Angling clubs: making your Let’s Fish! sessions a success
We hope Let’s Fish! events will be back up and running soon, but in the meantime, angling clubs and coaches have the opportunity to think about how they can improve their sessions. National angling and fisheries manager, John Ellis, shares the myths we’ve uncovered in three years of running the scheme, as well as some useful tips.
“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new,” uttered Albert Einstein. Thomas Edison found over 10,000 ways not to make the first lightbulb.
The great thing about mistakes or errors of judgement is that they give us an opportunity to improve and get a bit better next time round. Our experiences in running Let's Fish! around the country have proved to be no exception to this rule.
Did we really think that?
There are a few things we did or thought when we first started out that we laugh about now. Although in years to come, we may look back on 2020 and wonder what we were thinking of with our current approach.
Here are nine important myths we have identified on our journey thus far.
An angling club taster session once a year will recruit participants
This thinking is a common misconception, especially amongst groups who are new to angling participation initiatives. We wish it was true. The key to successful recruitment is an ongoing and regular series of events to give people every opportunity to catch the fishing habit.
Six or eight taster days a year, plus regular development sessions, are what's needed to enhance your chances of successful recruitment. Experience has taught us that the clubs and groups who put in significant levels of effort receive the reward of increased membership.
The front of house experience isn't that important
Seasoned judges, such as Wellingborough Level 2 coaches Pat Byrne and Bryan Dray, take the view that the ‘front of house' experience is at least as important as coaching delivery. This includes how you welcome participants, how you manage any queries and how you complete the experience before they head home. You only get a single chance to make a positive first impression. Get it wrong with an unpleasant, unwelcoming approach and the chance of recruiting that participant and their family to fishing could be gone forever.
Make sure your signage from the car park or road to the pegs is clear. Ideally, have someone on the welcome desk throughout the day, so that participants have a point of contact for questions. Even when time is short, filling in the ‘My first fish' certificates for children and asking participants if they enjoyed the sessions are a worthwhile investment.
Whips are the best coaching tool
It's easy to see why people would think this to be true. Properly elasticated whips are certainly far superior to tying the rig to flick tips. They reduce the chance of an inexperienced pupil attempting to swing a big fish to hand, with usually disastrous consequences. Better still though are elasticated take apart poles.
Successful technical coaching requires getting bait presentation spot on. The bait must appear natural to the fish, otherwise only the most famished or stupid individuals will be tempted to bite. In most conditions, a take apart pole with shorter line between pole tip and float gives superior rig control and hence better bait presentation.
When you need to move further out to chase the shoal, which is often necessary as the coaching day progresses, it's better practice to add another pole section rather than uncomfortably stretching to gain that extra distance.
Giving away free equipment gets loads of people fishing
In 2018 the Trust gave away 1,000 starter kits. In our well-meaning but naïve way, we distributed those to pretty much anyone who asked for one, on a first come first served basis. Yet we saw relatively few of the lucky recipients at events again, perhaps just 100 or so out of 1,000.
If you have the luxury of giving away complimentary equipment, we would recommend only allocating items after a participant has shown genuine commitment and has returned to Let's Fish! events three or four times.
The more gear a coach has, the better impression it will make
We cringe when we hear coaches talking about spending thousands of pounds on the latest pole or seat-box to cash-strapped families with young children. Whilst it's easy to spend a fortune on tackle and the quality of available equipment has never been better, what non-angling families need to know at the outset is whether fishing could be an affordable as well as a healthy hobby.
So perversely, coaches with vast quantities of expensive equipment on the bank might unintentionally be putting off newcomers to the sport.
Boys are better at fishing than girls
Once upon a time, football, cricket, rugby and fishing were virtually male-only sports. Thank goodness that times have moved on. Over the past two years, around 34% of attendees at Let's Fish! events have been girls. In 2018 more mums than dads brought their offspring.
A lot of good judges in the angling coaching world are of the view that, on average, girls are better listeners than boys and consequently are just as good technically, if not a tad better than the boys.
Not catching a fish at your first session doesn't matter
It's a very unusual human being who doesn't want to succeed at new things they try out. In golf, success is measured by putting the ball into the hole whilst enjoying the walk. In fishing, we should certainly enjoy our surroundings, for that's part of the pleasure, but it's also important that fish are caught too.
For most young people, the size of the fish caught doesn't much matter; the look of joy on the faces of youngsters as they take in their successful capture of their first perch, roach, rudd or gudgeon is, as every coach will testify, priceless.
All the advice passed on in our technical training sessions for coaches will help you make sure as many of your participants as possible catch a fish.
Competitive fishing amongst young people has had its day
If you believed some sources, you'd think that young people no longer engage with the concept of competition.
Our coaches must have asked literally thousands of youngsters whether they hoped to catch more fish than their brother, sister, mum, dad or cousin. Never to date has a child responded that the question was silly and that they don't believe in competition of any sort.
A bit of friendly rivalry can be a great way to get children of all ages focused on the task in hand. Encourage them to try their best and see where it takes them.
There's no future for junior teams in fishing
One of the tragedies of the past 30 years has been the loss of so many junior club teams. Rare these days are the inter-club matches that were once numerous. The 1990 National Federation of Anglers' Junior National on the Grand Union Canal at Milton Keynes saw 50 teams of 12 taking part, compared to just 8 teams of 6 in the 2019 Angling Trust event. Events like these can inspire a passion that lasts a lifetime, and our very own technical coach Simon Mottram is a fantastic example of this.
The most popular sports – cricket, rugby, football, netball, hockey, rowing, etc – involve participants being part of a team. Even the more individual sports like athletics (relays) and tennis (doubles) have a team component. To grow angling, we need to work hard with partner clubs to add inter-club competition into the calendar.
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