THE POPULARITY of river matches is soaring as more anglers turn to running water contests after becoming disillusioned with the commercial fishing scene, Angling Times can reveal.
Back in the 1970s and 1980s, big river matches would attract hundreds of competitors, with some – such as the Great Ouse Champs and Welland Champs – often boasting mega turnouts of more than 1,000.
Their popularity began to wane following the advent of man-made commercial fisheries in the 1990s, but signs are now emerging that the trend is slowly reversing, as a growing number of anglers switch back to rivers in search of not just a change in scenery, but also more challenging ‘natural’ fishing and a level playing field.
Proof of the growing demand for places on river matches isn’t hard to come by. The sport’s Blue Riband running water event, RiverFest, has grown exponentially since its inception eight years ago, with tickets for this year’s contest – with a record 1,560 qualifier places on offer – selling out in record time. These begin on June 19 and will take in 11 rivers in total, from the Rivers Calder, Don and Weaver in the North, to the Severn, Trent and Warks Avon in the Midlands, down to the Bristol Avon and River Medway further south. The final will be held on the River Trent at Burton Joyce in September, with the winner set to walk away with £14,000, and hefty payouts down to 15th place on the day alongside sizeable section prizes in the 78-peg final.
Organiser Dave Harrell said:
“The reaction to the event has been phenomenal, and it’s easy to see why. The pegs are widely spaced, all sorts of methods work, and the species on offer are so varied. Last year’s contest, for example, was won with a 44lb bream on open-end feeder tactics, while second place was 28lb of roach and dace.
“There’s a real appetite for big money river events, with the Northern River Masters and newly-formed Midlands equivalent also selling incredibly well. I’d like to see a southern version created, which’d put natural water anglers across the nation within easy reach of a big money event.”
But it’s not just big money matches that are thriving. Club and open matches are having fantastic turnouts, as Martyn Highe, President of Mirfield Angling Club, revealed.
“We’re drawing anglers from Manchester, Nottingham and the North East to our Yorkshire rivers,” he said.
“We recently took over a new stretch of the River Aire at Allerton Bywater where we plan to open 150 pegs to cater for the demand. The rivers are full of fish, and we give anglers loads of room to fish how they like.”
Martyn has also noticed an increase in anglers moving away from commercial fisheries.
“There’s a steady trickle of people coming back to do some proper fishing on our rivers,” he says.
“You’re in a beautiful place, surrounded by nature on rivers that are rammed with fish. It’s easy to see why people prefer that to catching 200lb of carp, 10-yards from the angler next door.”
Over in Norfolk the story is the same, with Tony Gibbons of Norwich and District AA running sell-out festivals.
“We’ll have between 80 to 100 anglers on our matches every year,” he says,
“and I think a lot of people are enjoying fishing in a different environment now the novelty of commercials has worn off. Catching hundreds of pounds of carp gets boring eventually, and when you’re on the Broads, you can bring the family and make a holiday out of it. There’s a special camaraderie with river fishing too, and going back to the pub after the match is something we all look forward to once things return to normality. From what I can see, river fishing is on the up, and I’m expecting things to only get better in the coming years.”
VARIETY IS KEY
Legendary matchman Tommy Pickering has recently made a return to natural waters and is loving going back to his roots.
“Rivers are what I was brought up on, and while I’ll still fish commercials, natural water fishing is what I really love,” he said.
“I recently fished a festival at Lindholme and caught 600lb over four days. Awesome fishing, but the next day I was on the canal, where I caught just 7lb, yet I enjoyed it just as much. It’s more of a challenge, and the variety in fishing is what keeps it interesting.”
Tommy also believes that rivers are fishing better than ever.
“I go to the Trent now and every time it blows me away. The fishing is better than it’s ever been, with loads of roach and dace, as well as bigger barbel and bream. The fishing is also now really accessible, with parking behind pegs, and I can completely understand why people are making a return to the rivers in such numbers.”