14 Days in ChipChipChipChiprana!!

Thu 12 September 13


All the planning that had gone on over the last year was at an end as we stood at Stansted awaiting the plane to Spain. This advance party, going over before the main team to set the ball rolling and get this almighty catfish show on the road, included Ross, myself and the two media guys Matt and Ash. A whole mixture of emotions filled us as we went into the unknown and hopefully we’d come out the other end of it with a fantastic fishing contest enjoyed by a few but watched by many many more who themselves would want to participate in years to come.

There wasn’t much to be done on arrival as we reached our destination late in the evening, so we had a drink and bite to eat and then off to bed to rest for a busy next day. Morning dawned bright and sunny and the river looked lovely, and at a good depth and pace, just perfect for the event.

The day was spent checking out the sports hall, where the opening ceremony and such would take place, the media centre, which would be crucial in sending out the images around the globe, bivvy city, the fishing lodge and the areas to be fished. The main team comprising 25 persons would be arriving the following evening and we had to be prepared for them. The big van with all the equipment – from huge banners to tents to camera and film equipment – would also be arriving a few hours before them.

As if organising such an event was not a big enough challenge, we made it even moreso by endeavouring to clean up this section of the river with its huge amounts of rubbish before the event. We wanted competitors and visitors to be able to see the river in its true glory and not have to sit amongst the rubbish left by people who care nothing for the fish and the environment. So, early Wednesday morning we were up and at it, the locals were invited and luckily half a dozen lads turned up, not many, but did they work hard, I know not your names but a big thank you.

Aragon TV turned up and filmed the start, for it was just a start and it would take many days and many more people before the job was completed. It was shocking but pleasing to see the hundreds of bags that were collected that morning and as the TV cameras recorded it we know that it will have shocked a great more people who watched it on TV that evening. That will have created the reaction that we wanted, it was hot news.

That evening the van arrived and it was duly unloaded in the sports hall and an hour later the main team, buzzing with the excitement of it all also arrived. They decided to sleep in the sports hall that night for convenience as their priority was a slap-up snack and drink down at La Barque, our HQ by the river. Not resting on our laurels there was to be more rubbish picking the following day. The media guys got there, got their gear sorted, and slowly the event was taking shape. By the Friday the sports hall was also taking shape; a huge, and I mean huge, banner with the event logo was raised above the stage, this was some banner at 5m by 25m and it set the stage alight making the impact it was designed for.

The media and reception centre was readied and up and running, everyone had their jobs and tasks to do and they were happy to get on and get them done, it was a well oiled team by now, and then in the evening, we could all relax over dinner and a well deserved drink.

By the Saturday the rubbish clearing of the banks had just about come to end and the job completed. How many hundreds, possibly thousands of sacks of rubbish were removed I do not know but the areas to be fished now looked how they should do all the time, spotless. My next task was to start to set the pegs in position in the various sections but I would do that on the Monday after the weekend fishermen had gone home, Sunday’s job would be putting up signage around the area showing people how to get to the event and the pegs. This was completed with the aid of head of radio communications, Peter Hands, and it was also logistically good for him to be able to see the fishing sectors for when he was communicating with the marshals during the event from HQ.

By now, competitors were starting to arrive, some using bivvy city others taking up the more comfortable option of the cheap rented apartments in the village. There was no doubting it, though, there was a buzz of excitement building as just about everything was done and competitors could start to register the following day, after they had gone through the boat check.
Monday morning the pegs started to go in and with anglers arriving they were keen to look at and assess each pegs and try to estimate what the best peg scenario would be. As they would be fishing from a different peg each day and from a different section, it would be very interesting as there was an average section, a good section and a very good section and the winners would have to fish very well to be crowned champions.

Monday evening was supposed to see the big football match take place between the Catfish All Stars and local Chiprana team but the weather took charge of that and it rained heavily causing the game to be called off due to a waterlogged pitch. On Tuesday I completed the pegging which had been reasonably straightforward apart from the water suddenly dropping by about 2m and causing one or two late headaches as areas that were suitable no longer were and vice versa. Still, it was done now and too late to change anything as signage had been erected and competitors had been provided with maps of the swim numbers.

