Love at first bite? Dom Garnett tries the “Take a Friend Fishing” scheme

There’s been an amazing number of new and returning anglers this summer. Nor is it too late to get a FREE one day licence for a friend this month!  Our own Dom Garnett found out first hand, as he took family friend Tom Kloc out for the day. But would it be love at first bite? 

It’s fair to say we’ve had an absolutely incredible summer for fishing. From a huge spike in licence sales, to some shops running out of bait and tackle items, there are most definitely reasons to be cheerful. But could we push this welcome revival even further?

I’ve long maintained that if every angler introduced just one newcomer, we could transform angling in a single year. So when the Take a Friend Fishing initiative was launched, I was one of the first to applaud. An extended second run was equally brilliant- but who might I take fishing next?

It started with a random conversation with family friend, Tomek Kloc. A Polish national, and painter and decorator by trade, he hadn’t ever given fishing a proper go. Well, not unless you include an ill-fated attempt as a young child.

Back in the Poland of his childhood, his local urban river was so polluted there was not a lot to catch. “We tried once, but I caught nothing,” he tells me, “it was not a nice place to try fishing.”

Subsequent attempts from his friends to get him fishing fell on deaf ears and then he found himself living and working in England and never gave it another thought. Until a certain angling writer put the idea in his head! Wouldn’t it be nice to start all over again and have a much better experience than that grim childhood river and teach Tomek about the ways of British angling? Having taught people from ages six to eighty two this summer, I am a firm believer that there is no “correct” age to start fishing. It’s never too late and everyone is welcome!

“I feel like a big kid!”

I’m still unloading the car boot on the day itself, when Tom turns up a full ten minutes early. “You’re keen!” I chuckle. “You might have to bear with me for a minute or two”.

“I was so excited I woke up too early,” he laughs. “I feel like a big kid. I can’t believe I’m really going fishing again!”

It has been pretty easy to get his free day licence, too. All you need is your friend’s full name, email and a few basic details and you’re in business (click here for the official “Take a Friend Fishing” details). Of course, you will then need a venue to try and some bait and gear- but I’ve taken care of this!

Having scratched my brains hard, I’ve decided on a local coarse fishery with half a dozen smallish lakes. There are a few reasons for this. First and foremost it’s easy to get to and very productive. I also love the fact that the owners are not only friendly but proper all round anglers themselves, stocking a mix of species that includes roach, rudd, perch, tench and crucians as well as the ubiquitous carp!

Don’t get me wrong, carp are brilliant. But in a funny way, the last thing I tend to want as a coach is for any beginner to land a ten-pounder as their first fish! It’s too much too soon, and I’d far rather they learnt the ropes with smaller species first. At Luccombes, I’m confident we’ll get bites from smaller fish while mastering the basics, before going for a net-filler or two later.

Mind you, I think Tom would be happy to catch anything with fins to start with. “Do you think we’ll catch something?” he asks me on arrival. I’m confident we will, but don’t want to ruin the suspense, so the words that come out of my mouth are: “You’ll have to wait and see. We’ll do our best”.

Basic float fishing

Our attack today will be a simple, two-pronged affair. We will start with a simple margin pole rig, but I also have an Avon rod set up for floater fishing. Of course, with Covid still at large, I’ve tried to avoid kit sharing, giving each of us our own set ups.

Whether I’m coaching or just taking a friend or family member fishing for the first time, I always start my sessions with questions rather than orders. This starts with: “Where do you think we should start? Where would you be if you were a fish?”

 Learners always love fish spotting, too, so a spare pair of polarised glasses (carefully cleaned I should point out!) are another great idea. In spite of some nice carp cruising further out, Tomek can see the attraction of features like lilies near the bank.

Two other essential skills quickly follow: that of carefully testing the depth and getting into the habit of loose feeding little and often. I tend to liken the latter to feeding the ducks in the park. Throw in one bit of bread and a couple of birds might have a look. Throw in lots and you’ll eventually get a scrum of competing birds, including bigger geese and swans! Not that we’d fish for them, but it’s an easy picture to grasp.

“Wow, these are so small!” says Tomek, looking at the shot and a size 16 hook. He’s a little uncertain about maggots, but with a bit of persuasion (for Tomek, not the maggots!) we’re soon in business.

The bites soon materialise, and we have our next little skill lesson; striking correctly. As I explain, too gentle and you won’t set the hook, too rough and you’ll end up with a flying fish or broken hook length.

At the third attempt, the float dips sweetly and it all comes together. The size of the fish and the age of the angler somehow become quite irrelevant in these magic moments, the joy at that first catch is such a wonderful thing to see.

 “I got one! I got a fish!” says Tomek, It’s a perfect skimmer of perhaps half a pound. “Leszcz!” I say in Polish. “What?” he asks. “How do you know this in Polish?”

He quickly follows up with a small roach, another fish I can name in Polish! As I explain, I know most of the fish names in Tom’s first language as a result of fishing with several Poles, including Seb Nowosiad, a Somerset based angler. My wife was similarly surprised with this ability when we first met, before being disappointed that I could say “nice tench” in Polish but couldn’t follow it up by counting to ten! We can work my Polish, though, and one of the things I always love about taking others fishing is how I also learn so much in the process.

