This month saw the first ever Sea Angling classic event take place from Chichester harbour in Hampshire. This inaugural competition was a tester for what is set to become the biggest boat fishing competition ever seen in the UK. It was an invite only event which saw many media groups and big hitters in the world of boat angling get together to pit their wits against each other. It was based over two days with the aim being to catch three each of the following species… bass, bream, smoothounds, rays and tope. If you were lucky to catch one of these species, then your catch had to be verified by ways of sending two clear photos into the specially designed app showing the length of the fish on the provided measuring mat and a one of you holding the fish with your entrants’ card clearly visible with the fish’s unique identification number. Sounds easy right?
It did take a bit of getting used to as you wanted to rush to get the fish back in the water with it being strictly a catch and release match, but it did end up taking longer than expected as there were various codes that had to be added to each competitor’s card for each fish. We did manage to get the hang of it in the end, but I think plans may be in place to make it an even smoother operation next year. The prizes at the end of the weekend were for the anglers who had the lowest total points scored across the two days, which were awarded in respect of where you placed on each day calculated on the longest accumulated length across all species. There were also separate prizes for the longest fish of each species, meaning everyone had something to fight for right to the end.
Being privileged to have my role within Hookpoint I was invited to be part of the team that the boss man Grant Jones was putting together. Along with myself and Grant we had the pleasure of Ben Carter, Rob Johnson and John Locker. None of these guys need any introduction as I’m sure you are all aware of Ben’s fishing antics targeting anything giant from his own boat, Rob’s adventures targeting all manner of specimen species from our shores and if you haven’t seen any videos from John on his Fishlocker YouTube channel, then are you even alive?
Grant and I set off from Somerset on Friday morning heading east. A quick stop off in the mightily impressive Christchurch Angling saw us picking up a few last-minute pieces from the world-renowned Mr Tom Bagnall. I had not had the pleasure of meeting Tom or Abby before, but they run an awesome shop with a huge array of gear for all disciplines of angling. After a quick chat we were back on our way, and it wasn’t long before we were pulling up at event HQ… Northney Marina. On arrival it was clear to see that Ross Honey, the event organiser, and his team were putting on a fine show. With trade stalls, a gin bar and stage being set up it was all starting to come together.
We made sure we were early, so there was still a few hours to kill until the signing on.Our arrival was soon followed by Ben, Rob and John, so we all stood around taking it in while catching up with other competitors… some old friends and some new, but there was a real buzz around the place. Later that afternoon every angler was required to take their place in line for the signing on where we were issued with our score cards and other relevant information for the weekend as well as some top-quality welcome packs.
Once this had been completed, we headed over to the lawn area for a few drinks and the official opening ceremony. Several representatives were asked to speak, and we were all welcomed before Ross Honey opened the event and the band started. Knowing we had to be loaded and on the boat for 6am the following morning we decided to head back to our digs in Southsea, make some final preparations and get our heads down!
A nice 4.30 alarm saw us all up, showered, kit in the car… we were off. Twenty minutes later and we were pulling up into the Marina again. Our chosen vessel for the weekend was ‘Indie’, skippered by Ray McLaren. Normally docked in Gosport, Ray had the job of bringing the boat round to us in Northney for the two-day event. It wasn’t long before we viewed him manoeuvring up through the estuary that leads to Northney Marina, so we decided to get all our kit down onto the pontoon he was picking us up from. There was a real buzz in the air for such an early hour… Some anticipation, but mainly just excitement for what the day would hold for us all.
Some had fished the area before, whereas others were reliant on information provided from others with local knowledge. This wasn’t a problem though as everyone was here for a good weekend with friends. Knowing we had booked a charter boat and with skipper Ray having many years’ experience fishing these waters we were in good hands. Pulling alongside the pontoon I think Ray was slightly shocked at the amount of kit we had decided to bring with us, but it wasn’t long before everything was loaded, and we were ready to go…. Or were we?
