Apologises for lack of pictures in this report... I've run out of time!
I will try and get some galleries after I return from Serbia!

What was difficult to understand was how the undoubted favourites, and home side Team Ravanelli Trabucco, could finish so far from the podium, even under the leadership of their mentor and Italian fishing legend, Roberto Trabucco. The championships were, after all, being held in Italy!

English side Starlets, faced a different kind of pressure to them. For over a decade it’s perceived that all things English (when it comes to angling not football!) are almost guaranteed podium status. That may have been true several years ago, but since then things have changed. These days English teams are finding it more difficult to challenge for silverware. It’s not that English angling has become bad, all of a sudden, it’s simply that the rest of the world has become better!

On every international championship I’ve attended, it’s very clear how the rest of the world perceives English teams’, judging by the gallery of video cameras, binoculars and tape recorders focused on each and every member of the squad every day, especially the ‘holy trinity’ (that’s Scotthorne, Raison and Gardener, for the uninitiated!).

These ‘watchers’ have scrutinised every detail, on every venue, of every English angler, in order to report back to their respective camps. Italy also have come under this type of scrutiny, so it’s not surprising that many teams which were considered second or third tier a few years ago, have now flexed their muscles and begun to show that they too can match the best of the best! These Club Champs have confirmed that, as if the obvious needed me to tell you!

But let’s take a look at how England’s top side Kamasan Starlets managed to finish in such a lowly position. We’re all aware of the quality of the team. They hold four accomplished and decorated internationals (one world champ and one European champ), England’s joint manager, and some of the best anglers in England. But wait a minute, these guys aren’t fishing in England, they’re fishing in a strange land, with strange water and species! I’m not making excuses for them, just giving you all a reality check. Having been around English international teams for many years, I feel more than qualified to extend my opinions on what turned out to be a patriotically disappointing event.

To be fair to Starlets, captain Mark Downes did hold his hands up when he said: “Mullet played a major part in the contest and we hadn’t really got a clue about them. Italy also fell foul of them, and they were the home side! Our catfish plan worked in practice, but on this part-tidal canal this plan fell down when the mullet arrived in force on the second day. It was a strange venue indeed.” Mark knew that 50 points should get a medal and even though day one had only produced 35 points, he felt that a good showing on day two might secure one. But with several plans in place, it was two other teams which showed the way by focussing on one main approach.

This is only part of the story of this year’s Club Champs. To understand some of the disappointing results that have beset England, we need to look deeper into what is currently affecting our international teams’ results. Whenever England attend these events they always start on the back foot. Why? Because as mentioned previously, the type of venues chosen are alien to our anglers.

For example:

  • Venues abroad don’t really bear any resemblance to those found in the UK. International venues are wide, long and generally have excellent access to parking and unloading behind every peg. Canals, rivers or rowing courses are the normal type of venues chosen. Where can UK anglers find venues like this at home? Not in many places I guarantee!
  • How many continental venues have carp as the main target species? They are, after all, the staple diet of every English angler! Fish species abroad can range from your standard bream to bleak, catfish, mullet and even black bass, as Sean Ashby found out during one of the teams practice sessions!
  • Techniques vary. Pole rigs are usually between 1gr to 50gr. Floats will be either standard river types, or lollipops. Sliders and Bolognese are essential tools. Heavy wagglers can be as much as 30 grams. This means that float rods, in particular, will be varied according to which technique is being used. For example, you wouldn’t use a standard UK 12’ waggler rod for any of these methods.
  • Bait requirements always revolve around bloodworm and joker. Mainly used during winter fishing in the UK. UK understanding of these baits is far below that of the continentals.

If you just consider these four points, it’s amazing that England have produced so many podiums since the turn of the century! But there are even more pitfalls surrounding UK anglers abroad.

We have another aspect of international fishing, which is uncommon in England. Restrictions and rules governing all internationals, major championships and local events. These are known as CIPS rules and most countries throughout Europe adopt them, not only their major competitions, but also at a more local level. Here’s a brief snapshot of them. See if you’d like to cope with any of these:

  • Baits are different (no pellets on competitions), bloodworm and joker is used 99% of the time
  • A standard 4 hour time for internationals matches. Some local matches may still be 3 hours
  • Bait limits and bait checks before every start, with yellow cards issued if not ready, or over bait limits
  • Designated areas for competitors (taped boxes)
  • Matches start with 10 minute pre-baiting
  • Start and end on signal (no extra time to play fish)
  • Fish counts by individual peg stewards and displayed every hour
  • Only designated officials (i.e. team officials) may enter competitors allocated box
  • Competitors can be and are dope-tested

As well as taking all these points into account, equipment needs to be highly specialised to cope with any changes which may occur. For instance, because depths are usually deeper abroad, it means anglers must carry enough spare sections down to a number 7, in order to set up enough rig variations to cope with the extreme depths encountered. There, doesn’t all this just make you think how lucky we are in the UK?

English teams have effectively raised and set benchmarks for others to attain for well over a decade, but as others reach these goals, keeping ahead of the game for the English is fast becoming more difficult!

