Because of time restrictions, we are only able to cover this years European Championship in one main feature, but it will be massive! Bearing in mind everyone is aware of the final outcome, I will endeavour to fill in the missing bits and expand on some of those already mentioned, so this feature will be extended into two parts, plus the addition of several slideshow galleries containing catchshots from just about every section, on each of the two days!

So, why should this event prove equally fascinating and technical as Spain? Well, it's quite simple really. There were the main target species (barbel), and the unusual yet crucial tactics employed in their capture on a venue different in many ways to the norm! Other issues which had some affect the outcome, like changing over to the pole, shall be dealt with towards the end.

As always, our info-gathering operation rested on our many European friends on the bank, as well as the close association we share with Drennan Team England, and in particular one of its most indispensable assets... Steve Gardener. We hope, therefore, we can succeed in bringing you a greater in-depth knowledge and understanding of just how this championship unfolded, from as broad a viewpoint as possible.

It was clear at the beginning of the week that the venue was starting to look like it would produce a hard contest, that is except the Portuguese, who knew the river well. Their previous knowledge and experience of this difficult venue would give them an ideal platform to achieve what Spain could not do in Merida... win on home soil! They were more than aware that the venue could improve as the week progressed, as more feed was introduced... and it did, as the competition weights showed. In order to set the scene more clearly, we first need to focus on three main areas... venue, species and tactics.

The venue
The Sorraia is in essence a built-up water and, you'll see from the scenic pictures above, that the river is approximately 60+ metres wide. From what I've been able to learn, there was a dam built below A section, which created extra water to a depth of approximately 5'+ upstream (1.8m max.). The banks were then built up with sand, not the fine sand suitable for building sand-castles, but the more grainy variety! It proved extremely difficult and tiresome to walk across, therefore nearly all photos were taken from the path above the anglers. We did manage to go down into this area, but only for catch shots at the end of each day. The competitors themselves managed to cope reasonably well and some, like England, had the presence of mind to take out half-inch plywood boards for their boxes to be solidly positioned.
Steve Gardener casts out from peg A4 on day two. You can see the built-up sides of the dam in the background and the small gap on the right, for the water to flow out of.Steve Gardener casts out from peg A4 on day two. You can see the built-up sides of the dam in the background and the small gap on the right, for the water to flow out of.The species
While there were other fish swimming in the Sorraia, it was the tiny barbel – 30gr to 100gr – which formed the main focus of everyone's attack. There were of course larger ones present – up to 1.5 kilos in places– but these were very few and far between. A bonus fish was considered to be around 500 grams (1lb approximately). Other species included bogas, similar to the aptly named 'nobheads' on last years event on the River Sava in Slovenia, carrasio and the odd bonus mullet were also present, but again not in any significant numbers.
The two species which were important, if good points were to be secured. The top inset is a bogas, while the bottom inset was one of the bonus barbel of around 400grs. If you were really lucky, like our friend Jose Calado, then you got to hold one of these real BONUS fish!The two species which were important, if good points were to be secured. The top inset is a bogas, while the bottom inset was one of the bonus barbel of around 400grs. If you were really lucky, like our friend Jose Calado, then you got to hold one of these real BONUS fish!The tactics
This is always the most significant part of any team approach, and is generally governed by the species and venue. In the case of the Sorraia, this has been a relatively well-documented method, based on various past internationals. To understand more about the tactical development used here, you have to go back to 1993 when Coruche first hosted the World Championships. It was during this event that a specialised form of waggler rig, to take the numerous small and larger barbel present, was developed... reputedly by the Italians. It involved five main components.

  1. Hook
  2. Line
  3. Elastic
  4. Bait
  5. Depth

HOOKS: Because of the nature of the water and the target species, small hooks where essential. England's favoured pattern was Drennan B560 in sizes 22 to 24. Other teams used similar ones, relevant to their own individual or team sponsors. I did hear of one team going down as low as a size 26!

