Scramble to the coast for sea battle

ACCORDING TO the Met Office we’ve had the most winter sunshine for 80 years, perfect conditions then to welcome more than 1,000 fishing rod-equipped competitors to the Yorkshire coast for an annual heavyweight contest.

European champion John Byrne
European champion John Byrne

The East Riding of Yorkshire Council’s events team organised a spectacular event, the 22nd European Open Beach Fishing Championship, which sees £35,000 in prize money put up and attracts fishermen from across the continent.

Competitors plan for this showdown very carefully, a spectacle that sees them behave like automaton lemmings, almost throwing themselves off the cliffs and promenades to saturate even the most remote beaches in the hope of catching a big one. I took advantage of the glorious sunshine on the Friday before the match and spoke to several competition hopefuls. The first two were from Warrington and were more at home catching cod on the River Mersey. Two others were from Poole in Dorset. The next were from the Rhondda Valley, a former coal mining area of Wales who said that cod were plentiful off the Welsh coast this year.

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Finally two young men from Bridlington were inspecting the beach for an early start. They were setting the alarm for 4am. Their plan was to climb down the cliff, walk along the beach for a mile and pitch a small tent. I wished them the best of luck, but didn’t see them at the weigh-in...

European champion John Byrne is presented with his trophy by East Riding councillor Jane Evison

The great day had come. Saturday morning was greeted between 4am-7am with alarm calls, bleary-eyed anglers tumbling out of bed, vehicles heading for East Yorkshire’s 40 miles of beaches and then the march to where sea meets land.

At 10am precisely, the assembled anglers cast in with a rod each. Conditions were good. The sea was slight and the wind a light westerly. I visited various anglers along the coast and spoke to Dutch, Flemish, and local anglers. Business was brisk and by lunchtime most beaches had surrendered its ubiquitous cod.

The next move was between 3-4pm when the anglers packed away their tackle and together with any fish, made their way to the match headquarters at Sand Le Mere Holiday Park at Tunstall. It looked as though all the contestants had caught fish.

Will Hall, the Council’s new organiser, had a baptism of fire. We saw the most fish caught in all the Championships that had gone before. Thirty minutes before the close of the weigh-in there was still a queue of over 100 yards. The weighing teams had never worked as hard.

Although some anglers had to wait an hour to have their fish weighed, it was worth it to see so many fish with such a buzz in the queue as stories were swapped and fish compared. The predominant species were cod with a few bass, flounders and thorny backed ray.

The queue was closed at 5pm and the list of winners was displayed. John Byrne was named the European Open Beach Fishing Champion for 2015. An experienced Hull angler, he fished well in what became wintry conditions on the Sunday. He landed a thorny backed ray of 3.74kg and with other fish totaling 4.9kg, he won the competition outright.

I would like to mention the work of Paul Roggeman, East Riding of Yorkshire Council’s events manager and a keen fisherman who founded the Championship 22 years ago. His passion and commitment has made the event what it is today, the largest three-day fishing competition in Europe.

His battle with cancer came to an end when he died peacefully after attending the match. His strong will to see this year’s competition through kept him going over the last few months. Kieran Lawry, who was Paul’s assistant has moved to pastures new and handed over to Will Hall. Tez Roggeman, Paul’s wife, has played an important part in the event over the years and it is good to know that Tez will continue to be involved.