2021 has been an interesting year for all of us. While it had its ups and downs, our Let's Fish programme continued to grow, and we had more young participants getting into the sport of angling. Here are our top 12 Let's Fish highlights.
12. Ramsbottom win Angling Times club of the year award
One of the Let's Fish clubs we admire the most, Wellingborough & District Nene deservedly scooped this award 12 months ago. It was equally pleasing see another professionally run club we work closely with, Rammy Anglers, take the award this time around. Led by Neil Wright and Dave Marshall, it's been thrilling to watch at close hand the clubs progression culminating in their members mass participation in the national celebration of young people and fishing.
11. Progress of the Marchant family
One of the targets that Let's Fish premiership clubs must achieve annually is recruitment of half a dozen representatives in the national celebration of young people and fishing. Northampton Nene are blessed to be able to reach this target with support from just one family, the irrepressible Marchant's.
One of the most pleasing things has been witnessing the progress of every one of them. The boys were not always 100% enthusiastic of the merits of having to acquire all the complex fishing skills needed to make the best of canals and simar natural venues.
2021 results now show they are all progressing nicely. Acquiring those skills is what becoming a good all round angler is all about. Once acquired, nobody can take them away from you. In a few years' time, it will be fascinating to see who ends up the top angler in the family. I'm not brave enough to make a firm prediction, but if you pushed me, I'd plump for Tulisa.
10. Scales catastrophe
Significant effort goes on behind the scenes at major participation events like the national celebration. We set ourselves the challenge of weighing in a minimum of 55 participants in one hour whilst broadcasting live on Facebook. That's not much more than one minute per participant. We opted for the dream team of Neil Turner on keepnet duty and Simon Mottram firmly in control of the scales. What could possibly go wrong with these two experienced experts in charge?
The answer quickly became apparent as we reached peg 3. That ever reliable force, gravity, chose to do its business. It was no fault of Neil's that the Reuben Heaton scales went for an untimely swim in the peg that had just been fished by Simon Preece' s young son, Blake. For what seemed like an eternity, but was perhaps 90 seconds, the misbehaving scales seem to have found themselves a new home in an alternative underwater universe.
Eventually Motty redeemed himself, thus adding scale retrieving ability to his other notable aquatic skills. He suffered nothing more serious than soggy socks and underpants in the incident which we rarely choose to mention. The grin on Simon Preece' s face was broader than the Cheshire cat's, matched only later in the year when the two Simon's secured their famous Shropshire Union victory in the first 200 plus Canal Pairs final.
9. Ashleigh's progress
Much of this wonderful story is narrated by former England international Stuart Conroy. But this story gets better for the young girl in question.
Stepping up from cadet to junior level, she found herself unexpectedly slotted into the Ramsbottom girls junior team, (the Rammy Squirrels). The days of landing a solitary post-whistle gudgeon were put well and truly forgotten when she recorded a terrific weight of 1kg 250 grammes. What amazing progress. Even better, the team, also comprising Kyra Simister and Lucia Archard, ended up in fifth position overall. We can't wait to see how Ashleigh's fishing progresses in 2022 and beyond.
8. Cyrus. A star of the future
If you had to the name England's angling hotbed, Sheffield, the steel city, would have been a favoured answer for knocking on 100 years. In the 1950's, there were 27 tackle shops featured in the Sheffield Association club book.
There are potentially other contending locations these days, but our Lets Fish work on the Sheffield Canal had revealed no lack of enthusiasm amongst the next generation. Superbly coached by Kevin Jessop and Catch More Media's Tom Scholey, one youngster brimming with natural talent, young Cyrus Solgy has really stood out.
Cyrus stepped up to the challenge of his first national celebration. Several coaches picked him as a contender in the most promising junior award, which he duly shared with another up and coming talented junior, Marco Larsen. If he perseveres, young Cyrus could be a household name in the fishing world in years to come.
7. Let's Fish English Girls Youth team do themselves proud
One of the great successes all the 2021 campaign was the end of season teams of four event.
Working alongside Angling Trust's Joe Roberts and Danny Williamson, various Let's Fish teams were selected in cadet, junior and youth categories for an end of season Let's Fish community event. Many observers were fearful that the Let's Fish English girls' youth team, who, aside from captain Katie Crooks, were all relatively inexperienced in the competitive arena, might suffer the ignominy of finishing distantly last in all sections.
I think everyone was genuinely delighted that the four girls not only fished their hearts out, but ended just two points away from runners up spot. Nicole Marchant took a brilliant section second for good measure. With several girls moving up to the youth section, the older boys better watch out in 2022.
6. Zack Enderby top performance
One of the Let's Fish clubs that quietly goes about its business without necessarily blowing its own trumpet is the Wybunbury club, based not far from the thriving market town of Nantwich, Cheshire, birthplace of the famous Moulton fishing family.
Motty and I were invited to attend a club participation event in August. It was quickly evident that the coaching team had prepared the young participants in the right way of doing things. The only disappointment about the whole occasion was that the all-out whistle seemed to come too soon when pretty much everyone was still getting a bite every put in. We had the unenviable task of selecting the angler of the match. The choice, after considerable deliberation was young Zach Enderby.
We marvelled at how smoothly his rig was placed into the water and how accurate and consistent his loose feeding of squatts and pinkies were. It was textbook stuff from the 10 year old. It was this initial observation, rather than his finishing position at the national celebration that secured Zach his place in the Let's Fish Starlets cadets teams at the Let's Fish end of season teams event.
