The Drennan Knockout Cup offers anglers the opportunity to showcase their credentials across a range of different venues and to progress to the final involves executing many disciplines of the sport.
Round one, held at Tunnel Barn Farm, cut the initial competition down; starting with 140 anglers, just 60 progressed through to the second round of the competition.
Due to the nature of the competition the line-up is full of the biggest names in match fishing; it was therefore inevitable that some of the big hitters found themselves taking an early bath from the competition – Jamie Hughes, Rob Wootton and Neil McKinnon to name but a few.
Following their success in the first round of this year’s competition, the successful 60 competitors progressed through to the second round, held on the New Junction Canal in Thorne, Doncaster. This was a venue that would pose a completely different challenge to the previous one…
The New Junction Canal is a wide, deep canal with many tactics likely to produce a weight capable of winning the match. Match weights often exceed 20lb, with backup weights also reaching double figures. Roach and skimmers are generally the main targets, but in harder sections perch and eels can also play a part.
The format of the match saw six sections across 120 pegs of the canal. From each section the top five would qualify, leaving us with 30 anglers going into round three, to be held on the River Thames. In many sections a weight of around 6 or 7lb was predicted to be enough to see the lucky few progress to the quarter-final.
The anticipation in the pub on the morning of the match was wonderful to behold.
Each and every angler was excited for the day ahead and at the idea of progressing in a competition that is becoming ever more prestigious.
The pegs in the drawbag were those between Pegs 314 and 420, with those in the high numbers dubbed the most likely to produce big weights, as they had done in practice matches held in the build-up to the event.
The weather was looking typically moody by English standards, although the forecast had promised that there would be spells of sunshine throughout the day.
And We’re Off!
Despite having almost three hours to get set up, the Canal Tavern was soon empty as the fleet of anglers swiftly headed off towards their allotted destination.
Match Fishing magazine’s very own representatives in the competition got through round one unscathed, with Joe Carass, Matt Godfrey and reigning champion Tom Scholey all making it to the second round.
Due to the standard of angler left in the competition there were no easy sections, all of which would be equally difficult to qualify from.
Joe Carass on Peg 316 was joined by Andy Nelson, who was situated on the end peg of the match, and Harry Bignell and Alan Scotthorne, who were at the opposite end of the section.
Preston Innovations-backed Frankie Gianoncelli and Ed Warren were joined by Matrix superstar Andy Geldart between Pegs 350 and 366.
On the coveted power line pegs of 394 and 396 were James Dent and Warren Martin respectively. They had company in the form of Geoff Vallance and Kerry Kirkwood, who both put in impressive performances in round one to qualify comfortably. but could they do it again on a completely different type of venue?
At 12 noon the match started, with some people opting to ball in groundbait. Section A got off to a flying start, with five of the nine anglers hooking an early bonus fish on the feeder, the pick of them falling to Joe Carass whose first cast produced a bream of around 3lb – a good start to settle the nerves!
Looking along the canal, it was clear to see that there were bites to be had. There was a range of tactics on display, with some anglers opting to sit it out on the feeder and wait for a potential bonus fish, while others had decided on a small- fish approach fishing squatts and pinkies.
The canal was looking particularly coloured in comparison to its usual clarity; this was no doubt responsible for the amount of skimmers being caught.
Early indications showed that the areas everybody had expected to be the best areas of the match didn’t seem to be fishing well. The end section in the match, Pegs 404 to 420, was fishing extremely hard with very few small fish being caught; on the other hand, pegs in the middle of the match were producing lots of small fish, with Tom Scholey putting a roach in the net every put-in fishing squatts over groundbait.
Nick Speed had opted for a different approach to Tom on the next peg, making for an interesting battle. Nick was targeting skimmers by fishing worms on the feeder, and although he wasn’t catching at the speed Tom was, when he did it was generally a skimmer upwards of a pound.
