Angling and disability: Are we doing enough?

For tens of thousands of anglers, mobility and disability issues are a daily reality. Fishing can offer huge rewards regardless of our situation - but can our sport do more?

Angling and disability: Are we doing enough?

by Angling Times |

Even in today’s more compassionate times, disability is easily overlooked. We balk at the very term “disabled” and yet, in an Angling Trust survey, a staggering 38 per cent of respondents reported a long-standing, limiting illness or impairment.

It follows news of a 16.5 per cent rise in rod licence sales to disabled anglers last year.

For those with life-changing conditions, even the basics of fishing can be a challenge. Everything from baiting up to holding your catch needs attention. Nor are facilities and information always what they should be – quality accessible pegs can be scant, while standard tackle often won’t cut it.

Nor is it always easy to ask for help, making it even more important for angling as whole to be supportive and proactive.

Very few fisheries are purpose-built for disabled anglers, but Albrighton Moat near Wolverhampton is an exception to the rule
Very few fisheries are purpose-built for disabled anglers, but Albrighton Moat near Wolverhampton is an exception to the rule

Growing support

“For many participants, angling is often the only activity they can enjoy,” says Angling Trust Head of Participation, Clive Copeland. “Fishing provides exercise, socialisation and respite from conditions that restrict lives permanently or recurrently.”

Committed to helping anglers of all abilities, the Angling Trust uses EA rod licence money to boost opportunities and facilities. “We believe that no matter what potential barriers a person’s health and disability might present, we can offer solutions,” says Clive. Other players such as the British Disabled Angling Association, Wheelyboat Trust and countless community projects are also invaluable.

In spite of this, however, there are still gaps. “Some clubs and fisheries still don’t get it,” says reader Budgie Price, “or have only just started to understand.”

Competitive angling is also a concern, as Elliot Fay testifies, having had to raise his own funds to represent England. “I’d love to see more disabled representation at Fish O’Mania and other big events,” he says.

Angling’s journey to include anglers of all abilities is gaining pace, then, but there is much still to do. Our disabled anglers are among the most determined and resourceful folks you’ll ever meet, and we’d do the whole sport a favour by listening to them. After all, most of us will one day need support to keep fishing.

Justin Carter: Carp angler

A treetop fall changed life forever for avid carper Justin, but never dimmed his love of angling. He still catches plenty of carp, thanks to some clever adaptation. “It’s been a learning curve,” he says. “Everything you once took for granted needs figuring out.”

Kit choices are vital. An extra-tall Nash SS bedchair allows easy access from his wheelchair, while a raised carp cradle helps him handle fish safely. Nor is he averse to using a bait boat for spots he struggles to cast to.

“Once set up I’m fine!” he says. “It can be hard to ask for help – but I’m lucky to have great mates like Zak Taylor and Brendon Falls.” Far from feeling demotivated, Justin’s planning a big trip to France next year!

Assistance from his mates has helped Justin bank big carp
Assistance from his mates has helped Justin bank big carp

Elliot Fay: Match angler

In spite of a rare muscular and nervous disorder, Matrix-backed Elliot Fay still wins plenty of matches, including the Disabled Anglers’ National twice, and silver at the Disabled World Champs.

“Fishing has been huge for my confidence,” he says. “So much of it is a mental game, and I focus on what I can do rather than what I can’t.”

Facing fatigue and little feeling in his hands, he’s come up with smart solutions. Large, durable baits and pre-tied hooklengths help, while he’s adapted basic tools to make them easier to grip and use.

With a disability that’s invisible, getting support isn’t always easy. “My fiancée Rachel, friends and family, have been amazing,” he says.

He also picks matches with care – huge weights or cold conditions can be punishing, so he works to his strengths.

Match fishing gave Elliot a vital confidence boost
Match fishing gave Elliot a vital confidence boost

Budgie Price: River & pleasure angler

Co-founder of the Avon Roach Project, Budgie is as keen as ever on fishing and conservation. It was

A Passion For Angling that rekindled his interest as he recovered from a life-changing accident 30 years ago.

A quadriplegic, he has only limited arm movements and no use of his fingers. ‘If you love fishing enough, there’s always a way!’ is Budgie’s motto, and kit such as a specially adapted rod holder and reel grips have helped him land roach to over 3lb, plus specimen chub and barbel. He’s even learned to use his mouth when casting!

“Often, requirements are nowhere near as difficult as people think,” he says. He singles out Christchurch AC for its forward-thinking approach, with excellent access and disabled swims.

Budgie has banked a string of big fish
Budgie has banked a string of big fish

Useful resources

The British Disabled Angling Association offers various support, plus online resources including a venue finder and a special kit list to make life easier for disabled anglers. Visit bdaa.co.uk

Funding for accessible paths, toilets, platforms and other facilities is worth looking into for any club. Sources include rod licence funds via the Fisheries Improvement Program, as well as the likes of Sport England, local councils, charitable societies and business sponsors. For further support and details of disabled-friendly ‘Get Fishing’ events in your area, visit anglingtrust.net

The British Disabled Angling Association offers various support
The British Disabled Angling Association offers various support
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