The Classic - Written by Cathal Hughes

It is widely regarded that the most prestigious individual event in Irish angling is the 3 day Waterways Ireland Classic festival held in the picturesque town of Enniskillen in County Fermanagh.

The match draws anglers from all over Europe to the shores of Lough Erne and its surrounding waterways, in the hope of winning the coveted crystal Chalice along with the £5000 that goes with it. In addition to these prizes there are also some brilliant Daiwa vouchers to be fished for which altogether makes for a very competitive event.

This year marked the 39th anniversary of the Classic and it’s quite remarkable that no one has ever won it twice, 38 different winners in 38 years!  The daily ‘open draw’ format of the match means that  you never know where you will be fishing on any day and therefore only adds to the excitement of the occasion.

This year’s event opening ceremony took place at the newly renovated Enniskillen Hotel.   There’s always great banter and craic on this evening as everyone is full of anticipation and hope. Many anglers are meeting and catching up with old friends, while others are entering the optional super pools and placing a bet with the resident bookie.  One thing for sure is that it is probably easier to get into Fort Knox than it is getting a drink at the bar, with all the entrants making use of their complementary beer vouchers!

The morning draw held at the Lakelands Forum in Enniskillen is quite nerve racking to say the least.  At the top of the queue there is the draw box that has a hole on each side. It’s up to the competitor to decide whether they go right or whether they go left to draw.  Either way, dreams can be realised or shattered!  The amount of different drawing strategies used is unbelievable, some seem to work, some don’t and in reality at the end of the day it’s all down to luck and good fortune.

Once the draw has commenced it’s very easy for the anglers to look at the previous day’s results and see what was caught from their peg the day before.  For some unlucky souls this can be heart breaking, but even catching very little at the beginning can make a massive difference at the end of the week as there’s usually very little weight separating the top places.

In every match that’s fished there are always favourable draws and the Classic is no exception. On Day 1, most anglers were hoping to draw ‘H9’ which would put them on the point of the Airport section. This peg has probably contributed to more Classic winners than any other and therefore is a much sought after draw. Other favourable pegs include Ely Forest 14 and peg 1 on Broad meadow.  However with the roach on the move, there were loads of pegs with the potential to throw up a big weight and therefore nobody was very sure how things would pan out. One thing for sure tough was that a good weight on the first day takes a bit of pressure off days two and three.

After five hours of intense competition results started to filter through on who had done well and from where. Leading the pack was former Classic winner John Potters from Lisbellaw, who had caught 28.330kgs of tench from an un-fancied draw on Lough Acrussel.  In second place it was John’s very good friend Dickie Carr from Chestnut England, who made no mistakes when he pulled peg H9 and weighed 23.880kgs.  In third place was double Fisho-Mania Champion Matt Hall, who weighed 20.320kgs of tench, again from Lough Acrussel.  With many of the sections fishing much better than expected, the match was wide open going into day two.

For many of the 234 competitors, everything rides on getting a good draw on day two.  Get a bad peg and your Classic is as good as over, however if lady luck shines, you can find yourself right back in the mix, going into the final day.

This year, the sections around the town were fishing very consistently with roach weights between 15kgs and 20kgs being caught from a lot of pegs. This meant that drawing one of the out in out fliers, even though it would be nice to, wasn’t as important as it was in past years.  It was however, extremely important to avoid some of the sections of death, that through no fault of the organisers had fished terribly on day 1. In fact one full section on Crom Lake failed to catch a single fish on the first day. What’s amazing is that this is the very same section that was averaging over 25kgs a peg in September’s World Pairs! Those that drew this section could only hope that the fish had come on the feed and it would be better, well it couldn’t get any worse, could it?

It’s amazing and a credit to the organisers how quickly they have the daily and overall results calculated.  Just a few hours after each match they were posted on various social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.  This is becoming the norm on many of the major festivals and is a great way of being updated and keeping track of results.

As is normally the case, the leader board had changed slightly after day two,  with John Potters sliding down into 6th place after suffering a bad draw and adding only 4kgs to his tally. Dickie Carr stayed in touch of the leaders by catching 8kgs but the leader going into Day 3 was Derek Buckley from Bellaghy.  Derek, who had two dream draws over the first two days,  made no mistakes on Ely Forest pegs 14 and 15 and was now leading the pack. Audenshaw’s Richard Smith, who had won day two from Ely peg 14 (told you it was a flier), was now in second place with Matt Hall in third.

Even though many anglers were out of contention of winning the festival, there was still a lot to fish for on day 3. The chance of picking up well over £1000 for a daily win keeps things very interesting right up until the end. Those that are in contention at the top of the leader board are just hoping to avoid the dire sections that would end their challenge, while the rest were hoping to draw that elusive flier that would make the week worthwhile.  Also the Erne has a habit of producing those once in a lifetime catches that could propel someone from nowhere to the top.

Looking as the anglers drew their pegs, you could see from their facial expressions who had drawn well and who had not. Some of those with a chance of framing saw their dreams ended in the length of time it takes to open an envelope. As far as those still waiting to draw were concerned, every time someone showed a sign of relief, they knew there was one less good peg left in the box. This just adds to the tension and excitement on the last day and is the reason that so many anglers return year after year.

After a tense five hours, no one is certain what has been caught. One thing is for sure, mobile phone exchanges must be going mad at the end of these festivals.   With varying reports coming in from the sections, individual calculations were made and at one stage there were a few different winners!  This all adds to the final day’s excitement as nobody really knows who won until all the results are up.

  However there can only be one winner and it was the 2011 Champion John Potters that had made history.  His section winning 16.800kgs catch from the consistent Sligo Road section was enough to make him the first double Waterways Classic Champion.  In second place was former Fisho Mania champion and Kevin Rowles, who had won the final day and shot up the leader board with over 27kgs. Remarkably Kevin also came second last year.  In third place was Irelands Feeder Team manager Brenton Sweeney from Cootehill.

Well done to all the winners throughout the week and to the rest, well, there’s always next year.

Tight Lines.