My first coaching year

Recently qualified level 2 coach, Pat Byrne, outlines his experience and provides some useful hints for new and existing coaches alike.

Pat Byrne, Let's Fish! coach Pat Byrne, Let's Fish! coach

Taking the first steps

Increasingly, with the ongoing worrying decline in participation in our historic sport, my own club having been going for 150 years, a lot of people have been talking about getting involved and playing their part in reinvigorating the sport through coaching.

To begin with, you might want to volunteer at a coaching event to get a feel for what it’s all about. If you find it suits you, there may be partial coaching bursaries available via Angling Trust or Canal & River Trust; the latter can be contacted be emailing

If you do get offered a place on a level one course, my advice is to grab the opportunity with both hands. Should you later decide to change your mind, don’t just fail to turn up, for that would be denying another enthusiast the opportunity they would have been looking for.

Level one success

Not everyone achieves the level one qualification, but best I can tell the majority manage it comfortably enough. From the time you are informed you have passed, it may take a few weeks for your certificate to be sent to you by Angling Trust. You may also be waiting for the results of your DBS check which you need in order to register with Angling Trust.

Gaining experience

I took the bull by the horns and contacted the Angling Trust to see if there were any events coming up in my area that I could help out at.

They informed me there was a local event on in a few weeks. As this was to be my first event as a coach I was a bit apprehensive. Time flew by and the date arrived as did the snow as I headed off to the park lake to meet the organiser. We had over 60 people booked in for the event, due to the weather we had lots of no shows but that gave coaches more time with each pupil which is never a bad thing.

There were four level 2 coaches there that day. I was able to watch them as they coached. We had plenty of time to chat and I gained a lot of information on how things are done.

Toward level 2

Over the next few months I coached on all the events in my area. I learnt an awful lot as to how best to coach people; something I had not done much of in my life up until that point.

During this period, I was accepted on to a level two course which I am pleased to say I passed. Not every coach needs to go as far as level 2 but without that qualification you can’t lead on the organisation of an event.

Let’s Fish encounter

I was lucky as just after I passed level 2 I had a call from John Ellis of the Canal & River Trust asking for a meeting. We were coming into summer and the Trust wanted to arrange a series of canal taster sessions around Foxton.

After a quick interview and a check of my CV, I was duly selected to lead the events, nine in total. Also, over this time I ran five junior club events in August for the club on our own water. I must thank John as I learned such a lot in a short time about the subtle art of canal fishing. What follows are a few of the tips from my first years experience of canal coaching that hopefully others will find useful.

Coaching CPD event Coaching CPD event

Choosing a venue

It might sound silly, but a coaching venue has to hold fish. Size is unimportant, what matters most to a newcomer is those all-important first few fish. I do think it’s an advantage if there are several species to be caught as pupils are fascinated by the look of the different species and it gives the coach something interesting to talk about too.  At Foxton, we pretty much always catch roach, perch, rudd, skimmers and gudgeon with the chances of a ruffe or two. The idea is not to catch huge weights, it’s to begin to teach watercraft and the skills to enable the pupil to catch their own fish when we are not there to guide them.

Girl with fish Let's Fish Soulbury 2017

Keeping the peg going

This is one of the hardest skills to master but we all need to try for the kids booked on at 4.30pm deserves the same chance of success as the one booked on at 10.00am.

I was perhaps guilty of overfeeding in my early sessions; now I cut back and stick to the little and often principle to keep things ticking over. Half a pint of squats lasts a long time when fed a small pinch at a time. There are occasions when you know the peg has died and to help us at Foxton, the Trust are adding a couple of extra pegs just to give a couple of coaches that option of moving once during the day if we do need it.

Bait presentation

Being new to canal fishing I have learnt that, more often than not, by using small hooks and finer lines, you do get more bites and hence more fish are caught leading to more happy pupils, parents and coaches alike. By having the fine elastic set soft, you will still land those bonus fish and that tip, courtesy of Simon Mottram, also stops kids being able to try and yank a big fish out with too much gusto, for if that option exists, it usually ends in tears!


Perhaps the best way of telling if you have succeeded as a coach is the number of people who come back to further sessions. For the real purpose of coaching is to produce long term anglers, not just to collect emails addresses, important as those might be. I am pleased to say we saw a heathy proportion of returnees, some of whom quickly became competent enough to represent our club in the national junior canal championships.

National celebration of junior angling

The club decided we should support the Angling Direct junior championships held in autumn of 2018. I wasn’t expecting the event to be as big as it turned out to be. I was chuffed to bits that three of our pupils ended up in the top ten, but it was about more than that, it was a day to celebrate angling and young people.  

I know Peter Henery has ambitions to see 100 youngsters aged from 8 to 18 lining the banks at the 2019 event. If he pulls that off, and I would not put it past him, it will be the biggest junior match for many a year. What’s wonderful about that venue is that you can catch under your feet throughout the day so providing your pupils have 4 or 5 metre poles, then can compete on equal terms. Here's more information about the 2019 event. Who knows, we may get to meet up there.

National Junior Angling Championships 2018 National Junior Angling Championships 2018

For the love, not the money

If your ambition is to get rich, or even make a living, I advise you focus at least in part on securing another income stream. Canal & River Trust coaches are certainly not out of pocket for their Let’s Fish! work but with the drop in rod licence sales, the money just isn’t there to pay coaches what they perhaps deserve. Perhaps the new national angling strategy, which is due to be published at the end of May, will look to address this issue, we shall see?

Last date edited: 7 March 2019