Saturday, 16 February 2013

No More Heroes Any More?

In this month's Total Coarse Fishing, Ian Welch, one of my colleagues in the opinion piece section of the mag, bemoans the parlous state of recruitment to the ranks. Ian argues that youngsters are not coming through in the droves that the sport needs to survive into the near future and in the main I do agree with his points.

There certainly is a 'role model' problem as Ian rightly points out. The sport lacks any sense of direction in that department because nowadays 'star' anglers are mere tools of the tackle trade, have made themselves look frankly ridiculous rather than heroic and as a consequence no youngster wants to emulate the whole man, rather they just want his sponsorship deal so they can get their hands on his outrageously expensive kit. They want to displace him, not follow in his footsteps.

Raised in an era when Ivan Marks and later the pre-ironic image of Chris Yates dominated every young lads thoughts, admiring their uniquely individual genius, in awe of their enthralling presence, I was spurred on to emulate not only what they'd achieved, but more importantly learn how they'd achieved it. I also liked the way they looked...

If were a sixteen year old angler today I'd have no one to look up to, believe me. 

Think Hurricane Higgins, John McEnroe and George Best, then try to name one player since who comes anywhere near them for sheer entertainment value and you'll understand why the maverick angler has no place in angling because there's little or no room for the explosive and inspiring but ultimately unreliable genius in any cash-driven business-orientated sport these days. 

Through a conspicuous lack of heros, we don't have a public image to speak of. That might be good for the tackle trade but it's bad for the sport it relies upon.

The truth is as the ever succinct Judy, who's looking over my shoulder and has just made a curt comment, says ~

"... all fisherman look like plonkers — you just aren't sexy — the only man who looks good in camo is a soldier..."


But she's not entirely wrong... 

This morning I went with Danny Everitt to the Ricoh Arena to visit an annual tackle trade show. Rammed solid with thousands of men on a Saturday afternoon shopping jolly swarming about tackle vendor's stalls like microbes under a microscope, it was the problem in a petri dish. 

However, here and there, shone a ray of hope that I tried my damndest to get a shot of. As the picture above shows, women, kids, young lads, even teenage girls were also in attendance. Rifling through the cheap racks just as avidly and intently as any other they stood out like beacons amongst the dull uniformity of the camo army in civvies....

Then out of nowhere came a familiar local face. Was it Phil Smith or Merv Wilkinson? Roger Booth? Keith Jobling? Well, they all were there, but no. This was a local lad I'd once befriended and though in social terms we both hailed from the same planet, in age we were as far apart as the earth and moon, in education as distant as the moon from the sun, but we shared the same universal love of angling.

Last year he fished the canal not five minutes walk from where we both stood now and usually with his gang of mates in tow. Armed with pound shop tackle, they drank cheap cider, smoked weed, littering the towpath with discarded empties and butts. None had much of a clue about anything in this world other than they all really enjoyed their fishing. 

Now he was dressed head to foot in natty fly fishing apparel and looked every inch the seasoned angler! 

The transformation was absolutely astonishing — as if the sport had rescued him from the oblivion of sink estate Coventry and catapulted him into a new life with a genuine future ahead and filled with hope. No word of a lie, he might have stepped straight off the banks of the Test!

What he'd taken up though, was fly fishing for pike at Coombe Abbey! Successfully too by the evidence of pictures on his phone...

It was great to see him, it really was. In one brief year he'd altered almost beyond recognition and I'd like to think that talking with him last year had something to do with it but I doubt that very much. No, something else had taken root in him, a hero's influence I reckon, and I think I know who that might be... 

... I'm not letting on but he's young, he's talented, and fishes fly as a matter of 'coarse.'

No more heroes any more? 

Sounds like a stuck record to me...


  1. Who are our heroes? Usually our Dads.

    What the sport needs if it's short of bums on boxes (how do we measure that this is the case btw...'downturn in sales?!) is Dads taking their kids fishing instead of giving them a fiver to 'clear-off out' or buying them anything digital.

    My Dad was my angling hero and still is, and my littlun said the same...although I suspect he likes Mr Crabree & John Bailey a touch more, suddenly

  2. A really interesting read Jeff.

    I Agree with George, for myself it will always be my dad who is my angling hero and the person I look up to, if it wasn't for him would I be fishing today? A spark has to be created somewhere and I think there is too much mentality with a lot of parents to not spend time, instead throwing money. Our trips were as much about bonding as they were the fishing. I certainly agree with you Jeff, although I have not fished with many youngsters, those whom I have show a burning desire and passion.

  3. My dad was never an angler but my uncle was. He lent me my first decent reel, a MItchell 300. Only trouble was, it was a southpaw model! So I spent my early years fishing left handed...

    He never got it back though!

