Brian Gay is an angling photojournalist
ONE of the moans I hear so many times is about the lack of younger anglers in the sport today so why is that?
Computer games have had a lot of criticism levelled at them as hogging the attention of teenagers offering more appeal than a wet day on a river! Anyone who has kids and a Playstation will know just what powerful attention grabbers they are. Another suggestion is that fishing just isn't trendy enough for today's brand conscious teenagers and maybe to a degree that is also true, but there are a good number of fishing tackle manufacturers producing corporate wear which to some extent could satisfy that angle. I think the major problem lies in the lack of assistance to help get youngsters on the right track. A poorly equipped youngster with no adult help left to try and catch fish on a lake by his or herself is likely to fail and with failure disillusionment follows and soon after the sport is given up. Anyone who has an interest in angling has a duty to help young inexperienced anglers if they want the sport to exist long into the future. The danger is that if there are not enough younger anglers backing the sport the next generation could be in danger of succumbing to the anti lobby and fishing could fall by the wayside.
Okay enough of the doom and gloom so what can you do about it? The short term answer, which handled right should ensure a long term future, is to occasionally stop worrying about catching your own fish but help a youngster instead. My own experience with my 12-year-old son Oliver is that for years he was never really interested in fishing, but I never forced him into going. What swayed him was accompanying me on angling photographic assignments and a fateful cast on a friends method feeder rod which resulted in a 5 lb 2 oz tench. I knew from the moment I dropped him back home that the worm had turned: "Mum I've caught a fish bigger than dad"; he exclaimed - the seed had been sewn but had the bug bitten? It wasn't long before Oliver along with my partner Andi's youngsters Daniel, 10, and Thomas, 5 were also keen to sample a full fishing session of their own.
Now catching fish is key when youngsters go fishing, especially with a 5-year-old whose boredom threshold is low, that means a careful choice of venue, and swim. I decided to take them to a venue where plenty of small fish could be caught in quick succession on simple tactics. Catching fish will keep their interest up, while simple rigs aid tackle handling building confidence before moving on to more advanced tactics.
I wanted somewhere that these small fish could be encouraged to feed in the margins so casting a long way was not necessary. To get them off the mark I decided that a simple small waggler taking three or four BB shot with the bulk locked around the float and just a couple of number ten dust shot spaced out down the line would lead to tangle free casting (very important when the ratio is one adult to three kids unless you want to spend all day untangling rigs!). At this stage rods and reels were too advanced and two metres of pole for each lad was the answer. Fortunately I had enough top-sets from my pole to fulfil this requirement. Such a set up is about as simple as you can get the only problem then was where to go? I knew that the Lands End Farm held lots of 2-6 oz carp in the specimen lake, a spin off of successful spawning, and that they were feeding readily so that was the scene for our first proper session.
It wasn't all plain sailing however as our first choice of swims failed to produce, and the lads began to get a bit impatient. A move was called for and with the help of fishery owner Martin Duckett we moved to a pitch on the opposite bank where the wind was pushing into the reeds. A few pellets fed into the swim soon confirmed the fish were there as they boiled in competition with each other. The three lads sat side by side, and baiting with segments of worm on the hook proceeded to experience their first taste of catching fish with float tackle. A competitive spirit was generated and the two elder boys were concentrating hard to outscore each other. That competitiveness actually sparked their interest even more and the concentration displayed was intense - dare I say more than they apply to their computer games! A shared 30 lb catch of small carp had them hooked. "Fishing's pretty cool" and "When are we going again?" were comments confirming the bug had bitten.
Other trips to Emerald Pool at Highbridge and Westhay's Avalon both in Somerset, have seen us advance to running line feeder tactics as well as short poles and at Emerald Thomas caught two 4 lb carp, while Daniel was chuffed with a first cast 9 lb 8 oz common from Avalon. The elder lads now have their own fishing boxes and angling has become part of their worlds.
I'd like to think they will carry on as anglers throughout their adult lives too but I can't help thinking if they had not had the one to one help to start with, that fish would not have been caught and fishing would not appeal as a pastime. For me it has meant giving up my own fishing sessions purely to help the lads and believe me it is exhausting as you are constantly in demand showing how to do different things like baiting up, casting, playing fish and unhooking them.......oh and untangling rigs! At the same time it has been very rewarding to see the enjoyment on their faces when they catch, and I urge any anglers with youngsters to give them the same help.
If you are not a parent how about offering to take relatives children fishing and start them on the road of discovery that we all know and love. There are umpteen places in the westcountry suitable for novices where bites should be easy to come by especially in summer. Run through the pages of this guide and you should find plenty of venues to choose from. In my own personal experiences aside from the venues I have already mentioned the Viaduct at Somerton Somerset run by Steve Long and Ian Parsons are keen to help young anglers and have run novice matches with one to one advice from experienced anglers.
At Tavistock in Devon Milemead fishery manager Harry Dickens operates help and advice sessions in summer holidays, and the venue is popular with local youngsters, but these are just the tip of the iceberg. Call a few fisheries up and enquire if they run junior sessions, they are a great way for parents who are not anglers themselves to realise their offspring can actually learn about fishing from people who know. Of course booking a holiday at a place like White Acres near Newquay in Cornwall is a perfect way to break the kids into the sport with junior competitions and plenty of coaching advice on hand. Wherever you visit or live in the westcountry there is a suitable venue on your doorstep you may not know it yet but studying the directory listings can reveal venues round the corner you just don't know are there!
I hope I have given you food for thought and if you follow my approach with my kids, be patient and have good luck!