Alarm bells sound for match angling ... why are numbers declining?

Alarm bells sound for match angling ... why are numbers declining?

By Martin Read | 10/12/2021

Alarm bells sound for match angling ... why are numbers declining?


THERE is a view out there that match fishing is a dying game.

Not that it is going to finish immediately — that it will take some time — but that there are serious signs regarding its demise and the cracks are starting to appear. This last week has highlighted some of them.

The problem for the sport as a whole is why?

I'd hesitate to saying fishing as a whole is suffering although, until Covid, the pattern of licence sales as a whole was on a downward trend.

A commonly heard view is that there are no youngsters entering the game, that those who want to be anglers tend these days to be big fish anglers rather than competition men. (I use the word lightly to cover both genders).

There's certainly something in this because most of the youngsters I've seen begin fishing soon err towards specimens rather than quantity.

Over the years there have been many changes which have affected match fishing at a particular time, going right back to using points rather than weight to decide the outcome of big team events like the All England.

And speaking of the All England, the change to divisions rather than one big competition set off like a house on fire but soon died to what we have today, which simply just doesn't conjure up the magic of the old system of one big match, one champion.

The change did, of course, bring about team fishing for all, and at a local level and we were surrounded by groups of ten to 20 anglers who thought that they could beat the best.

Of course they couldn't. The best, like Barnsley, were years ahead and remain so today, and as a result some of those small team members found other interests and no longer fish.

Maybe one of the problems was, and still is, that the game is too professional.

Another massive change of course was the birth of commercial fisheries which, coming on top of the demise of the rivers in the Fens and even the Trent, swept the board.

They were local in most cases and offered instant catches to even the most unskilled among us. But some never took to them and put away their tackle.

One of the major drawbacks that commercial fisheries brought was to my mind the fact that they fragmented what had previously been at least a regional thing. Today the governing body has taken that a whole lot further with matches for every aspect it seems.

And of course, there is the cost.

My first float rod cost me a few pounds to make, my basket was a hand-me-down. I made all my own floats and continue to do so and tied my own hooks.

Groundbait was dried and ground bread, bait came from the maggot farm. No-one told me that I had to buy their bait in order to fish! It was cheap to get started and once started the drug took over.

Contest that, perhaps, with today's expense of numerous rods, poles which cost thousands and seat boxes which cost more than a suit of furniture. It's no longer all inclusive.

This last week many have blamed the weather but in reality today's anglers have never had it so good.

Remembering back all those years, winter clothing didn't exist. No Gortex suits, super protective footwear and the like.

My over trousers were the ones guys who worked in cold storage used to use, blue padded things which cost £1 from the army stores, and they weren't water proof. And back in the day, hundreds of us would get up at 5am and travel in all manner of transport, often with dodgy heaters, in the dark, hundreds of miles to fish, come rain or snow, to far off places like the Middle Level, Nene, South Forty Foot or Welland, where we were lucky if we got a bite at all! And we'd do that week in week out.

To promote winter fishing, and give them something to write about, the Angling Times invented Winter Leagues. They were a huge success with thousands of anglers taking part.

So, what is going wrong, if in fact anything is at all? Why bring up this topic now? What spurred me to comment began with the results below.
The last autumn was the third warmest on record but now we're in a cold spell. I thought the last two weeks were unusual but someone forwarded a photograph of lots of snow at this time just 11 years ago in 2010.

So, we've had two weeks of rotten weather and after those two weeks Barnburgh Lakes, once the local hot spot, cancelled its Friday open because of a lack of interest. Ernie Pym was the winner of Sunday's Round 4 Winter League competition at Elsecar Reservoir…..because he was the only one to turn up!

For the first time since Covid there wasn't a match at Southfield. Only ten turned up at Bank End on Sunday and nine at Kiveton Hall Farm.
And it's not all about not catching. True, in many instances results have been poor, but Kiveton hosted two 100+lbs weights. What can we expect when temperatures don't get much above 5C? Just wait 'til it's really cold.