Similar to Nick, Frankie Gianoncelli had also managed a couple of skimmers fishing worms through a feeder, finding that by rotating between his squatt and feeder lines he was able to keep fish coming by letting fish move in and settle over the feed he’d put down (even managing to catch a skimmer of around 2lb when lifting his rod to reel in, having given up on the line when it hadn’t produced a bite in a while).
During the middle of the match there was a quiet spell, which coincided with a sunny period of the day, and during this part of the match very few bonus fish were caught. It did, however, mean that those who had set out to catch lots of smaller fish on the pole had a chance to keep putting fish in the net and either help them catch up or take a lead on those around them.
Going into the second half of the match the murmurs up the bank were that a weight of upwards of 6lb was going to be needed in most sections to be in with a chance of qualifying. This was for all but the first and last sections in the match, which were fishing completely differently: the low numbers were fishing well with plenty of fish being caught – bags of roach as well as skimmers – while the high numbers were still struggling, with just a couple of pounds likely to be enough to see you through. One bonus fish could be the difference between coming nowhere and booking a place in the next round.
The Closing Stages
With just over an hour to go it was as if an ‘On’ switch was flicked for many of the anglers on the bank. Harry Bignell capitalised on this and managed to catch eight skimmers in eight casts before putting a further three in the net in the last hour.
Similarly, Andy Geldart on the peg next to Frankie Gianoncelli, who was dubbed to be leading the way, also managed to catch some skimmers during this time, giving himself a really strong chance of qualification and even potentially framing overall.
Craig Butterfield was certain his chances of qualification were over when late in the match he hooked and lost a tench of around 4lb, which in what had been the most difficult section in the match would have been enough to qualify on its own.
Sam Wildsmith in the same section had managed some big perch by fishing a full lobworm on the bomb. After a bad start to the match that was a welcome bonus and from a position where he was certainly not going to qualify he was straight up there in contention for the section win.
Overall the match fished really well. Pegs in the low numbers of the match fished best, with Andy Nelson producing a weight of 17lb 10oz from end Peg 314, a net comprising skimmers and roach caught on the feeder and pole. Joe Carass and Harry Bignell were close behind, catching an identical 17lb 6oz. Harry had 11 skimmers for that weight, while Joe had just two, along with a netful of good stamp roach caught on double squatt.
The next section didn’t fish quite as well in terms of weights; however, there were plenty of fish caught, with many of the weights comprising smaller fish. Nick Speed came out on top in this section with a weight of 11lb 9oz, mainly skimmers. Tom Scholey was hot on his heels with an impressive 11lb 2oz of small roach caught on squatts. MAP duo Shaun Little and Mark Malin also qualified from this section, along with Scott Geens and Matt Godfrey. Shaun and Scott sneaked through with an identical weight of 6lb 10oz, meaning six people from this section qualified.
Preston Innovations ace Frankie Gianoncelli fended off some late pressure from Andy Geldart to comfortably win his section with a match-winning weight of 22lb 6oz, a mixed net of skimmers and roach caught on both the pole and the feeder. Andy’s weight of 15lb 3oz secured him fifth place overall.
Adrian Higginbottom managed to catch skimmers during the second half of the match to weigh 14lb 6oz, finishing over 6lb clear of second in section Robbie Griffiths, who caught over 60 fish for 7lb 10oz.
Having been dubbed as potential match-winning pegs, James Dent and Warren Martin produced the good from 394 and 396, finishing first and second in the section. However, it hadn’t the bream fest it was expected to be, with James’ 12lb 14oz comprising just two skimmers and the rest roach. Geoff Vallance, Kerry Kirkwood and Jordan Hall completed the five qualifiers from the section.
Pegs 404 to 420 were won by Sam Wildsmith, a few big perch helping him towards a weight of 8lb 2oz, with Lee Harrison close behind with 7lb 14oz. Despite that lost tench late in the match, Craig Butterfield also managed to sneak through to round three with a weight of 3lb 6oz, 6oz in front of the next angler.