A view of the tower at the top of the Ronquières Inclined PlaneA view of the tower at the top of the Ronquières Inclined Plane

I’ve connected in Ronquières with many of the friends made over the years since MA.com first began it’s coverage of internationals and, while this feature may not contain the in-depth information of those years, it does have the same flavour and unbiased overview that set us apart from every other media outlet who have attend these championships. We'll begin our coverage with a brief description of the venue, and we'll also include an overview of the massive boat hoist, referred to as the Ronquières Inclined Plane.

Note the two cars on the deck, these would sink many of the barges in the UK!!!Note the two cars on the deck, these would sink many of the barges in the UK!!!The venue itself is a man-made structure nearly 30 miles long (48km) and around 80 wide. Depths vary from a couple of metres close in, to over 5 metres in the centre. Flow is dictated by numerous locks along the length, in particular the massive incline boat hoist at Ronquières, as massive barges make their way through. These barges can have a draft nearly the depth of the main channel when fully ladened. This can have a profound effect when fishing along the banks, as the tow can sweep feed away very quickly. It’s particularly disastrous for anglers when two boats pass each other, as the draw and tow they exert completely wipe out any goundbait/bait on the bottom.


Looking down on the canal from the top of the Inclin tower!Looking down on the canal from the top of the Inclin tower!The Ronquières Inclined Plane has a length of 1,432m (1,566yds) and lifts boats through 68m (223ft) vertically. It consists of two large caissons (tubs, for want of a better name!) mounted on rails. Each caisson measures 91m (299ft) long by 12m (39ft) wide and has a water depth between 3 and 3.70m (9.8 and 12.1ft). It can carry one boat of 1,350 tonnes or many smaller boats within the same limits.

The weight of each caisson is held by a counterweight of 5,200 tonnes (5,100 long tons; 5,700 short tons), which runs beneath the rails. Eight cables per caisson running around winches at the top allow each caisson to be moved independently of the other. They can be moved between the two canal levels at a speed of 1.3m/s (4ft/s), boats taking 50 minutes in total to pass through the entire structure.

I’ll begin with my bankside arrival during Thursday’s practice, where a walk along the sectors showed that this would be a very technical event. Feeding and application strategies would determine the outcome of both podiums… this would not end up being a lucky championship for the majority of teams!

On a slightly different note before we get into the main article. I attended the opening ceremony in the small town of Braine le Comte, as is the usual FIPSed custom every Thursday evening prior to the match weekend. With the 38 assembled teams present the local dignitaries’ gave their usual speeches before we were treated to what can only be described as an unusual spectacle for the many different nationalities present. It’s the usual custom for the hosting nation at these championships to put on some sort of show relating to their local customs. This year saw a parade of brightly coloured dressed men and children, wearing what looked like a sort of marshmallow on their heads, in the towns square. They were doing what could best be described as a ‘clog’ dance to the varied strains of a band, consisting of trumpets, trombones and drums…etc. What was even more unusual was that they were carrying baskets loaded with oranges, which were duly thrown to the amused crowds. There were literally oranges flying all over the place. I’m told it’s in celebration of William of Orange who came from the region… I assume it’s true. There is a video on our web channel documenting the display. It certainly cheered up the assembled crowd in the square.

One of the favourites for honours in BelgiumOne of the favourites for honours in BelgiumThe grapevine had Belgium, England, France and possibly Italy as the main contenders for honours. The Belgians, in particular should do well, this was after all their home venue! England, of course, can rarely be discounted and the French would always prove a threat with this style of fishing. The Italians could be the ‘joker’ in the pack. They could be capable of taking either a major honour, or faltering, as they eventually did on both days. The disappointment was clear on team manager Jan Van Schendel’s face, as his boys finished in 9th place. This was a surprise as the Dutch fish similar waters, and for the same species!

The French really fancied their chances this year. Ronquières is almost on their doorstep and they had selected a team of canal specialists for the occasion. The French had noticed that bream were featuring less and less as the practise week wore on, so they focused all their long pole attention on targeting the bigger roach in the canal. Their strategy was simple, short line for the infamous "gobies", the French term for bullheads – but with slightly lighter floats than many other nations – and two long pole lines, 11.5m and 13m, both fed with an identical roach groundbait.

