As a sport, angling has many challenges. Not least among these is the
rapidly ageing angling population and poor recruitment into our ranks.
What is really causing this? I would argue that it is the decline of
angling as a culture.
In recent years, anglers and flagship organisations have been hugely
successful in the areas of campaigning for fish, for the environment and for
tighter and more stringent enforcement of angling law and long may they
continue to perform their wonderful job. However, I believe that this
great work has been done at the cost of the Angler. Can we hope to
develop a sport if we do not concentrate on the participants? How long
would tennis last if we were to publish regular magazines on tennis balls and
ignored the players? Can you imagine a world of Rugby where we all
gathered around after the game and discussed the state of the ball?
I’m not saying that fish don’t matter, we should continue to campaign for
the future of fish as much as we do for the future of fishing, however, we cannot
do this if there are no anglers to take part!
Mentions of the word ‘Angler’ in a quick search of
National Newspaper Archive!
To demonstrate my point, I turned to the National
Newspaper Archive of the British Library and performed the
simplest possible search of their extensive archive. The results were
eye-opening and, although not very scientific or rigorous, point towards the
possibility that we are currently living through the end of angling.
The simple search of the word ‘Angler’ allowed me to plot the number of
records held by the British Newspaper Archive in which this word
features. Of course, I reiterate, this is not a very scientific approach
and is prone to many potential failings (Discussed below) but it does, I think
you will agree, show a rather interesting pattern.
The word Angler, between 1700 & 1749 is mentioned an average of 1.08 times per year. Pretty low you might think but then let’s consider that the literacy rate was much lower in the 1700’s than it is today. Mentions of the word ‘Angler’ saw a rapid increase between this time and the period between 1800 & 1849 before an explosion in popularity which demonstrates our Victorian ancestors love of the sport. Clearly, postwar, there is a sharp drop off. But have we recovered, some would argue that there is more leisure time available to us now than ever before, certainly, the rate of literacy has skyrocketed! In spite of this, the amount of times that the term ‘Angler’ has been mentioned seems to have dropped to below 210 per year?
Problems with the Data.
Clearly, these figures are not very accurate, not all papers have been
catalogued and, in the 21st century, it is the printed press
that seems to be suffering as much or more than the world of Angling.
However, they show a rough thumbnail of potential decline and one that I
believe that we should, as anglers, be taking note of. Do we really want
to be in a world where Angling has become a thing of the past within the
lifetime of the anglers that are joining the sport now?
I once heard it said that a sport becomes professional on the day that
enough children go to their moms and say, “Mom, when I grow up, I want to be
like x!” (That would be, maybe Tiger Woods in the case of Golf for
example). How many Tiger Woods do we have in Angling? I know some
out there will delude themselves and say we have some huge role models in the
sport. We have some role models, that’s for sure, but not huge. To
truly answer this question, ask yourself, when did you last hear anything about
a top angler reported on the front page of the tabloid press or mentioned on
the news as a celebrity. This is what it takes to get a sport recognised,
to make kids aspire to be like their heroes!
Angling needs to take a step back if it is to survive in my opinion, take a
look at itself and see itself as a sport with much to offer, so much to aspire
to! We need to continue thinking about our sport in terms of the
fish we catch and what we can do to protect them and the sport for the future
but we also need to consider our Anglers and what we can do to give the best of
them a career into the future.