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25/11/23 - 2023 Junior Christmas Match - Homeground Lake, Todber Manor.

Updated: Nov 27, 2023


When you plan the fixtures for the year, you pop the Christmas Match in at the end and think ‘That’s ages away’… and yet, here we are. The last junior event of the year. With championships all tied up, this match is the fun one. The one where we can let our hair down a bit and relax.

Well, that’s the idea anyway…


Jerry Jon and I had been to the mecca of big weights, Todber Manor, for a bit of a practice/ego stroking session earlier in the week on Thursday to try to learn something about the venue to pass on to the competing shrimps. It didn’t disappoint either. Practicing at Todber is more of a case of finding out what doesn’t work, rather than sorting out what does. What we didn’t know is that we would have to donate equipment to the fish Gods. I donated a tip section to the God of broken pole sections known as ‘Cantaffordanewone’, Jerry gave sacrifice to the God of lost pole sections, ‘Needtopayattention’. Jon failed to sacrifice any large tackle items, but did try to upset the God of hook baits, ‘Katchingonawafter’, buy not using any bait at all! We did learn a bit though. Enough to pass on some nuggets of knowledge to any shrimp that would listen…

I knew that weather would be cold, but there were brass monkeys reaching for their thermals when I levered myself out of my slumber pit at 05:15. In no time I was saying my farewells to M’Lady who told me that, after this weekend, maybe I could give her some attention for a change! The cheek of it…


The car coughed into life with a reading of -3 on the dashboard. A steady drive was needed in case of the slippery death on the roads. No slippery death was found, but the car decided to up-the-anti by throwing me a few dashboard warning lights. The first of these was my left rear tyre being bereft of air by a solitary pound. Not a problem I thought, I’ll monitor that… The second was the front rear tyre that was lacking air to the tune of a pound also… Blast…Maybe I ran over something… The third was my front facing safety devices were disabled due to an obscured front facing camera… I didn’t know I had a front facing camera? I was even more surprised when the forth warning told me that the speed limit detection tool was also disabled… I had visions of me driving a clown car into Todber Manors car park only for it to completely collapse once I eventually stopped.


The car survived and so did I, and Todber looked beautiful in the early morning mist. Yes, it was cold, but on mornings like these, you feel glad to be alive.


I pegged out the lake and set up the tables for Jerry Christmas’s Grotto of endless joy…

Participants and coaches started to arrive in equal measure and the atmosphere was high. Si Wag (Master of Corrections) pulled out a Santa hat for the occasion… ‘Hold my pint’, I said as I pulled on this year’s ridiculous hat contribution. Rather than putting it into words, I will let you decide on its value in the form of a picture and interpretive dance…


Your guest draw master and the one to blame today was Neil Haine, and the draw went as follows: Peg 1: Austin ‘Don’t Panic’ Scott-Kennedy. Peg 2: Jack ‘Twiglet’ Copp. Peg 3: Kenzie ‘Turn into a Carp’ Toulson. Peg 4: Oliver ‘Aquaboy’ Smith. Peg 5: Josiah ‘His Lordship’ Wells-Parkes. Peg 6: Jack ‘The Destroyer’ Davis. Peg 7: Harry ‘Carnage’ Cryer. Peg 8: Jack ‘Double Ton’ Cryer.


Your ‘Blush’ of coaches (The correct collective noun for six coaches) today were: Graham Howard – Catherine of Aragon Jerry Bracey – Anne Boleyn Si Wagner – Jane Seymour Jon Bass – Anne of Cleves Neil Haine – Catherine Howard (You didn't I was related to royalty, did you?) Chris Ward – Catherine Parr (…and we all looked stunning in our period dresses too).



Peg One: Austin Scott-Kennedy: I’m just going straight up say it… Austin and Amy were late… There I’ve said it… Austin was on the verge of a meltdown and wasn't feeling great, but soldiered on to make it to this last event. They arrived only 30 minutes late, and we descended on them like a cloud of locusts!