Bigger targets

Of course, another excellent reason to take a pal fishing is to get them into good habits. Our recent fish care tips blog is a great resource here, along with loads of handy video tutorials on the Get Fishing website, but nothing beats hands-on practice! For our first few skimmer bream, this means using wet hands, careful handling and getting to grips with a disgorger. After a bit of practice, Tomek stops wincing at the wriggling fish and gets the hang of it.

It’s also fair to say that when it comes to angling our Polish friends have had a very mixed press over the last few years! There has often been some culture clash and so this is also a great chance to teach Tomek about the norms of British angling. After all, I would hate for him to get into trouble through ignorance, while good practice and the ethos of catch and release is something he will then pass on to friends and family.

“It’s nice to put back the fish,” he tells me, instantly seeing the satisfaction of releasing his catch. He’s surprised by the unhooking mat, but quickly sees the logic of this when the next fish, a small roach, slips from his fingers to find a safe, soft landing.

After our Pole’s success with the pole, it’s now time to go for something bigger. I’ve already been pinging out some dog biscuits. While I never want a new angler to run before they can walk, I can see he now has some confidence and can handle his catch safely. Surface fishing is so simple and exciting, too. It’s also cheap! All we have is an Avon rod, 6lb line, a barbless size 12 hook and a bag of mixers that cost all of two quid at Morrisons. We could free line the bait, but a basic controller float will be much easier for him to learn the art of casting with a fixed spool reel.

He’s quite natural at this.  In fact his first effort goes a good thirty yards! Like a big kid, he also loves using the catapult. “This is brilliant!” he says. “I’ve always wanted to do this.”

If striking a skimmer or roach takes a quick reaction, carp on mixers need careful observation and little more delay before a positive strike to pick up any slack line. There are some gasps and the odd curse word as we get some near misses. I can tell he’s excited!

The next slurping carp is met with a better-timed strike, though, and goes powering off. Luckily, I’ve set the drag a little on the loose side, because Tomek is pretty “positive” to put it mildly. Basically, much of my summer has been a repeat of the scene from Mortimer and Whitehouse: Gone Fishing in which Paul Whitehouse repeatedly tells Bob Mortimer” “Stop reeling! Don’t reel!”

The hoots of joy and laughter tell you all you need to know what Tomek thinks of the carp. “It’s so strong” he chuckles. “It must be a big one?” It’s going to need the net, that’s for sure! He’s blown away. At four pounds or so, it’s a typical Luccombes carp. It’s in cracking condition, too, which is another reason I like this fishery.

Of course, as a Pole, Tomek has rather different connections with carp to most Brits. He remembers family Christmas times when fish of this size would be kept in the bath for a few weeks to fatten up and lose their muddy flavour! But here in England, he knows these fish have to go back. He can instantly see the value of this too, remarking what a beautiful fish it is as we ponder how big it might grow in its life time, giving several anglers the same enjoyment.

I explain a little about the bad blood between Brits and Poles with these fish, but I think he’s slightly baffled that anyone would want to eat fish from a typical English farm pond! Nevertheless, it’s worth having this conversation- and I love how respectful he is to the fish on our first day of fishing. He clearly enjoys releasing it and is fascinated to hear how valuable these creatures are to British fisheries and how impressively long-lived and wily they can be.

Back of the net!

Just to prove the first was no fluke, Tomek adds another three carp on the day- and it’s such good fun I can’t resist having a go too.  Reverting to big kid mode, he counts every catch meticulously, remembering all the numbers and weights! It’s a brilliant result; it hasn’t been too easy but bites have been regular and carp to five or six pounds (well, two or three kilos to a Pole!) are enough to whet his appetite for next time.

In all honesty, as a coach or simply an angler taking a friend, I can only do my best to try and show someone else the joy of fishing. I can’t guarantee anyone will love it. On this occasion, though, I know it’s been a success because as we pack up Tomek asks me “so where can I buy my licence for one year?” 

He’s pleasantly surprised that it’s only thirty quid for a year for coarse fish and non-migratory trout, although this comes with a warning to use the official website and avoid online rip off merchants (our blog on which licence to buy is a good reference point here) who charge you more than you need to pay.

 He also quickly suggests that he will have a look on eBay for some fishing gear shortly. Naturally, I counter that an even better idea would be to visit the local tackle shop, where he can chat away and find out more about local fishing- and ask any questions he likes to avoid buying the wrong stuff.

Of course, these days it’s such a different world compared to the one I had as a beginner. There are so many brilliant resources out there- some of which we’ll share at the end of this blog post! Tomek’s English is pretty good, but Building Bridges, a project to inform and bring together anglers of different nationalities, also has some excellent resources, such as videos explaining how fishing and licences work in the UK.

The Get Fishing website is also brilliant, with lots of free videos and guides to help steer any angler through the basic skills of the sport. As covid recedes, there will be more and more free fishing events listed on the site, too.

However, more important than any particular rod, reel or bait but that instinctive excitement for fishing. Tomek is a natural angler, pure and simple! He’s spent much of the session wide-eyed, grinning from ear to ear and laughing out loud with excitement.

It’s wonderful to see this- and while I do have my coaching badges, I’d also like to stress that you needn’t be a qualified instructor to really make someone’s day and share the magic of fishing. Of course, you can do this for any person of any age, at any time. But if you’re quick, you can still apply for a free one day licence this year for a pal, right up until October 4th! Why not treat someone you know to a great day on the bank? That one day might be a gift that provides a lifetime of fresh air and fun.

Take a Friend Fishing today! Visit

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