Concern is mounting for the future of matches on rivers after the organisers of some of the country’s biggest contests revealed that the average age of competitors is now ‘well over 50’.
Overall attendances at some running water contests have been revitalised in recent years, with events on venues such as the Bure and Yare in Norfolk, the Severn at Shrewsbury, the Warks Avon at Evesham and the Yorkshire Ouse regularly boasting between 50 and 100 pegs.
However, match organisers have noticed that the majority of attendees are from an older generation, with young matchmen conspicuous by their absence.
The rise in popularity of carp fishing and stillwater commercials are cited as two of the main factors in the shift, and some match bosses, such as Norwich and District AA chairman Tony Gibbons, believe more needs to be done to redress the balance.
“In last week’s Broads Championships on the River Bure, the majority of entrants were pensioners, or approaching retirement age. We need to find ways of encouraging young people back to the rivers before they become accustomed to fishing only for carp. Part of the problem is that coaches introduce people to angling exclusively at stillwaters. Commercial fishing is a lazy man’s sport and many young anglers today don’t seem to like long walks or bankside disturbances such as walkers or boats,” he said.
Jim Jordan, match secretary for Leeds and District ASA, thinks that health and safety issues are also to blame, with parents reluctant to let youngsters fish the rivers.
“Our junior manager won’t take the team on the rivers because of the risks associated with powerful waters such as the Yorkshire Ouse, which is often 15ft deep off the rod-tip. A knock-on effect is that when today’s juniors reach an age when they can drive, they’re not going to be interested in rivers – it’s a no-win situation.
Most of the well-attended matches on the Ouse are populated by a hard core of natural venue fans in their late 40s, 50s and 60s. Only a handful are under 30,” said Jim.
One match circuit bucking the trend is on the River Wye in Hereford, where teach-ins are organised to entice youngsters back to the rivers, as local match organiser Tony Birt explained.
“Local angler Dave Roberts has taken them under his wing and enters a team of 14 to 18-year-olds into the Hereford Winter League. The main attraction of the Wye is the fishing, and matches are won with anything from 60lb of dace or 70lb of roach to 100lb-plus of chub and barbel. Anglers travel from far and wide to attend.”