  4. Interesting piece Jeff. As a young angler, thirsty for knowledge and growing up in East Anglia in the early 90's, my hero was of course Wilson. It wasn't so much his pure technical ability but rather the obvious joy he found in going fishing that inspired me. I always remember thinking I hope I'm still enjoying it as much as he is when I'm that age.

    Bailey was another. His book The Fishing Detective was my bible and everything in there is as relevant today as it ever was. It certainly went quite some way in explaining the holy grail that is watercraft. Yates is and always will be one of the greatest in my eyes.

    Today it is online where young anglers will find their angling heroes. The best blogs are an inspiration and the multitude of facebook pages, groups and sites all offer a more warts 'n all insight into the current batch of 'celebrity' anglers activities.

    That said, a lot of angling writing seems more generic these days and to quote Yates, some of the sponsorship drones really do have more boilies than brains.

    But there are a few guys out there doing things just a little bit differently and I believe the next Wilson or Bailey or Yates for generations Y and Z is out there...

  5. Ben, Wilson is a hero to many and since taking up coarse fishing again five years ago it was he who made most sense to me, which is why he was so successful in the first place I guess.

    I agree that the next generations are going to heavily influenced by what bloggers do now. The best blogs may not seem so very influential at the moment but Wilson's first TV efforts were dismal in production quality — just like early blogs — but created an opening into a new medium and eventually gained a massive audience when the programs were made better and better — as I'm sure blogs are doing right now.

    The great thing about blogs, as you say, is the warts 'n' all nature of them. They're real and that really matters nowadays when pitched against the fakery of the mainstream media outlets for fishing. With print in decline and TV coverage almost non existent, the future is only as bright as WE make it, I do think.

  6. Jeff, are his initials DG? Hello to Ben as well, one of the few people who bothered to answer my beginners questions on fishing magic.

  7. Mark, you take the prize, because you are bang on!

    No doubt about it. See him — see my utterly transformed local friend.

  8. Do we really need a hero to drive bums on banks? Why do we always seem to debate during the tough times of Winter our Sports lack of focus and direction rather than celebrate its diversity. Try to name another sport that has more way’s to score a try, pot a ball or put a ball into the back of the net?

    Could fishing just be going through a natural evolution that started to progress with the posting of hand written letters to fellow enthusiasts who liked to share their experiences and ideas, to people posting on the net doing exactly the same thing.

    I appreciate that is a gross simplification but at all stages our camo-heros are still here:

    - For the commercial carp newbie may I suggest Terry Hearn

    - For the let’s try something new, DG

    - For the blog consumer, Jeff Hurst?

    Like others when I started my hero was my Dad, because he caught fish. Then as I tried out the local moat a hero was anyone who had published a book that I could borrow from the local library. They were then soon replaced by all of the early carp fishing writers as I too tried to look like them. To this day I still enjoy reading anything from Chris Yates and Rod Hutchinson.

    But could this natural evolution be experiencing a new transition stage? I think we all agree that we will never be looked upon as sexy by the marketing men, and we will never compete with the gaming generation – so could this produce a new wave of late-entries?

    My son who has been given a great blue print introduction to Angling (one that I could only of dreamed of at that age) has no interest what so ever of taking up our sport. But what about in 10 years time, will he ditch the control pad and pick up the rod (insert own joke) and join us?

    For those who haven’t received their early education then maybe their hero’s will be their friends and family, small specialised tackle shops or maybe Shakespearoes found in blogs such as these.

    I knew if I rambled on enough I could get that line in!

  9. - How about Jeff Hatt ?

  10. It demands some thought!

    I'll be back with a reply...

  11. It's as you say — a grass roots communication problem.

    I think there's a return to the simple pleasures of fishing afoot, where anglers admit by defecting from hopelessly out of touch print based media to online content altogether more pointed, that simple straightforward accounts of days out, whether successful or not, are actually more relevant and current than anything the press can muster.

    It's a shame with the current ink spatterers they're so timid and afraid of losing the ever shrinking audience they posses, but month-on-month fail to address, that they can't admit to the inescapable fact staring them straight in the face — most anglers want what they can achieve on a Sunday afternoon, not what's only possible by the self flagellation of spending either vast amounts of time or money or both on the unfeasible targets they promote...

    I wish some bugger would give me an editorial post because I'd risk the entire capital investment of the mag on the premise that pleasure fishing is the very heart of the thing, always has been, always will be, and though they might have forgotten this fact, promoting it in good time might just save their collectively spanked arse.

    To continue the Stranglers anglers' thread, if they don't do this, then...

    'They watched their Rome burn...'

  12. You win... I can't get any other links to 'no more heroes'.

  13. The lyrics seemed very important at the time. They're a bit thin though in quotation terms and I think we've just about used then up between us...

    A draw then?

  14. An honourable draw it is then kind sir