Fishing equipment was soon flying everywhere, and Amy (Agent Maps) was spinning on the spot like a confused marionette, asking if there was anything she could do to help? There wasn’t, so we wheeled her to one side and got on with the job. Si put the box down, I fitted a new elastic, and plumbed the depth for him and Austin was ready with just 3 minutes to spare! He was soon into a lumpy Mud-Pig, and I thought he was in for the long haul. But at the end, I was a little surprised that there wasn’t more in his nets than I imagined there to be. Maybe his fish were not as big as that of the other juniors. Not that he did badly. You can’t sniff at 118lbs 3ozs on a cold day in November. It’s just that he seemed to be landing a fish every time that I looked in his direction, so I thought he had more than his final score showed. It was a pleasing end to an outstanding season for Austin. I’m sure that he will have a lot more to give in 2024…

Peg Two: Jack Copp: I think Jack was happy with his peg and set about happily clicking off every pound of fish that were slowly filling his nets. Coaching Jack is a matter of small details rather than game changing advice, such has been his progression over the last year or two. Of course, whether that advice is actioned is a different matter. But I’m happy to offer him any help that I can, leaving it up to him if he choses to take it on board or not. I’m guessing that one piece of advice that it may have been advisable to use today would have been to carefully count the numbers of fish going into his keep net… I hate doing it, I really do. But rules is rules and the scales do not lie. When ‘Err’ comes up on the scales. It means that the 66lb limit of the scales, the junior rules, and the rules of the fishery have been breached. Being knocked back to 50lb cost Jack today. But even the big names of fishing do it, so it is probably more common these days, particularly at fisheries like Todber Manor. He only slipped to 3rd on the day though and his 155lbs 12ozs was a fitting end to his junior season.



Peg Three: Kenzie Toulson: There was something quite endearing watching Kenzie screaming at a 1.5lb Skimmer that it should ‘Turn into a Carp!!!’. The Bream ignored Kenzie and looked a little offended. Silverfish did not count today due to the lack of available spare keepnets. Putting 1.5lbs back without weighing it must have stuck in Kenzie’s throat a bit. But, as we have seen already, rules is rules… His 1982 bendy pole was out for another run today and it achieved some pretty spectacular shapes whilst battling the lakes wobbly residents. Not that it seemed to bother the lad, however. He just pulled a bit harder and made it bend even more. It was eyewatering, but effective. He went through a little barren spell, so I stepped in to help him out. A bit of re-plumbing and some rig adjustments, and he was soon back into bendy mode again. With other juniors munching up keep nets like cupcakes being sold outside a weight watchers meeting, Kenzie was forced to weigh his one keep net in early. He wanted a picture with the fish but, some fat idiot said 'No, it's ok, you'll catch plenty more'... The picture only shows 15lbs of fish instead of the 47lbs that he weighed in earlier...Sorry Kenzie... Kenzie is still very early in his fishing career and has much to learn. But he is doing very well and should be proud of his new PB match weight of 63lbs today. I don’t think it will be long before he is bothering some of the more experienced juniors…



Peg Four: Oliver Smith: Neil drew Ollie peg four and Anna rejoiced because it was the closest peg to where they had parked the car. It was quite a celebration to be honest. Lots smiles, a bit of squeal, and lots of jumping in circles. It clearly meant a lot to her. I chatted with Anna, and she said ‘Look, he’s doing it all by himself’. To be honest, she was right. But I remember thinking, at 13 he damn well should be! It wasn’t long before two sad, watery, puppy dog eyes looked pleadingly towards his mum, begging for assistance. Ollie is Anna’s Kryptonite, and our conversation was at an end. Ollie has grown up a lot in these last twelve months and this new Ollie seems much more laid back when in competition. I kind of like that because it means that an off-par performance does not seem to diminish the fun. He caught well on both feeder and pole on a corner peg that can sometimes underperform when the lake is packed with anglers. Like Jack, Ollie’s ability to count to 15 had escaped him and he too went over in one of his nets. Ollie and Jack join Austin in the all-time list of doughnuts to get kicked back to 50lbs. Ollie finished his junior calendar with 138lbs 5ozs.



Peg Five: Josiah Wells-Parkes: Since the summer, Jo has been on a roll with some more consistent results. It wasn’t too long ago that James told me that Jo had began to think that he would never get one of the vouchers for coming in the top three. Now he can’t help himself. Jo had drawn what I have read to be ‘The best peg in Europe’ at one time. In fact, it was so good that they ripped it in half and put a second peg close to the original one. Now there are two very good pegs, or ‘fliers’ as they are known. However, drawing a flier doesn’t guarantee a win, believe me! From what I saw, Jo did everything right today. Fishing a single spot with carefully controlled bait on the feeder, fishing close so it did not take too long to extract each fish. He did try the pole on instruction because I felt that, in practice, the pole was a quicker way of getting them out. But for Jo with his comparative lack of experience with a pole, the feeder was the way to go. He fished a cracking match to finish second overall 168lbs 15ozs…