One of Frances' best northern canal anglers Alain Dewimille helped his team to a bronze medal with 3pt return for the championship.One of Frances' best northern canal anglers Alain Dewimille helped his team to a bronze medal with 3pt return for the championship.There are two things the French excel at in these circumstances. One is they understand the importance of how you lay a rig out on deep sloping canal venues. They were all very careful to lay rigs in parallel to the bank to ensure that the bait fell and landed exactly on the right line. As coach Gerard Trinquier explained, 10cm to close or too far and you were either laying on or, fishing off bottom which would target the smaller fish. The second was their use of pigeon s**t. Team manager Paul Louis Lafont was in no doubt that every top team would be using some of this in their mixes but, as he explained later, it’s not having it that matters it’s knowing how to mix it that makes the difference! The French make a wet green soup with very fresh pigeon s**t from young birds and use this instead of water to wet their roach groundbait. This has the effect of clogging the groundbait particles and creating a mix that holds in place during lock movements. Many anglers underestimated the pull of water on this deep canal when locks were opened and found that most of their mix went away, along with any decent roach!

Frances' Stéphane Linder plays a good fish to eventually win his sector from E16 which gave him a total of 2pts and a silver individual medal with a total weight of 12.181kgsFrances' Stéphane Linder plays a good fish to eventually win his sector from E16 which gave him a total of 2pts and a silver individual medal with a total weight of 12.181kgsMost of their anglers found the 11.5 metre line the most productive and used the 13 metre lines as a place to steal a few fish whilst resting their main attack line after feeding. Double or even triple bloodworm hookbaits worked for the bigger roach and these team tactics very nearly paid off. Two section wins and two section seconds on day one and a team victory on day two put the French so close to victory, it was only a catastrophe that spoilt their victory party. 

No roach for Diego... a catastrophe for FranceNo roach for Diego... a catastrophe for FranceThat happened on day one when their most experienced and likeable team member – the great Diego da Silva – blew out in B section and came back with 10.5 points! Diego had simply been unable to catch any roach on his long lines and was reduced to gobie bashing for all of his weight. Unfortunately for Diego he had spent a bit too long looking on the long pole lines for roach and by the time the team decision was made for him to forget the roach, Diego was too far behind others to make up any deficit. Had he caught another 400gr+, two or three quality roach, he could have taken 4th in sector, which would have tied France and Belgium on 18pts at the end, however, they would still have lost out on a weight count! Diego actually needed 3rd in sector on day one to give France the gold. Those quality roach were key to this championship and, as Diego proved on day two, he had no problem catching them by producing a solid 2nd in his sector! As it eventually turned out, France had to settle for bronze and must have cursed a world championship that was literally within their ‘roach’... sorry, I mean ‘reach’!!!

We’ll deal shortly with the mystique surrounding the Belgian campaign, as many have mentioned the secret groundbait mix that the team used as a whole. I’m reliably informed that it was not only this, but a combination of different factors which was instrumental in their success, although the groundbait did play an important role. Like the French, the Belgians used pigeon s**t to help clog the groundbait particles together, which in turn helped their mix stay in one place during water movement. I'm fortunate to have some more information, which sheds light on just how the Belgians approached the venue!

Hans Slegers displays the quality of roach the Belgian team was targetting during Thursday's practice session..Hans Slegers displays the quality of roach the Belgian team was targetting during Thursday's practice session..

We’ll start with their rigs, which used the very sensitive Eric Baire floats, like the Delta and Neptune. Sizes used were around 0.8gr to possibly 1.0gr, depending on the water flow over the entire week. Bearing in mind the lack of boats on the final day, it’s more than likely that 0.8gr were used in the 4m+ water. Their target where the better quality roach, this is where the groundbait mix came in. While English may rely on grilled hemp and the French on coriander, the Belgians found a mix, which specifically targeted bigger roach. This, as the whispers suggested, was prepared by a friend of the team prior to each day, the exact ingredients have an obvious air of secrecy surrounding them! If you need any help deciding what your next mix might be, then go to one of the specialist shops in Belgium who stock all manner of ingredients, like Steve Salomez in Leper (Ypres) or checkout his website at https://www.dewedstrijdvisserwebshop.be Steve's an expert in groundbait ingredients and has masses of stock ready for you to ‘sieve’ through (pardon the pun!).

