The annual Minehead Cod Challenge has taken place for the last six years, apart from in 2021 when for obvious reasons the event could not be held. It is a fantastic event that was created by my old man Keith Wigglesworth to put Minehead well and truly on the map as the ‘cod capital’ of England. We all know that the cod fishing has declined in all areas over the past decade, but the Bristol Channel is one of the only places where you can fish from and stand a chance of catching a good fish.

In 2017 the foundations of the competition were put to the owner of the local pub on the harbour (The Old Ship Aground), who embraced the idea and decided to sponsor the event. So, with two minds working hard at it, the “Minehead Cod Challenge” was born!

The format was simple… two days of boat fishing where all cod counted, and the winner would be the competitor who accumulated the longest length of cod over the two days with a separate prize pool for the person who bagged themselves the heaviest cod of the weekend.

50 anglers fished this year, making for a busy harbour wall each morning

With the 2021 event being cancelled we were all eagerly anticipating the return of the 2022 Minehead Cod Challenge and this was mirrored by the interest in the event. The rules had been amended slightly so that only cod of 35cm and above would count towards the competition. This made my life as competition organiser a lot easier, but it also promoted the fact that we should only be targeting fish of a certain size.

With a keen eye on the weather forecast myself and fleet commodore Michael Webber made the decision to give the go ahead on Thursday the 21st of January. That gave all the competitors plenty of time to prepare and make their way down to our beautiful little corner of the country. With people traveling from all over the U.K. the time was upon us, so Friday night saw the boat draw commence at 7.30pm in the back bar of the pub. Each entrant would randomly pick their boat and position for each day. The raffle table was setup and the book for the heaviest fish pool was open.

Some anglers were very well prepared!

We have had some horrendous loading times over the years but the 2022 event happened to fall upon some more favourable tides, so the morning of day one saw all fifty competitors start to load onto their designated vessels at 8.30am. The weather was great, and it was a fantastic sight to witness the many anglers all milling around, chatting and jeering at each other as a sense of anticipation unfolded wondering what the weekend would hold. 

Would the cod gods smile kindly on us? I really hoped so! Minehead’s charter fleet had been out for most of the week in the run up to the event with pretty much no cod to show for their efforts. This was worrying for us, but we had the weather, the boats, and the competitors, so off they went!

Off the boats went to find their marks

With six boats all heading out into the same area myself and my trusty team of organisers returned back to the kiosk on the harbour for a coffee before going our separate ways for a few hours until we had to greet the boats back in and conduct the weigh in of the fish.

Contact had been very minimal from skippers which really did not do much for my confidence levels. A handful of undersized fish had been reported along with the usual dogfish, conger eels and a handful of rays.

Not quite big enough this year!

As the tide started to ease, we had the news that we had been waiting for. A cod had been caught and a cracker at that! Sam Tarr, skipper of the boat ‘Sofiya’, confirmed the rumours. Angler Graham Stevens had landed a beast and estimated at 16lb it was COMPETITION ON! So that was first prize covered but, we had many other prizes to get rid of too! 

No sooner had the news broken of the first fish, a second one was being reported from Sam’s boat from the first captor’s neighbouring angler Mitch Johnson. This one being even bigger! All cod qualifying for the heaviest fish of the weekend can be returned to the scales on the harbour at the end of the day for official weighing, so the call went out over the radio that a fish of approximately 19lb had been caught. What this does is give people the option to return smaller fish should they not want to retain any. 

Mitch and Graham with their fantastic first day fish

Time was ticking along on day one but there was still more action to come in the way of a couple more cod. One weighing in 5lb 7oz for Mike Lelliot fishing aboard Osprey, skippered by Will Webber and the other a lovely plump cod that was not weighed but measured in at 45 cm to get Terry Giles on the board.

We did have a back-up plan that was to be utilised should the worst happen and that no cod were actually caught. This would be the single biggest whiting to an angler, so the skippers were informed to make a note of these and although cod had been caught, we still had individual day boat winner prizes to be won so that needed to be covered! These had been kindly provided by Steve at Westcoast tackle in Watchet.

No shortage of bait variation for some anglers!

Hookpoint itself had also put up £500 for the top skipper of the weekend, which created a small amount of friendly competition between our boat owners over the course of the event. We actually had the Hookpoint boss in attendance and he situated himself on two of the chosen vessels over the consecutive days to handle some photography. That is commitment for you especially when there are no givens when it comes to cod fishing.

The boats started to arrive back at the harbour at around 18.45pm and the anglers made their way from the harbour steps to my trusty team of Craig Butler and George Stavrakopoulos who were conducting the weigh in at the harbour master’s office next door to Westcoast Tackle. I left them in control to collect the score sheets from the day and to weigh in the three fish. The two stand out fish as mentioned above were both caught onboard Sofiya with Grahams fish confirmed at 16lb 4oz and Mitch’s a real cracker at 19lb 8oz.

