From rising travel costs to the dominance of big-money solo finals, the demise of team fishing is nothing new in angling.
Gone are the days when every other club in the land sent a coach-load of their finest to enter our equivalent of the FA Cup Final. While the overall landscape has changed massively, however, fishing for a team retains a timeless excitement. Surely, therefore, it’s time for a refresh, starting with the National Angling Championships?
Angler apathy signals limited change
Aware of the decline in clubs taking part in the Blue Riband events, organisers at the Angling Trust launched an online survey – albeit one lasting just six days in December – to get feedback on potential new ways the Nationals could be structured.
Plans tabled included the formation of a new Premier League with a tier system of North and South divisions, a set-up designed to help reduce running costs and give opportunities to smaller clubs. A splitting of the current two divisions into three was also proposed.
A total of 66 out of 100 existing team captains responded, citing a desire for ‘no changes’ while just five in 200 of lapsed clubs – those needed to grow events– replied.
The only significant change came with an obligation for each team to provide one steward for the event, to free up more funds for prize pots and silverware.
While Angling Trust CEO Jamie Cook admitted that poor feedback was a “concern”, he was adamant the Trust was “listening to our customers and volunteers to engage more teams to get involved in these iconic events.” Having fished the 2021 Division 2 National himself, he added that they’d continue to look into issues such as running costs and sponsorship, remaining “fully transparent over every penny collected and spent for all Nationals.”
A missed opportunity?
While most match anglers welcomed greater transparency, others remain sceptical about the current format and the future of team fishing, especially as the next National Champs consultation is set for 2024.
“It feels like a chance missed, and we can be far more dynamic here,” said lifelong match angler and AT tackle editor Mark Sawyer. “There are lots of ideas that could be trialled, especially when you look to the success of team fishing on the Continent. Whether it’s smaller teams, faster formats, or any ideas to give the average angler more of a shout, events like the Supercup have shown that team fishing can still thrive.”
Keith Arthur, a huge fan of the National, puts its demise down to cultural shift. “When I started, it was all about clubs, and the National was the highlight of the year,” he recalls. “These days, match groups simply meet on the bank, pay no subs and pick and choose their events. Once commercial fisheries thrived, matches were 52 weeks a year. You didn’t need club or team events to compete – and there’s less chance of a duff draw on a 30-pegger!”
Keith’s suggestion would be “returning to the roots of team fishing, perhaps with a team championship for Angling Trust clubs. You’d want a simple format, asking those clubs to nominate their stretches of river or canal as venues, and how many they’d like in a team. Pools should be lower, as they used to be, and it should be possible to enter a National for £20 or less.”