The year 2020 will be remembered for a lot of things. For me personally, and I’m probably not alone in this, it will be remembered as the year that I went fishing more than I ever have. For a large chunk of the year, it was one of the few things we could do legally according to COVID-19 restrictions here in England, and I subsequently found myself out on the water on a very regular basis. Fishing did a great deal for my mental health, not just because of the good we all know the outdoors does for you, but because I could fish with a socially distant buddy and things kind of felt like normal again, even if just for a few hours. Then, in these first fleeting days of a new year tinged with hope, it all changed.

England bans fishing

England entered a full national lockdown on January 6, representing the strictest restrictions we have seen since those early days of initial response to COVID-19 last year. The hardships are widespread and could last until as late as March 31, but perhaps worst of all for our industry is that fishing has now been banned.

A statement by the U.K.’s Angling Trust read: “The regulations have now been published and confirm this evening’s message from the Cabinet Office that the Government have taken the decision that fishing will not be permitted during this national lockdown period.” Bummer. But surely fishing is one of the safer things we can do, right? It’s in the outdoors, it’s away from people, we often do it alone. If only there was an organisation who could make these concerns heard and understood by the Government… Enter the Angling Trust.

Just like the U.S., England’s angling economy slows in the winter months. Photo: David Guest

It’s hard to find a direct comparison organisation to the Angling Trust in the United States. You guys have the American Sportfishing Association, but it’s not quite the same, as the Angling Trust is for individuals to join and not companies (we have a trade specific body for companies called the Angling Trades Association).

You have the National Professional Anglers Association, but it’s not strictly for professional anglers to join, it’s for anyone. The Angling Trust is kind of like a mix of those, plus a sprinkle of the National Geographic Society, but only for the fishing world. In its own words it’s the national governing body representing all game, coarse and sea anglers and angling in England. It lobbies the government, it campaigns for environmental issues, it fights pollution, it takes on anti-fishing campaigns or threats to the sport and it gives fishermen a collective voice.

Most recently, the Angling Trust has very effectively used that voice to help keep us fishing through the pandemic. When the first lockdown began in England on March 23, the Angling Trust campaigned and lobbied the right Members of Parliament here until we were allowed out to fish again in May (of course, while observing social distancing and group gathering rules). This time around, they managed to get the Government to overturn their ban in as little as 24 hours. There are, of course, some caveats like staying local and only fishing with one other person outside of your household, but if you think about, it’s hugely impressive. The Angling Trust is only a small organisation, it relies almost solely on the $40 annual fees that English anglers pay to be a part of it and it should really stand no chance against the might of a Government that’s made its mind up about something. But it does and it did. Just one day after being told fishing was banned under this latest COVID-19 lockdown, the Angling Trust announced that the relevant Government department had said: “Fishing is allowed as exercise so long as participants adhere to the rules on staying local, gathering limits, social distancing and limiting the time spent outdoors.”

If you’re an angler like me who has never appreciated fishing more than you do right now, every single cent of that membership fee to the Angling Trust just paid off ten-fold. And if I’m honest, if it wasn’t for my jobs in the industry, I probably would never have thought twice about joining. And therein lies my point. Though they might sometimes frustrate us with bureaucracy and we might sometimes wonder what they heck do they even do, our associations are VITAL to the fishing tackle industry. Whether it’s the ASA, the American Fly Fishing Trade Association, or the Angling Trust, these guys are so important and we rarely give them the recognition they truly deserve. So, next time that renewal fee comes around and you start to get thoughts of maybe saving a few dollars by not joining a fishing body or association (as a company or an individual), just think about it a little harder. I know it’s hard to imagine fishing being banned in the United States for any reason, but a year ago, it was hard for me to imagine the same in my country too. And when it did happen, I’m so incredibly glad that there was someone there to take on the fight on my behalf. Tight lines.

What about the rest of Europe?

Fishing is still largely allowed in most places around Europe. In the other devolved nations that make up the U.K. – Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – it’s permitted but with restrictions on travel and group size. France has a similarly hardcore national lockdown in place, which even includes an overnight curfew for many regions, but fishing is still permitted. Fishing is also allowed in the Netherlands, as long as social distancing is observed and large groups do not congregate. In Ireland, fishing is allowed but in its current level five alert situation, but you may not travel more than 5km (3 miles) from your house to do so. It’s similar in Italy where fishing is not strictly banned but there are rules about how far you can travel for outdoor recreation, depending on the region. Germany is in a lockdown situation until at least the end of January, when it will be reviewed by the Government there – fishing is controlled regionally in Germany and most regions are currently allowing it, but not all. In Denmark, fishing is allowed and even catch-and-release fisheries are open, but the total number of people fishing at any one