As natural water anglers go, they don’t come much better than Dave Brookes jr and Helen Dagnall. Dave is a member of the star-studded Drennan Barnsley Blacks outfit with a string of high-profile match wins to his name, while Helen is one of the most experienced members of the England Ladies team, and boasts a host of World Championship medals in her trophy cabinet.
What is perhaps even more impressive about the duo, however, are the lengths that they go to ensure that the future of the sport that they both love so dearly is safe. Throughout the summer months, and with the help of several willing volunteers, they run Warrington Junior Angling Association.
Matches take place every Sunday and on Monday and Tuesday evenings through summer, with sessions taking place on rivers, canals and stillwaters. Helen explained: “One of the key things that we believe very strongly in is teaching the kids watercraft. They have to learn to read the water, and appreciate that fishing is about a lot more than catching lots of fish.”
I joined Dave and Helen on a balmy summer afternoon, and the kids were fishing the Victoria Park stretch of the River Mersey in Warrington. In total, 11 youngsters were present between the ages of seven and 22. Many of the older kids present had fished under Helen and Dave’s supervision for several years, in the ‘Minnows’ (cadets section of the club) before moving up to join the older club. “Although we try to cater for kids of all ages, we don’t see any reason to stop younger anglers competing in the sessions we run for the older ones. For safety reasons, though, we obviously ask that the younger kids are accompanied by an adult.”
Speaking to the kids, many of whom were accompanied by dads or grandads, it was obvious that they were enjoying their river fishing. Adam Harman, 17, explained: “Fishing with Warrington, we get the chance to try so many different kinds of fishing, but I have to say that I enjoy river fishing the most. The fact that the venue is always changing, and you really have to work hard for your bites makes it all the more interesting.”
On the subject of holding the kids’ interest, one thing that Helen knows only too well is the importance of competition. “We always like the kids to have a little match between themselves, as the competition definitely makes them more focused. We only charge £1.50 for them to enter, though, and everyone gets a prize – even last place!”
Even though Dave and Helen told me that the venue was fishing hard, there were plenty of fish being caught by all the competitors. It was obvious to see why the Mersey proves such a popular choice, with roach, perch and skimmers falling to long and short-pole tactics. As you might expect, there was a real range of abilities present, but all of those present were keen to take advantage of the wealth of experience offered by their coaches.
“The only slightly worrying thing about our junior section is that numbers have definitely dropped off over the last couple of years, but then again that has happened before and then they have picked up again, so it could just be a blip. I suppose there are a lot of distractions nowadays, and activities that children can do as well as fishing. That said, I find it very encouraging that a lot of the youngsters that attend our sessions often tell their mates, who then also come along, so fishing still offers plenty of interest to the kids of today.
“While ever there are kids who want to learn, Dave and I will run these sessions, though. It gives us both immense pleasure to put something back into the sport that we have taken so much out of over the years.”