An excellent first day for Sofiya, skippered by Sam Tarr

A few of the anglers headed off to their digs for the night but some stayed in the pub for a quiet beverage and to discuss how the day had gone. It was a very tame Saturday night though as it was still all to play for on day two. Surely another fish for Graham or Mitch would massively boost their chances but cod fishing being what it is, anything could happen.

Sunday started with a little more wind than forecast which made things pretty chilly on the harbour, but everyone was in high spirits and cod were there to be caught. The boats were loaded and sent off to their marks. 

All the boats were off again for day two

It was a similar story to the day before with the anglers having to wait until the last of the ebbing tide to see a few fish hitting the deck. I had been out for lunch while all these hardy anglers were out at sea enduring some pretty wintry conditions but as I pulled up at home, I looked at the clock on the dashboard and said to my partner Lucy that we should start hearing of a few fish being caught any time now. 

With that I turned the engine off and my phone made a noise! That is exactly what had happened. It is a funny job being the event organiser and not fishing yourself as you get bits of information dripping through, but you do not hear everything. You rely on the score sheets to tell the full story at the end of the day. 

The cod were feeding on lots of shrimp and small brown crab

I was receiving the news that Cliff Jones had caught a lovely fish of 95cm. This would put him into first place and although longer than Mitch’s fish from the previous day it was not quite as heavy from the initial weighing on the boat but that would have to wait for later. Tim Peerless was in on the action with a lovely 77cm cod and a few others were coming aboard the various vessels all between the 50 and 60 cm bracket. Things were getting interesting so I made my way down to the harbour.

With plenty of fishing time remaining we set about getting the room ready for the presentation when news came in that Ian McLean had managed an exceptionally good fish that would put him within 2cm of the lead. This would obviously have an affect on the final scorings but by how much? Could one of these anglers catch a second fish? 

Ian McLean, closing to just 2cm of the lead with this fine cod

Walking along a dark cold harbour wall it was a strange sight to see six lights in the distance all sat perfectly in line… these were our boats, and they were entering the final moments of the competition.

The call went out over the radio… LINES UP! And that was it. Now we waited for the boats, the anglers, the fish, and the score sheets.

Cliff’s fish was presented at the scales whereas predicted it did not quite make the weight but was still a real specimen weighing in at 18lb 14oz. Had anything else heavier been caught though? As soon as I had collected the sheets, I found a hiding spot where I could sit and add up the final tallies while the anglers, skippers and crew were invited to a complimentary meal for all their efforts over the weekend and for enduring some tough, cold conditions. 

Cliff's excellent catch being weighed in at 18lb 14oz

It was great to see everyone enjoying their food and having a chin wag, but we were keen not to drag things on for too long as some participants had long drives ahead of them. We cracked on with the raffle where some faired better than others (not mentioning any names Mr Webber) and then it was time for the big event. Third spot went to Mitch Johnson whose 89cm fish from the Saturday saw him picking up £250 but his fish was also the heaviest of the weekend at 19lb 8oz which gave him the heaviest cod shield and another £250 in his pocket. In second place overall and taking £500 was Cliff Jones with his 95cm cod.

So, we had a winner and that was Ian Mclean. Ian had managed another smaller fish on top of his cracker earlier in the day which cemented a winning length of 142cm. A massive well done to him on taking the £1000 first prize and also the bragging rights! Mitch and Ian also took an extra £100 each for the individual day wins. 

The boat winner packs were handed out to the winning anglers and then it was all down to who was the top skipper of the weekend. Obviously, Sam on Sofiya would take some beating but, William Webber on Osprey had been hot on his heels all day and it was in fact Will that took the £500! Well done Will. He managed a total of 254cm with Sam in second on 227cm. 

Well done to the winner Ian McLean, who along with the £1000 first prize, also picked up £100 for a day win. Not a bad pickup!

It had been a genuinely great weekend catching up with all the returning anglers. I got the impression that everyone enjoyed themselves from the great feedback I have since received. 

Some seriously big thank yous need to be said. First of all, we must thank Rosie and the team in The Old Ship Aground who were brilliant all weekend. Nothing was too much, and we were all looked after extremely well. Secondly our amazing sponsors Veals Mail Order, Steve Liddle at Westcoast Tackle in Watchet and our boss at Hookpoint for supplying the prizes for the weekend.

My little team definitely deserve a mention as they help keep things ticking along nicely, so Craig, George, Charlie, Rosie, Kelly, and the wonderful Lucy who has had to put up with a very stressed out me at times in the run up to the comp. Lastly a huge thank you to the six skippers who made the weekend happen, Sam, Will, Mr P, Darren, Wayne and finally Mikey for all of his hard work organising the boat side of things!

Well done to everyone… a brilliant weekend! I’m off to organise next years now!

See you all next year! (The author may now kill the editor for putting this one in)
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