‘It’s like having a bit of freedom back’: Anglers return as restrictions ease
Anglers around England were returning to the banks for the first time since lockdown began as restrictions on the sport were eased.
A change in Government guidelines surrounding outdoor activities announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday meant as of Wednesday morning, anglers around the country were able to fish on their own or alongside people from their household for the first time since the middle of March.
Jim Crutchley, a teacher from Wells, was among the first to cast off, rising at 4.30am to head to Viaduct Fishery in Somerton for the first time since before lockdown began.
“It was great,” he told the PA news agency. “It was peaceful – well, it was peaceful initially, though there were quite a few anglers eventually. I got there first so I got the best spot.
“It’s nice to have a bit of a break from everything and be in your own company, even if it’s just for a few hours.”
Recreational fishing was back on the agenda after a concerted campaign from the Angling Trust, which presented a report entitled When We Fish Again to ministers in an attempt to prove it was a safe pastime.
Among the campaigners was Ali Hamidi, presenter of ITV’s Monster Carp and the Big Fish Off, who believes the ability to go out and fish will be a huge boon to the mental health of many people.
“There would have been a lot of people in lockdown who physically couldn’t go cycling, couldn’t go running, probably couldn’t even go walking, but being able to go out in the fresh air and fish will make a huge difference to them,” he told PA.
“Even if you don’t think you suffer from any mental health issues, we all have stress in life.
“Fishing takes you to total tranquillity from total bedlam in the flick of a button.”
One angler enjoying the tranquillity was Matt Gilbert, a sales coach from Liverpool, who said navigating lockdown has been “tough”.
He has been on furlough since March and spending his days looking after his one-year-old child full time as his partner is a key worker.
“From working 50-plus hours a week to staying at home has been a big eye-opener,” he told PA.
He went fishing first thing on Wednesday morning and said it felt like having “a bit of freedom” back.
He said: “Just making that first cast at 5.30 this morning felt like a child at Christmas, actually being able to do the sport I love and have done since a four-year-old boy sat on the river bank with my grandad.”
Martin Salter, chief policy adviser for the Angling Trust, was at his local club on Wednesday morning helping to re-open and to ensure everyone was aware of the rules under which they were able to fish.
“We were delighted with the sensible and responsible attitude of the anglers who turned up to fish today,” he told PA.
Mr Salter said the Environment Agency sold 21,000 rod licences in the 24 hours following the announcement on Sunday that fishing would again be allowed, compared with 4,000 in the same period last year.
It led to fears some fisheries might be overrun on Wednesday morning, and some videos circulating on social media appeared to show big queues.
But Mr Salter, who said there are about two million anglers in the UK, had heard of no reports of any major issues on Wednesday afternoon.
“Angling is the ultimate self-isolating sport,” he said. “Large crowds and successful fishing don’t mix.”
The trust has produced extensive guidance for clubs and anglers, and is attempting to impress upon everyone the importance of sticking to the rules.
“When there are lots of people not able to do the sports they love, we’re going to have some public scrutiny,” Mr Salter said.
“We’re trying to get across to every single angler in the country that they have to be ambassadors for the sport.”
Social distancing was in evidence near Northwich in Cheshire, where Tom Jackson, an IT project manager, was among four anglers who turned up to his local club early on Wednesday.
Like many, he was delighted to have a reason to get out of the house and forget about the news.
“I’m unable to work due to the virus so once all my DIY was complete, I’ve been sat twiddling my thumbs,” he told PA.
“Nothing takes your mind off things quite like fishing.”