Can angling ever reverse its decline in participation?

Nar Valley is gearing up for the new fly fishing season from January 1. Permits are available to buy

Nar Valley is gearing up for the new fly fishing season from January 1. Permits are available to buy now for more information and availability contact Chris on 01553 636507. - Credit: Archant

We'll Meet Again, Don't Know Where, Don't Know When. So sang emotional forces sweetheart Vera Lynn during the horrific days of the Second World War.

Then we kids spent most of our school holidays and weekends coarse fishing to supplement the ration books, while dads, elder brothers, uncles and even cousins fought valiantly to protect our freedom.

Many of those relatives, as well as mothers and sisters, were among the 55 million fatalities who would never meet their loved ones again.

And although displaying remarkable resilience in such hostile environments – with some evacuees to Norfolk becoming orphaned during the blitz – youngsters in that deadly period were deprived of Christmas treats that are now taken for granted.

Mothers and grandparents improvised. They transformed bamboo canes into fishing rods, cotton reels into fishing reels, goose quills into serviceable floats and corks into pike bungs.


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Eel hooks were bound together to form pike hooks that were attached to wooden liggers (now illegal) baited with dead roach and dropped into likely spots to attract a passing predator that hooked itself to be hauled out for dinner later.

Come the end of hostilities in 1945, anglers who had survived did meet again and they did know where and when.

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They formed the nucleus of a fervent desire to resume fishing and angling clubs sprang up in cities, towns and even in Norfolk villages in order to acquire and protect fishing rights.

During the war these privileges had been relaxed and taken as read, providing defence regulations regarding the use of boats were maintained and many of these vessels were scuttled in the Broads to deny sea planes touching down to offload spies or saboteurs.

In any event, being spotted on open water by a Luftwaffe pilot or a low flying Messerschmitt could see you become the target of a lethal hail of bullets. Wise ones remained on shore.

An overwhelming desire to rebuild a damaged Britain and its fractured society resulted in long hours of steady toil by a willing workforce. These men, as well as boys and some girls who had acquired the hunting instinct, set in motion a mass weekend migration from farm and factory to the waterside.

By the mid-1950s numbers had swelled to the point where angling clubs had to book banks in advance with local river authorities to avoid serious clashes on the banks.

There was the well documented spat between a Coventry angling club and a local outfit on the River Thurne at Potter Heigham.

However, during those halcyon days record numbers of rod licences were sold from tackle shops and a conservative estimate suggested that around seven million freshwater anglers were out there during the summer months.

Those numbers did not include the number of rods on the beaches freshly cleared of mines, but another two million was probably a reasonable guess at a time when cod were shoaling everywhere in large numbers along the eastern seaboard and the English Channel.

Towards the end of the last century, there came a disastrous decline in freshwater angling, coincidental with the scrapping of the closed season on lakes and canals.

And to bring it all up to date, the last five years have recorded a steady fall in rod licence sales in all categories but senior citizens, while juniors plunged more than 50pc.

The cause of this alarming trend is not due to the quality of fishing available.

The nation's rivers have never performed better and there are insufficient numbers of anglers to fill the banks of the most prolifically stocked commercial lakes.

Aside from ever rising and often prohibitive costs of what was once regarded as a valued working class sport, now out-pricing a normal family budget, it seems that the compelling hunting instinct that urged us juveniles to fish for the family has been seriously eroded.

There are many other interests, and angling has a lot of competition from other pursuits nowadays.

So, will millions of sport-hungry anglers ever return to meet again? Alas, it's back to the 1940s lyrics of our 97-year-old diva Dame Vera Lynn: Don't Know Where, Don't Know When.

• The Taswood Fishery closed on Sunday until the spring, with a mirror carp of 30lb 11oz for Ben Spinks reflecting the brilliant season on the popular venue.

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