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Development of a County Action Angling Group: one coach’s journey

Clive Milsom has a lifetime’s experience of fishing in Yorkshire and is committed to ensuring future generations get the same opportunity to learn and develop skills. He’s currently chairperson and treasurer of the West Yorkshire County Action Angling Group.

West Yorkshire CAAG members - Glen Smith, Pete Dawson and Clive Milsom

Early learning

I have fished since the age of eight. I was lucky enough to have both a father and a neighbour who were willing and able to take me, but most of my time was spent with like-minded boys.

Initially we went to the Leeds & Liverpool Canal and the River Aire at Riddlesden, Keighley. Later we ventured into the Dales at Summer Bridge on the River Nidd, Topcliffe on the River Swale and Stamford Bridge on the River Derwent. We went everywhere by bus or on bikes.

By the time I was 17 I had pleasure-fished the Scottish Lochs and match-fished regularly with the Howden Club on the Yorkshire rivers and Lincolnshire's River Ancholme. Each subsequent decade brought new opportunities to try a range of different venues.

Leeds & Liverpool Canal towpath

Sharing my passion

Full-time work and career progression, along with marriage and two children, somewhat curtailed the outings, but I still managed to fish with the Unity Angling Club team that won the Bradford Winter League in the early 1980s. This was my first serious taste of canal fishing in the West Riding, and what a lot I needed to learn from the Unity's members.

As a schoolteacher I was always encouraged by senior staff to take children fishing, and coaching has remained a great passion throughout my life. In the 1970s I was treasurer for the junior section of Grimsby & District Amalgamated Society of Anglers. Under the guidance of the chairperson, Mick Portess, I regularly helped organise and run inter-school competitions and regional contests, and organise teams for the national junior finals. In the 1990s in Mirfield I even got fishing on the school timetable for one afternoon a week during the spring and summer!

The kids who wanted to do fishing tended to be the ones who found traditional school life quite a challenge. Fishing certainly helped their attitude and behaviour in my classes, because it meant I had a lot better relationship with them. Also, I found the fishing a great release from the stresses and strains of teaching, which can be highly pressurised.

At home, as my own children became more independent, I was able to spend more time on the bank, chasing the chub and barbel of my native county. A sudden change in my circumstances in the new century gave me time to take on responsibilities with Brighouse Angling Association.

Starting the action group

In 2008 I was secretary for Brighouse and was discussing plans with the committee about coaching events for our juniors. Brighouse has a long history of helping kids out. I worked alongside the treasurer Ray Charnock, who'd been involved with the junior section for many years and was a great mentor for our kids. When he passed away it cemented my commitment to the club and to the junior activities.

I represented the club at the first regional angling development meeting, chaired by Nigel Harrison, Director of West Yorkshire Sport, an organisation bringing together local agencies to increase the number of people participating in sport (now part of Yorkshire Sport Foundation). It was held at what was then called the Galpharm Stadium in Huddersfield, and was very well attended.

For the next meeting, in January 2009, we gathered at the British Waterways (now the Canal & River Trust) offices in Leeds to listen to plans about proposed developments in coach training, providing coached sessions to newcomers and the formation of County Angling Action Groups (CAAG). Alas, there were far fewer attendees this time. The highlight of the evening was a presentation from Harry Lodge, president of the Wakefield Angling Club and senior vice president of the National Federation of Anglers (NFA, now part of the Angling Trust). Wakefield were the first angling club to receive national accreditation from Sport England for raising standards of coaching and welfare.

The right people

Harry was my inspiration to get involved in the CAAG. He was, and still is, very highly respected as an angler, but particularly as an organiser and as a leader within the Wakefield community. Watching Harry and the way that he worked with kids was an education for us. He's a great communicator and throughout his fishing life, and I'm sure his working life for that matter, he has had this ability to talk to people from all walks of life. That stood him in great stead in Wakefield with the local council, which was good for us because I'd never been involved with people of that ilk at all before. Harry also worked with the disadvantaged: people from care homes within the area and those with mental disabilities as well.

