Great to see Heron Angling Club continuing match fishing days
Whilst the government has allowed angling to continue in the current Covid-19 lockdown there are some conditions that have to be strictly observed. These include matches and group competitions not being allowed under any circumstances.
Thirty years ago, match fishing in the UK was probably the most popular branch of angling. There were five NFA national divisions with around 1,000 anglers fishing in each annual match (more than 5,000 anglers in total each year). These were held at venues that could accommodate such numbers (canals, rivers or drains) and there would be large open matches organised by the controlling clubs for the teams to practise in.
The 1991 Fourth Division National that I fished in for Bury St Edmunds AA on the River Welland involved the squad fishing a 100-250 peg practise open most weekends in the two prior months. The week before the national that year we all fished the Daiwa-sponsored Masters, where the entry was more than 600 anglers.
But for various reasons those halcyon match fishing days are long gone. For the past 20 years match fishing has become increasingly the domain of small angling clubs fishing mostly on commercial fisheries, and the Heron Angling Club is one of the longest surviving locally.
It was originally formed as a works’ angling section by the employees of Vintens in 1964 just after the engineering company relocated from Cricklewood to Bury St Edmunds as part of the London overspill initiative. Later the angling section became part of Vinten’s employee social club, the Heron Club, and when Vintens were no longer involved with the Heron Club, the angling section continued as Heron AC and 2021 will be its 57th year. Two of the founder members of the angling section, Jack Wetherill and Tony Boughton, are still members and another ex-Vinten employee, Dennis Vaughan, still fishes with the club.
When the angling section started in 1964, Tony approached Vinten’s directors for donations of trophies and this resulted in the prestigious and impressive Bill Vinten Challenge Cup, which is still fished for every year. The Mike Brown Shield came from the then company chairman and this is presented to the club’s champion at the end of each year. There were also donations from other Vinten directors of trophies for various specimen of fish and a pairs competition, all still in operation.
There have been many entertaining incidents at the club’s outings during the 600-plus matches fished since 1964, but the one that always comes to mind first is that of the bull and Derek Blackman.
It was 1986 at a lake on Woburn estate where upon arrival the anglers were confronted by a very unfriendly looking bull (do any bulls look friendly?) which Derek decided to face up to (the light tap on the bull’s nose was possibly a bad idea!). Derek was a manager at Vintens at the time and was used to being in charge, but the bull was unaware of this and immediately snorted, lowered his head and charged.
Covering about 50 yards at near world record speed, Derek just managed to get behind a large oak tree in time, whilst nearby 15 other anglers all tried to re-enter the minibus simultaneously in a state of total panic. Confused at Derek’s sudden disappearance, the bull then turned its menacing attention to the minibus. Luckily, a lady farmer arrived in her Land Rover and took command. She shouted at the bull, tapped it with a stick and steered it with ease into the next field which was full of cows. Exactly what the bull wanted!The anglers exited the minibus somewhat embarrassed and Derek appeared from behind the tree. It was like a scene from a Carry-On film. If only we had mobile phones with video function in 1986!
Every year the club has held a Christmas dinner and Tony and Jack recalled that the first one in the early 1960s was held after a match on the River Waveney near Needham. It was chicken and chips in a local pub for 3s 6p each, which is about 17p in new money.
Tony ran the club during the 60s and 70s, I ran it during the 80s and Jack has run it successfully for most of the last 30 years. Sadly, the Vinten company name has gone locally with W Vinten being taken over by Thales, Vinten Broadcast being renamed Vitec Production Solutions and Vinten Group becoming Vitec Group. But its history is still there on the trophies, cups and shields donated by Vinten directors all those years ago and fished for every year by the still thriving Heron Angling Club.