LINE: It was found that in the clear waters of the Sorraia, fine lines were critical to the presentation. Not just ordinary fine mono lines, but fluorocarbon ones. These, while being low-stretch and relatively brittle in nature, blended in with the water much better than ordinary mono and made a far superior presentation of the hookbait. This is because fluorocarbon has a light refractive index which is nearly the same as water. That means it's almost invisible in it! Another strong plus for using this type of line is its sinking capacity. Being heavier than ordinary mono, fluorocarbon sinks three to four times quicker and that's a major advantage when very little weight is placed below the float. The downside with fluoro line is that extra care is needed when tying knots or whipping hooks, because it has a tendency to 'kink' if you are too rough with it. It also has a lower breaking strain than an equivalent diameter mono line. These fine lines then determined how the rest of the rig

ELASTIC: Now elastic may seem a very strange thing to use with a big waggler rig, but an elastic used as shock absorber was far from being out of place on this particular type of venue. For instance, take into account the line used. Fluorocarbon is an extremely hard and unforgiving line when it comes to handling the pressure of striking and playing a fish. What is effectively being created with the elastic, is a 'buffer' against these pressures. Imagine first the stress exacted on a small hook and fine hooklength, as the rod is brought up during the strike. Add to this the distance involved, and you have some idea of what may happen during the process of hooking those small 30-100gr barbel, without some form of absorbing elastic below the float! Then when you hook a larger barbel, say one of those bonus 500gr fish, there needs to be some yielding factor between the fixed heavy float, which is bouncing around during playing the fish, and the low-stretch factor of the fluorocarbon line below the elastic. Without such flexibility the line would surely part company below the float!

The downside of these light elastic 'buffers', especially when playing a fish over a kilo, is that the fish tends to control the initial fight. This can be a major problem during an international event where strict rules govern the encroachment of hooked fish into other anglers zones. Previous rules have not allowed for any encroachment whatsoever. In fact I remember well, when the World Champs was held in Willebroek, several bream going into the next zone and then being promptly noted and disqualified by the officials. This year, a fish is entitled to go into another zone, providing it does not interfere with another competitors tackle. Unfortunately the nature of these waggler rigs used did not allow for initial undue pressure and several fish were report to have crossed into another zone and tangled with other competitors rigs, so had to then be disallowed.
A standard Portuguese float from Jose Calado with inset of attachment.A standard Portuguese float from Jose Calado with inset of attachment.Thickness varied according to how each team had assessed its own requirements. England opted for around a No.8 grade, while Portugal seemed to have gone lighter. In general, elastic sizes were between 0.8 and 1mm and their lengths around 10-12 inches long (25-31cm). Hungary's double World Champ, Tamas Walter, made a superb piece of technical 'kit', which involved latex elastic, of around 1mm thick, being threaded inside a silicone tube and then attaching to his float adapter via a simple loop. His mainline was also attached to the float adapter this way. Because of the fixed nature of both his mainline and the elastic, this may have seemed to some to limit Tamas' ability to adjust the depth. But with the quantity of match rods many competitors, including Tamas, had on display, I doubt that this was much of an issue. His attachment was clearly well thought-out and a piece of technical quality! Below we show both Jose Calado's Portuguese rig and Tamas Walter's. We also have an graphic illustration of England's set-up.

The intricate way Tamas set his elastic up, quite different to others!The intricate way Tamas set his elastic up, quite different to others!

BAIT: Most Championships usually involve a fair quantity of bloodworm and joker. Coruche, in similar fashion to Merida, did not. Maggot was the only real bait of choice and while many teams did have a token quantity of joker, this was only used sparingly! Hemp was another important bait some of the teams decided to use close in, on the pole line. Teams tended to reduced their amount of groundbait as its use had limited appeal to many. Even so, I could clearly see Portugal's Jose Calado feeding heavily on day one with groundbait at 5 metres, and that gained him valuable points by the end of the first day! Despite this, it was maggot on the hook and stickymag with gravel, for feeding the waggler line, that accounted for many of the main weights. Individually, some teams did benefit from switching to the pole and groundbait.

