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Emma Harrison tells us about “We Fish As One” and her fight for female friendly fishing! – plus how you can get involved with the campaign too
When Emma Harrison got in touch with our Head of Participation Clive Copeland late last year, the first line of her email made him sit up and take notice. It makes for unpleasant reading…
“Since I began fishing around 2 years ago, I have endured endless discrimination and harassment from men. I am aware that this is the case among other female anglers, particularly in the match fishing scene. We are expected to consider this as banter only, and other female anglers have said the same thing, they just try to ignore it – I say it is time to put a stop to this.“
Conversations with Emma and other female anglers have been helping shape our new strategy – starting in April 2021 – that aims to help support the angling community, remove barriers and increase angling participation among female and ethnically diverse communities.
This focus on diversity and inclusion in angling will not be all doom-and-gloom though – there’s plenty to say about the good, positive stories that angling can tell to encourage a more diverse sport from grassroots right up to elite level.
Emma’s blog – kicks off our new We Fish as One campaign and explains how her love of angling spurred on her determination to improve things so that angling changes for the better…
“Needless to say, those who know me, will know that I’m completely hooked on fishing and the benefits it offers to our mental wellbeing – but first of all let me explain how I got into angling and why I have come to be writing this blog – about a mix of my good and not so good experiences – and why it’s time that “We Fish as One”.
My love of angling started as a young girl when the suspense of just not knowing what I’d catch was so exciting and addictive. But, as some of us do when we begin to start careers or families, I lost touch with fishing for many years…
Fast forward and I was in my late 20s when I got back into fishing – completely clueless I have to add – but always having so much fun on my local canals and lakes!
I started out again with basic equipment but pretty soon I was researching magazines and finding more online – for me, learning new techniques and skills is just as much fun as fishing. Every trip out I made an effort to use my new knowledge.
The obvious next-step on my angling journey was to join a club. In no time I had some fishing tackle and skills and entered myself into the Women’s League. Having never fished a match I was so anxious, but I received a warm welcome and by the end of the league’s matches, much to my delight I came second place!
The Open Circuit in the North West was next. Before long I was winning sections, and even managed a ‘cheeky win’ – not bad in such a short space of time!
I soon had all the kit I needed to start match fishing – brilliant!
For me though, fishing is more than “just fishing”, competing or the love of learning new techniques. I currently live with complex PTSD, anxiety and depression, and my main form of support to help me with this illness is to go fishing. Honestly – it’s been my lifeline when I struggle with my mental health. Angling was always – and still is – a way to “escape” for my own wellbeing.
I need to say this first and foremost, I am able to have a laugh with people and I do also have solid resilience but… what I am about to say should not be occurring in the 21st century – a world where a better understanding of diversity and inclusivity has become so important and is – quite rightly I believe – shaping our behaviour towards each other.
Sadly, to say, I have come across some negatives whilst fishing, in particular match fishing. Let me give you some examples:
I walk into a venue or a tackle shop, the room is full of male anglers and falls silent – all eyes are on me. Now even to begin with that’s a pretty intimidating reaction! It’s like walking out onto a stage when all eyes on you – suddenly you are in the spotlight. Before long, some anglers start to make derogatory comments. “Here we go” I think…
“You should be at home doing the ironing/cleaning/dishes/looking after the kids”
“I come fishing to get away from women, I don’t want to be fishing with them!”
“I’ll never be beaten by a woman, over my dead body is that going to happen!”
To add fuel to the flames I have had anglers invade my personal space or make disrespectful comments about my appearance. Because of the kind of person I am and due to my past trauma, the thought of confrontation terrifies me. I’d never retaliate or “fire-back” in those situations. Instead I seek out somewhere quiet where I can regain my confidence and focus on fishing. So in these situations I didn’t confront the people who treated me badly.
I’d often get this kind of thing when I went to fish matches – it was a regular thing. So I spoke to some other female anglers about it. They told me that they just put up with it and ignore it. I understand why – like me – that they would want to take this approach rather than start a confrontation – I do get that – but why should we have to in the first place?
Here I am practising my pole fishing – getting ready for a match
The fighter within me wouldn’t let it slide and I got to thinking about it. Why should women have to endure this when they want to go fishing? Fishing can be a hobby, a sport, it is something we enjoy or love, it is an opportunity to switch off or relax, it can be our exercise and it is something we have in common with all other anglers. We wouldn’t tolerate this behaviour in the workplace so why is it tolerated in angling?
I will say to those who find it acceptable to be disrespectful to someone:
“How would you find it if someone treated, your mother, wife or daughter in that way?”
“Would you tolerate that level of disrespect if you were a woman?”
There have been many times when I have even had second thoughts about going fishing, the mental preparation that I have to build up before I can leave the house to compete in a match is tremendous and there have been times when I simply could not bring myself to go and do what I love, go fishing, with this added pressure on top.
At this point, you might be thinking “Why would you even go fishing if you find it so difficult or challenging? Why would bother to put yourself through THAT!?”