Peg Six: Jack Davis: It was good to see Jack back again, but there were Wookie rumblings along the bankside. A red-faced Jerry was very cross because of the damaged equipment that Jack had turned up with. Now I’m going to state for the record that accidents happen, and we all break things from time to time. A pole that cost £1000 when new had bit the dust earlier in the year and had turned up with yet another injury. There was a brand-new now three-legged pole roller (there's supposed to be four!) with one of the top rollers broken off too. I think it is fair to say that a little chat was needed about how the Re-Gen equipment was supposed to be passed on when each junior had finished with it. But, if it is returned only to be good enough for the bin, it kind of defeats the object a little. With the chat over, Jack got down to the business of fishing because what is done, is done. We can only hope to improve in the future. Jack was fishing along his left margin and pulling out plenty of fish. For some reason though, the fish he was catching were of a smaller size compared to those around him, which didn’t make sense to me. But I think he was happy to catch what he did because, like Kenzie, Jack is at the start of his fishing journey, and he loves it. His skills will grow as he fishes more and I’m sure he will be pushing hard to improve next year. Jack weighed in 93lbs 4ozs…



Peg Seven: Harry Cryer: Paul had to figure out a different way of getting his steps in today because the terrible twosome had drawn in adjacent pegs. Even so, there was a noticeable muddy rut that had been carved in the ground between them where Paul needed to yo-yo back and forth on netting duties. I couldn’t work if Carnage was inside out or if it was just his hat? Maybe the tag sticking out of the top of his head is used to hang Harry out to dry at the end of each session? Who knows… I wasn’t listening to any complaints about ‘being cold’ from someone who drawn on the sunny side of the lake, something which I feel helped both Harry and Jack today. The brothers were using a rare technique in fishing know as ‘sharing a swim’. Maybe only brothers do this? It wasn’t doing either of them any harm though catching, as they were, plenty of fish. It was feeder all the way for Hazza and he did it well finishing with a creditable 146lbs 14ozs.



Peg Eight: Jack Cryer: Being ‘End peg Charlie’ paid off for Jack today despite him fishing mostly to the left, and not in the vast open expanse of lake to his right. Maybe he wanted to share the peg with Harry. Or maybe it was an attempt to cap the number of fish that his brother would catch! Jack was hoovering up keep nets like it was going out of fashion, ringing out a warning to the rest of the juniors that he was coming back strong. Jack hadn’t put his name to any trophies or wins since this match last year, and things were about to change for the better. Jack was the first to put in his third net, and the fourth, and fifth. Depending on how he was counting his fish and how much they weighed, I thought that the elusive 200lb barrier could be breached today. Practice had shown that a big weight would be possible if they got the feeding right and used their equipment efficiently. Both the Cryer boys have a charmingly laid-back style of fishing that has no haste or panic about it. Maybe Paul does all that for them? Panic or not, Jack had amassed a line of keep nets that only the scales would tell the true tale of. Si Wag’s brain worked fast to announce that Jack had indeed sneaked our new match record to over 200lbs, if only by 7ozs, but he had done it. Even I ‘Whooped’ with joy at the news….


We had additional visits from Liam and Hazel who turned up with only and hour to go, but it is always great to see them both. I hope to see more of you next year.

The Freeman family turned up with Kit still suffering the effects of a bout of Tonsilitis. A game of rugby in the week probably didn’t help his chances of fishing in the match today…

Once we had gathered in the borrowed keep nets that were seemingly expected to slither their own way back to my car, we gave out the presents that Jerry Christmas had been collecting throughout the year. There was an array of prizes with a minimum value of £35, as well as some kind donations for elsewhere. Jerry and I laughed at the end because hardly anyone chose things that they needed like landing net handles and keepnets. But it didn’t matter in the end…


As always, Thank you on behalf of us all to Jerry, Si, Jon, Chris (not pictured), and Neil for your help today. Special thanks to Jerry for organising the prizes today. (He’s already started on next years presents. Stay tuned for the intervention, coming soon….)


Thank you to John Candy and all the staff at Todber Manor for allowing us to fish at the best venue in the country, and for making us feel so warmly welcomed.

Thank you to all the parents who, in all weathers, come to spend time with us and to help their juniors make life-long friends and memories. I salute you all.


To our amazing, frustrating, inspirational, blood boiling, amusing, tooth-grinding, wonderful juniors who make this job so rewarding. It is only for you that we do any of this, and I appreciate that the only feedback I get (on the whole) is how good and well behaved ‘my juniors’ are.


Lastly, thank you for my gifts. I felt very humbled by your kindness…


In a few weeks-time, I will write a season review in which I will set each junior goals to aim for during the sessions next year. Don’t forget, you can fish in the Club’s Christmas match at Revels on the 17th of December. There will be prizes!


For now, and maybe slightly early, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, and an even happier and better New Year!


Take care all,


Graham…


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