Welcome to Tiddler Fest!

Dom Garnett joins piscatorial enthusiasts Jack Perks and Dr Mark Everard for a fishing contest with a difference

Welcome to Tiddler Fest!

by Angling Times |

If you ever feared angling was getting too size-obsessed, Tiddler Fest might just be the perfect antidote. Attended by a growing shoal of enthusiasts each year, it’s a competition that values fun and variety over pounds and ounces, while helping to raise funds for Jack Perks’ pioneering film Britain’s Hidden Fishes.

Ostensibly, the aim is to find gudgeon, ruffe and other mini species – but perhaps what we’re really looking for is for that childlike spirit that made us anglers in the first place? The event manages to be semi-studious yet completely flippant. Along with awards for “most species” are categories like “smallest fish”, “ugliest fish” and “the most toe-curling fish joke of the day”.

 Competition  heats up on the Kennet  and Avon Canal
Competition heats up on the Kennet and Avon Canal

A unique match in miniature

One glance at the tackle on show tells you this isn’t your average fishing match. Dotted along the famous Caen Hill stretch of the Kennet and Avon Canal, our anglers pack everything from whips to centrepins and tiny jigs.

It’s a fabulously varied venue, with permission very kindly granted by Devizes AA on the day.

In fact, you might describe it as a series of venues, with many interlinked pounds each bearing their own name and identity.

“The mixture of fish is very different in each section” explains Mark, as we walk between curiously named sections including “Prison” and “Catholic”.

River angler Mark Everard loves a spot of canal fishing
River angler Mark Everard loves a spot of canal fishing

As a river angler at heart, he admits he came to this place late. “I must have just driven past for 30 years, and dismissed it rather unfairly,” he tells me, before fishing it with Richard Widdowson, a man who “virtually knows the fish by name!”

No prizes for guessing who we’re keeping a crafty eye on, then, as we hop between spots. Species like ruffe and tench have quite specific haunts here, so local knowledge is key.

We soon find Jack Perks, scratching the near bank for ruffe. “I’ve not had one in 15 years!” he says. Despite recent double-figure zander, he admits: “I’m honestly just as excited about catching small stuff!”

The General catches a “nuisance” monster
The General catches a “nuisance” monster

Boats, beer and close quarters fishing

It’s certainly sociable fishing on the canal, with passers-by, pubs and boats. Nobody is too worried by the latter, however, as the bites just keep coming. “If anything, the movement of opening locks seems to dislodge food and wake fish up,” says Mark.

There are cheers for every gudgeon, along with ironic boos for “nuisance” bream that require the net. Not that our efforts are pure folly, because today’s group also represents a bit of zeitgeist, especially for those who hit the reset button on their angling through the Covid era. Factor in trends like ultra-light lure fishing and species hunting, and anglers are as diverse as the fish they pursue.

A point in case is Steve Self, a man who’s moved full circle. “At one point, I’d become obsessed with big carp,” he tells me, “but I eventually realised that wasn’t really where my heart was.” During the pandemic, he found fishing a lifeline in ways he never expected, with the size of fish often secondary. “You find those smaller fish fans and species hunters so friendly” he tells me. “Everyone has that shared joy.”

By the end of the day, our winner is Mark Lyman with an impressive seven species tally. Along with hundreds of roach, we’ve also seen fine silver bream, ruffe and clonking perch. But above all, it’s been a day of fun and camaraderie- and an event to look out for next year!

Steve Self is one of a growing army of species hunters who prize variety.
Steve Self is one of a growing army of species hunters who prize variety.

Jack Perks on small species and “Britain’s Hidden Fishes” film

What is the essence of Tiddler Fest?

“It’s a celebration of smaller fish and something totally different! It’s refreshing to see anglers enthused by mini species, rather than treating them as a pest.”

You’ve had some real star quality here.

“Well, Mark Everard is the David Beckham of small fish! We also had Jeremy Wade at the last one, who’s narrating the film. He absolutely loved it, although we had to lend him some tackle as he didn’t have anything with line under 80lb!”

And presumably, your aim is to feature species of all sizes in Britain’s Hidden Fishes? Tell us how it’s going.

“It’s great we’ve hit our funding target. I’d banged on TV companies’ doors for years about fish projects, but I knew I had to make it happen myself. I’m keen to show off the unseen life in British waters. Not just for anglers, but the sort of viewer who’ll gasp at a coral reef on telly, but not give a second thought to their local river or canal. If we can show people what we have, hopefully we might take better care of it.”

It’s a celebration of smaller fish and something totally different!
It’s a celebration of smaller fish and something totally different!


For more on Jack and Mark’s books, stunning photography and small fish fun, check out the websites www.jackperksphotography.com __ www.markeverard.uwclub.net and devizesaa.org.uk

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