How UK lockdown has given an angling a new lease of life

I doubt anyone looking back at this year will feel that 2020 was anything but dreadful.

This young Sussex angler is among many who have been keen to get out to the lakes and river banks
This young Sussex angler is among many who have been keen to get out to the lakes and river banks

It is strange to think that we have been living a weird alternative lifestyle since March, becoming familiar with new terms such as lockdown, pandemic, Covid and endless three-word mottos from the government.

It is a new world where scientists are now listened to with care and young people are wondering if virology or facemask design is worth considering as a career option.

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Picking out highlights will be mighty challenging but there have been some unexpected benefits, especially if you are a lover of the natural world like me.

The changes were quite quick to see, the sudden decline of road traffic and the complete absence of air travel gave mother nature a chance to breathe clean air for a change and wildlife to flourish.

For the first time in many years my village woke to the sound of blackcaps serenading us with their thrilling and magical song, butterflies came back in impressive numbers and the absence of road traffic noise allowed us to listen to the world as it was over a century ago.

Finally we saw wonderful acts of kindness become commonplace as the nation rallied around to help the vulnerable and a 100-year-old man brought new meaning to the word hero.

It was a mixed picture for our local anglers. In common with all other clubs we at Petworth and Bognor AC closed our waters, partially to follow government guidance, but also as a serious precaution as over 50 per cent of our membership is over 65 years old.

Many of our bailiffs and even our chairman found themselves shielding and reduced to cleaning out the shed and waiting for a weekly supermarket delivery.

Strangely for these members it brought back memories of the old close season, which as luck would have it coincided with the Covid lockdown. For a couple of months we went back 25 years and allowed our fishy friends to breed in peace for a change. Then it all changed.

On May 5 the government decided that certain outside sports could resume, especially if social distancing was observed. This was not difficult to do because fishing is by and large a solitary sport and 100 per cent outside.

What was a moribund response to club membership suddenly became a torrent of applications. Desperate for something to do or the opportunity to leave the house, age old memories of fishing as a child resurfaced and ancient long forgotten equipment was tracked down hiding in some dusty corner of the loft.

Angling licences surged to more than a million, providing some much-needed funds for the Environment Agency, local commercial outlets had queues forming at first light and club membership soared.

My own club saw membership increase by more than 30 per cent. One unexpected and much welcomed aspect was the rise in junior memberships, not entirely unexpected with children enjoying a five-month ‘holiday’ and going slowly mad with boredom. The sight of youngsters enjoying fishing was a wonderful sight and a potential future lifesaver for this grand old sport

The spin-off was that local tackle shops also benefited with new members realising that their beloved old gear was a little out of date or even buying complete kits to start from scratch. It was a lifeline that not only saved them but some of our bigger manufactures and on-line providers.

The trick of course is to retain these new people. When this terrible virus stops or a cure is found will people still go fishing, will the magic of being outside, surrounded by nature and perhaps enjoying some quality time on the bank with your son or daughter continue? I for one jolly well hope so.