Charles Jardine writes: "Teach a man to fish and he will never go hungry". Teach a young person to "fish" and you set up a spring board for learning, skills, citizenship, better learning potential and a fun for life. For over five years it has been my huge and abiding pleasure - actually, a passion - to watch the Countryside Alliance Foundation's initiative grow from a mere single school in 2007 to embrace nearly forty schools from Cumbria to Swansea; Kent to Tiverton and just about everywhere in between today.
Primarily, the focus was to be fly fishing for young people between the ages of, usually 14 to 16; that, as I will explain later, was unrealistic. Now, we will use all the tools in the piscatorial "box" which might enable us to project fishing to a vastly different audience, than possibly ever imagined and in so doing, support both teachers and schools at times when they are finding resources under ever more stringent focus and scrutiny. Our mantra " whatever it takes!"
Our audience is different. Nothing easy for us. We have waded into the world of autism, special needs, extreme behaviour difficulties and just about ever schism in between; addressing both physical and metal disability along the way. It is not an easy road; but the rewards have been uplifting, heart wrenching, moving and extraordinary.
I have to be honest, I never, at the age of then 55, thought that I would find my vocation. I have now. There is nothing, nothing at all, that inspires like these youngsters, often from hard pressed and almost impossibly difficult backgrounds; they galvanise me to extra hours and efforts and are all, every one of them, worth the effort.
I should add, that this approach is not in the same vein as other excellent programmes in existence; it does not encroach, but instead, works in unison with school and teaching staff as opposed a separate entity and is an addition to courses structured around ASDAN Cope modules and NOCN Step up courses, both of which are bone fide and additive and certainly not, tokenism.
I guess, that in many ways, it is a little bit more educationally "driven" than many. Don't see this as "dry". Far from it. It is always the "way you tell 'em" . You can enthuse and engage just as much in the classroom, as you can the bank side. Trust me.
Now I would be the first to subscribe to the fact that it has not been entirely plain sailing. There have been issues that currently - perhaps always have - gripped young people. These you deal with. You have to: you must. Working with teaching staff, invariably there are routes through a fairly tangled thicket of metaphoric thorns.
Anyone sanguine enough to bask in comfort of a "these kids have got easy.....in my day" mentality, would be shaken to the very core of their collective misinterpretation. Whether we like it or not, we are living a divided and broken society. Fishing is salve; it is not a cure-all, but it helps. I have seen and experienced elements of our society that have shaken me to the core of my being and very seriously forced me to look at my beliefs and values. It is has, often times, been an uncomfortable journey; but a very rich one.
So much for the soap box and the heavy duty.
At the end of the day this has been about fishing and joy.
Also, I should add, the ability to bring all the angling areas together in a way that I suspect Martin Salter, when he was a sitting MP, thought that it might. We use ADB instructors, we work very closely with both angling clubs and riparian owners and of course private interests such as manufacturers. This is a collective, a distillation of expertise and legitimacy and angling passion. It is precisely what we should be doing. Importantly, we are taking angling to a very different audience than previously imagined.
Who would have thought of fishing being possible in Manchester's Moss Side or along Salford Quays: it is now.
These disparate groups , highlight, perhaps better than anything, the deep attraction that angling still has with young people. Frankly, the usual "blame-game" castigating computers, just does not wash with me; tosh, actually. Computers and computer games are not going away: get used to it. What we have to do...indeed what Fishing for Schools and other initiatives are doing, is offering attractive and engaging alternatives. Believe me, you get a cluster of young people around a lake catching fish and they will not want to do anything else; no bunking off, smoking, illicit phone calling, texting, tweeting or Facebook shenanigans: just shameless joy and the grip of angling. The fascination in aquatic micro worlds in palpable. To see a group of youngsters spying, face to face, a dragonfly nymph for the first time, is remarkable and a journey you will never forget.
But you have to take and offer the angling world to them. Here I have to declare my increasing irritation at the layers of officialdom that deem me guilty before innocent. OK. I know how important it is to have credentials and insurance that allow us to operate in our chosen areas, but to put the hurdles that are and have been erected like a line of Beecher's Brooks' is just stupefying and barrier that has forced so many good folk from our sport. I am hoping both the AT and the CA will be tackling the issues that permeate all forms of education and the young and drive so many able volunteers from a vital role in young people's lives.
That aside, we grow . Increasingly I am indebted to the ADB instructors, who invaluably provide the oxygen for the project. If anything, this highlights the importance of a coaching qualification, as opposed the self proclaimed or peer revered angling "guru". The last thing I need, when inspiring young people, are folk who have mere technical expertise of an angling Einstein. I need sound, ebullient and rounded anglers that can deliver the basics with passion...not, personal prowess and lofty unattainable skill sets: I want coaches that care about young people and their enjoyment of the sport. I have them, thank goodness. People that can inspire everyone with casting games, maggot races ( if you haven't done this...it is a moment of sheer unbridled excitement and heated debate...I kid you not) - and show how you can catch fish: simply and joyously.
For that reason we have delved into the world of pole fishing, whips, and general float fishing - as well as fly fishing.
Catching fish is crucial. Young people have difficulties enough, without the added nightmare of fishing problems and complexity. A single or double maggot....( numeracy at work!) fished on a pole rig can enthral like nothing else. If you don't believe me try it: go back to basics. No matter where you are in the pantheons of angling I defy anyone not to be captured, enraptured and enthralled by a sliver of colour bobbing at the surface and the electricity of excitement is it slides into the unknown by the unseen. Fantastic. Now you know what those young people feel.
I can be contacted by emailing : firstname.lastname@example.org and you can see what we are up to on the Countryside Alliance web site or the Angling Trust.
Maybe you know a school that would benefit....better: you might be able to help!