The nature of open matches has shifted over the years
I fished a club match at Livermere Lake (near Bury St Edmunds) in February 1987 where I came second with 42lb of float fished roach.
I forget what the winning weight was, but it was around a couple of pounds more than me. It is my biggest silver fish match weight and at the time probably the equivalent of a specimen angler catching a 30lb carp.
In the first week of April at Suffolk Water Park (SWP), a commercial day-ticket fishery, a silvers-only match was won with 95lbs (mainly bream) and the weather has not even warmed up yet (apart from a couple of days). The venue also reported a superb week (March 18 to April 4) for specimen size carp with 18 fish over 20lbs landed. This was split up; nine 20s, eight 30s and one 40; superb angling for carp, match and pleasure anglers if you enjoy catching lots of fish or very big fish.
Between 1981 and 1992 I fished 440 matches, winning 44 of them (exactly 10 per cent) which I think is a reasonable ratio of wins. But the open match fishing world is totally different 30 years on with huge weights being essential for commercial fisheries to attract viable open match attendances.
Looking at the recent results, open matches typically attract between 20 and 60 anglers. By comparison, I won my section on a mid-week national practise open match on the Witham about 30 years ago with a field of 150 anglers. My net of eels and roach weighed just 4lb 8oz, a tad different to the 95lb of silver fish caught at SWP which was double my Livermere roach catch weight. But I guess everything is relative and it is pointless comparing river fishing 30 years ago to catches from heavily stocked commercial fisheries now where the fish cannot escape and depend, to some extent, on the angler’s feed.
My eldest son, James, takes part in open matches on rivers whenever he can but defaults to mainly commercials in the river close season. Last week he only came fifth at Rookery Waters, despite landing 93lb of mostly carp (he did win his section though). The winning weight was 116lb! But catching circa 100lb of carp in five hours whether the fish are mostly big carp or F1s is physically demanding (I could not do it), especially if you are fishing a pole at 16m for the entire match, as James was last week. Locally there are very few open matches held by clubs on their own waters now.
Huge match-winning weights, typically around 100lb, are expected on open matches at commercial fisheries whilst very large carp are the primary target at syndicate waters. As I said recently in my article about the decline of junior anglers, things change whether we like it or not. The bigger picture is that without the arrival of commercial fisheries operating on a day ticket basis, open matches would have struggled to survive.
Similarly, the growth of specialist carp (and catfish) angling and the expansion of syndicated waters almost certainly significantly helped to reduce the UK retail tackle trade decline over the past 20 years. Albeit that many tackle shops have had to add internet-based sales to their business to stay viable.
The Bury St Edmunds AA lake at Barrow has at last started to come alive. The club treasurer Steve Bull had a brief fishing session there recently during a lull in his membership selling visit and his catch included two 3lb bream which are big for Barrow. There were also two other anglers at the lake who were both catching well including the tench that were stocked in November.
Bury St Edmunds AA memberships for the year commencing April 1 are now available from Tackle-Up in Bury, Hooked in Newmarket and Just Fishin in Sudbury.
At Hinderclay Lakes, Bury angler Ian Andrews won the Thursday match last week and Dave Leconte from Thetford followed up his win the week before with a second place this time. Allan Rodgers was third.
Newmarket AC held their first club match since the lockdown on Sunday on Phoenix Lake at Float Fish Farm Fishery.
The club’s match secretary John Millard reported that some 16 anglers braved a bitterly cold wind including hail stones to fish the six-hour match. Due to the wind, most fished the feeder with banded hard pellets towards the island.
The top weight was 56Ib 8oz from Dave Priestley, ahead of Dick Toates (55lb 8oz) and Dave Reece (55Ib 3oz).