The boats were scheduled to leave the dock at 7am to make their way down to the West Pole proudly flying our SAC flags. Once there we would all wait around in the area before being given the green light to head off to our chosen marks. Unfortunately, due to some bad weather the decision was made to postpone the competition until 10am as this was when the wind was supposed to drop, which made for an even playing field for all the vessels. There was a slight air of disappointment ringing around the marina as everyone was ready to go but our good skipper Ray decided to get the pan on, and it wasn’t long before we were all handed bacon sarnies and a cup of coffee. It was a welcome distraction from the two hour delay we had to endure but we were all in the same boat so wait we must!
The minutes passed and rods were rigged…. About as much prep that could be done had been but thankfully the time was upon us. Boats gradually left their moorings and made their way down through Chichester harbour to West Pole. All thirty-three vessels followed the flag ship, some more enthusiastically than others in the choppy waters! Twenty minutes later and we were all milling around waiting… jeers of excitement and banter being thrown between the different boats. And then came the time… all eyes were on Ross’s boat and as soon as the flag was dropped there was pandemonium!
Boats were flying left right and centre off to their pre-determined marks. We headed east to a patch of ground that we were told could produce all five of the species that we needed to target. I opted to start by targeting the smoothounds so a 3ft flowing trace was selected with a single hook on the end and one on a dropper… we had a selection of live hardbacks and frozen peelers so one went on each hook and with the shout from Ray that we were anchored and ready I flicked my rig uptide to get away from the boat.
The rest of the boys opted to down-tide and it wasn’t long before Rob was into our first fish. A spirited smoothound was soon in the net and Rob got straight to the task of submitting his catch. Ben was the next one to make contact and he again was into a smoothound that was expertly netted by Ray. Rob was still in the final throws of getting his fish sorted so Ben’s fish was placed in a bucket of fresh seawater until Rob’s submission was complete.
We quickly realised it was much easier to work as a team to photograph and submit each relevant fish which sped things up a lot. Now because it was a live event you could follow your progress on the app. Once your fish was submitted, we waited with bated breath until the capture had met all the criteria and was accepted as a qualifying fish. This didn’t happen instantly as I’m sure you can all imagine, the organising team had a lot of submissions to get through. Funnily enough Ben’s smoothound was accepted before Rob’s was which left us with a few questions!
The fishing continued and next onto the scoreboard was John with a qualifying bream of 27 cm. The great thing about using the app was that you could see how you were doing against the other anglers, edging up the leader board one minute then dropping back down the next… well, this was the case for some on our boat. I was really struggling. I was getting bites but dropping the fish for some reason, which was infuriating but I stuck at it. Ben followed his hound up with a bream and was really holding his own.
We made a couple of moves before eventually settling back on the original mark and I managed to winkle out a scad that was supposed to be a bream! There was only one thing that was going to happen to this poor animal. A nice slither was taken from its fresh flanks which accompanied a similar size piece of squid. Once mounted on a shiny 5/0 hook it was tossed back into the tide and it wasn’t long before I noticed a distinctive tapping on the rod tip. Reeling down into the fish I came across some resistance, so I played the mystery guest carefully confident in the fact I had latched into a ray.
I wasn’t wrong and Ray quickly slipped the net underneath a fine male undulate ray. I was chuffed to bits after struggling with the wrong species for much of the day. Rob carried on fishing hard and was rewarded with another hound before Ben managed another two in quick succession and then topped his day off with a lovely little tope. With five hours of fishing behind us we were pleased with how some of the team had faired but I couldn’t help being a bit disappointed with my one qualifying fish… never mind, tomorrow was another day, and it was all still to play for!
We headed back to the marina after a good scrub down of the boat and spent the next hour or so chewing the fat with the rest of the guys about how the day’s events had unfolded. Out of the ninety-eight competitors Rob finished the day in good standing and Ben was sitting very pretty in 8th, but this was despite no sign of either Rob’s first smoothound or Ben’s final one on the fish list. Team captain Grant discussed the matter with the stewards who promised they were looking into it so we were all hopeful that the fish would be accepted for both their sakes.
I was sat in 48th, John in 53rd and Grant in 57th after failing to pick up any qualifying fish, but that wasn’t through lack of trying. Hats off to him as he spent most of the day running around taking photos and making sure no mistakes were made on the submissions.
