I thought I would write something a little different from the norm to highlight that some anglers don’t have the luxury to make an impact on their local commercial or natural water like most anglers have. I speak for all the Armed Forces anglers but in particular the British Army.
As an ex-serviceman myself I can fully appreciate how hard it is for these guys to find the time to fish as an individual but even harder to come together as a team; obviously each one signed up to carry out a duty to the queen whether that be based at home in the UK, abroad at an overseas regiment or on operational tours worldwide.
Throughout the calendar year these guys may only get to see the bank a handful of times and be expected to compete under their individual Corps or Army banner, so when it comes to events like nationals or inter service events they have to fight even harder to compete against the already established and shall we say, match fit teams.
A Corps is basically a section of the Army that specialises in a certain area: Infantry, Engineers, Artillery, Logistics and so on, there are 21 different Corps throughout and some are sub divided again. This in itself produces a huge rivalry between each division that leads to good competition.
When it comes to selection it could be, and is very likely at times of high operations throughout the world to be very difficult to not only pin enough anglers down to fill a team but also for those anglers have the time to be allowed to practice.
They not only have issues with availability of anglers but they also have to fight against all other sports throughout, as we all know the Army is a physical unit so when requesting time off to go fishing for a weeks practice it is always very challenging as fishing is not seen as a serious sport mainly because it doesn’t involve running around in some capacity.
Over the past I have spent some time with several guys practicing on the banks of the New Junction Canal and said I wanted to write an article which will hopefully highlight to each Regimental Commanding Officer how serious fishing is as a sport not just for serving guys but as a whole in the UK and Europe.
We know as anglers how demanding and tiring it can be but those who don’t participate in it do not. Something I tried to change when I was serving, but with the power of media and particular social media we hope we can bring its attention to the powers that be to make an imminent change.
So how does angling work in the Army?
Basically, the UK is split into 6 groups and units serving in both Germany and Northern Ireland used to each form a group but due to the Armed Forces moving away from these countries they no longer have the numbers to take part; so for anyone that is based within a group catchment area will form part of their league for the season.
Each group fish the same number of matches throughout the year in which several have to be held on natural waters creating a good all-round anglers rather than those just suited to commercials. At the end of the season each group will hold an AGM where the secretary will put forward a list of names to the Fosters Army Team Captain and Manager who he believes is of high enough standard to compete at Army level.
From here they will attend scheduled practice sessions and this will result in the team for that event being selected; this is why the need for natural waters also being a part of the calendar to ensure that the team is as strong as it can be.
At the end of the season the whole of the Army Angling come together for their annual festival, each group have a turn at hosting the festival so it is usually widespread at the larger venues throughout the UK, venues that can comfortably house the 100+ anglers taking part.
The festival is split into different events ranging from individual, charity, through to team events. It is always a great weeks fishing wherever it is held and is the seasons highlight. This year’s festival is being primarily held at Woodlands Lakes in Thirsk, with an event taking place on the River Tees and also the team event on The New Junction canal, so even during the festival it is varied.
The festival also serves another purpose, it is a great opportunity to bring all of the anglers together, to encourage and coach those who are just starting within the federation or less experienced.
There are individual two events which are held over two separate days; The first is the Masters, this is for the more experienced anglers and those that are deemed good enough to compete at Corps level. Whilst this event takes place the less experienced anglers can sit behind any angler and watch, ask questions and learn as much as possible for 6 hours.
The second day is the Clubman this is the reverse of the masters where the experienced guys can go around and coach people as they fish also, anglers who fish in the masters are no longer eligible to fish the clubman again as they have made the step up.
There are other matches such as a charity fundraiser, to an open plate which involves any reservist or ex serving guys and the individual Army Championship to determine the years Army Champion; but the one event that I have always loved through the festival is the Inter Corps team event, again selection was always a part of the process to make the 6-man team but the one where pride takes over any individual result.
