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If you are an angling coaching nothing is more rewarding than an eager client, of any age, exclaiming, “This is something I’ve always wanted to do. Thank you!”

Such satisfied customers are often city-dwellers, with no rural connections, who have never held a fishing rod before. The desire to cast a line, and to hook a fish, is hard-wired deep in our nature, part of our DNA.

It is not surprising. The success of our species, Homo sapiens, and of our ancestors, depended on their knowledge of the plants and animals they gathered and pursued. We are the only animal that has ever existed that has learnt to change our immediate environment, and the habitats within it, to suit our needs and desires. Our brainpower, dexterity and behaviour has given us the ability to grow crops, domesticate stock, build permanent homes, and create a social order.

About 70,000 years ago when our ancestors first spread east from the African interior, they had to pass along the shores of the Red Sea and Persian Gulf to by-pass the hostile desert to the north. The sea was full of protein-rich fish. Our species could not dive in and pursue them like otters or dolphins. Instead, cooperative humans had to shape boats, fashion nets, invent traps and forecast their migrations and abundance. Perhaps ‘going fishing’ is the very root of civilisation!

I am the chairman of a thriving fly-fishing club. Members focus on catching trout in the excellent Anglian Water reservoirs, especially Grafham Water. The most enthusiastic members are mostly on the wrong side of fifty. The committee gets regular encouragement to recruit youngsters and we cherish those we have. Unfortunately, they are hard to find because a remarkable demographic change has taken place in my lifetime.

When I was a boy growing up in the north of England in the 1950’s most men left school in their mid-teens to work in local industries. Many married in their early twenties and earned enough to support a stay-at-home wife who reared their kids. It did not really matter whether you were ‘working-class’ or ‘posh’, the pattern was the same. The only difference was the workers were coarse fishers, and the bosses were game anglers. In cities like Sheffield, huge numbers of men went fishing at weekends. When old enough, sons went along too. Daughters stayed at home to help their mothers. Many men were still in their forties when their kids left home. Some had plenty of time, and the enthusiasm, to become the backbone of welcoming, youngster-friendly fishing clubs.

This ‘culture’ was all about ‘nurture’. Of course, not every boy loved fishing but neither did all girls want to spend their time cooking and washing!

Then, there was a social revolution.

Today, most young people stay in education or training into their twenties. They have little money. Many cannot consider home ownership, and having children, until their late thirties. Even then two working parents is usually essential to meet the ever increasing cost of living. Not surprisingly, forty- and fifty-year-old mothers of young children and teenagers (and their fathers!) demand family activities and time together when they are free from the pressure of work. By the time their kids leave home (if they do!) they are nearing retirement. At last, they might be looking for the chance to switch off a bit and have the time and the money to fund their more selfish nature, such as going fishing.

A deep-seated nature, the urge  to fish, does not change or disappear. Today’s youngsters still go fishing (numbers are increasing) but ‘fishing families’ are increasingly being catered for by the rising numbers of ‘commercial fisheries’ providing coarse fishing in heavily stocked lakes alongside family-friendly facilities such as cafes, camping and accommodation. For many youngsters this is a first step. Going fishing is a journey not a destination. For many an enthusiasm for big carp comes next. Part of this cultural change, or ‘nurturing’ is that taking up the gentle art of fly-fishing seems to come with grey hair! Invicta recruits most new members from this age-group. Another effect is that fishing clubs that are not adapting are struggling.

Happily, most of the angling community has embraced change. The Angling Trust arose, in part, from the pressure on all sport to respond to social change and it has played a huge part in breaking down internal barriers between branches of angling. The Trust presents a common front to government and forcefully challenges the threats that fish and fisheries face. A huge plus has been the Trust’s inclusive Get Fishing campaign. The numbers of fishing licences sold in England and Wales are rising strongly. Interest in fishing has also been fuelled by some excellent TV programmes and other press and media coverage.

The only area where our angling culture has been slow to change compared to other sport is the inclusion of women and girls. Perhaps it is not surprising. The ‘nurture’ that sports like fishing and shooting are ‘manly’ activities runs deep. The same used to be true of association football. Ten years ago, I would never have imagined my grand-daughter would now be soccer-mad. Playing football is the top choice of sport among girls at her school.

For more than a decade a charity, Casting-for-Recovery, has encouraged women recovering from breast cancer to go fly-fishing to strengthen muscles weakened by surgery. For many the joy of going fishing in beautiful surroundings has been a revelation and created a new passion. It is sad that they had to become ill to discover it.

Fly fishing has a particular attraction for women. Dexterity trumps strength and the skill of looking before leaping means many women out-fish male companions. In many other developed countries just as many women as men buy fishing licences, probably because fishing as a family is the norm.

A lot is happening, and change could come about as rapidly as it has in other sports. Targeted initiatives by the Angling Trust and tackle companies would help. We need to give meaning to the governments Sport-for-All ambitions. The opportunity to market fishing for women is huge. Currently, the sport compares to an angler fishing with bait that is only attractive to half the fish in the pond.

Women-only coaching courses would help. Best of all would be a TV programme only featuring women that challenges the success of Mortimer and Whitehouse and Robson Green. Are any producers out there?

And, I’ve got to broaden the outlook of some old farts at Invicta Fly Fishing Club!

Allan Sefton

P.S. A new revised, up-dated edition of my book, ‘Getting Started at Fly Fishing for Trout’ has just been published. It contains two new chapters on ‘Fly Fishing in Rivers’ and ‘Fly Fishing Holidays’. If you are a man, please think about giving a copy to some of the women in your life!