MOBBED: Today's Convention, at Kettering
Pike anglers from across the UK flocked to the PAC Convention at Kettering today. The event saw a healthy rise in attendance, first-class speakers and one of the best displays of tackle and all things pike-related we've enjoyed for several seasons.
There were long queues before the doors opened at 9am. Bleary-eyed organisers and traders were mobbed from the word go, as crowds surged into the venue.
Stands did brisk business for the first hour, as bargain hunters blitzed the second-hand stalls and crowded around the likes of Eddie Turner, PikePro, Fox and Franglais Fishing to sample this season's latest gear.
Alan Dudhill, from PikePro, said trade was much busier than at our 2011 event. "It's always worth coming to the event," he said. "Last year, it was busy for the first hour than it tailed off, but it's been constant this year."
One of this year's new attractions was the day-long series of junior teach-ins organised by Eric Edwards, with help from Mick Brown, Denis Moules, David Wolsencroft-Dodds, Jules Chidgey, Ashley Brown and other coaches.
Many PAC members are concerned at the lack of younger anglers joining their ranks, at a time when specialist angling appears to be becoming an increasingly middle-aged sport.
PikePro boss Paul Bird - pictured left with one of the packs - explained: "It's for the future of the club, that's why a load of old fogeys are doing it. It's a worthwhile thing to do."
"It was excellent," said Mick Brown. "The average age was younger than we were expecting, but they were very receptive to what we were saying."
"If you look around you, how many people do you see in their teens and twenties," said Mick. "When I hang up my rods, I'd like to think that everything I've enjoyed will be enjoyed by the next generation - not that I'm planning on hanging up my rods any time soon."
Developer Richard Halliday, who has spent two years perfecting the £59.99 gizmo (seen right), said: "The whole thing weighs less than 45g, if you're worried about space and weight in your bag. It's got a mercury tilt switch and a carbon fibre arm.
"There's been amazing interest, we've sold far more than we expected and everyone seems excited about it - it's really encouraging."
One thing that's less than encouraging right now is the weather. If you believe the forecasts, it's going fluctuate from one extreme to the other, with a brief indian summer followed by plummetting temperatures and another freeze-up.
"We've been going to Canada every year to fish for channel catfish and a friend out there asked if we'd ever thought of coming back for the winter," said Stephen (seen left). "We went over for the first time in 2005 and we've been going back ever since."
If you think recent winters over here have been harsh, spare a thought for the Canadians. They drill holes through three feet of ice and fish using tip ups - a hand line on a spindle packed with grease, which suspends a bait through a borehole, with a flag which pops up to indicate a run.
"The average over there is -20C," said Stephen, demonstrating a tip-up alongside his ice centre and thermal suit. "Last January, it was -47C."
Let's hope this winter doesn't see things get quite as cold as that. As attendees took a breather outside in today's sunshine and the coaches laid on casting contests for the youngsters, the view was that this year's Convention was the best in some time.
Dave Horton kicked things off in the packed main theatre, after PAC President Tim Kelly's welcome address. "Dave did a cracking talk, it was heaving in there and he was really funny," said Tim.
Next up was Micky Jones - resplendent in traditional kilt and sporran - for a Highland McPike Fest called Setting the Heather Alight.
Once trough-up was over, Norfolk author and historian Stephen Harper took to the stage with his tales of the Pike of Broadland. Then it was the turn of Neville's Pike Panel, chaired by Neville Fickling, for the usual lively Q&A session.
As Convention Organiser Colin Goodge revealed in his closing address, we're off to pastures new next year. Harrogate's the venue for Piking2012, on Saturday, September 22.
We'll br bringing you more news as we get it on next year's event. In the meantime, thanks for coming along today, whether you were one of our army of helpers, one of the traders who did us so proud, or one of the hundreds who came to enjoy the talks, the banter and stock up for the season.
See you in Harrogate, if we don't bump into you on the bank this winter.