It is Britain’s most popular participation sport and crosses the class divide.
The four million people who enjoy a quiet afternoon on the river bank are, according to the Government, too white, too male and too middle-aged.
The Environment Agency, which protects waterways, has decided to spread the message about coarse and fly fishing to ethnic minorities and women.
The agency’s 10-year campaign will use money from the £19 million raised each year by the sale of fishing licences, and a leaflet has already been produced covering “10 things you should know about angling”.
These include: “Angling does not discriminate against gender, race, age or athletic ability”, and the “Government is interested in angling in the context of social inclusion in deprived urban areas”.
Pilot schemes, such as one in Swansea, where Muslim women and children have been taught to fish by experts from the Salmon and Trout Association, are set to be extended nationwide.
Richard Wightman, the angling development manager for the Environment Agency, said: “We have a corporate commitment to diversity. There is a huge number of social benefits.”
But the proposals, to be set out in a strategy paper, Angling 2015, were condemned as a waste of money. Robin Page, the countryside campaigner, said the money would be better spent on increasing biodiversity in rivers, by, for example, safeguarding otters, kingfishers and native crayfish.
“This is an insult to serious conservation. It is utter nonsense—politically correct Britain gone mad,” he said.
James Frayn, the campaign director for the Taxpayers’ Alliance, called the plans bizarre and asked: “What is the Government doing, trying to socially engineer who goes fishing? They should be looking to save money, not spend it on projects like this.”
Research by the Environment Agency found that only seven per cent of anglers were under 18, five per cent were female and “very few” came from ethnic minorities.
It concluded: “We want to see angling available to all sectors of society, irrespective of gender, race, age and ability/disability.”
The campaign has won the backing of Martin Salter, Labour’s parliamentary spokesman on angling.
Mr Salter, who fishes in his Reading West constituency, said: “There are very few women anglers. And, in a multicultural town like Reading, I have always been surprised at how rare it was to see a black face on the river bank. I applaud the Environment Agency initiative.”
In the Swansea pilot scheme, Muslim women and children are taken by coach to a lake and learn to fish for trout. The project is run by Nica Prichard, 68, the international president of the Ladies Flyfishing Association.
She said: “A couple of hours out in the countryside and you come back a new woman. If you could just see their faces when we’re teaching them, you’d know we’re really on to something.”
The Salmon and Trout Association has recruited Terry Atkinson, a former Army major, to broaden the sport’s appeal in a scheme funded by Sport England.
He said: “People always think of fishing as a bloke thing but it isn’t. The numbers of ladies fishing is going up all the time.”
Mr Salter, who learnt to fish as a boy on outings organised by working men’s clubs, said: “Coarse fishing was traditionally a white, working-class sport. It had a cloth cap image—the men went fishing on a Sunday while the women stayed at home.
“Game fishing for salmon and trout was the preserve of the upper classes and the landed gentry.
“Things have changed a bit, and it’s common now for the working class to go trout fishing or the middle class to go coarse fishing.”