Angling all-rounder Colin Mitchell, the popular blogger here on the lively Angler's Mail website, is back. Here he brings you his opinions on getting more people into the sport.
THE announcement of new rod licence rules and fees last week sparked off yet another debate on just how many anglers there are in England and Wales – with the resulting question of how do we encourage more people to take up angling?
Over the past three decades figures from 500,000 to four million anglers have been bandied about.
Rod licence sales have never reflected that number – mainly because sea anglers do not need a licence and because there have always been some who would break the law and not but a licence.
Additionally, many of the so-called angling surveys accepted that if someone broke out their fishing gear once a year to go fishing whilst on holiday they were an angler…
How many anglers are there in the UK?
To be honest, no one really has a clue how many anglers there are. Everything is a guesstimate.
But… just take a look at how many fishing tackle manufacturers there are, both big and small, and how many fishing magazines are on the shelves of newsagents.
It’s a lot isn’t it? And how many other sports have such a big range of manufacturers – right down to small home-based firms – and so many publications?
Only those in the trade know how much gear they sell – but it may well be less than years ago mainly because there are now so many firms competing for business, each taking a share of the market.
Magazines sell less than they did – again because of the vast array of publications available – but sales of all magazines are down globally, mainly because of the internet and a change of reading habits.
So are there less anglers?
Do you now see less people fishing? Just like gear and magazines, there is now a massive choice of places to fish thanks to the explosion of commercial fisheries.
Of course there are less people fishing rivers and canals and yes many of the anglers who did fish these may well have packed in fishing, or be fishing less.
But a lot now fish commercials or have joined the still growing ranks of carp anglers.
As someone who fishes all sorts of venues I reckon that there are currently more anglers around than I have seen for ages – it’s just there is a change of pattern as to where they fish.
How do we get more people into angling?
The answer to this one is simple: you can’t make anyone go fishing as they have to want to go.
That is why the Take a Friend Fishing campaign is so good. You get a mate to try it, go with you, be sociable.
Everyone thinks we have to grab kids early and get them into angling. Really?!
Think back to when you were at school and there were less things to occupy your spare time – maybe even just football, cricket or hanging around with friends.
Only about five friends around my age went fishing and of those there is only me left who goes regularly. One other goes occasionally, another once or twice a year.
It’s a pattern I have seen repeated by friends of my son. It’s nothing new.
Tackle ‘lapsed anglers’ to get them rehooked
What does happen is that lapsed anglers return to the sport once they have got other things out of their system; they have maybe married, have kids and have a steady job.
These are the people we should be helping to return, the ones who were anglers and might just now be ready to come back.
You can’t make someone go fishing if they don’t want to, if they don’t understand that we don’t just go fishing to catch fish.
They need to understand the social aspect, how it helps us rest or have a challenge – and respect and love of the outdoors.
But first of all they need to catch a fish! That is the challenge to set…
How many youngsters go fishing, catch a fish – maybe even a gudgeon or a small perch – and are then anglers forever?
Follow the path of triathlons
The fastest growing participant sport in England at the moment is triathlon.
Why? It’s because it offers excitement, a challenge and is open to all ages.
It’s no cheaper than angling – far from it if you do it right – but the governing body offer cheap, easy to enter taster events that anyone can do.
Anyone of any age can take part and can even enjoy simple training sessions for if they need a bit of help.
There is no pressure to win, just encouragement to try and finish a race that is relatively short compared to normal distance triathlons.
Why can’t we mirror that in angling? There’s no harm taking a leaf out of someone else’s book and adapting it to your own cause…
Catch a Fish or Win a Match would be a nice little challenge. And it doesn’t have to be a big fish or a major match with prizes.
LET US KNOW YOUR VIEWS! How do you think angling can attract more participants? Email to firstname.lastname@example.org Your views could appear in Angler’s Mail print magazine.