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Concerning times as number of juniors taking up angling dwindles dramatically

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I recently found an old newspaper cutting (sadly too poor quality to use here) of a Junior Cup match on the River Lark that included a group photo of more than 30 participants.

It was 1967 and I was 14. Unfortunately I cannot recall anything about the match but what is significant is the number of young anglers taking part. I do recall we were taken by bus to the river and I suspect by the smiles on our faces in the clip that we had a good day.

The same year I won the Bury St Edmunds Angling Association Junior Cup at the River Little Ouse at Lakenheath (Cowles Drove) and there was also more than 30 of us taking part. The sixties were good years for junior angling locally.

A Junior carp match line-up at Middle Reservoir in September 2010. Picture: Steve Bull
A Junior carp match line-up at Middle Reservoir in September 2010. Picture: Steve Bull

The popularity of angling with juniors dipped slightly in the 1970s but surged again in the ‘80s through to the mid-1990s, particularly for Bury St Edmunds Angling Association with junior officers Eric Bolton and Vic Turner often filling Rushbrooke Lake in their weekly Junior teach-ins.

The number of junior anglers declined steadily in the late nineties and onwards but there was a short revival around 2009-2011, especially for the clubs at Bury and GVAC (Gipping Valley Angling Club), based at Needham Market.

The 2009/10 season was particularly promising, and I had an article about it published in early 2010: “2009 was an exceptional year for junior angling in West Suffolk. After several years of decline the number of juniors participating in angling locally rocketed last year. Bury St Edmunds Angling Association had a 50 per cent increase in junior membership over the previous year with Emma and Rachael at Tackle Up in Bury St Edmunds reporting significantly more juniors coming into their tackle shop. Hinderclay Lakes also saw a surge in juniors fishing there during the school summer holidays and at weekends, according to fishery manager Stuart.

Chris Silk and his 30lb 8oz Doris catch at Middle Reservoir in September 2010. Picture: Chris Silk
Chris Silk and his 30lb 8oz Doris catch at Middle Reservoir in September 2010. Picture: Chris Silk

“The Suffolk AAA junior team captained by Steve Barnes also had considerable success at the National Junior Angling Association event held on the Grand Union Canal at Milton Keynes in September.

“Individually, Abbi Kendall took a gold medal home, Abbi Brewster also put in a fine performance and the team came third (both members of GVPS).

“On a fishing holiday with his dad in France, local lad Ryan Williamson caught a magnificent 32lb common carp. During the four-day trip 12-year-old Ryan also had two 20s take his boilie baits.

“Bury AA’s Middle Reservoir was a particularly popular venue for the juniors with 15-year-old Jack Lloyd landing the lake’s prized mirror carp (Doris) at 31lb in early June.

Joe Phillips at Middle Reservoir in December 2009 with a 26lb 7oz common carp. Picture: Mark Phillips
Joe Phillips at Middle Reservoir in December 2009 with a 26lb 7oz common carp. Picture: Mark Phillips

“At the same water brothers Jack and Joe Phillips had a string of impressive carp captures with the highlight being Joe’s 26lb scale perfect common carp just before Christmas, in the snow. Carp up to 20lb were also landed by juniors at Bury AA’s Water Lane Reservoir including an 18lb common carp by 14-year-old Ryan Newton in July.

“At Hinderclay Lakes, six-year-old Josh Jackson caught a 17lb mirror carp which he played all the way to the net unaided; all the more remarkable because he was only using 4lb breaking strain line. It all bodes well for the future of angling locally.”

Bury AA club treasurer Steve Bull doubled up as their junior officer and secured sponsorship from Tackle Up (a Junior Cup for an annual carp match plus tackle prizes). A photo of some of the entrants for the 2010 event appears with this article.

Bull told me he would gladly organise a reunion match if there was enough interest.

Sadly, the number of junior anglers locally has steadily declined since then and Bury AA does not even have a junior officer currently. Steve tried last year to organise some teach-in but only two juniors showed any interest.

I grew up on a new housing estate in Bury in the late ‘50s and ‘60s where practically every household had children and we nearly all went fishing, mostly travelling in groups on our bikes.

Regular venues included the lakes at Rushbrooke and Drinkstone, the Canal Lake at Ickworth Park, the River Lark, River Blackbourn at Honington and we even cycled as far as the Little Ouse at Wilton Bridge near Lakenheath, mostly without parental supervision.

It is so different now. Travel to fisheries is now far too dangerous for juniors by bicycle, many syndicate waters do not want junior members and most commercial fisheries insist on juniors being accompanied by an adult. The cost of equipment, particularly for specimen and match fishing, is also hugely prohibitive.

A recent survey put the average age of anglers at 55 and in golf, which has a similar problem, the average age for club members is 61.

There are some fragmented initiatives to promote junior angling in the UK and a much more focused approach in golf (The Golf Foundation). But both sports face a future significant decline in participation if junior numbers remain low.

A top nationally renowned match angler recently wrote in the angling press that when he looked around the room at match draws the youngsters were in their 40s!

The most popular article I have compiled since these weekly reports have been published on Suffolk News was about the wonderful memories of juniors at Rushbrooke Lake 35 to 40 years ago. Sad as it is, I guess things change whether we like it or not!

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