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John Bailey: The fisherman naturalist tag isn’t just all media flannel

PUBLISHED: 10:48 16 January 2018

Speaking as a ‘fisherman naturalist’ wouldn'’t it be wonderful to have grayling back in East Anglia? Picture: John Bailey

Speaking as a ‘fisherman naturalist’ wouldn'’t it be wonderful to have grayling back in East Anglia? Picture: John Bailey

Archant

Quite a few regular readers have commented that they saw me on Anglia TV News just after the New Year, commentating on the problem or not of otters on our fisheries.

I was rather flattered that they flagged me up as John Bailey – Fisherman Naturalist. This was a compliment that I took on board. What they didn’t take on board was that I said there are at least 15 factors far more worrying for fishermen than the reappearance of otters. But, then, the sound bite is more important.

In the UK, and in this region, too, there are trout anglers, match men and carp fanatics who all fish on commercial waters that are artificially stocked. However, I’d say that the majority of anglers want natural fish and natural fisheries. The list includes sea anglers, river match anglers, tench and bream anglers and, of course, pike anglers on virtually all our waters everywhere. For all these fishermen, the environment and the aquatic habitat are absolutely paramount. If you’re fishing the River Thurne for pike, you just can’t ring up a fishery and order a few 30-pounders to be delivered for the weekend.

Whilst I am absolutely in favour of the existence of commercial fisheries, I’m firmly in the camp of the natural fisheries. I like to think that being called a ‘fisherman naturalist’ isn’t pure media flannel. For example, after the recent horrendous river floods, my investigations seem to prove that many shoals of roach have been washed down from the upper reaches of both the Wensum and Bure and are now to be found miles from where they lived at the back end of last year. That’s real knowledge if you want to catch some river roach.

Recently, too, I’ve had in-depth conversations with fishery owners who all seem to think that the proliferation of pig farms along our river valleys is something to be wary of. Once again, in flood time, it is interesting to speculate where pig farm run-off actually ends up. I think, too, we’ve got to consider the number of swans on our upper rivers this coming spring and summer. There seems to be little doubt that the absence of weed in many areas is due to the fact that it is simply eaten. If at all possible, perhaps somehow fencing off areas of river might encourage weed growth, the population of invertebrates and concentrations of fish.

Being a ‘fisherman naturalist’ can also put fish on the bank. Talking to friend Steve Barnes, boss of a big fishery company, I was only confirmed in my belief that the number of cormorants is having a huge effect on the size and quantity of silver fish in our stillwaters. Steve nets stillwaters almost continuously and he confirmed what I have come to believe. That is, that roach in many stillwaters are becoming smaller and smaller year upon year as bigger fish are being thinned out.

I’ve recently turned this information to my advantage when guiding. I have looked at using tiny roach, no more than three inches long, as bait, with considerable success. In waters where these very small roach predominate, using dead ones on single hooks has produced fish of 31lb, 25lb and 23lb in just three sessions. Of course, you have got to really up your game and make sure that there is not a single weakness in tackle that is smaller and lighter than the norm. Big pike aren’t breathtaking fighters, but their very weight can bend hooks and break line. You don’t want that to happen.

As 2018 begins to truly emerge, we have to accept that natural fish and natural fisheries are under huge pressure. It’s increasingly important that anglers of all persuasions unite and speak with a single, strong voice. It’s no good saying that you are a carp angler and you don’t care about rivers, therefore. Or you fish the Broads and so you are oblivious to the problems of the sea angler. Or, because you are a trout man, you couldn’t give a hoot about dace or chub. We are all anglers under the skin and it doesn’t matter whether we use a pole or a pike rod, we have more similarities than we have differences. If we solely defend our own personal piscatorial patch, we weaken our sport on a much wider front.

I spent Saturday pike fishing. I saw five different kingfishers and four different barn owls, extraordinary when you think that the RSPB considers there are only about 8,000 birds of each species in the UK at the moment. What luck to live and fish in such a naturally rich and diverse region? It will only remain so if we unite to fight to defend it.

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