Each May marks another year since the demise of Chatsworth Angling Fair; a show which in my eyes was much more than an event. It was an angling institution. Its omission from the year’s angling calendar is a sad loss for our sport. Very rarely are so many angling disciplines showcased in one place together; with Coarse, Match, Sea, Fly, Carp and Predator fishing all strongly represented. I have many fond memories of the Angling Fair, stretching back to when I first attended, aged twelve. Two of us were dropped off nearby, and made our way to the main entrance, where we realised children were only allowed free entry when accompanied by a paying adult. Having saved pocket money for a few months, we didn’t want to “waste” part of it on the entry fee. So, being a bit slimmer in those days, we found an area of fence we could slither beneath, and headed towards the tented village that made up the majority of the fair.
What a revelation it was to find row upon row of tackle dealers plying their wares, with bargains to be found wherever you looked! We spent hours perusing the stalls, testing out tackle, and gazing in wonder at the skilled people at work inside the fly tying tent. And we were yet to discover that we could even fish with Ian Heaps’ tackle! Any child wishing to give it a try could sit in line and wait to be called up. After patiently listening to his informative dialogue, detailing “Stret Pegging” and other (at the time eye-opening) river techniques, we got our call to have a go. This became a mainstay of each of my visits to Chatsworth as a teenager, and I accrued captures of a feisty grayling or trout every year, along with a bit more knowledge about fishing on “alien” (to me, at the time) rivers.
“A typical Chatsworth demonstration platform scene – featuring Ian Heaps, Bob James and the late Barrie Rickards in attendence”
One particular show which remains vivid in my memory, we sat down early, close to the demonstration platform, ensuring we were at the front of the “queue” when Heapsy took to the stage. The person on before him was an elderly gentleman, dressed in full tweed with red knee-high socks (if my memory serves me correct, it may have been the Duke of Devonshire himself!), doing a talk on water safety – in particular, the wearing of lifejackets. As he finished his talk, he went to take his seat on the edge of the platform; a scaffold-pole and wooden plank construction, which stood out over the river. With absolutely perfect comedy timing, the back legs of his chair went between the planks, and he flipped over backwards, into the water! The irony of this man talking about water safety was not lost on us, and we burst into fits of childish laughter! At least he had his lifejacket on…
Besides the “resident” angling celebrities, who featured each year without fail, such as Ian Heaps, Bob James and Barry Rickards (R.I.P.); I was entertained by many great anglers over the years, including Bob Nudd, John Wilson, Andy Little and Frank Warwick. Then there was the legendary “Maggot vs. Fly Match” – a light-hearted battle of wits between the coarse and game anglers, where maggots would inevitably reign supreme, but it didn’t stop the fly anglers trying – with the odd bit of friendly “poaching” all part of the fun.
“Andy Little explains his carp tactics at Chatsworth in the mid-nineties”
In my teens I learned to fly cast with a couple of free lessons at Chatsworth – something which its riverside location lent itself to perfectly. Then in 2006, I entered a distance casting competition, casting tiny weights with a 3lb T.C. carp rod, against the likes of Frank Warwick and John Wilson. Although Frank eclipsed my distances, I managed to win the “non-celebrity” event, and walked away with a Shimano rod and Baitrunner reel!
Right up until the last Angling Fair was held, in 2006, I always saved some extra money to spend on tackle at Chatsworth. I have bought more genuine tackle bargains there than anywhere else, and with so many stalls, the selection of brands was second to none. Stalls from country outfitters and army surplus provided extra temptation by offering useful items for fishing, not usually found at your average tackle shop. There was even a stall specialising in big game fishing tackle, with its enviable display of rods like broomsticks and reels the size of 4×4 winches!
The thing is, Chatsworth was much, much more than just a tackle expo; it had a personality and atmosphere which you just don’t get at the more sterile indoor fishing shows. So what if it rained a bit (most years it rained a lot!), it’s a fishing show – how many anglers actually mind being out in the rain and mud?!! Besides the tackle sales and celebrity elements, there were representatives from local angling clubs, groups such as fly tying/casting clubs, conservation associations, Wildlife Trusts, the Environment Agency, NFA… the list goes on! So many varied factions of the UK angling community simply do not congregate anywhere else, on the same scale as they did at Chatsworth. Yet this highlight in many an anglers’ calendar disappeared silently, without as much as a murmur in National or local press. I admit, I haven’t visited the Game Fair since angling was given a greater presence there, but I really cannot see how the angling segment at a game fair could ever come anywhere close to what the angling fair was.
Although the official reasons given for discontinuing the angling fair was the weather and access onto the meadows which hosted it, I believe the show was the victim of its own success. As the money-making potential of angling fairs and shows became apparent, many lesser-imitations sprung up in its wake. There are now various tackle shop or manufacturer-sponsored “tackle tours” up and down the country, visiting a sports hall or showground near you. But their focus, in my opinion, is all wrong. Rather than being aimed towards promoting angling as a whole (Chatsworth was always billed as a show you could bring the whole family to, and with its laid-back atmosphere, it genuinely showcased the true values of angling.), they seem focused on getting as many people as possible through their doors, spending as much as possible whilst there. Sure, these tackle shows cater for a market which obviously exists, and provide anglers with a few bargains here and there, but it saddens me to think that through heavy advertising and cheap imported tackle, these shows have prospered to the detriment of the wondrous, continually fascinating event that was Chatsworth Angling Fair. R.I.P.