Of course when you put groundbait balls into over 4 metres of water and have extremely large barges passing through, sometime side by side, which actually happened on one of the days, your feed will disintegrate very rapidely. To combat this to some extent, the continental angler has almost the perfect binding agent…pigeon s**t, something quite rare in UK angling society. We know both France and Belgium used in an approximate ratio of 800 grams of pigeon s**t, per 3+ kilo of groundbait, along with some very finely sieved Terre de Riviere. What we also found crucial was where the main feed for the roach was placed. This was at 11.5 metres, exactly as the French described earlier.

If you take into account the final points difference between all three of the top teams, you’ll note that perhaps groundbait did play a significant role in two of the teams overall strategy, as well as the way each team applied their own individual swim application, whereas England had relied on those three bream sector wins for their day one points. Had the tactice for the bream not worked out, England could, and probably would, have finished out of the top three. Even so they reworked their game plan for day two and matched both Belgium and France with roach! Lines of attack varied according to which species you were going to rely on. The obvious ones where the short 2 or 3m line for gobies, maybe a 6 or 7m, an important 11.5m and of course the full 13 metre line. Each team had previously worked out which lines would work best when feeding and how best to rotate them. This seemed to be the basis for any successful strategy, the difference seem to hinge on their use of groundbait and what it was made up of! Even so, the grapevine whispers was that the Belgian’s groundbait was mixed dry the night before and distributed to the team in the morning for the final wet mix have a strong element of truth to it!

What the Belgians relied on was the size of their target species…roach. They had obviously done a lot of homework on the venue and found that the key to any success was attracting the bigger roach. Bream, whilst being more evident at the beginning of the practice week, proved more elusive as the week went on and come the weekend, they proved even more difficult to find, except unless you were England of course and a handful of lucky competitors!

Without the addition of bream, England would have struggled, but to find them was no accident, although only three of the team managed to take advantage of this on day one. With three 1 pointers and two 4th places England had secured a valuable position going into the final day with 11pts, just 3pts behind the favourites Belgium, a remarkable result by any standard.

Above: Des and Alan with some good fish from Friday's final practice.Above: Des and Alan with some good fish from Friday's final practice.Above: Sean and Steve also weighed in with some quality nets.Above: Sean and Steve also weighed in with some quality nets.The usual team huddle after the Friday practice was a bit of a damp affair but England seemed confident that they had a good plan of how to fish the canal.The usual team huddle after the Friday practice was a bit of a damp affair but England seemed confident that they had a good plan of how to fish the canal.They had worked out early in practice that bream could be caught by fishing just leam and joker at 13 metres and using a double leam mix to top-up throughout the match. They ceased practicing this method from prying eyes as soon as they realised its potential! Groundbait would only be used on the 11.5 metre line, while the short line would be for the canal’s gobies, which they would fish for in the first hour, leaving their longer lines to settle.

England regular, Will Raison, had a solid 9 kilo+ weight to take into day 2, but was drawn 12 pegs away (peg 24) from sector winner Luc Thijs on peg 36, which had been the area you needed to draw in that sector. Luc had managed to record a total of 107 fish for 9.329kgs against Will’s 109 fish for 6.351kgs. This showed the much better quality of fish the Belgian was netting. It seems there had been something in the groundbait whispers after all, as all the anglers around Luc had only caught less than half his weight!!!

Other team members had mixed fortunes each day. While only Will, Alan and Steve caught bream on day one, both Des and Sean struggled to find these. Yet come day two, both Des and Sean came good with sector wins, while Will (2nd), Alan (4th) and Steve (2nd) backed up the team result with solid returns to match Belgium’s score, an fantastic achievement, especially as they went more for the roach! All credit goes to the lads and their support team.

