LOSING THE NEXT GENERATION
I expect I’m just preaching to the converted here, but as another fly fishing season gets underway I can’t help feeling we are losing the next generation of potential anglers – and I’m talking about our sport in its all-round, multifaceted sense, not just the game fishing world.
There was a time not so long ago when 38% of our adult population were more interested in fishing than organised soccer; I doubt the figures would be anything like that now.
As the perceptive Simon Cooper noted in a recent Sportfish blog, some of the causes are not hard to find. I do not intend to rehearse them, except to say that in Britain – as opposed to certain other countries which have more wilderness, and easier access to the Great Outdoors – too many of our attitudes toward the countryside have become calcified and urbanised, and we are in danger of seeing an entire generation of young folks who are (in Woody Allen’s fine phrase) ‘At Two with Nature.’
No, I don’t have some new, grand stratagem – and, like you, I sometimes tire of hearing about ‘putting something back’ into our sport, but I guess that’s pretty much true. Let’s hear it this season for that good, old-fashioned Mentoring Mentality. If each of us recruited just one new angler, think of the difference it would make – not only to the future of our pastime, but to the well-being of our waterways in general.
I am aware that when you get to a certain age there is a tendency to creak along down Memory Lane (I had a girlfriend once,’ wrote Hemingway, ‘Her name was Nostalgia’), but I had such an idyllic apprenticeship to angling that I have always been an idealist. Thanks to an elderly, benevolent uncle – a Victorian by birth, an air force ace during the Great War, and a devoted sportsman – I was entered into fishing at a very early age with burn trouting, mackerel trips, perch in the Serpentine, and eventually, in a shining adolescent moment, the grassing of my first salmon.
As a teenager I went to school on the banks of the Thames (pike, chub, carp, bleak) and our home was near an overgrown stretch of Hertfordshire chalk stream. It was such an eye-opener for me, growing up in this privileged world, that fishing can easily span the generations, and I learned quickly the importance of companionship, and shared pleasures.
My uncle was ninety-one when I put the net under what was to be his last fish: I wonder if I can bank on someone doing the same for me?
Over the years, I have been further blessed with a series of non-family mentors too – and by great good fortune they included Megan Boyd, Hugh Falkus and Fred Buller. In their very different ways, each took me under their wing, and generously gave me opportunities to learn by experience and encouragement and inspiration. (Whilst we’re on the subject of role models, I knew Mr. Crabtree as well – aka the venerable and fascinating Bernard Venables, and I treasure a Christmas card he once sent me.) So, you can see why – spoiled as I personally have been - I feel so passionately that sporting mentors must not become a thing of the past.
MUCH BETTER THAN MOGADON
I am also convinced that fishing is good for you in several ways – ‘Much better than Mogadon,’ is how Roger Daltrey once put it. We hear a lot these days about mental wellbeing, and I bet I’m not alone in believing our sport can instil certain qualities well worth acquiring – self-sufficiency, ingenuity, concentration, perseverance, stealth, dexterity, and good humour in the face of inevitable disappointments (you will have your own lists, I’m sure). Anglers also soon discover that the natural world – what’s left of it – involves issues of pain and death and responsibility, and is not some kind of glorified petting zoo, as the squirrell-kissers and Namby -Bambi bunny-huggers would have us believe.
There is of course a number of enterprising and imaginative organisations already dedicated to introducing people to such things – Charlie Jardine’s Fishing4Schools; Marina Gibson’s Cancer & Pisces; the whole Take a Friend Fishing initiative – but I still think we could do more, as could schools, local councils and police forces, if only they showed a more positive attitude.
The easiest place to begin is with your family members, but it could be a godchild, neighbour, or youngster from the school run. And of course your recruit could equally well be an adult. Either way you should attempt to get them connected to some sort of fish fairly early on, but not so that it looks like a guaranteed, next-day delivery, sort of experience. I’m a great advocate of float-fishing as a means to developing a healthy case of Fin Fever.
This certainly worked with our own children, and I’m pleased to say I am currently enjoying what you might call a successful strike rate with the grandchildren – our Finlay landed his first trout from my Scottish lochan when he was five. I have high hopes of plenty more trips with him, in the years to come.
IT WORKS BOTH WAYS
Like most teaching processes, mentoring with rod and line often cuts both ways – by introducing someone to what we love, we can rediscover the essential thrill of angling and treat ourselves to a personal refresher course in the minor triumphs and small fry encounters that are necessary to a proper sporting perspective. Not everyone believes angling is fundamental to happiness, but I do – and I have always enjoyed the trenchant words of American author, Robert Traver (the pen name of Supreme Court Judge John D. Voelker) who fished, ‘not because I regard fishing as being so terribly important, but because I suspect that many of the other concerns of men are equally unimportant – and not nearly so much fun.’ Amen to that.
David Profumo is the long- standing Fishing Correspondent for ‘Country Life’ magazine, and author of The Lightning Thread. Fishological Moments and the Pursuit of Paradise, which you can buy online.
The nationwide Take A Friend Fishing campaign runs from Saturday 1 April to Sunday 16 April, and offers a free one day Environment Agency rod licence to encourage existing anglers to get new people into fishing, plus lots of events and recommendations of where to go. Find out more here: takeafriendfishing.co.uk
Farlows sister brand Sportfish is also supporting the Take A Friend Fishing campaign by offering two people to fish on their lakes for the price of a single ticket - find out more here.