Ireland’s Women’s Shore Angling Team: our unsung World Champions

Caoimhe Cooke

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It’s time we talked about Ireland’s leading world champions…

Yes, Ireland’s men and women’s teams secured a double gold at the 33rd World Shore Angling Championships in Wexford last November, proving that Irish anglers are among the best in the world at the moment.  What is triply impressive is the performance put in by the Irish women’s team, who were competing for the first time ever at this top level.

The Vaas Ladies team took first place after the first day against the ten other ladies teams, and managed to hold on to the lead for the remaining three days. Countries competing included Belgium, Croatia,  Cyprus,  England,  France,  Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Poland, Italy,  Netherlands,  Scotland, South Africa, Spain, Tunisia, Wales, Portugal and Ireland.

Overall placings for the team members were: Lisa Gormley, silver; Anne Whitty, bronze;  Jane Cantwell, ninth; Janet Snoddy, 26th and Pat Shortt, 36th.

Delight: Irish team members celebrate World success in Wexford

The full team consists of Anne Whitty Captain, Bannow Bay SAC; Jane Cantwell, Wexford Garda SAC; Janet Snoddy, Glengormley and District SAC; Lisa Gormley, Glengormley and District SAC; Linda Manton, Lisdoonvarna/Fanore SAC; Pat Short, Bray Sea Anglers and manager Jim Snoddy, Glengormley and District SAC.

Thecircular.org spoke to Tracey Whelan about her experiences as as member of Team Ireland:

Tracey Whelan, member of the 2016 Women’s Team:

How did you get into angling?

My son Andrew actually is the reason I started. If you had told me in 2010 that I would be angling, never mind preparing for a World Championships, I’d have died laughing! By driving Andrew to and from the various club and Munster Competitions I met with some very friendly parents and a few ladies who suggested we start a ladies team.

As with a lot of male dominated sports the notion exists that you had to be physically strong and ruthlessly competitive.

Wow! Just like that?

It was all very tongue in cheek at first and I don’t think I even caught a fish the first three times I went! But when I did, I was hooked (literally) and I threw myself into improving my very limited skills with the help of some of the most patient and generous people you could meet. I slowly started to gain confidence and some, if not a lot, knowledge.

What kind of skills are required to become a successful angler?

I can totally understand how people who are not involved in angling must be thinking ‘sure it’s all luck. Throw a few worms out and if the fish are there and they’re hungry, they’ll take it.’  Of course, there is an element of truth in that but it is the details and knowledge shared so generously by talented and experienced anglers that allows the slimmest of margins to appear and to make a difference and produce a winner. It’s this that makes the sport of shore angling so addictive and enjoyable.

Every year we are growing as a group and with this comes the challenge to improve and keep motivated

Women have played a relatively minor role in the history of fishing, why do you think that is?

Fishing has always been viewed as a man’s hobby and, although women participated in it, it was mostly just for fun as competitive angling is expensive, time consuming and, let’s just be honest, not very glamorous! But as with a lot of male dominated sports the notion exists that you had to be physically strong and ruthlessly competitive. It made a lot of women decide to ‘just leave it to the lads’.  But this is changing and I’m so glad that it is. It’s slow but every year we are growing as a group and with this comes the challenge to improve and keep motivated.

What is the best thing about being a member of the Irish Ladies Fishing Team?

I am privileged to have been on the Irish Team for the last couple of years and to have taken part in the Home Nations against England, Scotland and Wales. From what I can see the Irish Ladies Team are not only talented, but they are some of the nicest people to be around and that is the most important part of the sport for me:  the friendships I have made and the experiences I have had. Here’s to many more years of madness for we surely must be mad some of the weather conditions we are out in!

Lisa Gormley, member of the 2016 Women’s Team:

I chose an angling club mainly because I have been brought up around fishing form a small child.  My family are heavily involved with fishing – my Dad had me listed in our local club Glengormley and District from an early age and I competed right up until the age of 15-16 when school and my social life took over for a while!

straightaway I noticed that the techniques and style of fishing had advanced so much over the years I’d been away.

A few years later I met my husband Stuart who also took a liking for fishing and the both us regularly took ourselves off for a weekends fishing around the coast with not a care in the world but again life kind of got in the way for a few years and the fishing took a back seat while I concentrated on my career and had 2 children.  My Dad Jim was constantly at me about getting back to the sport, but I with career and family to keep me busy, it took a while longer for me to feel ready to dedicate the time required to compete at a competitive level again.

