There has been a notable rise in girls wanting to get involved, including young Freya Sullivan, the subject of this article. The club's lead level 2 coach, Pat Byrne, takes up Freya’s story.
One of our most pro-active and successful Let's Fish! partner clubs are the Wellingborough & District Nene Angling Club who recently celebrated 150 years of existence. Their partnership within the Let's Fish! Nenescape program has brought welcome financial support to such initiatives in the Nene Valley.
Three or four years ago, their junior matches would have just two or three entries. Since getting involved with the Let's Fish! programme, numbers of youngsters wanting to take part in friendly but competitive events are up significantly.
Freya first fishing experience
I first met Freya at our first Let's Fish! event of the year back in April on the Grand Union Canal at Foxton. She was just seven years old and had never fished before. After signing in at the welcome desk, she was coached by another level 2 coach, Bryan Dray. Unfortunately, and she couldn't possibly have known it, she hadn't chosen the best day to try fishing for the first time. The strong winds, incessant rain and a crystal-clear canal meant that more than half of the attendees, including Freya, did not catch a single fish, a relatively unusual occurrence for Foxton is normally one of our banker fisheries but canal fishing in spring can be less reliable than later on in the year.
Despite the lack of feeding fish, Freya didn't want to give up but even after an extended session of getting on for an hour with not even a bite she was not put off. Even then, we knew that she had something special. Bryan was very impressed with Freya's dogged determination and made a point of asking her to come back another time to our Mill Cotton complex and try fishing again. The offer was duly accepted, a date set, and we were on for another outing.
Breaking the duck
The big day arrived. We met Freya at Mill Cotton for a few hour's fishing. Weather conditions were spot on and she managed to catch her first fish and a few more during her time with us. From that session she has gone from strength to strength with her angling ability. Not only at the on-going Let's Fish! public events she came to but also the extra coaching sessions she had with Bryan on a one to one basis both on the canal at Foxton and some still waters that we took her to.
Aiming for the cadets' national championships
One of our goal as Let's Fish! coaches is to select and develop cadets and juniors that we think could compete in the national championships. Contestants taking part in this national celebration of young people and fishing must be able to fish largely unaided and so need to possess the basic skills such as confidently unhooking fish which does take a few sessions to accomplish. Before we put anybody in for the championship we get them to go with another coach to assess their fishing ability. Our most experienced canal coach, Ian Halliwell took Freya for a session on the canal at Glen Parva not too far from her home. He reported back to me that he felt that Freya would be able to fish a match with just a bit more coaching on a moving canal.
Final practice session
Freya came to an evening canal practice session on the main canal at Foxton Locks. The canal here has a lot of boats and moving water for the locks are operated frequently. She had picked up very well how to lay the rig into the water correctly to take advantage of the flow and how to feed squatts and pinkies on a little and often basis. We now felt that by the time of the championship she would be ready.
Cadets line up
Youngsters ages eight and nine competed in the cadet section in 2019 although in 2020 this section will be expanded to include seven and 10 years olds. The junior category will cover the age range from 11 up to 15. Watching the cadets draw pegs at around 10.30am was one of the most exciting things I have ever seen in fishing.
Not a single kid complained about the previous form of the peg they had drawn; there were only happy smiling faces. If only open match anglers could all have this attitude, what a difference it would make to the sport. Freya drew peg 7. Luckily, coach Ian Halliwell and Kevin Jessop were the two lead stewards on the cadets' section, so Ian was able from time to tine to keep an eye on Freya during the three-hour event.
Challenging for honours
Overall, as is often the case when there are large attendances, the section fished quite hard but never the less she held her own in her first ever match. Weighing in a very respectable 370 grams she managed to finish 5th overall out of a total of 16 competitors, just missing out on winning a trophy. This weight in the junior section would have earned her joint 27th spot, ie. a top half performance.
Looking forward to next year
Next year's event is scheduled for Saturday 19 September again on the Shropshire Union Canal, the Saturday after the Angling Trust Division Two National.
Ninety-one youngsters lined the towpath in this year's championship event and it wouldn't surprise me if next year the figure isn't far short of 150. I am certain that Freya will be one of them and with another year's experience under her belt will be aiming even higher.
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