DEPTH: While the rivers' depth was not great, around 5.5 foot (1.8m), the waggler setting was. This was to allow up to 5 foot (1.5m) of line to lay on the bottom of the Sorraia. Depending on a teams' tactics, either a single small shot and swivel, or two small shot were allowed to sit on the bottom. Normally this would present problems on many venues because of the rough bottom, but this wasn't a problem at Coruche due the sandy nature of the Sorraia's bottom (see illustration above). It seemed the barbel, in particular the small ones, didn't want any movement whatsoever once the rig had settled. Steve Gardener said that many of the larger barbel did actually take the bait 'on-the-drop', but once the rig had settled then it would remain there from anything up to 5 minutes before it was retrieved and cast out again.

Other aspects, such as rod-type, pole and bait were more simply approached. Rods were general soft action waggler models in 13 or 14 foot lengths, or even longer, according to individual preferences. Main bait was standard stickymag with gravel added for weight. Poles between 5 and 13 metres took second place to the waggler, although the Spanish and Portuguese used them to good effect. This tactic added valuable points to both their overall scores by the end of the last day. While it was not clear just how they fished the pole, my sources said that maggot over groundbait, then loose fed hemp over it, was the main tactic to take small barbel, bogas and carrasio on the 5 and 13 metre lines. Bloodworm was definitely not an option for good points!
There were shaded porches spaced along the match length which afforded some respite from the blistering heat.There were shaded porches spaced along the match length which afforded some respite from the blistering heat.The run-up
The week's practice sessions looked to be painting a gloomy picture of the main two day event. Weights were alarmingly low with only a few areas looking as though they would break 3 kilos. These were E section, the top end of D and the first few pegs in A. The heat at times had been equivalent to that felt in Merida with temperatures hitting 40°+ early on. It did come down a little towards the end of the week, but it would rise yet again for the weekend... Not a welcoming prospect for those of us more use to temperate climates! All week Portugal had been the obvious favourites, they do, after all win here quite regular! But the Italians and English were pushing them and it did look like a three-horse race to many.
The final days practice catch from all six of Drennan Team England.The final days practice catch from all six of Drennan Team England.Out of the other home nations, Wales was the only ones to travel here. The French had brought an entirely new team fronted by an old hand, Jean Desque, and their skill at fishing the big waggler would be sorely tested here. Spain had something to prove after their dismal showing on home soil and the Dutch would no doubt be trying just as hard as always. Belgium, like Spain, had something to prove after their failure in the Worlds'. Several of the east-European teams where absent... like Serbia, Slovakia and previous champions Russia. The final turnout of only seventeen countries was something of a disappointment, but in these days of financial 'belt-tightening' I suppose it was to be expected. With so many poor weights during practice week, it seemed that going into the weekend, some may have thought staying away had been a good decision!!!

Final preparations
With a vote taken at the Friday captain's meeting, to keep each section as a whole, rather than split into two as had previously been done in Slovenia last year, the teams finalised their chosen five to fish the first day. England's first day bank-runner would be Darren Cox, but it was a tough call, not only for England's management, but many other managers where weights had been evenly distributed amongst the squads.

Analysis – Day One

Temperatures and expectations were now rising as competitors prepared for the 'All-in' signal on day one. Section A saw last years champion Steve Hemingray, drawn well away from the favoured early pegs. Here, Italy, Hungary and Portugal had secured the better draw and would figure in the top four with Spain, also doing well in what became, with the exception of Italy's Gianluigi Sorti, quite a tight finish. In fact by the end of the match, places 2 to 9 were all within ONE KILO! It was very tight.

Steve Gardener had drawn peg 13 in B section, sharing a line of four with Portugal, Italy and Spain... at least he could keep an eye on them all! This section was also to produced a close finish with the top five all within 310 grams. Luck, as always, plays a fair part in any competition and England has had its fair share in the past. Today was Portugal's turn, as Ricardo Sousa foul-hooked a barbel of at least 600gr in the tail region, AND managed to get it in! I wonder what Stevie G was thinking?