After a few years I had noticed that the youth and Junior numbers dropped away and the intake to clubs was dwindling over time. My father’s passion for coaching had grown, bringing him awards and medals at Home Nation and Interprovincial championships.  One day, he mentioned that the IFSA was looking to get together a ladies team so I put the welly boots back on  and lifted a fishing rod for the first time in probably 4 years!

 

I affiliated back into Glengormley and District as it had been my local club for many years. It was home to my Dad, brother, Uncle and granda and, not long after I joined, my mother also came on-board with me!  I fished regular club matches alongside the guys however my dad had taken on the role of coach for the Ulster ladies squad to compete at the Interprovincials.  We had regular meetings and practice sessions with the ladies team and straightaway I noticed that the techniques and style of fishing had advanced so much over years.

 

Over time, I represented Ulster on all Interprovincial teams and was lucky enough to have made all Home Nations Teams representing Ireland Ladies.  In November 2016 I was lucky enough to compete at the World Championships in Wexford.  As you can imagine it was such an honor to represent Ireland and to finish 2nd overall individually left me on an absolute high but to be honest it was seeing my dad’s face light up with such pride and to hear my husband praise made it all worth it.

I definitely think that the old stigma that fishing is a mans game is gone from at least the Irish squads.

The interest in Ladies fishing in Ireland has nearly doubled since 2013; however numbers are still low in comparison to the men’s figures. Fishing  was definitely viewed as a man’s sport and in some ways there is still a small number of male anglers who see it as a male only sport.  At the beginning it was hard work to try and negotiate with the council, clubs and organisers etc for funding and the ladies met a few hurdles along the way however dedication and passion for the sport within the ladies circuit helped us move past the barrier of man vs women and in turn work as a unit with equal measures.

i personally feel that the ladies are at their best regards team structure and the politics involved in fishing.  I have had a lot of support from the male anglers and organisers within the IFSA. The guys are respectful and willing to share knowledge and offer tips and advice to me with regards my fishing which is an achievement on its own as match anglers can be very secretive when it comes to tactics! I definitely think that the old stigma that fishing is a mans game is gone from at least the Irish squads.

 

I would love to say that the ladies numbers will increase tenfold within Ireland however I doubt it e but it seems to be a greater risk for a woman. Being a working mum myself it is a hard task, without the support from my husband I wouldn’t be able to commit to the sport at the level I am currently.  Sure I could go pleasure fishing with the kids and fish the odd comp but to be a professional angler and compete at the level I have you need to be strict with yourself.  I have seen me spending months prepping for a competition like the world championships.

You have to allow for practice sessions at home or further afield depending on the location of the venue and then you have finances to budget, work to juggle and childcare arrangements not to mention the housework !

If you are as serious as I am and want to be an International angler then you need to invest yourself.

Going back to the first ladies team Ireland had there was only four girls competing for the 5 man team – we are now at the point within Ireland where we have approx 15 lady anglers competing for the coveted spot on the Irish team which is great, it’s a match and gets the adrenaline going and pushes my very competitive head to the surface.

I have over time met different ladies who enjoy fishing and would pleasure fish but have no interest in the competitive side due to the commitments involved which is a shame.  I personally fish most of the open competitions and compete against the men just to keep sharp and in turn grow my skills as an angler.

I think on an International level fishing is a much more lucrative sport, I regularly see lady anglers competing at championships in Spain, Portugal and even as far as South Africa.  A lot of these countries especially the European countries anglers are paid a salary for competing or representing their country.  The pay packet alone is enough to entice many to take up the sport and then to add the bonus of sunshine and warmth to the category is a real help. Many of the teams also are heavily sponsored so again this helps keep costs down and prize funds are generally in the form of money or a rod which i’m sure has a nice resale value.

My general opinion on Ladies angling as a whole is that its a fantastic sport and highly rewarding.  I don’t just compete for the competition side of things but I can honestly say that I have made some fantastic friends along the way from all walks of life.  I would love to see more ladies take up the sport over the next 5 years or so but this needs to start at junior level just like the men have done.  They have taken our youth and junior teams from an early age and kept them interested and passed on years of experience and now those boys are the men you see representing Ireland at the world championships.

How long have you been a member of the Ladies Angling Team?

