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...