“I remember your talk from when you were nine. My dad and my uncle are the last two remaining members of the Salford Friendly Anglers…”
As one of the oldest pastimes in existence, fishing can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. It can provide solitude, a sense of community, or is just a fun way to spend an afternoon.
Here, in Salford, lives the world’s oldest angling society, boasting thousands of members.
The Salford Friendly Angling Society was established in 1817.
Formed as a community of like-minded individuals long before any semblance of social security, for six pence a week, anyone was able to join the Anglers.
This payment provided sickness and health benefits to members, with the society paying out to widows, and those unable to work.
The Friendly Anglers now operate in a completely different manner, but with a lot of the same core beliefs.
Michael Duddy is the chairman of the Salford Angling Society, and also works as a Senior Project Manager for the Mersey Rivers Trust.
His involvement with the Anglers all started because of a speech he gave at school.
Mike remembers: “When I was in primary school, you had to give a talk on what you liked doing in your spare time, and I gave a talk about fishing. I’d forgotten about it for years, but one night I got a knock on the door, and the guy said are you Mike Duddy?”.
The knock was from Robert Longwood.
“I remember your talk from when you were nine. My dad and my uncle are the last two remaining members of the Salford Angling Society.” said Longwood.
Both his dad and uncle were ill, and with such a rich heritage, the last thing they wanted was for the club to disappear. “Rob asked would you be interested in seeing my dad in hospital, and at this point I said yes of course,” said Mike.
Following his visit, and after learning about the history of the Anglers within Salford, Mike decided to take over the society. The first meeting he held for the Friendly Anglers in 2007 had three people in attending. Membership now is over 5000.
What has changed since its creation in the early 1800s is the membership fee. The Salford Anglers are now completely free to join, with members able to contribute with donations, or by volunteering in a variety of projects organised within the society.
The beating heart of the Salford Anglers is the River Irwell. Various fishing spots sit alongside it, and it is a home for both fishing and wildlife.
Once considered one of the most polluted rivers in the UK, industry had left it in a state of disrepute.
Not only the love of fishing, but the group’s passion for the local community has helped in improvements in water quality in the Irwell Catchment.
“We want people to love (the Irwell), cherish it, take an interest in it. If we set up as a free Angling society, then we work as a group of thousands, rather than a hundred,” says Mike.
It is easy to think big picture, but each member of the Friendly Anglers has their own reasons for fishing, and their own stories.
Mike Cootes, aka Peanut, runs a blog called Fishing with Peanut. He uses it as a platform to connect with and inform other anglers about his trips. He has been fishing for over 46 years.
He also uses the blog as a platform to raise awareness for environmental issues within Salford. When asked about what’s special about the community at the Salford Friendly Anglers, Peanut said “It is a group who really care about the environment; a community who are really passionate about fishing and care about each other.”
Fishing has also provided special moments for Peanut. One such moment came in the form of a trip with his Dad, aka Salford Pete.
On a spot Salford Pete once believed he would never fish in his lifetime due to pollution, they went for a trip together in 2014. Recalling the moment, Peanut said “I couldn’t keep the smile off my face.
“I was living out a dream here, me and the old man in town on the River Irwell. It was definitely one off the bucket list!”. The cesspit that his dad remembered had turned into the stage of a treasured family moment.
Fishing with Peanut highlights some of the personal and environmental reasons people can take up fishing, but it can also be used as a force for social change.
The Salford Anglers has run a variety of activities, from trips out with the over 55s to work with the Salford Royal Hospital.
One story which highlights the good fishing can do involves a gentleman called Stephen.
Michael Duddy said: “We took Stephen out fishing. We were contacted by his occupational health professional, with Stephen not having left his house properly for two years.
“He was asked if there was anything he would like to do, and his response was to go fishing.
“You see a lot about mental health in the news at the minute. Fishing really is great for getting people out of the house, and socialising. There’s a lot of people who feel isolated, and fishing provides a great platform for them to rebuild their social lives.”
Stephen has issues with socialising and mobility, and also suffers with depression. A group from the Friendly Anglers have ended up going fishing with Stephen four times, with Stephens case worker noting it was the first time they had seen him smile in two years.
Fishing has played and continues to play a big part in many people’s lives. It can inspire a love for the environment, or tackle mental health issues. What is evident about fishing is the sense of community; The Salford Friendly Angling Society have been here for hundreds of years, and continue to be as important as ever.