That evening we were treated to a fantastic meal by the very generous John Locker. We sat and discussed tactics for the following day before turning in for an early night… well the sensible ones did while others may have slightly over indulged but that’s another story!
Arriving back at Northney Marina nice and early we got straight down to the boat where we were greeted with more coffee and bacon sarnies. The weather was settled at this point with light winds, but there was a rain forecast… a lot of rain! Setting off down the east side of Hayling island we were given the plan for the day which was similar to the previous but as we had set out a lot earlier, we would be able to head out a lot further given the state of the tide to try and get amongst some better tope, but first of all we would start on the same mark we had finished on the day before.
I decided to make some adjustments to my rig in the hope of getting an early smoothound or two. Now I would like to just make a point here… if you’re not familiar with the area and finding it hard then listen to the bloody skipper. Something I wish I had done on day one. I was too stubborn to take his advice the previous day thinking to myself “I can catch smoothounds, just do it like you do on home soil”! So, under the guidance of Ray, I significantly increased my hook length and tied on two much smaller hooks. One baited with a live hard back and the second being loaded with frozen peeler and a nice strip of squid. The traps were set and now we waited!
First into a fish was Rob followed by John and then Grant who all got on the scoresheet with a hound each. I finally managed to get one on the boat which was a huge relief and very satisfying knowing the changes I had implemented had paid off. Rob then boated his second of the day while Ben stuttered slightly which was quite a shock given his previous days antics. John was next to double up on his smoothound tally for the day before I followed suit. We were all hoping to get our three hounds each but the fishing started to really slow up so Ray made the call for us to drag them in and we would head offshore to try and grab a tope or two now that the tide would allow us.
Again, listening to the skipper’s advice, we donned our tope rigs and got about baiting up mackerel flappers in anticipation of finding some toothy critters. It didn’t happen immediately for us on this mark, but we were patient and eventually I had several sharp bangs on the rod tip and I was into my first tope. A flurry ensued which saw myself, Rob, Grant and John all getting amongst our intended quarry, and this was topped off by Rob boating his second of the species… he was having a belter of a day! Ben, despite all his efforts, was just not getting amongst the fish and you could see the despair on his face. He just needed to top up on his excellent score from day one, but it just wasn’t going his way.
The tide really started to push through so we upped sticks and headed to a patch of ground that Ray said could again throw up any of the five species we were after. Once anchored I made it my priority to get my third smoothound, but little did I know how hard this would be.
The first one of us to register a bite and much to everyone’s relief was Ben. He wasn’t messing round and swiftly had his first relevant fish of the day onboard, a lovely smoothound of 90cm.
It had been steadily raining for most of the day, it really did seem that every time we moved the rain had followed us. With time running out I started to flap a bit and with no hounds for myself I switched over to my bream rig but all that this achieved was me finding a small yet beautifully marked tub gurnard! John and Grant were next to get in on the action with a smoothound a piece before Rob got his crucial third of the day and then in very quick succession Ben pulled two out the bag… it was on.
We literally had minutes left of fishing. John had been busting a gut running around in the torrential downpour in no more that shorts and a hoody with absolutely nothing on his feet. They say they’re a bit different those northern folk and this did nothing but confirm this point for me as I sat there in full waterproofs.
Having seen the flurry of activity around the boat I switched back to my hound rig and instantly had some interest but unfortunately, I dropped the fish halfway up.
Ray had signalled we had five minutes remaining so things had to happen quickly. Two more fish were dropped by myself in a matter of minutes… I needed this third hound, more for personal pride. One last cast and I must have landed the rig on its head… bang, bang… fish on! Ray was literally on his way round to pull up the anchor, but I managed to get the fish to stick this time and once in the net it was time to relax! All fish had been submitted and we were on our way back!
Now at this stage the standings table had been disabled leaving an air of mystery around how we had all faired. We arrived at the marina where we were dropped off with all of our sodden kit. Ray wanted to push on home, so we gave him our thanks and appreciation and off he went.
Everyone was soaked…. I don’t think I’ve ever been so wet. With the impending presentation due to take place in the next couple of hours we decided to hang around instead of making the near hour round trip to the digs to get changed and dry off. I managed to blag a pair of dry socks from Mr Fishlocker thankfully, as I think despite my waterproofs, I would have ended up with trench foot!
