Being fortunate enough to have been asked, by's Dave Johnson, if I would like to  help cover the 2009 European Championships, I found the offer impossible to refuse. My main job for the week would be to cover Alan Scotthorne's build-up to the main weekend's action and back-up Dave and Rob Hewison with photographs and section information in order that the site has the best possible coverage. Aside from this, I was also in the enviable position of being Alan's Maver Barnsley team mate and was consequently asked by Alan to run the bank for him on day one.

This was to fit in very nicely with my duties, as in order to do a good job for Alan, it was essential that I understood the way he thinks and prepares for the event, as well as becoming familiar with the venue itself. By doing all this, I would not only help the site gain privilege access and insight into Alan's preparations, but also be in the best possible position to help him and England find the podium once again.

After talking to local anglers, such as Gido, along with other international contacts, the team had established that big river rigs from 0.5g to 5gr, mainly round bodied, would be required dependent on the River Sava's flow. To complement this, large flat floats to 50gr where also prepared along with smaller bleak rigs, bolognese and slider tackle, to suit what was clearly going to be a wide range of conditions. This is an area where all international anglers stand head and shoulders above the rest us. They spend weeks getting ready for events such as this, Alan is no exception and is renown, in particular, for leaving nothing to chance. With so much time spent away fishing, preparation on the bank is simply not an option for him.

I spent some time with Alan, during practice week, getting first-hand insight into all his lovingly prepared rigs. One of the most noticeable things with all his rigs is the strong mainline he uses to set them up on. Take his running river rigs for small fish as an example, they where all tied to 0.16mm mainline, which seemed to be very strong. When I questioned this, his reasoning was very interesting. Basically, the stronger mainline makes the rig very stiff and robust, meaning it reduces tangles and increases speed. It also meant that by having numerous identical rigs on standardised line, it offered a wide variety of options when it came to hooklength strength choice. There were no concerns about using different strength hooklengths, even as light as 0.09mm! This basic set-up principle is a feature on many of his rigs, and there are certainly plenty to choose from!

Having recently helped develop a range of floats with leading French manufacturer Rive, Alan used these exclusively throughout the championships and the range certainly impressed us at, especially the popular 105. This pattern is well suited for medium paced rivers and the short line work which Alan concentrated on with good effect. It was also noticeable that, as with all the team, the float incorporated a plastic bristle and carbon stem. Alan explained that the carbon stem prevented tangles while the plastic bristle was highly visible, yet sensitive enough to register tiny bites. We will look into these specific rigs a little later, but back to the practice weeks for now.

The teams' first week had been an interesting one. When I spoke to Alan at the end of that week, he had told me that the river had been a light green colour, with a very steady pace. The team had been catching well on bolo rigs well out into the river, Alan had even fished a slider with substantial success. The key thing he'd noted was the species of fish they had been catching... big roach, nase (affectionally nicknamed 'nobheads' by Darren Cox), barbel and carp, with some huge specimens putting in an appearance. The team had also been catching smaller species as, but not in any great numbers.

It was after this week that the heavens opened and almost five days of non-stop rain came hammering down across the whole of eastern Europe. Fortunately for these championships, the Sava's big river system managed to contain the downpour within its banks, but as you will have no doubt read in other parts of our coverage, it meant the small tributary rivers which feed the venue, became a chocolate colour and transformed the previously sedate river, into really strong looking cup of tea!

When you fish a river in England like this, it would usually mean a time to catch the bigger species. So with the lads setting their stall out for 'lumps', Alan decided to take a different approach by feeding an inside line to try and catch 'bits'. The results where amazing, the  Sava's darker colour had prompted the bonus fish to stop feeding, as a result, thousands of the rivers' smaller species took over and responded in a feeding spree. Alan caught an impressive 5 kilo of small vimba at 5 metres, feeding regularly with small balls of groundbait packed with joker. This set the tone for the next few days of practice and when we arrived on the bankside on Thursday, the England lads proceeded to show just why they are so feared in the world of international angling. Over their 3 hour practice stint, they each amassed over 6 kilos of these smaller fish... and remember, this was at practice pace, not match pace!

I sat with Alan for a couple of hours to watch his approach and to try to understand how he maximised his particular catch. The first thing to highlight is his total professionalism. Competing at World and European level is without doubt the pinnacle in angling achievement and demands a professional attitude. This not only comes across in Alan’s approach, but also the rest of the team during these practice sessions.