Inter Corps Team Event
As I am no longer serving I am unable to fish the event, but was asked by the current Royal Engineers captain Gaz Arnold who I served with during my time in the army, if I would do some coaching and practice sessions with his current squad in readiness for this event.
The last time my Corps won the event was 5 years previous on my very last day in the Army on the same section of the same canal. I jumped at the chance as I wanted the title to return to us in an event where we dominated for many years going back into the 80’s but have recently lacked experience on natural venues. To give us a further boost, I also arranged a coaching day with England International Lee Kerry at the end of the week, he would offer his invaluable input to the team plan something I can’t recommend highly enough.
After speaking to local tackle shops and Lee himself we had a very good idea of how to approach the week, and it was great to see three of the anglers who had never fished a canal before adapt to it as quickly as they did. This was one of the main reasons for the week’s practice especially when they would be fishing against some fantastic anglers and some even better natural water anglers.
Understanding a venue is key to success to be able to adapt to any given situation, and throughout the week noticing the changes in conditions such as water clarity and weather conditions and how they affected the feeding, once the guys figured out the changes they could react to keep the bites coming.
One key area which the less experienced anglers learned was feeding and how crucial this was, not only playing a part in their event but something they now have a much better understanding of which they can adopt into all their angling.
I know that some areas of the approach that were discussed, highlighted and practiced up to the day were not initially grasped by eberybody, but once you see one of the world’s best in Lee Kerry doing it and proving how important it is, it sunk in and they all went away as ready as they could be.
After some last minute pointers and sound words of advice the team was ready. The next night a match plan was made and discussed making best use of the tips that Lee gave to ensure that on the day the team could make the best start possible.
The match itself got off to an absolute flyer with all the teams anglers catching fish from the word go, it was my job to ensure they kept catching throughout the match making minor adjustments along the way, we had heavy rain the day before and with the sun beaming down the canal it made it very difficult later in the match.
There were several other guys bank running the canal helping their own teams out so it was down to keeping the guys concentrated and themselves remembering what they were taught and when to notice the changes to keep bites coming. It was in no way fast and furious something Lee stressed to them would be the case so it was hard to judge just how well they were doing.
Once the scales arrived it was nervous for us as a team as the other teams knew how much preparation had gone into the practice week, only a win could save any blushes from the abuse we would receive if we did not win.
When the scales arrived at our sixth man it was a mixture of elation, pride and relief to see the lads take the win and in some style. They finished with a near perfect score of eight points out a possible six with four section wins and two section seconds. Achieving what the guys did in six days I have never felt so proud and it’s one of my best moments in angling having played a small part in their achievement.
The Royal Engineers Corps Team consisted of Sergeant Gaz Arnold (Team Captain), Staff Sergeant Tez Proud, Staff Sergeant Graeme Dickson, Corporal Mark Kirkbright, Sapper Ryan Gibson and Lance Corporal Bobbi Sands.
One angler in particular I was very impressed with was Ryan after a nervous and shaky start to the week he became very consistent and during the match he performed fantastically by not letting others around him who caught bonus fish break his concentration.
He remained focussed and very disciplined throughout and to say a week earlier he had never fished a canal before, he has even gone on to win the open plate over the last two days with a perfect two-point score. A fantastic effort by all who fished on a very hard day to turn up from as far as Germany and put in a performance and massive well done to Mark Kirkbright for taking the overall win.
|1st – Royal Engineers (RE)||8 points|
|2nd – Adjutant General’s Corps (AGC)||20 Points|
|3rd – Royal Signals (R Sigs)||23 points|
|4th – Royal Logistic Corps (RLC)||27 Points|
|5th – Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers (REME)||30 Points|
|6th – Infantry (INF)||31 Points|
|7th – Royal Artillery (RA)||32 Points|
|1st – Mark Kirkbright (RE)||4kg 120g|
|2nd – Tez Proud (RE)||3kg 270g|
|3rd – Garry Evans (AGC)||3kg 250g|