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On the trail of the Fjuka gudgeon mug

More than one out of every four attendees at Let’s Fish events are female. After all, young girls are just as entitled as boys to gain the full health and wellbeing benefits of being by water. This is the story of one such young girl, Evelyn Woodhall, brought to us by proud Mum, Elizabeth.

Evelyn at Let’s Fish! Summer 2022

Once upon a time

Evelyn has been obsessed with the idea of fish and fishing since she stumbled across a TV show called River Monsters. She absolutely loved it, and thus at the grand old age of three she was hooked, somehow becoming completely fascinated by the notion of these mysterious creatures hidden in plain sight. It then became more pronounced, anything about fish and fishing - Wicked Tuna, and in more recent years King Fishers.

Let's Fish! to the rescue

I always knew Evelyn wasn't your ‘typical girl' and although she still likes a pretty dress and a bit of lip gloss, she also holds belts for mixed martial arts. These last few years had been rough. School disruption due to the pandemic, the upheaval we all felt, and worst of all the unfortunate early loss of her maternal grandmother to Parkinson's and dementia. Now aged 9, Evelyn needed something different, food for the soul. Facebook gave us the answer. A Let's Fish! programme located in Wolverhampton. I booked a slot, which came as a treat to start the 2022 school summer holiday with hopefully an associated enjoyable memory.

Pendeford bound

We were met on the banks of the Shropshire Union Canal by two Let's Fish! coaches Peter James and Neil Powell, both gents who were kind and patient fishing coaches for our initial one-hour adventure. With their help, all equipment and bait were provided, and Evelyn started to catch fish. Her first ever one was a slimy bream, and in that initial hour she landed a total of eight fish. It was clear she had an eye for a bite. My quiet girl was full of smiles. “When can we go again Mum?” was the first question on the way home.

Return journeys

I booked three more slots, after all it was free, and she would be out in fresh air doing something she had found enjoyable. Not long after, an interesting email arrived in my inbox. Due to the generosity of an anonymous Staffordshire based benefactor supporting the Let's Fish! programme, there was a chance for Evelyn to be gifted a beginners fishing kit.

I thought to myself, ‘Why not apply? After all, we didn't have any fishing equipment at all as we were completely new to the sport.' The only ‘catch' was that we needed to also commit to participating in the National Celebration of Young People and Fishing.

This event was to be held on the Shropshire/Staffordshire border in mid-September, not that far from us, so I booked Evelyn a ticket for that too. On the advice of the Let's fish! coaching team I also booked her up for additional training sessions, so she would be prepared for the big day.

Skills development

Evelyn fished every week, usually twice a week during the summer holidays. She got to know Neil and Pete really well, and I corresponded from time to time with John Ellis, (Canal & River Trust's National Fisheries and Angling Manager) over email. No question was left unanswered or seemed too much trouble. Meanwhile, Evelyn continued to progress in fishing ability and resultant confidence.

She hooked her own maggots and pinkies, she learned to hold the fish she caught, how to use the landing net, how to use a plummet to find the correct depth, where to throw her groundbait and loosefeed etc. Initially, she was nervous around the spiky perch, but Pete dutifully showed her patiently that confidence was key. Evelyn, like so many youngsters past and present, especially loved catching gudgeon, and even now gobio gobio remains her favourite species of fish.

Free equipment arrives

Evelyn's 10th birthday loomed at the beginning of September. She was lucky enough to win the equipment comprising a Maver, Reality 6 metre fishing pole, Dinsmore landing net and keepnet, plummets, disgorgers plus a bait box, which was presented to her by a happy and supportive Pete on the week of her birthday.

Meanwhile, I scoured local fishing tackle shops for other necessary items under the helpful guidance of her coaches. Finally, she was ready to make her debut at the national celebration alongside nearly 90 other cadets (aged seven to ten years) in the fun fishing event of the year.

Celebration day

It was a glorious sunny day as we arrived at Knighton Village. Evelyn caught around thirty fish, predominantly gudgeon, for a total weigh of 500 grams. This put her about halfway, not that the finishing position was of much significance, for what really mattered was being presented with a Fjuka Gudgeon Mug.

The chance to win this prize was the main reason for deciding to take part, she later told me. I do hope they have another one on offer in 2023. Evelyn also won a Let's Fish! cap for having landed a roach a medal, a goody bag containing bait, hooks to nylon, an Unlocking the Severn bookmark and a £10 Leigh Tackle & Bait gift voucher.

The day was just fantastic, and I couldn't believe how far Evelyn had progressed in such a short space of time. I've nothing but praise for the West Midlands Let's Fish coaches and indeed the whole Canal & River Trust led programme.

Evelyn at National Celebration

Commonwealth Games Celebration

Not long after another email arrived; she had made the reserve list for the National Commonwealth Communities Celebration. It turned out that Evelyn had been invited to a birthday party on the same date. To her, there was no question, she preferred to be fishing if the selection was ultimately confirmed. This time around, the fishing was so much more of a challenge for everyone, including Evelyn.

It was October half term week. The weather was decidedly chilly, and it had poured down the day before, putting lots of cold rainwater into the canal. What a contrast to the National Celebration just a few weeks previously. Evelyn had taken advice from her coaches on how different it would be and what to do.

She did fantastically and still really enjoyed the fishing. No prizes were won this time, but she had made her best efforts, which is what matters. She did, however, become a member of the Grand Union Gobio Gobio society (GUGGS) as she landed a gudgeon in front of another member of the society. Her picture was taken, and she now appears on their website as WoEv. She was happy with her moment of gudgeon fame. She also met another lovely young lady who they spent time chatting and laughing about their fishing. It was wonderful.

Evelyn at the Commonwealth Celebration

Benefits of fishing

Evelyn is a different girl when she's fishing, it's so peaceful and relaxing for her. She loves it and I would never have known where or what to do without the Let's Fish team. It was all free at point of contact except for entry to the National Celebration which was a nominal £5 fee. I'm sure the prizes must have cost a lot more than that, perhaps £20 or more. All I can say is thank you to the “Lets Fish!” coaches and team for starting Evelyn on her fishing journey.

Last Edited: 04 January 2023

photo of a location on the canals
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