Big open matches hit a crossroads

Are too many commercial fisheries killing our open match scene? That’s the question on the lips of many anglers after open match attendances recently hit an all-time low, despite a series of big-match competitions with thousands of pounds up for grabs.

Concerns have been raised due to an ever-increasing number of commercial carp lakes that are splitting up anglers and producing a rake of 20 to 30-peg competitions – originally a problem in the south of England but now something which is affecting turnouts in the north, too.

It’s a far cry from the 500-plus peg river matches of yesteryear and the 50-plus entries when commercial fisheries first took off. Today a 50-peg individual open match is a rarity, confined to just a handful of well-known venues nationwide – but why?

Garbolino Lindholme Lakes gaffer Neil Grantham is one such fishery owner who has been left dumbfounded after ploughing more than £10,000 of his own money into his Summer League and UK Pole Championship competitions, only to get an average of 35 anglers turning up at his Doncaster venue.

“I hear matchmen crying out for big-money matches, but when a fishery owner digs deep into his pocket he gets a poor response – I can’t understand why people don’t want to fish the opens and leagues on my 70-peg Oasis Lake.

“Either they are scared of fishing against the likes of Alan Scotthorne, John Allerton and Rob Hitchins, or they are simply happier competing in smaller opens at several other venues in the area. But club matches are booming and my other seven lakes are almost fully booked up to 2010,” said Neil.

And Stubpond Fishery in Newchapel, Surrey, became so annoyed at anglers shunning its open matches that it stopped them altogether and now just allows bookings and club competitions.

“The problem is that there are so many farmers digging small 20 to 30-peg puddles and filling them to the brim with carp. It’s what people want, but you can’t compete with a bigger lake,” said joint owner Simon Harman.

Five-times World Champion Alan Scotthorne thinks that the season is to blame for attendance figures: “In winter anglers tend to stick to fisheries where they can get a few bites, and Lindholme is one. But in summer all venues fish well and anglers are spoilt for choice – they also like to get their elastic stretched by bigger fish, which I think is why places like White Acres are so popular.

“I find it difficult to get motivated to fish a 20 to 30-peg match, much preferring a field of 50 to 60...but this is the way things are going now.”