Matt Hall has made Fish O’Mania history by becoming the first man to have lifted the trophy twice in its 16-year history.
A four-time finalist, the Sensas-backed Nottingham star, champion in 2003, found the Arena Pool barbel more than willing to have a chew, weighing in 34-770 of them from end peg 16 to pocket the £25,000 winner-takes-all prize.
Winner of the final qualifier at Lindholme Lakes just a few weeks ago, Matt led after the second half-hourly weigh-in and never looked back, forging ahead by a kilo or two each hour to keep clear of early challenger Adam Richards and near neighbours Rob Wootton and Mark Tullett.
Mark, on next-door peg 15, finished third on 20-910 but did have the satisfaction of picking up the biggest fish prize of £2,500, Rob enjoying a great final few hours to take second on 23-040.
“Being the first angler to win this twice means more to me than another £25,000,” Matt said. “To win it twice is a real once-in-a-lifetime thing and I’ve had that chance before, like a lot of finalists. I suppose people will be talking about the hat-trick now!”
While most of the field kicked off on the Method feeder, fished to the central island, Matt never picked up a tip rod, instead taking his history-making catch on the pole fished at an angle down his peg at 14.5m and tucked into the marginal reeds at around 7m.
“Darren Cox had this peg in last year’s final and he told me that he started on the feeder for the first hour and slipped up as the fish moved through his swim to the bait being fed by those on his right,” Matt explained. “I wasn’t going to let that happen! To draw an end peg on any venue is worth its weight in gold, and my peg was the nearest to the pump. That oxygenated the water and attracted the fish.”
Targeting that 14.5m line, Matt fed hemp, caster and chopped worm in equal ratios, fishing a whole worm on the hook at dead depth under a 4 x 16 rig armed with 0.15mm Powerline and a size 14 Colmic hook, finished off with Black Hydrolastic. He allowed the rig to run through the swim with the tow created by the pump.
“I led within an hour and kept weighing in three, four or five fish each 30 minutes, so I was always keeping the opposition at bay,” he added.
In the Sky studio bankside the likes of Keith Arthur and Tom Pickering debated whether Matt’s pole line would die a death, leaving him with nowhere else to go, but Matt felt differently, feeling the feeder was only a short-term option.
“I knew that the Method feeder was a tactic that would only work for the first hour,” he said. “By kicking off on the pole I could regulate my feeding to the bites I was getting. There’s no way of knowing how the swim is going when you’re sat on the tip, but I knew exactly what was going on, and could build the peg up.”
That feeding strategy saw Matt pot in half a large Drennan cup of his mix after every two fish, his peg resembling a Jacuzzi at times as the fish tore up the lake. “As soon as I fed, the bites returned,” he revealed. “Those fish were sat there waiting, but barbel are unique – they’re either aggressive or they back off. Today they wanted a lot of bait.”.
Matt also sneaked a few fish from down the edge, but his main line was so consistent that he had no real need to look elsewhere and he also had a bit of a helping hand in judging his match from Messrs Arthur and Pickering in the studio.
“I was wired up to talk to the lads in the studio in the last few hours,” he said. “I could hear what was being weighed in around the lake, which you can’t always do when you’re sat there, and I knew that no-one was really putting any pressure on me.”
1 Matt Hall, 34-770
2 Rob Wootton, 23-040
3 Mark Tullett, 20-910
4 Adam Richards, 17-540
5 Andy Power, 15-960
6 Tony Curd, 12-730
7 Ed Warren, 11-850
8 Dave Swain, 11-410
9 Mick Bull, 11-150
10 Tony Robertson, 10-750
11 Paul Christie, 10-010
12 Chris Vandervleit, 7-140
13 Peter Goodwin, 3-260
14 Nathan Watson, 3-070
15 Mark Stevens, 2-950
16 Dave Roberts, 2-650.