With fish few and far between in the big match, a dramatic change of fortunes in the closing stages proved decisive
Discover the winner of our annual event.
When many of the nation’s leading anglers do battle, there are always twists and turns, particularly if the fishing is tough and few fish being caught. It means fortunes can change dramatically, and those who never say die pull a great result out of the bag, often as an event draws to a close. This year’s Penn Sea League final proved an excellent demonstration of never giving up in the hope of either a late flurry of fish, or that one, big, match-defining specimen. Once again, 40 top anglers from the 2017 Penn Sea League had qualified for the big final, held this time at the rugged boulder beach at Bossington, in Somerset. With conditions not ideal for top-class action from this picturesque venue, it never looked like anyone would run away with the prestigious event as fish proved hard to find.
It left the match wide open for a dramatic finale. And so it proved, as both of the two zones were won by anglers who, with an hour to go, had caught nothing. Suddenly, in no more than the last 45 minutes, there was late drama.
The big match, fished to a measureto-weight conversion system, started in overcast conditions, with a slight breeze and with the water holding a slight greenish tinge rather than what would have been a favoured murky sea. That curtailed any chance of an early surge of dogfish. Peg 1 was located in front of the bunker midway along the curving beach, while peg 40 was close to the imposing Hurlstone Point.
Even without preferred conditions, there were a few fish caught on the first cast, such as Andrew Dugdale on peg 2 landing a 36cm pollack on a sandeel bait, and Simon Drayton, on peg 10, taking a 20cm wrasse, also on a sandeel before adding the first of two strap congers.
In zone B, Rory Jenkins, on peg 25, also caught on his first cast, taking a 27cm codling on a crab bait, and adding a 31cm rockling, but he was unable to add any more fish on his match card. On peg 33, Steve Smith, who has won the Penn final twice, used a rag and mackerel bait to catch a 55cm dogfish on his first cast, adding a 44cm silver eel on his third cast.
Gary Pye, on peg 13, caught a 58cm dogfish on peeler crab on his second cast, but failed to find any more fish during the match. On peg 14, Chris Westgarth, who won Division One in 2018, caught two rockling on crab baits to make a good start, but again failed to add to his match card. On the next peg, England International Saul Page caught a 35cm rockling early on to a sandeel bait, but could only add a small wrasse. Match organiser James Madsen, who had qualified for his first Penn final, caught 54cm dogfish on his second cast, also to a sandeel bait.
Another angler to make a good start was Ian Dancey, on peg 35, where he caught a 45cm strap conger on his first cast and added a 20cm pouting on the next, both on crab baits, before managing to add a 56cm dogfish later in the catch-and-release event. Otherwise, it was looking like many of these top anglers would fail to register a fish.
The match was fished from three hours up to high water and two down. According to those who regularly fish the venue, there was an unusual lack of strong tidal movement on the ebb.
An early pacesetter in zone B, at end
peg 40, was Gareth Gardiner, who took a double shot of a 33cm rockling on crab and a 53cm strap conger to sandeel on his second cast. However, he couldn’t improve on that, but midway through the match, on adjacent peg 39, Nathan Elliott, registered fish on his scorecard, as first one and then another dogfish took a liking to his sandeel baits.
Black clouds began to move in from the south west in the final hour of the match, and perhaps a slight change of light conditions prompted a few more fish to feed. For Nathan, it produced the bites and hooked fish, but he lost them in the snaggy ground. Good fortune was deserting him.
Back in zone A, it seemed that Andrew Dugdale, from the Isle of Man, had put himself in contention as a zone winner with four fish for 115 points, but Steve Williams, who had been runner-up in the Penn Sea League Premier Division in 2017, suddenly turned the match on its head.
Facing the prospect of a blank, the angler from Jarrow stuck it out with his three size 2/0 Kamasan Uptide hooks baited with pieces of sandeel. It paid off as, with 45 minutes left, his rod signalled a thumping bite. As he retrieved the fish (he was using a Zziplex Dymic HST rod and Penn 525 Mag reel loaded with 20lb Daiwa ST line), the Geordie knew he had a decent fish. Soon he beached a 94cm bull huss, worth a massive 452 points, and suddenly the match was going his way. With 15 minutes left, he added a 33cm pollack, to finish with a comfortable match-winning 478 points.
A relieved Steve, who collected a £1,000 Penn tackle voucher for his first Penn final win, said: “I thought about going for small fish, but stuck to my guns with three hooks and bigger baits.”
That left Andrew Dugdale in second in zone A, with Roy Tapper, on adjacent end peg 1, taking a 35cm codling and 58cm dogfish for third. Darren Bond, who had caught a 30cm pollack, added a last-cast 59cm dogfish
to snatch fourth in zone. Next in zone A was Simon Drayton, who caught the most fish, five. Another angler to have a late change of fortune was Neville Charlesworth, on peg 16 in front of the breach in the boulder bank, with his switch to crab baits producing a double shot of a 32cm pollack and 33cm codling, followed by a small 35cm dogfish to see him sixth in the zone.
It was a similar story in zone B, where Billy Buckley, of Glasgow, on peg 36, was blanking with 40 minutes of the match remaining, but caught a brace of dogfish on sandeel baits and added another shortly afterwards to win the zone and pip Nathan Elliott, on peg 39, who missed five fish late on. A last-cast fish paid off too for England International Ken McCoy, of Sunderland, on peg 21, where he secured third in the zone with a dogfish of 66cm, and it also proved to be the biggest fish in zone B. The saying “It’s never over until the fat lady sings” was certainly true for this event. In the Penn final, the large vocalist certainly kept everyone waiting.
Steve Williams lands a pollack, shortly after taking the huss (above) A late brace of dogfish for Billy Buckley
Saul Page and Neville Charlesworth fishing at pegs 15 and 16
A small wrasse for Simon Drayton
After finishing second in the Premier Division, Steve Williams wins the Penn Final
A sandeel bait ready to go out for a dogfish
A rotten-bottom rig armed with a fish bait