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Getting back to basics

December 9 2008

It was with some trepidation that I decided to return to coarse angling after a break of some 20 years. What had sparked this renewed enthusiasm was partly the fact that my son had taken up the sport following a holiday in France and was pestering for someone to take him fishing. My own return has led me to realise just how difficult it is to get back into the sport and how daunting it must be for new people wanting to give it a try.

So why do people who have been involved in angling move away from the sport? In my own case I suspect that it was because none of my friends fished and it was seen a slightly odd thing for a woman in her early 20s to do. Basically it was not considered 'cool' or whatever the trendy word for fitting in with everyone else was at that time. It wasn't just my female friends who thought the activity unbecoming, it was suggested by my male friends that I might be a tom-boy. So I hung up my fishing rod and moved on to other 'normal' activities like going to pubs and discos. And when this phase had lapsed, having a family and homemaking took over. Although I often thought how nice it would be to sit quietly fishing on the bank of some pond it seemed unreasonable to drag the kids out to watch me doing something they didn't want to do. Let's face it, if had I taken them with me I wouldn't have been quietly fishing, I'd have been noisily shouting at them 'don't fall in' and 'stop eating the maggots'.

Now I have an excuse to go fishing – my son of 12 needs someone to take him.

There might be hundreds of people out there, including I suspect many women, who just need an excuse to take to the riverbank, pond or canal and having experienced this first hand, I know how difficult it is to take that first step. So how do you get started when you don't have a clue?

Firstly there's the issue of where to go. There are very few 'free' waters these days. This is especially so with Devon rivers which are predominantly game angling venues and whose fishing rights are mostly in private ownership. There are, however, plenty of excellent angling clubs and privately owned river and stillwater fisheries which offer reasonably priced day ticket fishing. You'll need an Environment Agency rod licence wherever you decide to fish and these can be purchased at Post Offices, on the internet or by phone. However, if you don't want to commit yourself to a whole year then 1 day and 8 day versions are available.

Safety is of course an issue if you intend to go on your own so it would be best to seek advice from your local tackle shop or angling club to find a water that is not too remote. Or better still get a friend to go with you but choose your companion wisely, the first few times you really need to be left to get on with things by yourself rather than being told all the things you're doing wrong. The first day ticket water I visited had a helpful water bailiff and a healthy population of ducks which proceeded to steal most of my bait, but I did catch some fish and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Obviously you'll need some fishing tackle. If you're not sure whether fishing is going to be a long-term commitment, try to borrow some, otherwise it's off to the tackle shop again. I have to say that my first trip to the local tackle shop left me feeling rather like I do when I go to get the car fixed. I went to buy a reel for my son and after some time trying to attract the attention of the assistant I eventually managed to make contact. He appeared extremely embarrassed at having to deal with a (scary, short) female, the conversation went something like this:

- I'd like to buy a reel for my son.

- What sort?

(I know there are two sorts but can only remember the name of one)

- A fixed spool

- How much do you want to spend?

- £20 (I hope I'm not too far out with this estimate)

The assistant puts two reels on the counter and helpfully leaves them in the boxes – I presume I am allowed to take them out to have a look and do so. There is a matt black one and a gold shiny one – that's the only distinction I can make between the two. I need help but the assistant has already gone back to what he was doing and then turns his attention to another customer. They talk about boilies and casters over my head whilst I try to look like I know what I'm doing, looking at the reels from all angles and occasionally turning the handle.

In desperation I seize a break in the 'fishing-speak' conversation and say I'll take the black one, pay hurriedly and leave the shop.

Outside I am appalled at myself for not asking for help and resolve to be better prepared next time. I have since revisited the shop and received excellent service. Don't be afraid to ask for help if you're not sure what you want, the majority of people are delighted to impart all sorts of information on to the novice and if you find the service lacking – complain!

When I did eventually get myself kitted out I realised just how much fishing equipment and techniques had changed in my years away. My fishing tackle used to fit on my push bike, if I were to take up all the methods of fishing nowadays, I'd need a trailer and an extension on my household insurance. But you don't have to spend a lot, there are some really good deals out there to get you started and unless you want to become a match angler this should suffice.

Knowing what bait to use is another matter. I used to think that squatts were something you did to make your legs bigger but now I know that they're a small type of maggot. Again ask in the tackle shop if you're not sure what to use for what fish. There are some very good books which give you all this information and don't be afraid to take it with you when you go fishing – I do, although I have to admit I only bring it out when there's no one looking! But nothing is as good as talking to other anglers and seeing what they do.

If taking up fishing still seems just too daunting then there's always the opportunity of taking up a free coaching session at one of the many Angling Participation events held each year throughout the south west. The events are lead by the Environment Agency and supported by the National Federation of Anglers (NFA) and local angling clubs. All tackle, bait and tuition is provided free so you can give angling a go without having to spend a penny. The NFA coaches really are fantastic and totally committed to their sport – last year they stood for 6 hours in the pouring rain at Newton Abbot Fishing Association's Rackerhayes complex to teach youngsters how to fish. For details of forthcoming events phone the Environment Agency's Devon Area fisheries team on 01392 316032.

Fishing is an all inclusive sport regardless of ability, age, sex or race, it's also something all the family can do together. So why not give it a go – you never know, you might like it.