It's been very hard work all this practising for the ATWL semi, but I have to say I've learnt loads more about canal fishing being part of the PI Thatchers team. You kind of get to the stage where you just want the match to arrive and get on with it!
Some people don't like team fishing because of the commitment you have to give and prefer to do their own thing. Each to his own of course, but over the years I've learnt loads and had some great laughs being part of a team. The first team I fished for was Silver Dace, as I've mentioned before, but later I joined a team called "Bristol Amalgamation" which was formed mainly out of Silver Dace anglers. There were so many anglers around then we had an "A" and a "B" team. The team had a manager called Roger Amos (who passed away some years ago) and although he came across as a bit of a mess and wasn't the best angler in Bristol he decided to bring a young bunch of anglers together to try and take on the might of Bathampton. Bathampton won the South West ATWL every year and had top class anglers that took the river apart. This was no easy task for Roger!
At this stage Roger took me to one side and asked me to fish for the A side, he said he'd rather me come into the A side and mix with the better anglers. This meant I would not likely get picked to fish many matches, but Roger reckoned I would benefit more than fishing every match for the B team. I made the decision to go along with Roger and be part of the A team, and began a season of "running". Coming into the ATWL I was not expecting to be picked, and spent the first 5 rounds running. I learnt so much; I saw anglers fishing methods properly, and when I asked questions most of them answered freely. In particular I remember watching Martin Barrett (now a team mate) fishing a waggler on Newbridge straight, I think I sat behind him for an hour, and although he won't remember it now, he virtually talked me through everything he did and why he did it. I'm not afraid to say I copied what Martin did and made it work for me, and I still love fishing the waggler to this day, developing shotting and feeding patterns as the river changes is key!
The other thing I learned when watching these matches was what species dominated in certain pegs, and the methods used in certain conditions. It was actually a brilliant platform for me to learn about the Bristol Avon, and Roger Amos helped me tremendously by putting me into this situation. I do remember though some people criticising me for not actually fishing, but I was fishing Saturdays so was not going without my fix! Coming to the sixth and final round of the ATWL Bathampton were a fair way in front, but for my dedication Roger picked me for the team and all the other lads supported this. I was dead nervous though on the morning of the match, but i needn't have been... after some heated debate the match was called off for being to dangerous due to being bank high in flood. With no reserve venue that was it, the league was over and my chance was gone, more importantly bleedin Bathampton had won the league again!
The main members of the team at this stage were joined by Bob Sheppard, Kevin Boltz and Paul Lumbard, who was a bit of an upstart. Bob said Paul was a bad angler and didn't agree with him being in the team! (Not like Bob to upset other anglers!) With more anglers joining the squad competition for places was harder, but it also meant we had a bit more info coming into the squad, you have to remember that up to this point our average age was about 21 so we had no experience in the squad. Well, there was plenty of "drinking" experience, Roger was your man for gallon or two and his best buddy Mike Ainger tucked a bottle of Bacardi away with ease! In fact I was definitely off the pace! I often found myself in bad situations, I mean somehow getting in a round with these guys, and then finding myself waking up over a toilet.... In those days the team couldn't function without a hangover, and I think that us being drunken "young uns" started to get up the noses of the more refined Bathampton gents. But whilst we were having loads of fun and may have come across as unprofessional, we were absolutely determined to win the S/W ATWL come what may!
As well as the teams ambition, I had two personal targets I wanted to acheive (dreams) 1) To win a round of the ATWL, 2) To win the Poppy match which was then a 200 pegger. Going into the 1988 season would I be able to realise my dreams? Could I even get picked to fish?