Yorkshire coaching legend Trevor Facer at a Lets Fish event

Harry, myself, Eric Bootland (another NFA official), Trevor Facer from Dewsbury (one of the first NFA coaches - pictured), Stephen Makin from Slaithwaite and Dennis Dolan from Todmorden were the mainstay of our group. Leeds Amalgamation stalwart Stan Jeffries joined us later on too.

As a group we were so fortunate in having men of experience and commitment to lead us over the next few seasons. Most of our activity and expenditure focused around summer provision of coached sessions on venues local to West Riding. We also made financial contributions to coaches' training, the building of anglers' platforms and provision of club kit.

Growing in size and stature

After an embryonic period as an angling development group, we became a County Angling Action Group in 2011. We got some funding from the Environment Agency, as well as some kit that we could pass on to youngsters. Eric and Harry had been members of various national bodies, so they had lots of contacts and access to funding. That kept us going for the first few years.

The funding that we've had these in recent years has been from the Canal & River Trust, for running participation events, such as Let's Fish! We have had some money from the Angling Trust, as well as a couple of small private donations. We are in the process of getting a bid in to Sport England to cover the next five years of our work.

More important than the funding though has been the skills and commitment of the founding members of the group. These are great blokes. Unfortunately, Harry and Eric over the years have had declining health and have not been able to give as much. However, the team has evolved.

Pool Bridge Farm event West Yorkshire County Action Angling Group

New faces

We've been fortunate to welcome new volunteers who have allowed us to increase our capacity and extend our services. We've been so lucky in bringing in people of talent. And the kids recognise and respect that talent.

We're especially grateful for the efforts of our newly qualified Level 2 coaches Andy Wood, Peter Dawson, Andy Smith and Zabir Ismail (the first Level 2 coach in the country from the Asian community), and other Level 1 coaches including Sean Auty, Roger Smith, Glen Smith. Most recently we've welcomed three new guys from the Walton Angling Club.

All of these new guys have been absolutely brilliant for us, because they have the same passion and are well qualified in terms of experience. They have the capacity to work with a wide range of people, as the CAAG has developed. Sharing ideas with like-minded people like them has been really useful.

Angling coach, Zabir, teaching his nephew, Yahya, to fish

Looking to the future

We hope to work as closely with the Angling Trust and the Canal & River Trust in the future as we have in the past, as well as adding new partners from the clubs, scouts, schools and other organisations in the area. Several angling clubs have now used us, with this new team, and they're wanting to book us again this year. We're extending the number and range of activities that we're doing throughout the county.

I would like to see the group grow and prosper. It would be really good for us to be in a position where we can acquire some independent funding, as that would give us greater freedom.

On a personal level, my own circumstances will change and it would be nice to see the younger guys take on positions of responsibility within the group and share out the organisation, the administration and the management.

Yorkshire Lets Fish event participants with a bream

Helping youngsters to achieve

The CAAG definitely brings a lot of benefit to local angling clubs. At Brighouse we've doubled our membership numbers in the last three years.

I've got a guy who I coached as a 9-year-old. He's now a Level 1 coach himself, who's committed and helps us out. It's absolutely superb seeing these kids develop and mature into young men, and then come and put something back into the sport that they've got a lot of benefit from.

This group has also given me that opportunity to put back. I've benefited from fishing so much throughout my life.

We've all got a shared passion and we do get a personal satisfaction when the children we're coaching achieve something. That achievement might not be catching a fish. Sometimes it's a matter of just calming them down, or for others it might be developing a skill, or improving their relationship with their parents.

When they're on the bank with us, they're focused and off their computers for a while! It improves their relationship with the caring adults who are with them and that's great.

Fishing is just opening up another avenue for these kids to develop. It's our privilege to be a part of that, and it's great fun.


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Last Edited: 21 May 2020

photo of a location on the canals
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