But – as I’ve mentioned, I love fishing – as well as that, fishing also does wonders for my mental health, plus – I enjoy taking my family fishing. These reasons are enough for me to be able to continue fishing, my passion and curiosity to learn more usually leads me back out onto the bank at some point.
There’s not only that personal motivation though…
Despite this smudge of negativity, I’ve come across a wealth of supportive and welcoming anglers, venues and tackle shops. I know that at these places people will not be treated any differently to a man, and that makes the world of difference. At these places, and from these people I just know that if anything at all negative or disrespectful was said, they would put a stop to it straight away.
Let me tell you about one such venue where I have felt so at ease…
It’s a lovely fishery for both the match and pleasure anglers. The owner – is always welcoming and supportive of women fishing here and he always helps with advice when anyone wants it.
I’ve spoke to him recently and he told me “Throughout 2020 I’ve seen more women and girls out on the bank enjoying the fishing…this is great to see and gives us a sense of pride that we are doing things right. All anglers are welcome but women can be sure that they can feel safe and confident that any inappropriate behaviour from male or female anglers would just not be tolerated here.”
This is wonderful news, I know that female anglers can enjoy fishing there given the pleasant environment that has been has created. And – as simple and as basic as this may sound – there are clean toilets too. What a delight! I’m helping the Angling Trust to find more venues like this nearby and we are going to map them on their website soon along with others all around the country.
As well as match and pleasure fishing I’ve had a wonderful time over the past year trying out different ways of fishing. One interesting thing I noticed is that I have never had any issues with negative or inappropriate behaviour when I was fishing at “specimen” type of venues. In fact, at big-fish waters, anglers were all so keen to support me and welcome me, which is fantastic to experience, and it would a delight to see this all-inclusive behaviour right across all disciplines of angling.
So – how did all these experiences lead me here – to be writing this blog you’re reading?
After much thought and having built up some confidence I decided to speak up on this matter in 2020 to highlight not only the negative things but also feature the good parts of fishing – for women and girls. I find that I often relate things like this back to my daughter. Put myself in her position and ask myself “Would I want her to be put in that situation?” No, of course I wouldn’t and that is when I realised that we have to make some adjustments.
I often try and relate my experiences to my daughter “How would she feel about this…?”
With the fire burning and this passion brewing I got in touch with Sport England about the matter and voiced my concerns that maybe this behaviour could be a contributing factor to lower numbers of women and girls within our sport? Who knows – but from my experience I would sympathise entirely if a newcomer who experienced some of the things I did never wanted to go fishing again – really, who could blame them?
Writing to Sport England “…I believe that anyone who wishes to take part in a sport should be made to feel welcome, safe and feel reassured that they will not be expected to tolerate abuse from anyone…why should females, people of a different race, disability or religion be treated any differently? I’m looking for some support on this matter, as I’ve never been involved with anything of the sort – some guidance or support on how to setup and plan for a campaign to promote this message…”
Within a short timeframe Sport England had passed on my concerns to Clive at the Angling Trust, and this has allowed me to become involved with the Angling Trust Participation Team.
I’m now proud to say that I’m helping to shape a new direction for women anglers, girls, and those in ethnically diverse communities groups who wish to take up our sport. I would love nothing more than to see people from all walks of life participating in the wonderful sport of fishing and reaping the rewards for its benefits to mental health and wellbeing.
Successes like this make it all worthwhile! Give fishing a go too – you’ll love it!
I think we all realise that unfortunately there will be no “quick-fix” to getting more girls and women on the bank. It is going to take time, perseverance and sheer determination from everyone involved. But I know that all of the people I have spoken on this issue have “the right attitudes” and I’ve already heard of many success stories so far in raising the numbers of women and girls fishing. You’ll read more about that here – in the weeks to come.
I am very passionate and driven when it comes to this topic, and I really want to make a difference to anglers who like me have had to suffer or may suffer in the future. I want to encourage more diversity within the sport, especially from women, girls and more families.
Fishing has many benefits for men and women, it is a great way to spend time with family and friends, and it is a great way to challenge yourself. Furthermore, having more anglers taking part, whether male or female, means more “hands-on deck” to support our sport especially in terms of conservation efforts to protect fish and fishing, or coaching opportunities.
I look forward to the day where we can truly say “We Fish as One“.
Emma’s aspiration for all anglers to fish together on equal terms became something the Angling Trust’s Participation Team kept coming back to in our plans for 2021 participation delivery. In acknowledgement of her determination to be involved we’ve named the campaign side of our Strategic Vision for Inclusiveness and Diversity in Angling (…which is a bit of a mouthful eh?) “We Fish as One”. The official launch will kick-off in June but we wanted to give all our readers the heads-up and encourage you to get in touch with us about this. we want to hear your own experiences – be they good or bad – we also want to hear from clubs, syndicates, fisheries and any other organisations or venues that pride themselves on being a place that is inclusive to females or other less well-represented communities as well as all-comers who want to get into, return or enjoy the health, wellbeing and competitive aspects that make fishing such a great sport-for-all. We’ll promote the work you are doing – be part of “We Fish as One”.
Contact: [email protected]. Please include “We Fish as One” in the subject line – we will treat all emails as confidential.