Make angling undisputed number one sport again

The Davison family find pleasure and success as a team. Picture: John Bailey

The Davison family find pleasure and success as a team. Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

Just the other day, I was down in London at a TV meeting which always sounds more glamorous than it really is.

The powers that be wanted to know definitively just how popular angling is as a participant sport. That's the key. More people might watch football, say, but my guess is more people, still, go actually fishing. The trouble is so many sports have become theatre, pantomime even if you like. There is fishing on screen, of course, but mostly, you have to put a rod up to get the best out of it. We are told something like a million fishing licences are sold each year and that doesn't include ineligible kids, sea anglers or fishermen in Scotland. It could well be, then, that the number is approaching two million, probably more than lace up their football boots on a Saturday afternoon. Still, almost undoubtedly, that remains half the number of angler supposedly casting a line back in the '50s and '60s.

There is a decline in everything sporting, though, as we all know. A great friend of mine runs the England golfing set-up for youngsters and can hardly attract any into the sport. Local football and cricket teams are collapsing like ninepins. When we come to angling, once upon a time every large village it seemed had its own tackle shop, a fund of information and support. The tackle emporiums we see now might sell all the gear, but they tend to leave you with no idea. That's particularly important when it comes to kids wanting to enter the sport.

Perhaps if we ever want to put angling back as the undisputed number one participant sport, it's kids that we begin with. The crushing problem is that children just aren't allowed to do things on their own, simple as that. If you passed a few seven-year-olds cycling along a main road somewhere, there would be a panic. Summer holidays that were an endless outdoor experience for us back in the '50 and '60s are now spent waiting for adults to take an interest. Surely, it is down to fathers, uncles, neighbours or whoever to take children with them whenever they go angling, if at all possible. That's a great way to hand down knowledge.

It saddens me that even today, many clubs won't allow children as members under the age of 16 or so. There have to be junior sections surely? And fisheries too. Plenty of those won't allow kids in, certainly not unaccompanied by adults. What a tragedy. Some years ago, I mentioned Broadlands, down on the south coast, where kids as young as 10 or 12 were actively encouraged to fish through the holidays by the enlightened owners there. They had obviously got the legalities right, there was a cafe, tackle shop, on-site bailiffs and everybody had a great time.

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You've got to have somewhere to fish and our commercials, by and large, do a great job. I've recently written in praise of Reepham Fishery and, of course, on the trout front, Rockland Mere, owned by the tremendous James Harrold, does an equally good job. But, there are plenty of anglers who want just a little bit more out of their fishing than fish that have come from the back of a lorry. That's where so many of our rivers fall down. There are fish still clinging on, despite predation, but they're old, wily, few in numbers and often way beyond the capacity of the average angler to catch.

What we need is real action by the Environment Agency and all the money that we spend here on rod licence fees to go back into our river fisheries. It's a question of money, let's be seeing it spent. It's the same, of course, with our seas. There is lots of talk about preservation of the oceans, but we don't see much actually happening. Lip service just is not enough to save so many of our wild waters, whether fresh or salt. If we want to see anglers back, we've got to give them fisheries of every type and every level of difficulty and satisfaction.

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At the same meeting, I was asked really what the justification for angling was, by people who obviously had rarely stepped out of a boardroom. It's easy. In my long life, I have found nothing more worthwhile than fishing, even though it seems comical to those on the outside. In some ways, fishing fulfils all our overlaid instincts, so nearly forgotten in the welter of modern civilisation. Fishing provides a real, true, deep connection with nature. It breeds a love for water and for the fish that live there and I've often called anglers The Guardians of the Stream. Believe me, without fishermen, there would barely be any fish at all.

I hope this proposed series gets off the ground because children, especially, need to see sports on TV. If it goes ahead, in the vein proposed, they will see fishing is cool, mobile, exciting, beautiful, thought-provoking and ultimately challenging and in a true, hands-on way. That's why we love it.

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