The 1970s: “We had more fun!”
Transport let alone tackle was more limited, but the 1970s should rightly be seen as a heyday for natural waters, match fishing and angling clubs. “The camaraderie was great. We just had more fun in those days” says Roy Marlow, a serial winner and key member of Ivan Marks’ ‘Likely Lads’ Leicester team.
“There were fewer distractions. You either played football or went fishing,” he says. “Anglers joined clubs for the social aspect as well as the fishing. You’d cram onto coaches and trains, or you’d get four in a Ford Cortina with all the gear on the roof,” he laughs. “We won lots, but we had so many laughs, too. Sometimes I think angling became way too serious later on.”
Although weights were often lower (Roy once won a Trent 400-pegger with just 11lb 4oz) it was also an era with epic natural venue matches. The National regularly featured over 1,000 anglers, while single method or venue specialists were rare, perhaps giving the average angler a better chance of glory.
“You have to move with the times and I’m never one for rose-tinted specs,” he told AT. “But today we have it almost too easy and I do wonder if we’re coming a bit blasé?”
The 1980s: Innovation and England dominance!
Along with brick cell phones and the Walkman, the 1980s signalled a quantum leap in fishing tackle and methods.
“Rods were nearly all glass in the 1970s and very heavy,” recalls England legend Tommy Pickering. “Carbon changed everything! I won a 13ft carbon rod on a big match at Coombe Abbey and couldn’t fish with glass again!” Long poles like the 10m Daiwa Pro Carbon then came in, revolutionising match fishing. “They were game changing,” says Tommy. “You could hold them with one hand!”
Not all of the changes were welcomed at first, but in time the pleasure angler benefited as much as top matchmen from better tackle and methods. “When Denis White first showed me the feeder, I hardly knew what it was!” says Tom. “People hated it at the time. How things change!”
It was Dick Clegg who then transformed the England team from 1984, with team and individual golds galore. “It was a magical time,” recalls Tommy, who was individual World Champion in 1989. “Clegg was the Don Revie of angling. He made England the most feared team in the world and we’re still living with that legacy and winning blueprint.”
The 1990s: The decade anglers never had it better?
With rapidly advancing techniques and incredible catches, the 1990s was the decade specialist angling hit the big time.
“Angling media hit a peak. The 1990s created a new career path and a generation of star anglers,” says Matt Hayes, who broke through with shows such as Total Fishing. “In some ways we were like the first influencers.”
“Specialist angling exploded, whether that was carp or lure tactics. There were suddenly fewer secrets and that quickly spread to pleasure anglers,” he told AT. “A quality reel once cost a week’s wages, but now they were pocket money! Some of the tackle was superbly made; and in fact I still use various rods from that era.”
The fishing itself was excellent. With advanced gear, protein-rich baits and fisheries such as gravel pits to the fore, records fell like skittles. “20lb carp were no longer rare, yet you could still fish amazing venues for big chub or perch and be the only one there,” said Matt. “It was an exciting time to be an angler and I’m not sure it’s ever been better before or since.”
Post 2000: The digital revolution
High-tech angling and social media might not be everyone’s bag, but could today’s era represent a more open and level playing field than ever?
“We take it for granted, but today’s technology is amazing,” says Nash Tackle angling fanatic and YouTube star, Alan Blair. “Apps give us the weather, river levels, tides and more in an instant. The amount of information out there is vast and the tools we have are incredible.”
While social media has its negatives, Alan can also see huge value. “Growing up, I never thought I’d forge a path as a professional angler. Nowadays, I think if you’re passionate and work hard you can make it happen. Anyone can use platforms like YouTube and Instagram.”
While our waters face new challenges, Alan is also keen celebrate the fishing we have, whether that’s urban angling or modern stillwaters. “Carp fishing has never been better in terms of stocks or availability,” he says. “That can also benefit the purist, though, because well-managed fisheries that are safe from predation can work wonders for other species.”
Last but not least, Alan sees the last two challenging years as a renaissance for the sport. “It’s been crazy in terms of angler numbers, tackle and ticket sales!” he says. “We’ve seen a huge surge in new anglers and those coming back to the sport, and it’s great to see that passion ignited.”