Italy upstaged
But the Club Champs was not all about England’s Starlets, there was also another notable failure… Italian Team Ravanelli Trabucco, fronted by one of Italy’s most famous names, Roberto Trabucco. His team where considered to have been unassailable, on what can only be described as their home territory! But again, lack of understanding of the prime species proved their undoing. How is a mystery, as Serbia managed to sort out the issue! With the inclusion of full internationals such as Sorti and Defendi, Roberto must have been scratching his head, wondering how it all went wrong.

Roberto himself fished both days and to watch him heave a 20g waggler to within inches of the reeds was a joy, except for the one time I saw him bury the rig in them, proving that he is after all human! Even so, the man is truly a living legend and as nice a person as you could wish to meet. He even became my brolly man at the prize-giving ceremony!

Nevertheless we move on to the positives of the ‘Clubs’ in which two stand-out performances spring to mind. First was a superb, if not fortuitous, display of heavy waggler fishing by the tiny minnow Slovenian team, Sensas Pesnica Team Slovenia. I’m aware they didn’t win the gold medal, but their performance on day one, which saw them record an impressive 11pts, should surely have earned one. As it was, they had to contend with an even more outstanding overtaking pass by the Serbia on day two.

Slovenia are the undoubted minnows in the world rankings, but their top team proved to be the dark horse of the championships and a silver medal was just reward for what some will view as a risky approach. It was their decision to focus primarily on the far reed line which, when viewed in hindsight, proved a master stroke. Amazing for one of the smallest nations in the angling world. It was noticeable during that first day that while all around them balled-in, Slovenia catapulted most of their normal pre-baiting groundbait on the far reed line, some 40 metres away, at the start. They would then concentrate worm and maggot over it for most of the 4 hours.

By the time the all-in sounded, some 10 minutes later, the line had settled and fish began to come in on it. Needless to say, with that amount of bait laid down it was only a matter of time before more fish ‘homed’ in on it! They stuck with the plan for day two, and although several teams passed them, they still managed to register a score good enough to keep the silver medal place.

Our second performance worthy of mention was by Senta Maros Mix Tubertini, an emerging team from Serbia in eastern Europe. They had found a way of picking up fish, namely mullet, during early practice sessions and used this knowledge to register consistent scores over the two days.

Although they finished 12pts behind Slovenia on day one, they blew the field away with an even better score of 16ptson the final day. Their two point margin at the end was good enough to snatch the gold medal from Slovenia, but to my mind both teams deserved gold for proving that it’s not always about how many international stars your have in the team, but more like how many of your team are stars!

Mullet were they key
The plan, which carried them to gold, was relatively simple. They chose mullet as the key to unlocking a podium place. They’d learnt, from early practice, to mixed 2kg of Tubertini Gold Medal and 2kgs of Big Fondo, with some of their sponsors (Maros Mix) carp additive for their groundbait mix with a quarter litre of dead maggots. They also used 6kg of leam and bentonite, as a solid joker and bloodworm top up feed. Floats varied between 1 and 3gr, depended on the wind and flow. When the current was strong, they use heavier floats and laid the whole hooklength on the deck. When there is no current they use smaller floats with the hook just touching the bottom. During Sunday there was little flow so they used the lighter 1 gram floats and caught off the bottom and on the drop.

Plenty of hookers!
Their Sensas 3405 size 14 hooks carried around 15 bloodworm and elastics were Hydro pink and blue. They topped up, after every fish or every 5 minutes, whichever came first, with 2 small balls of the joker-rich leam mix and 1 ball of the GB mix. Nearly all their fish came on the 13m line. They also prepared a short pole line(4-5m), but they only threw in groundbait at the start and later they just fished over it with worms and maggots. This line on the Saturday accounted for around 20% of their catches that day.

Hungary step up again
Another consistent display by Hungarian team Perfect-Tima’r-Mix, saw them pick up the bronze medal, although they were still 10pts away from taking silver! The Dutch were so close to a near podium finish. Judging by the reaction of their captain, Jan Van Schendel, they should have got it, but for a poor return in D sector.

Despite Starlets fall, there was some comfort for one UK team. Daiwa Scotland managed a section win on day one with David McCauley and their youngest angler, John Baird Jnr, took the scalp of current World Champion Sean Ashby in his section! Something that would no doubt give him inspiration, and remain with him for many years to come!

Westerners watch out!
It was noticeable, looking at the final team results, that the Dutch were the only western European side to come in the top eight squads. If nothing else, it proves that the emergence of eastern Europe teams, as a dominant force in angling, to be no ‘flash-in-the-pan’. No longer must they be considered the poor relations of today’s mighty English and Italian sides. The forthcoming European Champs in Serbia and the later World Championships in Poland, could see further gains for these nations

And finally…
One final note which I must mention was the participation of the Cyprus Fishing Club Fish Float team. This was the first international attendance of Cyprus… an island of just 25 anglers! As expected they didn’t trouble the main participants, but they did gain experience and learn some valuable lessons, which may stand them in good stead in later years. Let’s hope they decide to come again, even if they did finished in last place, it was still the taking part that counted.