ANGLING.GURUNew Thinking in Angling
12 Jan 2018

Our Dying Sport

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!

The Data

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 Results

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?

Final Thoughts.

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.

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