Then we saw Steve hit a good fish which 'kited' across San Marino's Giancarlo Fusini's peg B14, tangling his pole rig. Remarkably, when Giancarlo retrieved and then released Steve's line, the fish was still on. Steve played it to the waiting net and once he had unhooked it, he held aloft, what looked to be a barbel of around 2kgs, to the large gallery watching, and then returned it to the water, to the appreciative applause of them all. First and second in the section ultimately went to Spain and Luxembourg, who did most of their weights with the pole! That barbel would have secured team gold and given England a clean sweep of the individuals, much like Belgium's triumph in 1995 and 2006, and also Italy in 2001.

Section C would see Sean Ashby's dream of following Steve Hemingray onto the winners rostrum fizzle out, from what looked a poor part of the section. In fact Sean did very well within the first five pegs and finished with 7pts, but it was not enough to keep his name in the hat for day two. Italy took the section again with a clear 4.825kgs from one of their rising stars, Giuliano Prandi, and it was starting to look ominous for everyone... even the Portuguese! So far they had registered two wins and a fourth, to Portugal's third, fourth and fifth in section.

Will Raison had drawn a good peg in D15, just two off the end peg, but the Welshman Darren Frost and Spaniard Surroca had the marginally better ones. Portugal's' Goncalo Martins was at the beginning of the section, in between Germany's previous champion, Gunter Horler, and Switzerland's Michael Ceppi. To say that he beat them would be an understatement, he completely buried them! With the exception of the Portuguese, the section was being decided on the end three pegs, although Hungary's 'crack' angler Josef Varga was putting in a brave challenge in the middle of them all. As the last hour approached, the Spaniard Surroca switched to the pole, as his waggler line slowed right down, and began picking up fish. This didn't go unnoticed by Will Raison, who was also experiencing a slowed down. Will shortly followed Surroca's lead, matching him fish for fish. That was probably enough to maintain his overall lead in the section and when the final weights rolled out, Will had more than 1.1kgs to spare over his Portuguese and near rivals, but just as importantly, he had halted the Italian section wins.

Section E had been the area all week where bigger fish had been caught, so it was a 'plum' draw for anyone. Master of the draw-bag Mark Addy again did Alan Scotthorne proud by sending him to E6, not too bad then! Alan has a habit that when he draws well he rarely makes any mistakes, and this time would prove no exception. Italy's Jacopo Falsini was in close proximity as was the Portuguese, Spanish and Belgian anglers. As the match progressed, it became clear Alan was pulling away from everyone, even the better pegs in the high numbers. By the end he had recorded well over 6 kilos, more than enough to win. The poor Belgian, Geert Jacobs, and Spaniard Alejandro Garcia, felt the full force of Alan's hammer-like performance! Not something they will remember too happily, I would imagine. Unfortunately we could not get to section E on the first day, so there are no slideshows.

Despite England suffering a couple of slightly poorer results in sections A and C, they finished the day in front of everyone, but it was only two points clear of favourites Portugal and five points ahead of the every present danger team Italy, who, bar an appalling result from one of their most respected anglers, would no doubt have taken day one relatively easy. Nevertheless, there was still a great deal of work to do the following day and a good draw by the 'Master Drawer' would be essential! Going into the final day, with the possibility of individual honours, were two English, two Italians and one Spanish. Portugal had not won any section, but they had produced a superb team effort to record 2,3,4,5 and 6 points... most consistent.

It was interesting to view the fish counts for each team at the end of the day, for it showed relatively clearly, who had used the pole more than the waggler, in some cases to great effect. England's 155 count displayed once more, like in Merida, that a switch when necessary to a good support plan, to keep fish coming to the net, works well. Portugal's 123 fish didn't expose their overall plan too much, but they would put it too even better use on day two. The Italian tally of just 94 fish, perhaps showed their reliance too much on the waggler, but without that terrible 15 pointer, who knows where they could have been! Spain looked to have decided more on a pole approach, by producing the largest number of fish taken by any team... 174, and they were still in contention, just 11pts off the lead. It's difficult for France to change a lifetime's habit, so their 168 fish total was perhaps not that surprising. In reality, the final day would see a 'three-horse' race. Spain would have an outside chance of making the podium, if any above them slipped up.

Day two looms large!Part 2 to follow shortly and this time we do have section E photos!!!