It is a dangerous misconception that angling remains the biggest participation sport in this country and therefore, by extension, its continuance is assured. We may be in grave danger of over-complacency as the demographic of â€˜regular anglersâ€™ testifies. Our angling congregation is getting older and this is a perilous state of affairs. If we lose the inflow of people into fishing then we lose those who value our wild fish and their habitat.
Figures from Sport Scotland reveal that the number of young anglers in Scotland has remained static over the last few years at 30,000 â€“ only 6 per cent of under 16-year-olds. Ian Robertson, once project manager for the Scottish Country Sports Tourism Group, warned in a Scotsman article in March 2009 that angling could go into a serious decline because older anglers are not passing their skills. “Unlike sports such as football or rugby, where players retire at around 30 and go in for coaching or refereeing, anglers don’t ‘retire’,” he said. And this is where we now have a problem. If we allow short-term complacency, inertia or lethargy to win, our sport will be the long-term loser. With that, I believe, our countryside and population will be the poorer.
So why not make it your resolution to introduce (or re-introduce) someone to fly fishing when the new trout season starts? All the better if that someone is a youngster.
Fly fishing can be daunting to those â€˜not in the knowâ€™. I should know â€“ save for a long dead grandfather, none of my family fished and so I was very short of advice and encouragement as I endured a long and spectacularly unsuccessful apprenticeship. Not until my mother asked a wonderfully kind gentleman in our village to take me under his â€˜angling wingâ€™ did I begin to feel I could become proficient in the sport that I was so keen about. His gentle encouragement, advice and most of all his time, is what made the difference to me on my journey to a lifetimeâ€™s enjoyment of angling.
Were it not for him I may not have persevered and I would likely have been someone lost to angling forever. Now, Iâ€™m no fly fishing pro nor guru, but think of the loss that would have been â€“ one less voice positive about fishing to counter the growing band of â€˜antisâ€™, one less (heavy) consumer of all things angling, one less supporter of local (and not so local) fisheries, one less guest in various fishing hotelsâ€¦it all adds up. None of these areas can really afford to lose another consumer and think how much better off theyâ€™d be with even one more supporter.
Given the ever-growing number of competing activities on our younger generationâ€™s time, we need more than ever to have our current angling population engage with potential young anglers and to show them how rewarding a pastime it can be. I believe that enthusiasm and passion are contagious and by actively seeking to promote our sport to potential young anglers we have the opportunity of passing on our love of angling and the countryside to the next generation. There really is no great secret â€“ simply the drive to get others involved.
Over the last few years, Iâ€™ve succeeded in getting a number of my friends and colleagues back into fishing â€“ simply by re-enthusing them by my own obvious passionâ€¦and more importantly I â€˜sealed the dealâ€™ by taking them out fishing and by trying to show them a great day. This often meant sacrificing tackle to them, coaching them in fly casting prior to the trip and then taking them to the right sort of water for them. This was sometimes a small, rainbow-stocked water or sometimes a remote lochan full of free rising brown trout â€“ what was important is that I tried to give them the best chance possible to be successful â€“ plenty of time for blanking once they became hooked!
More recently, I have also been fortunate enough to work in a school and this has allowed me to run a pupilsâ€™ angling club. The rewards of teaching youngsters fishing are immense and I am privileged to have seen a number of young anglers develop from beginners to competent practitioners over the last six years.
Such trips will see you play gillie all day at the cost of your own angling time – but I think that is a small price for the reward of seeing someone become captivated by our wonderful sport. I do recall, however, a weekend four years ago where I took three different â€˜beginnersâ€™ out, one on the Friday evening, one on the Saturday and one on the Sunday and I discovered that there can be too much of a good thing. By the Sunday, when I had barely cast a line for myself all weekend â€“ despite splendidly favourable conditions, my patience was not what it had been on the Fridayâ€¦in particular when my novice hooked a trout having absentmindedly dabbled his fly just by the boat as I attempted to unravel my own fly line from the outboard propellerâ€¦
If you are worried about how much of a difference you can make as an individual, it is reassuring to know that you are not alone in seeking to promote angling to the next generation. We have the likes of the Angling Development Board of Scotland (ADBoS) â€“ the group that drives the development of the sport in Scotland and the Scottish Anglers National Association (SANA) – the governing body for Game Angling in Scotland. Established in 1985, SANA now represents the interests of all game anglers working with other related bodies and environmental interests to protect and enhance the Scottish aquatic environment in order to take game angling through the 21st century.
In addition to these there are other organisations such as Angling for Youth Development, and a host of others including William Rodger and Eoin Fairgreaveâ€™s â€˜Tweedstartâ€™ who are all worth contacting to further this cause. Tweedstart is an excellent example of the modern vision â€“ it is much more than teaching people to fish. Itâ€™s also about making people aware of the importance of good habitat management and the environmental considerations in sustaining healthy river systems. All very laudable, because we need our youngsters to appreciate the environment perhaps even more than we need them to fish.
My own resolution this year is to take forward my own development and to investigate pursuing the Scottish Game Angling Instructorâ€™s Certificate (SGAIC) run through SANA. The primary aim of the course is to promote effective teaching skills amongst angling coaches and so I hope such advancement will help me to further promote skill and enthusiasm to those I instruct.
Not all will feel the need to become quite so involved â€“ but whatever the level of support you may feel inclined to give, any involvement is better than none â€“ if each of us makes a positive contribution to just one young potential angler it all adds up. The future of our sport is very much in our own hands. So, go on – make the difference â€“ take someone fishing and share the passion!