Throughout the 1950s and 60s boat fishing festivals and competitions were always popular and well attended. Deal was well known as the ‘Mecca of Angling’ and people from all over the country entered such events. At times, prospective competitors had their entrance fee refunded as there were not enough places for them in the many charter boats that plied for hire on the beach.
The festivals were always held in winter, as it was considered that this was the best time to exploit the vast shoals of cod that frequented the area. Cod did make up the majority of the catch, however, whiting, pouting and dogfish also filled the anglers bags. The event would be run over a three day period, which included the weekend and Monday, although this was later cut down to just the Saturday and Sunday. Unfortunately the weather often took a turn for the worse in those months of October and November and it was hard pushed to get the full amount of fishing days in.
For the officers and committees of the two main angling clubs – Deal (1919) AC and Deal & Walmer AC – it was a busy time to cater for all those wishing to participate. Firstly, the clubs’ vast amount of silver cups had to be retrieved from the year before winners. These, along with the prizes, were then placed in a local shop which had a large enough window space to display the trophies. The main prize was for the greatest aggregate of sizable fish with different classes for separate species. Second and third prizes were also awarded for each class. It seemed a never ending job for the committee to get everything just right, and very few anglers realised how much work went on behind the scenes.
On the day of the boat festival, it was up to the clubs officials to consult with the boatmen on the weather prospects. If it was deemed fit, then the rowing boats would be allowed to go afloat half an hour earlier than the motor vessels. At the end of the six hour competition the anglers were allowed thirty minutes to get their catches to the weigh-in; which was usually held in the Royal or Queens’s hotel car park just off the sea-front. All the fish had to be measured and then weighed and recorded. This procedure would take hours if a large catch was encountered; in an early 1960s boat festival over two tons of fish were caught by anglers.
The evening’s prize giving was always a grand affair. Normally the Mayor of Deal, after a speech, would have presented the trophies to the winners. Each cup won then had to be signed for and the angler’s address noted for collection the following year. Hopefully, for the angling club, everything had gone smoothly and a small profit had been attained – although the hard work that had been put in by the committee could never be evaluated financially.