There are two Ladies Shore Angling Teams. The Ladies World Shore Angling Team and the Ladies Home Nations Angling Team. I have been a member of one or both teams for the past 5 years or so. The Home Nations team competes in the Home Nations Championships which include teams from Ireland, England Scotland and Wales and the event happens every year in July and rotates around each of these countries. The World Shore Championships are also held annually but it’s a much bigger event. In Wexford this year there were 18 mens teams and 11 ladies teams competing to be the World Shore Angling Team for the year. This was the first time ever that Ireland had entered a Ladies World Shore Angling Team and thanks to the efforts of your dad and Jim, the ladies themselves and a number of other people, the Irish Ladies team currently hold the title of World Shore Angling Team Champions. The World Shore Championships will be held in South Africa in 2017 and I will be the captain of that team of 6 ladies who will travel to South Africa to fish in the competition.

I have been fishing since I was a child with my father and that wasn’t today or yesterday!!! And I’m happy to say that I’m still fishing with my father, who in his late 70s, is still fishing with our club and enjoying the fishing competitions as much as ever.

 

Why did you choose to join?

You have to  qualify for the world shore team by fishing in your club competitions and applying to fish in the Master  Angler Competition which is held annually and fish against all the other ladies who are there from their clubs. The top 6 ladies after 3 competitions over a weekend, qualify to fish on the World Shore Team. It’s a little different for the Home Nations Team. In that competition,  which again is over 3 fishing competitions over a weekend, fished in different province every year, you are fishing on a team from your province (having already fished the provincial league) and you are also fishing in the same competition as an individual for a place on the Home Nations Irish Ladies Team. Again the top 6 anglers qualify to fish on this team.

I would hope that ladies angling is a growing sport in Ireland as it has not always been easy to make progress in what has been a predominantly male sport.

It’s a bit of a process and I choose to be part of it because I like fishing and I like the team element. I also think that the more women who are fishing at this level, the more other women hear about it and think that they might like to get involved and I would hope that ladies angling is a growing sport in Ireland as it has not always been easy to make progress in what has been a predominantly male sport.

What do you like most about fishing?

I like the fact that when you’re fishing you can forget about work and everything else, because all you’re thinking about is how to find the fish and what to use to catch them. I like being out in the open air whatever the weather. I like that fishing forces you to push yourself abit harder as carrying gear, setting up the equipment and being out in the open for hours at a time needs energy and determination at times. I like the times when you can see a bite on the rod and you’re wondering what it is and will you catch it!!  I also like the social side of being part of a club and having friends who you mightn’t see in between fishing but once you’re all fishing together it’s a good laugh. I like talking about fishing and getting prepared for competitions (which is very time consuming). I like the craft element of it where you’re being very particular about the type of line, the type and size of hook and all the other details that you have to think about and prepare if you’re going to be successful.

that’s what it boils down to,  support and funding to assist in promoting the sport, raising awareness of the value of a sport like angling for girls and young women, just as much as for boys and young men

Mostly, I like the fact that it is a constant learning curve and you never stop finding out new ways of fishing, new types of hooks, line, weights, rods, etc. Etc. And I like the fact that sometimes it’s all about luck and the person with the old fishing rod and creaky reel can catch more than the angler with the fancy gear!!!

 Like the ladies soccer team, there are still some blatant inequalities in the way the ladies teams are treated and it still seems to be acceptable that the men’s teams get priority.

Would you agree that up until recently angling has been seen as a man’s sport? In your experience, is that changing?

Yes I would agree. It is changing but it has been a slow and sometimes painful process.  Like the ladies soccer team, there are still some blatant inequalities in the way the ladies teams are treated and it still seems to be acceptable that the men’s teams get priority. As with many organisations, it takes a long time for a culture to change and there needs to be more recognition of Ladies Sports as equally important to men’s sports across the board in Ireland.

On a positive note, on the beach, the anglers are more welcoming now and it’s not as unusual as it was to see women fishing. So, it is changing but just too slowly!!

Do you envisage any growth in Ladies Angling in Ireland, or internationally?

I think it is growing and has grown especially over the past 5 years in Ireland for Shore Angling. There have been very successful Ladies Fly Fishing and other types of angling teams for years. But Shore Angling is definitely a growth sport. Internationally, some countries would be way ahead of us in their support for Ladies Angling. And that’s what it boils down to,  support and funding to assist in promoting the sport, raising awareness of the value of a sport like angling for girls and young women, just as much as for boys and young men.

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Caoimhe Cooke