THE 20th annual Weymouth Conger Festival saw 66 anglers compete from eight boats with the aim of catching the biggest conger eel.
Always competitive but also conservation-minded, the skippers stayed in regular contact to ensure that only the biggest eels were brought to the scales each day.
Fishing on this catch and release basis, 890 conger eels were caught with only 10 brought back to weigh in for awards.
Excellent weather and sea conditions gave the promise of good fishing on all three days, and anglers were not disappointed, with two good-sized eels brought to the scales on day one.
The first, landed by Darren Bunce fishing from Wild Frontier, weighed in at a creditable 62lb.
However, fishing from Offshore Rebel, Tony Denning’s eel was next to weigh in and set the bar for the rest of the competition when it tipped the scales at 81lb.
Denning’s fish was weighed and returned alive before any photos could be taken.
Day two saw anglers take to sea with the challenge of exceeding Denning’s catch. Of the 287 eels caught on the day only six were returned to the scales, a testament to the skippers’ skills as just 9lb separated all six specimens.
Junior angler Cameron Axford put up a good challenge, fishing from Peace & Plenty, when his eel weighed in at 73lb, with Gary Dennis (69lb), fishing from Supanova, not too far behind.
During the course of the day, competitors and skippers were beginning to notice potential candidates for a certain award that would be revealed at the presentation.
The final day saw anglers continue in their efforts to exceed Denning’s fish of day one, and anything could happen, as in 2013 when Darren Axford took the competition in the last 15 minutes.
There was no last-minute grab for the title this year with only one eel of the 358 caught on the day being returned for weigh in.
That was a fine 60lb 8oz specimen landed by Paul Marris fishing from Offshore Rebel.
At the end of three intense and friendly days of competition, the anglers and skippers gathered at the Sailors Return for the annual presentation and to share stories of their exploits.
A short speech of thanks was given by Paul Whittall, the new commodore of the fleet.
He said: “I’d like to thank all those who took part, from the skippers and anglers to the sponsors, Andy Alcock of Quayside Fuel for the trophies and weighing the fish in, and the Sailors Return for their hospitality and 81 cans of beer for the biggest conger (one can per pound of fish).
“Also, thanks go to Andy Selby from Weymouth Angling Centre for his superb organisational skills, speedy collation of the results, and the prizes, and finally to the Weymouth Charter Skippers for their endeavours with the anglers and prizes.”
Prizes were then presented by Holly Ankers of Weymouth Angling Centre in the following categories:
Champion: Tony Denning with an eel of 81lb.
Pools winners: Day One – Tony Denning, 81lb (£305); Day Two – Cameron Axford, 73lb (£305); Day Three – Paul Marris, 60.5lb (£300).
Boat – Atlanta: Best conger 62lb, top aggregate: Jeff Pracy/Luke Dredge 291.67.
Al’s Spirit: 64lb, Piers Conway-Hydel/Jules Brown 215.38.
Offshore Rebel: 81lb, Tony Denning/Paul Marris 300.
Peace & Plenty: 73lb, Cameron Axford/Steve Hutton 253.
Tango: 46lb, Jim Grant/Aaron Combden 277.78.
Top Cat: 62lb, Rik Pitkethaly/Simon Garnett 172.50.
Wild Frontier: 62lb, Darren Bunce/Mick Elvey 300.
Supanova: 69lb, Gary Dennis/Will Smith 150.
Top Ten Aggregates Points: 1 Paul Marris – 300; 2 Mike Elvey – 300; 3 Luke Dredge – 291.67; 4 Aaron Combden – 277.78; 5 Jim Grant – 269.44; 6 Steve Hutton – 253.78; 7 Warren Yates – 248.48; 8 Gary Dennis – 238.57; 9 Darren Axford – 234.55; 10 John Pitman – 231.82.
Top lady was Carol Denning and top junior was Cameron Axford.
The Whinger of the Week award went to a skipper for the third year running and for the second year in succession to Lyle Stantiford of Supanova.
He won the award for getting his fingers caught in the jaws of a 73lb conger and then having to be rescued by three anglers.
Next year will see the celebration of the 21st festival – note the dates in your diaries – on August 24-26.
Book early to avoid disappointment and be part of one of the best competitions in the fishing calendar.
Ring Weymouth Angling Centre on 777771 or go to deepsea.co.uk for details.