We decided to grab a quick bite to eat in the form of a burger (or two for some) and wait to be called to the presentation. Now like all of these event’s things always take a bit longer than expected so we headed to the hotel for a few cold ones and a chat with the other competitors while we waited to be called up to the presentation.
Unfortunately, Rob had to shoot off due to work commitments which was a shame as he was the one who we genuinely thought was in contention for a prize, but needs must… we would represent him in some capacity! We were all eventually ushered upstairs to where we were greeted by the biggest prize table I have ever witnessed. A third of the room was decorated with rods, reels, tackle boxes, fish finders and all other manner of fishing equipment.
Some fine words were spoken by the organisers, stewards and main sponsors before the prize giving commenced. Prizes were handed out to the top ten anglers and amazingly Ben’s final smoothound from day one had finally been accepted giving him an amazing day one win and promoted him to 10th overall! To say we were happy for him was an understatement. In 9th was Rob Hickin, 8th Brett Lomas and then another massive result for Team Hookpoint. Our very own Rob Johnson had finished day one in 15th then day two in 4th, which gave him 7th place overall! It was a shame he wasn’t there to collect the glory and his prizes himself, but it was still an incredible achievement.
The rest of the spots were taken by Neil Bryant, Steve Batchelor, Colin Searles, Deano Ryan, Steve Manning and the top dog himself Mr Ray Barron. A huge congratulations must go to them all. Myself… well I finished in 20th, which to be honest I was more than happy with given my days performance. A second day 6th pushed me up though the leader board with John also finishing strongly in 29th and Grant in 43rd.
I must say that I really enjoyed the event, the camaraderie and the social aspect of it all. Don’t get me wrong there were a few issues that will need ironing out before next years open but that was the whole point of this media invitational… to see what worked, what didn’t, and understand how it can be improved on. Am I going to return next year? Too damn right I am. Plans are already in place so watch this space.
A huge thank you must go to Grant Jones. The preparation he put into this for us was outstanding. He thought of everything from the bait, tackle, accommodation and even booking Ray and his boat for us.
Also, many thanks to my amazing teammates Ben, Rob, John, (Grant Included) and Ray for the use of his fine vessel ‘Indie’. I suppose I had better mention the organisers as they really had a very hard job to do but pulled it off so thank you Ross Honey and his team.
I’ll leave you with some words from a few of our other team members on what thy thought of the weekend but if this sounds like something you would be interested in then head on over to www.seaanglingclassic.com and have a look for yourselves.
This was organised at short notice and on a relatively large scale and the whole point was to test the format. It was a well-run and thoroughly enjoyable weekend, there were a few issues around adhering to the more technical rules, but it was good to see there was no malice in any infringements, this was recognised, and some leniency shown for minor issues. Given the scale of the prizes potentially on offer next year I’d be surprised if this was the case next time so if you intend fishing it, I’d really check up on exactly what’s required. It would be a real shame to miss out due to a minor mistake. As I understand it, there are already changes agreed for next year that should address any of the things that wanted ironing out. It was an excellent weekend, and the atmosphere was great. If you’re into boat fishing I couldn’t recommend it highly enough. I’ll definitely be there in 2022.
The very short notice of the event was always going to cause a number of logistical headaches, both for competitors and organisers. We were fortunate that a charter was still available, as whilst we could have fished from a couple of private boats owned by the team, the last 18 months had called for a social as much as anything!
Throughout the weekend, it did feel like fishing had taken a bit of a back seat to the ‘spectacle’ of it all. There were issues such as the larger vessels losing fishing time to smaller boats, having to return to the marina before exposed sand banks became non-navigable. This was despite these larger vessels waiting for fairer conditions for the smaller boats on the first morning.
I’m confident however, having spoken with a number of the organisers following the event, that such issues will be ironed out by some key changes ahead of next year. Regardless, the long and short of it is that the level of prizes on offer is unparalleled and can only be achieved with a degree of the focus being on non-fishing related matters. With a £100K+ boat up for grabs next year, I’ll certainly be back!