A sport the shop window
They might not have even considered it, but anglers going about their everyday fishing business are often in the shop window for our sport. Fishing venues are often public places. What a unique opportunity that provides us with to sell our sport in a positive light to potential new entrants of all ages. Each and every one of us, whether we think about it or not, provide an impression of our sport to passers-by. Will the impression that you give be one of the aloof, grumpy and miserable participant or alternatively are you a smiley, friendly face that people might be attracted to. Think about who is around you. It could be argued that we are all ambassadors on the bank, so what kind of ambassador are you going to choose to be? Are you the sort of ambassador that the sport needs to survive and thrive?
The perils of social media
With the accessibility of social media we also need to be ambassadors for the sport off the bank. There is simply no room for racist, sexist, homophobic, bullying and abusive comments. Some of the stuff you read from time to time is cringeworthy and without doubt has the ability to provides fuel for the anti's. What impression might some of this stuff be giving to parents who are thinking seriously about their offspring getting involved in the sport.
I doubt that very many at all will conclude ‘Wow, I'm definitely going to get involved with that fishing club for I am mightily impressed with the range and volume of vulgar obscenities on their Facebook page'. Let's use fishing related social media to congratulate rather than criticise - ideally celebrate others success or if you are really not up for that, then at least stay silent. It does seems popular to just be negative - easy fishery, overstocked, no mat, that fish is not as big as you claim, nothing but a lucky capture, etc etc.
My kind of fishing is definitely better than yours
It doesn't matter whether you prefer, rivers, natural stillwaters or commercials, canals, sea, lochs, pike, perch, rudd, roach, trout, pollock, carp or even gudgeon, ruffe or sticklebacks, at the end of the day we are all anglers with our own unique idiosyncrasies. I wonder if we hear the same sort of negative comments as part and parcel of other sports. Do centre forwards have nasty digs at goalkeepers and defenders for not being real footballers or vice versa. In athletics, do shot putters look down on marathon runners?.
Potential newcomers must be confused. My personal advice for beginners in fishing would apply to starting out in any other sport. Begin with the basics, which are taught and can be easily mastered through the likes of our Let's Fish! events. You can eventually specialise, if that's what you want to do, when you really get into the sport and understand deep down what makes you tick. For some within our fishing family, it will be competition and team camaraderie; for others it will be the silence and solitude. That's the beauty of fishing, there's something for everyone.
You don't want to fish there, it's rubbish
It's taken a while, but the industry is definitely beginning to recognize the need to make fishing welcoming and attractive to female anglers, youngsters, their parents/guardians, indeed any potential newcomer interested in our sport. We have frequently let ourselves down in the past. Our great nation is even blessed to have one fishery where there are available pegs within 1000 metre walk of 8.1 million people, that's almost 14% of the population of England & Wales.
Even better is that 50% of the population reside within 5 miles of one of these fisheries. I'm referring to the canal network of course. But do all commentators within the industry celebrate these 2000 miles of locally accessible fisheries and appreciate the opportunity they offer. Do they always use positive language to describe their merits or do they immediately search for the perceived negatives?
Think of the terms we often hear, ‘ rock hard, negative fishing, scratching around , scraping about, now' t but lots of bites and little fish, low weight affairs, having to work to keep the bites going, etc. When we use this sort of vocabulary what I think we really mean is a fair test involving skill, practice and some days when nature will win out, having to make the right fishing decisions, adopting the correct bait presentation and feeding patterns, plenty of bites for those who are masters of the art, etc. One of the funny things that some in our sport do is to tell kids that small fish are not worth a jot. That's akin to telling a kid that small people i.e. children are unworthy and it's only adults who really matter.
The anti-angling movement
Many wise observers concur that angling will come under increasing threat from groups who are either anti or not sympathetic to angling. Along with apathy, it's the biggest threat we face. Those opposed to angling will not focus their energies on the numerous plus points we know our sport offers . They are unconcerned with the health and wellbeing of a million participants; in their eyes angling is not a force for good. They will ignore the fantastic conservation work that many clubs and fisheries undertake. They will ignore efforts to control the spread of invasive, non-native species. They will ignore anglings contribution to the economy and to the fisheries service of the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales.
Doing the right thing
We all certainly need to work to support the governing body, Angling Trust who have, especially in more recent times, proven their ability to exert influence at the highest levels. Small cliques and lobby groups simply don't carry a loud enough voice, however well-intentioned some of these groups might be. If we wanted to give ammunition to the anti-angling conservation movement here are some things we could do. Aside from being abusive and threatening to the public, we can leave litter and tackle lying about, we can call for the destruction of protected species, spread invasive non-native species across our islands and fail to adhere to biosecurity messages like Check Clean and Dry. Only a small minority would do these things but the way of the world seems to be is that its small minority who all too often get the headlines.