Considering the venue, fishing style and sheer weight of expectation on England’s shoulders, it’s quite remarkable how this team can consistently pull results out of nothing, against local European opposition on venues as ‘rare as hen’s teeth’ back home.

Lady luck helps!
Alan's 4.791kgsAlan's 4.791kgsIt’s fair to say that these championships also required an element of luck at the draw bag and France certainly had some of that on day two, only facing England once in a sector and Belgium twice in two sectors, whereas England had faced Belgium four times in five sectors! Speaking of luck, what odds would you have given before day two started, that Alan Scotthorne would have secured an incredible 6th world title? Judging by the crowd behind Alan on C38, there were plenty who would have taken any odds on that happening! As it was, luck went with others as Alan could only manage a 4th place, so eventually finished with 5pts.
Looking down on C38Looking down on C38

A few surprises!
Day one produced a few surprise teams in the top 10. Switzerland, which we’ll mention again below, were joined by Bulgaria and Finland, who both sadly fell further behind on day two. It’s worth mentioning that perhaps Finland’s success could be attributed to their special advisor, Guido Nullens, a legend in the low countries and certainly one of the best bream anglers in europe! Unfortunately a poor day two saw Finland tumble down from 6th to 10th position overall, yet this was still miles ahead of the other Scandinavian teams. It was a great performance, especially as they had a sector 1st and 2nd on day one. Both Seppo Pönni and Tero Kankaanpää can be very proud of their respected performances, as can the team overall. Bulgaria faired much worse having disaster in all but one sector on day two, which dropped them down to 12th place overall.

There were some unfortunate stories during these championships. First we have the case of Switzerland’s Aaron Ferretti, who scored perfect points, yet finished 4th and off the podium, only beaten by less than half a kilo! His performances on both days were as stunning as his team’s result, especially on day two where he was up against one of Frances’ finest canal anglers, Alain Dewimille.

Aaron lands his final fish which helped him win the sector from Frances' Alain DewimilleAaron lands his final fish which helped him win the sector from Frances' Alain DewimilleThe unluckiest angler on the bank, Switzerland's Aaron Ferretti. How can you not win a medal with 2pts!The unluckiest angler on the bank, Switzerland's Aaron Ferretti. How can you not win a medal with 2pts!It was a nail-biting wait while the scales came to Aaron, as he was last to weigh and knew that Alain had recorded 6.356kgs to lead so far. As his fish gradually settled on the scales, the weight was read out… 6.741kgs… Aaron and his team manager were ecstatic and could hardly believe the result, Switzerland had produced a championship winning individual, but so had Belgium and France! Where would this place Aaron? As speculation grew and bankside whispers contradicted themselves, it emerged that Aaron would finally suffer the nightmare scenario of being placed off the podium by means of a weight count-back. To say he was gutted was an understatement, but he can be proud that he matched the podium winners in all but weight!!! His team also finished the next best, behind three of the greatest teams in the history of the sport. Full credit must go to everyone in and around the team for such an unexpected result, bearing in mind the size of the country. Skiing you would expect it, fishing you would not!

Jacopo Falsini restores some Italian pride with this sector winning 6.278kgs of prime roach on the final day.Jacopo Falsini restores some Italian pride with this sector winning 6.278kgs of prime roach on the final day.Italy
One cannot write about world championship teams without mentioning Italy. What on earth happened to this world-class team in Belgium? Thirty two and a half points for 9th place after day one … no one would have seen that coming! But a sort of a recovery on day two, led by one of their star players, saw them improve to 6th overall. No doubt there will be a depressing post-mortem when they return to Italy! Their time will return soon, I suspect.

In conclusion, I think, while this Championship seemed a little one sided with the top three teams well ahead of the pack, it showed just how valuable local knowledge, techique and a little bit of good fortune can be. Previous championships have usually contained all of these ingredients, so it's only a matter of time before other nations get the chance to rise to the podium. Our final picture gallery is all about the podium, enjoy!

Finally, there's one more story to come (as soon as I recover from this one!) about what it takes a team to attend one of these Championships. I give you a clue in the picture below!
It was a bit of a trip, but they made it!It was a bit of a trip, but they made it!