I am just in the door from a very pleasant trip out on the kayak. The recurring storms that have been a feature of November have cleared for a short session on the water. Winds still remained at 30 knots which should raise the odd eyebrow when it is mentioned that I was out on the kayak but I have found a network of small and very well sheltered lakes that allow for fishing even in the foulest of weather conditions. I decided to seize the opportunity with both hands. The fish were not as cooperative with just a small jack pike grabbing the lure but when it’s tough to get out any fish is a very welcome bonus.
It is not just the weather that has kept me in. We are welcoming a new-born into the house. Ten days late, the little man finally decided to grace us with his presence after an epic struggle by his mother while his father stood around feeling entirely useless! The whirlwind of the birth picked us up, spun us around and then dumped us back in the house to allow us to find our feet very much with the help of family members. Three weeks in and the dust has settled sufficiently so I figured a couple of hours by the water would be no bad thing. I did manage a trip out onto the bay last week too and it was fantastic to get out and manage a fish.
People have told me that the arrival of our little man means the end of my fishing days but I fail to see how they can come to that conclusion and allow me to explain why. Who is going to care about our sport long after we are too old, too stiff, too weak or too tired to go fishing? The next generation, or the one after that. Who is going to care about the state of our waters and their inhabitants when we are gone? The next generation, or the one after that. Who is going to have to safeguard against threats to our sport when we are no longer able to do so? The next generation, or the one after that. We all know that none of us are immortal. We all know that the curtain will close at some stage and when that happens it is time for the succession of the next generation of anglers and it is my job to instruct the new arrival, if he wants me to.
The mind of a child is full of wonder, intrigue and questions. Do all that you can to encourage these traits to blossom and an angling and outdoors lifestyle is a fantastic introduction to the ‘Great Outdoors’. Take the time to bring youngsters out, to answer their questions, to show them some of the secrets of Nature and to allow them to interact with their environment. Most important of all is to teach them with enthusiasm. If you are enthusiastic about what you are trying to teach then this will come across and it will be well received by your audience. I am always of the opinion that if you impress an adult it stays with them for a couple of hours, if you impress a child it can stay with them for life.
This point was illustrated to me perfectly when listening to a radio talk show a few weeks ago. One of Ireland’s top ornithologists was giving an interview on behalf of Birdwatch Ireland. When pressed about his involvement in the organisation and his interest in birds, he fondly recollected his primary school teacher from infant’s level. Regrettably, her name escapes me but the interviewee did a fantastic job of articulating this particular teacher’s love for Nature, birds and plants in particular. He recounted days where they were bought out on Nature walks and the enthusiasm of his teacher was infectious, so much so that she sent him down a path where he decided to pursue ornithology as a career. Such was the enthusiasm of the teacher that it prompted the awakening of a lifelong passion within this individual to study ornithology and do all he can to assist and care for wild Irish birds. This short story underlines the importance of impressing the importance of wildlife and their habitats onto children and doing it in such a way that they find it fun and engaging. What makes the enthusiasm of this particular teacher all the more impressive is finding out that Ireland’s top eight ornithologists and top four botanists all had the same teacher.
I found it very difficult to when starting out on my angling career. Not one single person in my entire extended family fishes. Not one! I was and still am very much the ‘black sheep’ in that regard. With no older family members to show me the ropes I had to learn everything for myself. Back then this involved library books and magazines as my main source of information; there was no internet connection and connectivity as we know it today. Occasionally I caught a glimpse of John Wilson on the television. New information was relatively difficult to come by for me so I figured that the best course of action was to just go out fishing and ask questions of others that I also found out fishing. I grew up in a seaside town with a river running through it so there were a few options for finding other anglers – the river, the beach, the rocks or the harbour. Anglers were not difficult to find, friendly ones were. I should preface the next paragraph by saying that there were individuals who did all they could to help me and it is because of them that I stuck with it and still fish today. If any of them are reading I would like to offer a sincere thank you for introducing me to the aquatic world, you all know who you are.
One of the most difficult things as a youngster starting off was being absolutely shunned by a lot of anglers when I approached them for basic advice. I was a child at the time, my age barely in double figures but I can still remember people ignoring me completely or telling me where I should go in language that cannot be printed here. Abominable behaviour. As a child I was not looking for their secret bait or special approaches that they was taking, I just wanted to know how to tie a certain knot or set up a certain rig. The venom and animosity that some anglers treated me with was shameful and it did almost put me off the sport. Probably the only thing that kept me going was considering the alternative – golf! The anglers that came into contact me were short sighted in the extreme and did the sport a massive disservice by trying to deter youngsters.
The only thing that will help the sport into the future is more participants. More participants means more eyes on the water and more feet on the ground in the future, all good things for keeping the sport going. The experiences I had with some of the anglers I approached as a child left a lasting impression with me. I vowed to always try to make time for youngsters and to answer any questions that I could for them. Indeed, when I worked in tackle shops I would regularly take more time with the younger anglers than with the adults. To me, it was very important that the children knew how to use what they were buying and I always tried to encourage them to try different things when angling. They were always attentive, always listened, always were interested and always came back. I am sure that they are still fishing and will be great contributors to the sport at a later date.
Getting youngsters interested in the sport will really stand to both us and them. As youngsters develop, an interest in fishing keeps them active and out in the fresh air. It creates memories for them. Most people remember the first fish they caught; they don’t remember the best score they got on a computer game. Fishing will teach them about problem solving and encourage their critical and analytical thinking as they participate in a sport that has been put across as lazy but the more competent anglers among us know that it is a sport of constant thinking and decision making, refining rigs or changing baits. The sport will give them an interest and will hopefully result in time and money being spent by the water rather than hanging around on street corners.
A sport like angling will be great for them both physically and mentally and one added benefit of such an approach is the inevitability of learning an appreciation for the natural world, not just the fish that live within it. Anglers are a cohort of people that are generally very much in tune with the natural world. They have spent hours, days, weeks and months by the water’s edge. They have spent their lives piecing together all the clues of the natural world through their sport. They have marvelled at how all the cogs of this world fit together and the synergy that is created by these cogs. A swathe of the population that has a deeply rooted respect for the environment is exactly what Ireland needs going forward. An affinity with the natural world, instilled by angling adventures is one of the greatest gifts you can pass on to the next generation.
Christmas approaches. Many gifts will be exchanged and at least some of those gifts will be fishing gear. If you care about the sport and its future, even if you may not be around to see it, then I implore you to bring at least one youngster fishing. At some stage over the holidays or into the New Year spend some time by the water with them, point out birds and flowers to them, tell them why they are important and do it with enthusiasm. Make the trip fun for them. You will impress onto them a value to the countryside and our waterways that they may not have been at all aware of. You never know, you might even knock a bit of craic out of it yourself! It is the best thing that we can all do for the future of the sport and it will cost us little or nothing.
I would like to wish everybody reading a very merry Christmas and a very happy New Year. Enjoy yourself and here’s to tight lines and heavy nets in 2016.