Helping stroke survivors through fishing

An angling project is casting a new lifeline to people disabled by strokes, reports Natalie Valios

An angling project is casting a new lifeline to people disabled by strokes, reports Natalie Valios


Project name: Fishing days, run by the Stroke Association’s Tameside and Glossop service.

Aims and objectives: To offer stroke survivors the chance to rekindle old skills or learn new ones, have fun, promote independence and confidence in a supported environment.

Number of staff: Three staff and four volunteers in Tameside. In Crewe there is one member of staff and six volunteers.

Number of service users: About 20 people have attended over three years but there is a waiting list.

Annual funding level and source: None specifically – the Fishing days are an offshoot of a commissioned service. Costs are transport and staff time.

Outcomes: Improved confidence, socialisation.


John Brooks laughs as he recalls the last fishing day he attended run by the Stroke Association’s Tameside and Glossop information, advice and support service: “I didn’t catch anything apart from a cold.”

Six years ago, Brooks – fit, healthy and approaching retirement – had six mini-strokes. Then a major one left him unable to use his left arm.

Fishing might not be an obvious past-time for stroke survivors, many of whom are left with a disability. But 54,000 disabled people in the UK do hold a fishing licence and the Tameside service cites a range of benefits for stroke survivors from fishing, including muscle strengthening and improved co-ordination; exercise; the rekindling of old skills or learning new ones; rebuilding confidence; a chance to socialise; and an opportunity to relax.

“It is therapy through the back door because it involves movement and co-ordination and solving problems but without the service users being aware that’s what they are doing,” says Joyce Booth, co-ordinator for the information, advice and support service.

Brooks’s wife, Jean, agrees: “The fishing has helped a great deal; he has been on three fishing days and it has kept him active and he has enjoyed meeting people.”

Three years ago, Tameside Council funded the service to set up a specific support group for under-65s. “There is a preconception that strokes happen to older people,” says Booth, “but it is becoming more prevalent at a younger age. One man who attended had been an avid fisherman. He was now in a wheelchair and believed he would never fish again and we thought ‘yes you will’.

“A few years ago we had done a supported fishing day in Liverpool with the British Disabled Angling Association (BDDA) and I invited them to talk to our group.”

The more traditional line and reel rod is impractical for many stroke survivors and the BDAA demonstrated alternative equipment such as fishing whips that can be flicked with one hand. The fishing days themselves have not been easy to organise: many stroke survivors are physically disabled or use wheelchairs, and health and safety criteria must be met. A suitable fishery must not have slopes or bumpy surfaces and there needs to be enough room on the fishing pegs (the platforms from which they fish) for a volunteer to provide one-to-one support to someone in a wheelchair when necessary.

The nearest fishery that met all the above criteria was about 30 miles away, although a local fishery, the Celmac Angling Club in Denton, is nearly ready after adaptations paid out of a council grant of £1,500.

“The client who thought he would never fish again belonged to this club so it will come full circle for him,” says Booth.

Volunteers were recruited through the local volunteer bureau and the BDAA was brought in to train them and Stroke Association staff as fishing buddies. This involved, among other things, learning how to look after the fish as they are returned to the water and removing the hook without causing distress. “I didn’t know one end of a maggot from another before then. Believe me, there’s a wrong and a right end,” says Booth.

All volunteers undergo a Criminal Records Bureau check and attend an ­induction day where they learn about stroke and are trained on working with someone with a communication difficulty. The first fishing day was in June 2009 which 13 stroke survivors attended. Since then there have been about four a year with between five and seven attendees at a time. The aim is to go weekly when they start using the Denton fishery.

Becoming a fishing buddy was an ideal volunteering role for Rob Robinson: “I’ve been a fisherman since I could walk and fishing is my comfort zone. I met Joyce and was impressed by her attitude and enthusiasm.”

He started as a fishing buddy in 2010 and is now one of two level 2 angling coaches training others to be fishing buddies. “It’s great to see the satisfaction they get from achieving something like putting a maggot on a hook or casting the line. I don’t know anybody who has gone once and hasn’t wanted to go again.”

The Stroke Association’s Crewe communications support service has also been using fishing days for about a year and Booth would like the initiative to spread across the Stroke Association’s North West region and then more generally. As it is they haven’t needed to promote the fishing days, says Booth: “Those who have come have enjoyed it and spread the word so we have a list of people who want to do it all the time, which is why we need to do it more often and more locally.”

 Stroke survivor Helen Travis: “Fishing is better than therapy because it’s so relaxing and calming


‘I loved it – I’ve even got used to the maggots’

Helen Travis had no warning signs before she had a stroke two years ago at the age of 53. “I went to drink a cup of tea one morning and it was as if my throat had closed up. I couldn’t talk and my husband and daughter wanted me to go to hospital straightaway but I waited until the next day before seeing my GP. He said I’d had a stroke and sent me to hospital immediately.”

Travis couldn’t use the left side of her body. After a lot of physiotherapy she recovered well physically, but mentally the stroke left her with memory and confidence issues. She says: “I wouldn’t go out because I didn’t want strangers to stare at me, or people I knew to see me because I thought they would say, ‘poor you’. Before that I had been a social, outgoing person.”

After about six weeks, her speech returned and, although the hospital had given her an information pack on the Stroke Association, she put off ringing them for six months.

“When I did call I spoke to Joyce [Booth] and it was a massive turning point,” Travis says. “I started with an art class and then Joyce told me about the fishing days. I thought I would give it a try; being with others who have had a stroke is like a security blanket.

“It was fantastic and I would recommend it to anyone. It’s better than therapy because it’s so relaxing and calming; you are concentrating on the water and the float bobbing up and down and it’s thrilling every time you catch a fish.

“I loved it – I’ve even got used to the maggots! I can’t put them on because of my weak hand so the fishing buddy does it for me. I was quite open-minded when I went and just thought, it’s a day out, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Mostly men go because women often think fishing isn’t for them, but I say don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.”


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This article is published in the 18 August 2011 edition of Community Care under the headline “Stroke survivors and fishy tales”

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