Canals are great, aren’t they? Ok, in one sense the ubiquitous question “Caught anything?” is a little annoying at times, reminding you, as it often does, that you have spent the last couple of hours sat there without even a bite. It’s also a question, by the way, that I am convinced has been devised as a form of bank side robbery, distracting you as an overly enthusiastic dog steals your bait! Oh, and the cyclists, aren’t they great? Storming along the path at breakneck speeds, riding over your valuable equipment without so much as a sorry or attempt at breaking… their great! Then you finally get the chance to start to relax, a well baited spot, you can see those Bream bubbles, and all seems right with the world and, just at that moment, a boat comes through! Ok, another hour waiting for it to calm down again! Of course, there will be at least three more boats in that time! I may sound cynical, but I really mean it, despite all these things, or perhaps because of them, I think canals are great and should be the focus of angling promotion.
Canals through the eyes of others:
Let’s just pick one of those ‘other’ canal users, lets pick the dog walker, and look at the same day through his or her eyes! To this person, the canal is great! Ok, well, there are those anglers that fish there with their sharp equipment which could harm their enthusiastic dog, and god only knows what the dog just ate out of that bait bucket… guess we’ll find out later when we are cleaning it up! Then there are the cyclists who storm along the path and don’t even notice the dog or the walker till the last second! Oh, and the boats which often have a dog onboard which is more than happy to engage in a barking contest with their dog as it passes by. Yes, in spite, or perhaps because of these things, canals are great!
Whats the point?:
My, rather long-winded, point is that the reason that canals are so amazing is that they force all these, seemingly, conflicting people into one place! They force that “Caught anything” conversation, they force us to look up from our float, to communicate with the real world but, more than this, they are one of the few places where angling has a public face, where people see us doing what we do and, you know, I have spent many hours fishing canals and I have only ever met maybe one or two anti-angling individuals. Many canal banks are amongst the most positive and enjoyable environments you can fish, I am convinced!
So, whats so great about canals again?:
As a angling sociologist (yes, that’s what I am calling myself these days) I am interested in the interaction between people, out there, in the real world. If we are to secure a future for our sport, we need to practice it, out there, where people can see it, maybe some of these people might even become interested and give it a go! Hiding angling isn’t helping anyone. So, yes, I really mean it, no matter how much bait I lose, no matter how much expensive kit gets broken, whilst I can’t promise not to be annoyed at the time, canals remain wonderful places for angling. Not despite all the challenges that more people bring, but because more people bring more opportunities to have discussions, to learn about different points of view.
Next time you hear that question “Caught anything?”, try to rise above the standard “Nope!” and associated ignorance which we can all slip into. Try to raise a smile, crack a joke, start a conversation, be an ambassador for angling. Try it, you might like it!
Don’t fish canals?
Find out more about the many opportunities to fish the canals in your area by visiting the Canal & River trusts page!
Why Study Angling Academically? (21/2/18)
Surely fishing is just a bunch of, generally, old guys sitting by a lake, or a river, or a canal, in the rain waiting for a few moments of excitement, right? Why should we study such a mundane, dinosaur of a sport (or recreation) when, to the casual onlooker, it is an aimless recreation with no future!
Well, there are two, very valid, reasons that I can give here! One from an Anglers point of view and one from an academic point of view. I fit into both camps but, here, I am going to attempt to restrict myself to justifying our talking about the sport from an academic standpoint and hope that the angling community will contribute to what I have to say from an Anglers point of view through commenting below!
It’s generally accepted by many academics that there are four aspects of culture that are truly worthy of study. Those are political, economic, social, and cultural. How many books have we seen that tell us the intricacies of the upper classes in the past, or debate current political or economic issues? These areas are very well understood and discussed in academic circles by many highly acclaimed academics, they have this status because they are important things that affect each of our lives. So, have I just talked myself out of a place in the world by saying how important these things are, have I lessened the need to study Angling as an academic subject? Not at all, all societies are made up of groups, of people who work and, increasingly, who have leisure time. This leisure time is taken very seriously by many but, more than this, these people care about their leisure time, it is a very integral part of their lives, it serves a very important role in how they see who they are and, because of this, groups build around particular leisure’s which, ultimately have massive influences on all the other domains of our existence.
Seen in this way, leisure becomes very important to our society, it shapes the way we vote, the things that we pressure our politicians to care about, our very outlook on the world. Of course, Angling, hopefully until now, has been a very marginalised leisure activity in the world. Vast amounts of research have been done into film, art, museums, football, even pornography! But we know very little about Anglers, what their contribution is to the greater universe, how we have helped shape and form our society and wider culture, why WE matter! Why is this? Well, that’s a tough one to postulate over really, we do make up a significant group within the UK and organisations like the Angling Trust have done great work to protect and promote our sport, but I think that Angling, from an outside perspective, has a slight problem, when seen in relation to other sports. Perhaps, in fact, ‘problem’ is the wrong word…. Maybe the word should be ‘difference’. As anglers, we all clearly love the environment in which we conduct our sport, we all love the fish, the rivers, we care about nature! Great news, so why isn’t everyone doing it? My answer is that we don’t seem to care enough about anglers!
If you are a football (soccer) fan (sorry, I’m not) then you speak about the great footballers, the great players, their lives, and their exuberant incomes! If all you ever heard about football was the best turf to use on a pitch or the ins and outs of making a soccer ball, aerodynamics, materials, etc. then I am pretty sure you would get bored fast right? That is our problem, the fish MATTER, the environment MATTERS but the anglers are the people that make this a sport. They are the people that young anglers SHOULD want to emulate.
My goal with my research is to study what makes anglers unique, what makes us a culture apart from the many other sporting cultures out there, how we have and how we can influence the world for the better and, sadly, sometimes, the worse! My research aims to paint a picture with light and shadow, a look at US! Only in this way can we hope to secure a future for what we do, only through academic enquiry, can we hope to make what we do matter to people that are not anglers! In the 21st century, Angling has reached a precipice and there are two options. We can risk falling off the edge, a forgotten relic of a pastime that saw itself hounded into obscurity through a lack of wider understanding. Or we can build a bridge across that precipice and tell the world why we matter and why our ‘sporting culture’ is one worthy of their support and own or their children’s interest. I see my work as the start of us building that bridge!
At the start of this piece, I mentioned that I hoped anglers would take the time to look at the reasons it is important to study angling academically from a purely angler’s perspective. Maybe, I have drifted into this realm myself a little, but please feel free to comment below!