I have been asked on more than one occasion as to why I think that there are less children and teenagers taking up the sport. There is a myriad of reasons and some of them are obvious, others not so much. An increasingly sedentary lifestyle coupled with the allure of computer games seem more appealing to youngsters, the ‘wrapped in cotton wool brigade’ don’t let their kids outside because it’s ‘too dangerous’, they hear older anglers fondly recall with rose tinted glasses the fantastic catches of yesteryear and conclude that the best of it has passed, society has created a need for instant gratification and angling does not deliver, a diminishing respect for the environment has seen outdoor activities take a back seat for a lot of people? Some or all of these reasons are no doubt contributing factors towards the issue of low uptake of new anglers but a worrying trend has been observed creeping into angling circles and has undoubtedly left a sour taste for many.
In recent times many aspects of our lives, this publication included, have located or relocated online. Sharing of information has never been more widespread and the resources for seeking out new and potentially bountiful waters is now unparalleled. Access to anglers and interaction with people from across the country has never been easier. Planning trips has been better facilitated with a mine of rain, wind, barometric pressure and temperature forecasting sites available. Online angling carries with it a wealth of advantages but is also viewed, quite rightly, as a double-edged sword. There is an insidious undercurrent of begrudgery and mean-spiritedness that proliferates on online angling sites. It’s not even hidden just below the surface; it is there for all to see in all of its glory.
I steer clear of a lot of Facebook angling pages now due to unprecedented levels of cyber bile that mounts up on them. I have been disgusted to see children as young as ten proudly posting images of their first captures only to be ripped apart by self-righteous fully grown adult ‘experts’ who go to town on the child, yes a child, for improper handling/no unhooking mat/not using a particular brand/style of clothing/all of the above. I have seen threats of violence dished out to children who dared to have the gall to go fishing and then hold their first capture up for a photo with a towel. Granted, there are ways to go about fish care and all budding anglers need to learn the right way to go about it and call me old fashioned but threatening broken limbs to child online is not the right way. Is it any wonder kids are turning away from the sport? Young anglers need to be nurtured and encouraged not verbally attacked online and ridiculed for not knowing what somebody who has practiced for 20 years knows. Practice makes perfect and that includes online bullying.
Stories from the UK press came to light a few months back regarding the capture of a potential record carp. From all accounts the captor went into hiding after a tsunami of vitriol and downright disturbing comments were directed at him. I don’t know the details of the capture, the fish or the captor and I don’t really care to know them but what I do know is that the online treatment of this angler was nothing short of horrific. From threats of beatings to death threats, threats of a sexual nature against the man’s family members, threats to kill his pets and promises of seeking the angler out for altercations; the reaction of the digital online angling community was disgusting. The lad was out fishing and caught a big fish; get over yourselves.
Facebook and similar platforms are somewhat transparent – user profiles can be reported and you generally know who you are dealing with, moving into the online angling forums takes us into murkier waters. Online pseudonyms guarantee anonymity for cowards where they feel free to articulate things that they would never say to your face. I personally have been the victim of what can only be described as an orchestrated case of cyber bullying by a relatively new angling fraternity in Ireland that for reasons unknown took an instant disliking to me. Concerted efforts were made to suppress work I had produced pertaining to the sport and the little scamps went around telling all and sundry all sorts of nonsense about me. The anonymous nature of the online forum saw some of these morons creating false online accounts to back themselves up in arguments and to out vote club and site suggestions that did not suit their status quo. Spelling and syntax errors gave the game away, coupled with the decency of some who were rightly disgusted with the behaviour they were witnessing from grown ‘men’. Rather than being weak enough to swallow what they were told without questioning, they had the decency to ask me whether or not the things they had heard were accurate. Ireland is a small place and angling circles within Ireland are even smaller; the truth gets out and surfaces in the end.
The spite and bitterness can result in a gang that seeks out the smallest perceived mistake and tries creating a holy show. A case in point was the posting of a picture featuring a kayak with a baby seat in the tankwell. The image was part of a joke with a family member who was wondering how long it would take to get the little man out on the water. Four members of the aforementioned Irish plastic boat fishing club rounded on me and immediately chastised me for something I had not even considered. I think the fact that the hundred other interactions were all able to see the post for exactly what it was, humour, says more about the intelligence and intentions of these four than it does mine. The really nasty nature of this group also saw multiple members in their ranks contacting different media outlets that I have written for and different companies that I have represented to request that they drop me and stop using my work. Said companies had enough respect for me and the work I have done for them to not entertain this group of sour individuals and were able to pass on the details of the contacts that had been made. That is what we are dealing with in some sections of Irish angling.
I’m an adult and I am thick-skinned enough to not be bothered by nonsense so I just let them away at it and did my own thing which caused consternation. You can’t please everybody and only a fool tries to so I’m not at all bothered, I’ll just keep doing what I do. However, a 12 or 13 year old child that is trying to take up the sport generally does not possess the ‘don’t give a shit what you think’ attitude that I do. Younger minds are a lot more impressionable and in an era where praise is gushed upon even the most pedestrian of accomplishments a lot of children are finding it increasingly difficult to accept criticism. In an Ireland where we are supposed to be championing mental health, death threats over how a fish is handled by a child is response reserved for the infinitely stupid and callous. The really astonishing thing is generally those that are making the most noise are those that are fishing the least but a newcomer to the sport, especially a child, won’t be able to know that. Internet anglers – lads who don’t fish telling lads who do fish how to fish; good for you!
Silence is Consent
Those other anglers that observe the abuse and do not interject are just as culpable. Silence is consent and by saying nothing not only do you endorse the vitriol but you also demonstrate to others, especially youngsters that this type of behaviour is acceptable. I would ask them the question – would you be happy if it was your own child/niece/nephew that was being subjected to the same nonsense? Whether we like it or not, the first point of contact for a lot of budding anglers is the internet and by firstly having a section of the angling community engaging in this cyber bullying and by secondly having a section of the angling community not intervening we are scaring off some anglers of the future and teaching those that remain that this type of behaviour is acceptable. Use the resources in whichever way you see fit but remember that for every helpful individual you come across there will be a clown to match them. Increasing numbers of anglers turning their backs on the fishing pages and online fora stand testament to this. A wise man can usually be found wandering alone, a fool can usually be found following a crowd…
Angling is slowly descending into a battleground where the aim of the game is to try to outdo (in your own mind) everybody else. For me, angling is pure escapism and allows release from the pressures of everyday life. Angling allows us to reconnect with the wilderness, to appreciate the sights, sounds, smells and absolute wonder that Nature and the outside world has to offer. Angling teaches us respect for the countryside and an appreciation for calm and tranquillity. Angling can then catapult us into a state frantic excitement, fulfilling all our dreams or crushing all of our expectations in seconds but we wouldn’t change it for the world. In a world where outside activity is increasingly discouraged we should be embracing newcomers to the sport and showing them this type of magic that drew us to the sport, not slagging them off for using the wrong type of unhooking mat.
Introduce a friend or a youngster to fishing, just not the online sniping that can go with it.
This piece was featured in issue 14 of Off the Scale, Ireland’s number one free digital angling publication. Click the logo above to enjoy what the magazine has to offer.