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A Kind Of Magic?

Matt Godfrey reflects on the best ways to get kids into fishing.
I had an argument with Tom Scholey the other day about the best way to get kids into fishing. I have always been of the opinion that for someone to enjoy the sport, get a feel for it, and ultimately fall in love with it, they have to catch fish and plenty of them, meaning a heavily stocked commercial would always be my first choice of venue for taking somebody fishing! Tom on the other hand, argued that harder venues were better. I actually thought he was slightly mad to suggest the rock hard Warwickshire Avon at Evesham as an ideal starter venue. His reason was because the fish in the venue are harder to catch, and therefore a new angler would have a greater appreciation for the skill required to catch them, and feel a greater sense of achievement when they did so. I hate to admit it, but a very recent episode has made me think twice about commercials being good for getting kids into fishing.

Over the Easter bank holiday, my friend asked me if I’d take her younger brother fishing for a few hours, as he’d never been and was keen to give it a go. I’m not one for turning down a fishing opportunity, and soon found myself at my local commercial fishery. I loved every minute of the day, and I’m sure the young lad did too. However, the session really made me think about the best way to get youngsters into our sport in this day and age.

I got all my gear set-up, and had an hours fishing on my own before my friend arrived with her eleven year-old brother. This lad had never been fishing before, and I was keen for him to catch a few different species on several tactics – hopefully showing him some of the variety that angling had to offer.

He was soon on the box, and I started him off by fishing casters on the short pole. After explaining a few basic principles such as plumbing the depth, how to lay a rig in and how to hook the bait, he was fishing. Sat beside him feeding a few casters, it was a matter of minutes before he was into his first fish – a golden rudd around 8oz. As you’d expect, he had little idea about how to play a fish, and quickly lifted it to the top as it splashed around all over the swim! He was chuffed to bits about catching it, and he couldn’t believe how quickly we’d managed to get one.

Before long, he was hooking the bait himself, and even had a go at loose feeding while he was holding the pole. Several quality roach and perch came to the net, before he hooked a bigger fish that toddled off to the middle of the lake. I dashed to tell him how to hold the pole low, and as he got back to the top-kit, I showed him how to use the puller kit. After a good battle, we soon had a 4lb tench in the net! Again, he was amazed at the size of it, and couldn’t get his head around how hard it pulled – great!

However, as we slipped the fish back, I had a thought that we were only 25 minutes into the session, and already this lad had caught four different species – including a 4lb tench. Even when I first began fishing some 18 years ago, a 4lb tench really was a rarity – in fact it took me six years to catch one. I can remember it plain as day, and I was fishing in a line-up with the Worksop & District cadet squad on the Bargate Drain at Boston. It was a rock hard day, and we had to work hard to winkle out a few small fish. I’d been told the venue held some big tench and eels, so with anticipation and excitement, I decided to slip a worm on the hook to try and catch one. After a short wait, the float dipped, and whack! Several yards of orange elastic juddered out of my poorly rigged-up top kit, and began shaking wondering what the hell I’d hooked. I had no clue as to what was on the end – it could have been anything! After nearly half an hour, I got a glimpse of the fish – a huge green monster! It then snagged me several times in the weed, and with my heart in my mouth, I somehow got the fish free, and shuffled a 5lb tinca covered in weed into my tiny landing net! All the other kids gathered round to have a look what I’d caught, and were soon back on their pegs trying to catch one themselves! That was a magical session that I’ll always remember.

With these thoughts buzzing around in my head, just half an hour into the session with the young lad last weekend, I was pondering to myself whether or not commercial fisheries were right for getting kids hooked on fishing.

Although the lad was catching fish and enjoying himself, I couldn’t help but think the day lacked mystery. At just six or seven years of age, my dad took me pike fishing at Harthill Reservoir near our house. He told me a story about a huge old pike in there that had the nickname ‘Bullet’. It was a huge fish, alleged to have several lures and wire traces hanging from its mouth after it had broke angler’s lines. We sat there all day without a bite, until the old fashioned monkey climber (you old boys will remember them!) nudged-up and we had a run! I waited for the fish to swallow the sardine deadbait, before whacking into it! I felt several big head shakes as the fish powered off, but as my rod arched over and the real drag screamed, my hooks came out! For a whole year, I was convinced that I’d hooked ‘bullet’, and went back to the exact same spot trying to catch it. I told all my mates about it the next day, and wrote about it in my school books! Looking back, I’m unsure how real 'Bullet' really was. After all, this pike was alive when my dad was a kid – it could have been a dinosaur based on that!

Since then, I have seen pike well over 30lb caught from the venue – so who’s to say I didn’t hook one of those? The mystery remains! Looking back at days like this, I couldn’t help but feel I wasn’t giving the lad I’d took the same exciting fishing experience’s I enjoyed and remember.

After catching a few more roach, I could tell the lad didn’t get the same buzz as he did when he caught the tench, so I suggested we ventured further out on the pole with meat and pellets to try and catch a few bigger fish. He was obviously a really intelligent youngster, and before I could explain he’d guessed what the Cad Pot on the end of my pole was for. He was soon sitting comfortable with six metres of pole in his hands, and just 30 seconds after spilling his bait into the swim, the float whacked under and the elastic was dragged out. “Oh my god!” he laughed as a carp bottomed out the elastic and nearly pulled him off the box! I soon had him playing the fish right, and he didn’t need any help with the puller kit after his earlier tench. Just two minutes after shipping out, he had an 8lb mirror carp in the net – another fish I dreamt about catching in my early fishing years, never mind on my first outing!

Several other big fish followed - skimmers, bream, more carp, and another big tench. After a couple of hours helping the lad out, I decided to leave him to it totally on his own – and I tell you what, he was damn good! Obviously, he had a fair amount of natural ability, and he was a quick learner, but was this really the right way to get him into fishing? I’m in doubt now that the lad must think that fishing is fairly easy – he’s never been before, and with a bit of simple guidance he was catching as much as anyone  on the pond.

After my session last Friday, I’m left thinking that commercials might not be the best route for getting kids into fishing. Will the young lad I took expect to bag-up every time he goes? Probably! I definitely believe it’s vital that the kids catch fish on their first angling experience, but at the same time, there needs to be that element of magic and mystery about what could take their hookbait next – that’s what got me hooked!

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