I won the individual title back in 1988 and since then have managed top spot in the Sunday team event and two firsts in the bank holiday Monday Wychavon event. In addition I've managed to get many more high placings over the past few seasons - so you can see how much I look forward to the weekend.

Last year, for the first time, we were allowed to use bloodworm as a bait and it resulted in much better catches than in previous seasons with lots of small roach being taken. I know the event was very popular with spectators, some of whom were witnessing bloodworm fishing for the first time. I spoke to many people after the event and most had really enjoyed it. What followed though was a big EGM of the controlling Evesham angling club and the vote from the members went very strongly in favour of a total ban of bloodworm on the stretch.

Personally I still think the ban is wrong. Without wanting to get to bogged down in politics, we had a bait that quite simply put fish into the net for us and made the catching of fish a whole lot easier. For spectators we were able to put on some sort of show, which I still think is important on this particular weekend. In previous years we had seen a big decline in the quality of the fishing on the Warwickshire Avon, particularly in the middle reaches and once the bloodworm ban was imposed I feared the worst. Unfortunately I was proved correct. I always felt the John Smiths individual match was going to be a battle between big fish and small fish. There are a lot of big barbel in the stretch at Evesham now and with 4,000 up for grabs (plus a bet with the bookie if you wanted it) there would no doubt be a lot of anglers going for one, over the course of the five hours.

Organiser Dick Derrington decided to close the water to competitors during the week leading up to the match, apart from one open match on the Wednesday. This was a good move in my opinion as the venue has suffered from intense practice in the past during this particular week. I decided to plan my own assault three weeks before the big weekend, with several practice sessions on various pegs. My catches were impressive to say the least and each time I went I caught well. My best session came on a session on peg 21, just below the slipway, a short distance above the town bridge. On this practice, I started off by balling in eight big balls of my own Roach and River mixes, mixed 50/50 and containing a few mixed pinkies and casters. I started off fishing at dead depth with a 4x18 pole rig. Hookbait was single pinkie on a size 22 Mustad canal seed hook tied to 0.07mm bottom. I caught small fish straight away by just running the rig through at the speed of the current or holding back slightly. After about half an hour I began to introduce a few grains of hemp, every run down, to the same thirteen-metre line I'd originally fed with the groundbait. Small fish kept coming to the pinkie rig but after two hours, I decided a switch was in order to see if I could get any bites with hemp on the hook. With the pinkie rig, I was using an olivette about eighteen inches from the hook with three number ten shot bunched together just eight inches from the hook. This shotting pattern was necessary to get the bait through small bleak on the surface. For my hemp rig I set up a lighter 4x16 rig, with a small group of number nine shot, three foot from the hook with five strung-out number twelve shot between the bulk and the hook. Hook choice was a size 20 Mustad canal seed hook tied to 0.07mm line. I'd set this rig just off bottom and first run-down the float buried - I had a much bigger roach than I'd been catching on the pinkie. This continued for the next couple of hours and after four hours fishing I'd got double figures in the net.

I couldn't help but think at the time that I wished that day was the John Smith's final day! I felt happy with my small fish approach, so decided to spend the rest of the session in pursuit of eels, which in the past have shown well in the area I was fishing. I took a section off the pole and fished at 11.5 metres introducing several bait dropper loads of casters and maggots into the swim. My rig for the eels was a deflnite "take no prisoners" rig with a 0.20mm Carptek main line to 0.16mm Carptek hooklength. With two maggots on a size 18 Mustad Magnum spade hook I felt well equipped to cope with any eel that might take a fancy to my bait! Amazingly, the first bite moments later, brought a perch of around six ounces and the next two put-ins brought roach, even on the heavy tackle I was using. Then bites stopped. I introduced more maggots and casters, this time in a bigger bait dropper, and went in again. Laying on, well overdepth, with a four gram rig, the float suddenly shot under and I was attached to a big fish. My immediate reaction was that I'd hooked one of the eels I was after. The fish powered off downstream and I quickly realised this was no eel! The power of the run was such that it just had to be a barbel and suddenly my "take no prisoners" rig didn't seem quite so strong after all. I must say the pole I'm using at present, a Garbolino Renaissance, is fabulous for big fish and yet still light enough to fish at long lengths. I'd got a power top two fitted on the pole, with number 12 MAP elastic, set just under tension. It was under tension now though and going in the opposite direction! Eventually the fish started to tire and after an epic battle was mine. Now I've caught barbel to twelve pounds on the lower Severn, so I know what a double figure fish looks like - and this was definitely a double figure fish. My team mate Tony Skinner arrived shortly after the fish was in the net and he'd got scales which weighed to nine pounds. The fish bottomed the scales out instantly so we estimated the fish at "over ten pounds". Why couldn't this day have been the John Smiths final!

I'd like to say that all that practice resulted in a perfect weekend for yours truly with an individual win on the Saturday, a team win on the Sunday and another win on the Monday. In reality, it was nothing like that at all. I really wanted to draw above the town bridge on the Saturday match and was very disappointed to get a very short swim on the downstream Hampton Ferry section. To cut a long and very boring story short, I ended up with just six ounces and this included a roach of four ounces! The individual winner was my old mate Keith Arthur at peg 52 on the town stretch with just over twelve pounds of chub, a popular winner.

The Sunday team match saw our captain, Mark Downes, pull out peg one for our team and this gave us a great chance of success as we'd got some very good individual pegs. I was on the same peg that Keith Arthur had won from on the Saturday, only this time the rules were rather different. Keith had caught on the feeder to start with, then topped up with a few on the waggler late on. On the team match, the feeder was banned and in addition it was pole only for the first half of the match. The tree opposite where Keith had caught his fish looked very inviting but I knew I couldn't use it until the second half of the match - and it would have to be a waggler, not feeder, when I did. I fished a light, six number-eight pole-stick on a long line at sixteen metres for most of the first half of the match and after about one and a half hours of running it through, I eventually latched into a good chub of nearly three pounds. The number six elastic shot out and my 0.10mm Carptek hooklength held firm as battle commenced. Eventually I managed to subdue the fish and I knew I'd got good points in the net. In fact that one fish had suddenly pushed me up to first place in the eighteen peg section. That was the last of any real action until part two, when we were allowed to switch methods to anything except the feeder.

The hour after the switch brought me another four pounds of smaller chub on the waggler before the swim died. My 7.1.0. was enough to easily win the section though and now it was down to the other lads to add to my section win. At peg one, Steve Ashmore did even better, not only winning the section but winning the match with over sixteen pounds of tench and perch. Tony Skinner, one below the bridge, was fourth with four pounds of little fish, Rick Haynes was eighth on the Hampton Ferry section but Mark Downes had a real grueller in B section, only beating two with a pound of small fish. This meant we finished in fourth position behind winners Carbotec, Shakespeare and Essex. Still, at least we'd got the consolation of 150 each as a prize. The Monday Wychavon match was a complete non-event for me personally, as I drew an area that I knew may hold barbel, so fished for them for a full five hours. Unfortunately I never had a bite, but the decision was right, as the lad below had one and lost two and the lad below him had one and lost one. Local angler Gary Seadon won this one with a few quality fish on the pole from the favoured boards area.

And so, another John Smiths weekend had come to an end. The festival has been running for twenty two years now and continues to be as popular as ever. A lot of people have said the venue should be changed as the fishing for most is very poor. Personally I think it belongs at Evesham as the whole weekend is massive in lots of ways. It's not just about the fishing any more. The huge tented village draws thousands of visitors each year and with a fun fair and loads of side attractions there's something there for all the family. Hopefully the fishing will improve for next year and we can all look forward to some better returns.