The first thing they have to cope with is the large numbers of people they attract, where ever they go. Just about every teams sends a representative to watch England, not only during practice but also during the main event, because they know they are the team to beat. Alan, in particular, has had to get use to this situation, rather than becoming distracted by it and developed a totally focused attitude on preparation and sorting out methods while on the bank. In fact, he was so focused on the Thursday he didn’t even realise I was sitting behind him!

Another situation one must appreciate is that each member of the team is fishing for his place in the starting line-up, effectively until Friday evening! I particularly felt this limited their ability to experiment in the final stages of these practice sessions, but then how else are you going to choose from such a high-class wealth of anglers. Alan, like the rest of the team, had thrown in eight balls of groundbait at the start containing 250ml of separated joker. His mix was 50% Gros Gardons and 50% River, an incredibly sticky mix that is capable of holding plenty of live baits, such as pinkies and maggots. Groundbait is limited to 25 litres WET for these international matches and although that may seem like a lot, it soon goes when you’re feeding a ball every chuck. This was the feeding pattern used by England throughout the championships, one which was quickly picked up by many of the other teams.

Alan had been making good progress in the practice session, 50 vimba in the first hour, was followed up by a strong second hour. On Thursday, Alan’s best rig was a 2gr 105 pattern float, eased through the peg at around half the pace of the river. The bulk of his shot where 50cm from the hook with evenly spread No.8 droppers below. This was coupled with a short 10cm hooklength where he used a size 18 Mustad round bend match hook. Double bloodworm seemed to give the fish a slightly more visible bait to pick out in the coloured water, but as the second hour wore on Alan started to find problems. He, along with the rest of the team, was starting to miss bites on a regular basis. When trying to put a smooth rhythm together, this can certainly hinder your final weight tally. Then, within 15 minutes, Alan had started to hit bites again.

At the end of the session I asked him how he had managed to resolve the problem. His reason was so basic. He'd simply reduced the amount of joker in his top-up feed because he felt that over-feeding joker had limited the amount of competition for feed. This, in effect, meant that fish where snatching at the bait and thereby causing bites to be missed... SIMPLE!

By the end of the session, Alan posted a brilliant 7.3kg, only just beaten by the ever impressive Will Raison with 7.9kg. Will had used similar tactics to Alan and it was this response to limiting the amount of joker that had made the difference in their catches. That night the team discussed all their findings and would look to incorporate this approach in the next day's final session.

I'll briefly summarise Friday, as I spent most of it watching the Italian and Hungarian teams, but after the practice session was over, I helped Alan pack away, and pick his brains for a more detailed insight into how final practice had gone.

The team had been drawn on E section, which was clearly going to be the most prolific section of the match. Alan and Darren had been at the top of the box and for some reason had struggled, each catching less than 5 kilos, Steve Hemingray had done particularly well again with an impressive 6.8 kilo net of better roach and 'nobheads'. He had fished further out than the rest of the team and discussing this with Alan, it became clear he was concerned about tactics for the following day.

His primary concerns where that England would be going for a small fish attack, yet with the river likely to run clear, bigger fish where beginning to show. England’s tactics did not give such a good chance of catching them so it would be a calculated gamble. It was clearly evident that England had been the strongest team on small fish throughout the week, so everyone coming back with safe points is always a good first day strategy. This level of approach and depth of analysis is what earned Alan his 5 individual crowns and England their dominant and respected position in the world.

The team meeting that evening was all about making tough decisions. They eventually came to the conclusion to concentrate on small fish, anywhere between 9 and 11 metres, slipping a bigger bait on from time to time to seek out a 'bonus' fish. This, as you have already no doubt read, proved good for safe points. However, by taking a more risky and aggressive approach, the Hungarians returned a incredible 7pts for day one, catching bigger fish on long poles to win the day. They were now within touching distance of their ultimate goal... Gold. England where left wallowing in their wake and would have to pull out all the stop on the final day to recover any possible medal position.

Regrettably, Alan had drawn the short straw in the days points tally and being the marginally lowest scorer, found the teams' system of second day replacement apply! Darren Cox would take take up the reins while Alan would play his part in what would become another 'comeback kings' revival. It's worth pointing out that few teams operate the same way as England, even though it must be patently clear that their selection system is based on form, not stature. How many world-class sides would dream of replacing their most iconic angler and put him on the bank? Not only does this show that England have such a depth of talent in the squad, but they also operate the principle to share the load fairly and without favour. Each member is committed to this, without reservation... that's what makes England so special (and dangerous)!

As a final part to's extensive coverage of these championships, I'll be giving you a rare time-check, or stop watch action, on Alan's first day, which I hope you'll find absorbing.