sponsor to put some money in, then the event would be a lot more attractive for teams to fish.”

Martin Robson, captain of Browning Quaker, the 2013 Angling Trust Winter League Champions
“Being a team who fish a lot of rivers, we were initially pleased to hear that it was on the tidal Trent, before we found out just how hard the fishing was. In the end, we just had to treat it as a fishing match – and the fact that it was quite peggy probably played into our hands.

“That said, I do think the Angling Trust needs to learn a big lesson from this. The fact that the match was put on a very poor tide shows that they obviously didn’t consult with anglers who actually fish the venue before booking it.

“I was also disappointed to see that the result is yet to appear on any Angling Trust results website – if it wasn’t for our friends in the angling media, no-one would know we had won it.

“We never even considered the financial side of the competition until we won it, but to pick up just £1,000 seems a bit down on the big payouts of former years. I would be interested to see a balance sheet for the competition.

“A final point would be that I think it is very important anglers offer constructive criticism to the Angling Trust. Without feedback, it is difficult for them to take action.”

Darren Cox, Winter League finalist and Preston Innovations England Feeder Team member

“I have been lucky enough to be part of three winning Winter League teams in this millennium, and can remember just a few years ago we picked up a £5,000 cheque for winning the match. This year’s winners picked up just £1,000, which would have barely covered the team’s petrol money. We need to look into how the payout can be increased for next year.

“There was nothing wrong with the Trust’s choice of venue; what was totally wrong, though, was the timing of the match. They should have asked someone who actually knows the river what tide to have it on, and the best time of year to have it, before booking. Team fishing is in a sad enough state as it is at the moment, and decisions like this don’t help the situation.”

Steve Ringer, Winter League finalist and Angling Trust ambassador

“I quite enjoyed the final, and I like the tidal Trent, but it would definitely have been better if the organisers could have put it on a better tide. Four out of the 10 anglers in our team blanked, along with a lot of others, and many more anglers weighed in with just a few grams. Will Raison weighed in just 35g of tiny bleak, and if an angler of his calibre can’t catch, then no-one can. All in all, it was not good, considering it is one of the Angling Trust’s flagship events.”

Jon Arthur – Group editor of Match Fishing and Pole Fishing magazines and former Winter League Final individual champion

“The tidal Trent is a good river and I enjoyed the build-up to the match but I am not sure it is up there as an Angling Trust Winter League Final venue. Perhaps if it had been on a sensible tide then things would have been different – but everyone was fully aware of how unfavourable that tide was going to be well in advance. Sunshine and hot weather were the final nails in the coffin for any chance of a good day's sport and a string of blanks was inevitable.

“I felt it was a bit of a rush for a lot of people with an 8am draw and a 10am all-in. After every team has waited to draw in turn and then discussed pegs and handed out directions, there's not a lot of time to spare – especially with some sections being nine or 10 miles away. I assume this was to make the most of the expected tide but some people had travelled a long way to compete and deserved better.

“A paltry £1,000 winner's cheque is also disappointing and must be down to a lack of sponsorship, which begs the question why no-one wants to sponsor this flagship Angling Trust-run event – or any other it seems?

“No-one wants to criticise for the sake of criticism. We all want a format that works, that's transparent, that's forward-looking and one that we all aspire to be part of. I take my hat off to Bob Dyer for taking on the thankless task of running it all. If he hadn't then I don't think there would have been a Final at all this year, or last. I was actually shocked that he was the only AT representative I saw present on the day – perhaps the rest hadn't ordered a hard hat in time?

“Let's not forget that the event was already on a downward spiral before the Trust took it on and I guess the Angling Times were glad to get rid of it. This is a major event and something every big team wants to win, so hopefully things can be taken on board constructively. I for one want it to work and be successful!”

Dick Clegg, Angling Trust international events co-ordinator

“I have had a number of people ring me with criticisms regarding Saturday, and I feel obliged to make a few points to set the record straight. Firstly, at our two forums on the Winter League – which only a handful of team captains chose to attend – it was agreed that the Winter League Final needed to be in July, and on a natural venue. This is exactly what we delivered.

“I can well understand people’s frustration – a lot of folks have travelled a long way and caught very little, but the weather had a lot to do with how poorly the river fished, and we can hardly be blamed for that.

“I believe we need to get everyone together to discuss this year’s event and sort a calendar of events. With regard to the payouts, I can’t comment as I haven’t been able to see the balance sheets, so have no idea how much was paid in or out.”

Bob Dyer, Angling Trust Winter League organiser

“I was more disappointed than anyone with how the match fished on Saturday. I don’t think the weather helped the situation, and the fact that the event was held so early in the season was also a contributing factor.

“However, the fact of the matter is that at the Forum we held earlier in the year, anglers asked for a natural venue and they asked for a match in July – so my options were limited. I looked at three venues – the Nene (which traditionally has been poor in past finals), the Trent Embankment and the tidal Trent. I looked into getting the Embankment, but was told by the controlling councils that I would need to do a risk assessment every week for the four weeks leading up to the final, which was simply unfeasible. That left us with the tidal.

“With regard to the money, it is the lack of any kind of sponsor for the event that has kept the payout down. The Angling Trust has taken out around £1,000 from the prize fund to cover administration costs, and after that everything has either been paid out, or eaten up in peg fees. It is important for people to remember that the Angling Trust is a business, and there is no specific obligation for anglers who fish the Winter League to join, although most people do because they also fish the Nationals.

“For my part, I don’t get anything for running the Winter League. All I get is my expenses covered, and mileage paid, but I haven’t claimed for all of that this year as I know that there simply isn’t the money in the budget to cover it.

“I will be sending out a questionnaire later in the year to gauge opinion on a couple of changes. Firstly, I would like to see the final moved to September – when natural-water fishing is better – if teams agree. Secondly, I would like to consider alternating the match between a natural venue and a commercial.

“To really move the competition on, though, a sponsor is what we need. Anyone who is interested should drop me an e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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