Pegged on the unfancied oak tree section, the 10 year old performed beyond his tender years securing top spot from the 32 participants, thus making a fantastic contribution towards the teams victory alongside Dylan Egan, Hayden Saunders and Port Sunlight's Luca Candlin.
I will not be in the least surprised if over the course of the next few years, the Wybunbury club unearths and develops dozens of new young anglers. Who knows, some might even become as proficient as the famous Mohmar team, which coach Andy Fairclough was himself part of.
5. Steadily increasing support from the angling trade
It's in everyone's interest, especially the partners in the National Angling Strategy that we collectively work in partnership to reverse the decline in angling participation. The trade, through the auspices of the Angling Trades Association, is now starting to put its product (although not yet its cash) where its mouth is, in supporting Let's Fish.
At the national celebration, all 202 participants went away with various goodies that the trade along with Canal & River Trust itself, could be proud of providing. Support this year was provided by Sensas, Guru, Fjuka, Preston Innovations, Leigh Tackle & Bait, Ian's Tackle Penkridge, Dinsmores, Reuben Heaton, Prince Albert Angling Society and the Grand Union Gobio gobio Society. Sonubaits are also on board for 2022.
4. Super Maxx
Back in August, we had a message from a young Mum whose seven-year-old son Maxx, acts as her part time carer.
The young lads dream had always been to go fishing. Could Let's Fish help? Thanks initially to Andy Fairclough, we quickly set something up on the Shropshire Union Canal around Nantwich.
Young Maxx was a natural, catching an unbelievable 55 fish on that first occasion. After just a couple of more sessions, Maxx decided to sign up for the cadet's section of the national celebration. That might be as many as Andy has ever caught himself.
As the camera crew approached his peg the God's smiled as Maxx hooked a decent perch on his 3 metre line which pulled back as hard as Maxx. Maxx not only landed that fish but caught plenty of others too, totalling over a kilo and was part of the runner up team for good measure. We can't wait to see how Maxx's fishing develops over the next few years.
3. Jodie verses Izzy. Battle of the junior girls captains
Selecting teams is easy. Every armchair critic can do it. The most challenging decision the selectors had to make ahead of the 2021 teams' event was the composition of the two Let's Fish English girls junior teams.
There were easily a dozen, perhaps more contenders for the 8 slots in total, to represent the Let's Fish girls' gold team and four for the Let's Fish girls silver team. After much spirited debate late into the night, agreement was reached. Jodie Deacon would be appointed as captain of the gold team and Izzy Gibbins as the silver team captain. At the draw, Izzy and Jodie drew adjacent pegs in the same section. It was to be an eagerly awaited peg to peg battle.
I spent as long as I dared, just observing. In terms of angling ability, it's just too close to call. As it happened, Izzy took the honours with a wonderful section win with Jodie finishing runner-up. Doubtless Jodie will get her own back sometime soon.
With talent like this, Gabby Marshall, Lottie Wootton, Kyra Simister, Lucia Archard, Ella Preston, Kimberley Knight, Lauren Stevens, Jenny Aldridge, Poppy Bishop, Morgan Dowman and Louise Connor to name but a few, there seems a bright future ahead. It certainly won't be any easier for those sorting invites in 2022. I have the say, the rise of the number of girls getting involved in fishing is the most positive thing to happen the sport for decades.
2. Dynamic Daniel Lawes
One of fishing's major selling points is the benefit brought to the health and well-being of participants of all ages. On one occasion back in the spring, a boisterous young fellow turned up to a West Midlands Let's Fish introductory session with granny Lorraine in tow. It took a session or two to fully get Daniel into the swing of things, but with the support of two brilliant Let's Fish coaches, Neil Powell and Peter James, Daniel's natural fishing ability began to blossom.
As the weeks went by, he improved in leaps and bound, achieving his goal of being able to fish unaided in the cadet's section of the national celebration. Come that big day, despite the pre-event nerves, the young fellow rose to the occasion, landing taking 35th spot.
Unbeknown to Daniel, the invitation panel led by Danny Williamson had been sufficiently impressed that day to include him as a member of the Emerging Prospects team, alongside Rory Corser, Charlie Hutchinson and Tom Bennett.
Come the big day, the team were a point off winning a bronze medal. If he keeps progressing, Daniel may be considered good enough in a few years to claim a place on the Angling Trust Talent Pathway initiative. As is the case with so many other kids we meet, fishing has helped with Daniel's general concentration and focus.
If Let's Fish can continue to help thousands of others just like Daniel, then it's truly performing its wellbeing function as well as creating the rod licence buyers of the future, upon which the health of our fisheries depends.
1. Stoke on Trent cadets win the national celebration
It's safe to say that Stoke on Trent cadets B team were not on my commentator's crib sheet of likely team winners at the national celebration. Whilst I knew that the club would work hard throughout their coaching year.
I never considered the possibility that these young Potters had any realistic prospect of walking away with the team crown. These thoughts were confirmed when two of the team arrived at their peg with just minutes to spare before they all in, rarely a good sign.
I made a mental note of the intensity of Angelina Bengry's concentration and got more of an inkling of her serious approach to the job in hand when she patiently followed the scales for a good half mile. I wonder whether she was making a mental calculation of how the team points might be working out.
I must confess I was absolutely made up when I first glimpsed the final result on the Hot Fishing app. I can't think of a more deserving bunch of coaches than John Davey and his loyal crew. Will this be the Potters finest hour or was it just the start of things to come?
Last Edited: 26 January 2022
Sign up to our monthly newsletter and be the first to hear about campaigns, upcoming events and fundraising inspiration