During the afternoon the final few competitors registered and I gave a briefing to the marshals who would be a very important part of the team over the coming three days of the event. I informed them how catfish needed to be weighed and the method by which they needed to be recorded and communicated back to HQ. I expressed the need for media coverage in certain circumstances, and some of the more fundamental rules were explained.

It was drawing ever closer to the opening ceremony… in just a few hours! The marshals had to rush off and practice their flag waving entrance and coordinate how the grand prize for the biggest catfish, – a boat – was going to be introduced into the arena. Competitors and spectators had to converge at the church in the early evening for a flag waving, drum thumping march through the village until they reached the opening ceremony arena, this was all covered by live TV, and more TV and cameras and press than you can imagine.
Meanwhile, I was tucked away in the media centre with head of administration, Marianne, preparing the peg numbers for the all important draw. Each draw ticket was checked and double checked before it was placed in its sealed container and then recounted to ensure a 100% successful draw. Then it was off to the opening ceremony for the speeches and the wonderful food that the local ladies had put on, it was exceptional and delicious and enjoyed by one and all. The draw was the moment everyone was waiting for and it was now underway with nervous competitors going up on stage where their fate for the next 3 days would be determined before receiving a Berkley weigh sling, sack and gloves.

The draw went smoothly and exactly to plan, then everyone was off for an early night in preparation for the competition, which would begin in the morning. I wish I could say that I had an early night but I was out until the small hours with the Police, chucking off local anglers who still thought it was okay to fish in the competition area. The Guardia did a fantastic job booking them and getting rid of them.

Eventually I got to bed, but only for some big big winds to hit the area, I knew this would cause trouble, not least for the peg numbers which could be torn from stakes but it may also pose a problem in allowing boats on the water. I couldn’t sleep and so, at 5 o’clock, I donned my head-torch and headed out on to the banks armed with emergency pegging. I expected to find numbers torn from their stakes by the wind, but I found worse still, some the stakes had been removed by the people we had thrown off earlier.

Re-pegging was carried out in the pitch black and all was okay once more. I made it back to HQ just before seven for a coffee and a final word with the marshals before they were taken out to their sections. This was it, competitors were at their swims ready, the marshals were ready, the media teams were ready, but were the catfish ready? 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 bang!!! It was away, the first ever World Catfish Classic.

At last I could relax a little and had some breakfast as I awaited news of the first fish. The river was alive with little boats as anglers were out preparing and baiting their swims. An hour into the contest and the first radio signal came in ‘fish on peg….’ and it continued that way for the next three days.

Highlights for me include; team USA storming into a 1st day lead, the girls team doing amazingly well on day 2, the huge 91kg (200lb) catfish caught by the French, and the Dutch duo of Ron and Arnout storming it on the last day and going from bottom to the very top to take the crown in nine action packed and emotional hours. The marshals did an unbelievable job in recording and weighing each catfish so quickly and ensuring it was released speedily and without harm, well done to you all.
The closing ceremony was the highlight as the top 10 pairs and other winners received their prizes as everyone watched on. Afterwards the music rang out and the drink flowed and everyone had a good time, new friends were made and the whole spirit of the new event was encapsulated forever.

Although the event had finished there was still work to be done. The following day, clearing up the sports hall, removing banners, taking down signage, removing pegs and stakes and returning the village back to normal again after 10 days it will never forget. Most of the team had to wait until the Monday until the flight back home and so we had some time to relax and wind down and what better way than to get the rods out and do some fishing. Most of the marshal and all of the media team had never caught a catfish and so they took it in turns with the bites and some nice catfish and also big carp up to 40lb were caught. It was a fun way to end the event, they had worked extremely hard and fully deserved it. Some wished that they could fish for longer but the time was drawing ever nearer to departure, goodbyes were made to the locals who had become friends and then it was off the airport then back to England and reality once more.

14 crazy days in Chip Chip Chip Chiprana which will have everlasting memories for so many people, and a legacy to keep this beautiful river as it should be – beautiful and rubbish free for all to enjoy forever.

Andy Chambers