West Country Fishing for Schools instructor Charlie Halliday takes us through a session – and breakthrough – with a young angler which demonstrates the value of Fishing for Schools.
Behind all the brilliant photos of grinning pupils, fish and banners, some tremendously valuable work is carried out by Fishing for Schools. Children like Alex (name changed and not pictured) cannot pose in front of camera for a variety of reasons, so here is my attempt to picture her story in words…
Excluded from mainstream school, Alex turns up to the first session reluctantly – it seems she has nothing in life to make her get out of bed in the morning.
After bowling about the fishery car park with a somewhat staged and surly swagger, she flirts with controversy by kicking a few stones in the direction of parked cars and states that she has no desire to listen or learn.
Totally disregarding the lesson plan that has been set up in advance and grabbing a rod and seat box, in the hope that someone might be foolish enough to challenge her behaviour, she places herself lakeside. I go over and sit by her.
It is immediately obvious that fishing is something she might be able to do well and enjoy, but having discredited the session topic and practical activity, it’s little surprise to me when she decides there is no value in using my suggested plummet either. I say nothing and let the inevitable lack of bites work its salve. The lily pads shiver and a wash of quietness laps away at her chaotic and anxious thoughts.
As her mental storm begins to settle, the stand-off between us is broken with the stark announcement that her mum has been clean for a whole week. Alex is looking forward to being allowed to visit her soon. This tiny flash of pride is rudely interrupted by a pang of jealousy over a younger sibling getting to see mum sooner. Alex re-baits and seems grateful for the beckoning float and the peace that it brings as our gaze falls back upon it.
A few minutes later (and much to my amazement), the float dips and goes under. Ducks quack and scatter as all attention is placed on the tension and direction of the stretching elastic. Thoughts then quickly turn to the mystery of the powerful and unidentified fish that thankfully remains connected.
Alex adeptly nets it and begins to immediately shower it with an unusually strong show of nurturing care and admiration…and more cool water. Alex has never had a pet, so here it is – temporary, like so many other things in her life.
Soaking the cradle mat for a third time and laying the fish in a deep pool, the trusty National Fishing Month booklet comes out and Alex rightly identifies it as a common carp. All guards down now, her smirk transforms into a relaxed smile with nowhere for the pride and happiness in her eyes to hide.
We make some guesses about weight and length of the fish before learning how to take measurements and putting it back. I ignore my weighing scales that are short circuiting and rusting in the puddle of water behind me, because we are beginning to talk about carp; the shape of the mouth and its strange appendages; where it eats; and why it would come up off the bottom to feed.
Conversation moves onto tench and Alex laughs, saying how cool the Latin name for it is (Tinca tinca), and how excellent it would be to catch one.
“Now then,” I say, “about that plummet…” Alex is all ears and goes on to catch not one, but three…before netting a superb crucian carp worthy of the current Angling Trust competition. I kick myself for mentioning it – Alex can’t be photographed.
We talk about the Angling Trust’s Cast awards, which we follow in our sessions, and the skills and learning involved; but the session is already over. We can only hope that we see Alex again the following week.