Keith Arthur: Weekend Thames double header shows river's great potential

With Dave Harper’s Lower Thames Championship, courtesy of DCP Ltd, and the old FTAA ‘Upper’ Thames Championships on consecutive days, it gave the ‘Old Father’ an opportunity to show his credentials as a matchfishing river for the 21st century.

Starting on Saturday, the Lower Thames event attracted 124 anglers, all pegged on free stretches from Molesey to Laleham.

Organiser Dave Harper - and it’s a real shame there aren’t more like him - put in a massive effort to ensure everyone had a decent peg with loads of room, his stewards pegging around bivvy-dwellers on the morning of the match.

A big weight of roach had won a sweep at Laleham the previous weekend and the thinking was that section could repeat the dose. Despite a very chilly Friday night, with local ground frost, it did just that and Rob Wright’s superb 26lb of quality roach earned him £1,200, plus bonuses, and a crystal bowl in memory of the late David Bird.

The threat of bream is never far away on the Thames these days, especially now most of the shoals have fish averaging over 5lb apiece. The match has been won for the previous two years by an angler plundering a bream shoal based in an area where both carp and barbel anglers introduce plenty of bait. This year hardly anyone there caught a fish of any description - proof positive in my book that the bream were close by and had eaten the river ‘out of house and home’. It’s rare to catch plenty of other species where bream hang out.

Over half the sections needed double figures to win, though, and at last the right man got the right peg in the gudgeon area - Simon Willsmore putting 19lb of the little blighters on the scales.

On Sunday on the upper river, the winning weights may not have been as spectacular but they were pretty impressive and, who knows, some mammoth individual bags may have been scuppered by team tactics.

Maybe the big old bream and chub of years gone by have thinned out, but it would seem that a potential resurgence isn’t that far away as there were some terrific bags of smaller fish.

My mate Dave Roberts, had 7lb 2oz and was only halfway up the section, but he said he had plenty of chublets, around 1oz. Nature generally produces sufficient small fish to fill a void so, who knows, in 10 years’ time there may be loads of 2lb and 3lb chub to boost weights?

The winner had a couple of big chub and one of the bream shoal remaining at Rushey - an area that produced more than one winner of the event in its heyday, while the runner-up had three chub, both bags on the feeder, but Paul Passmore caught roach for third and I wonder when that last happened?

The most impressive thing for me is, according to Dave, the fact that an impressive Daiwa Dorking team victory was taken by six anglers all putting over 10lb of primarily small fish in the net, mostly on the whip or pole.

That is first-class matchfishing by any standards. I know teams have won before, when it was up to 100 teams of 12, with a dry net or two. This year it was only 15 teams of six, but that’s still brilliant sport.

It’s not the first time I’ve mentioned changing cycles and perhaps there are enough of us old gits to encourage a few anglers from the latest generation, weaned on comfortable pegs, cafés and carp, to get out there and try angling like it used to be - when men were men and fish were careful.