John Bailey: Farewell to Robbie - a true angling legend
PUBLISHED: 11:15 04 September 2018 | UPDATED: 11:15 04 September 2018
I can’t let the sad passing of Michael ‘Robbie’ Robbins go unmentioned.
For as long as I can remember, Robbie has been a Titan, striding the Norfolk angling scene, just as he was a revered teacher at the one-time Paston School in his home town of North Walsham. Proud father, loving husband to dear Audrey, generous friend, iconic teacher, super angler mesmerising raconteur, Robbie was everything to everyone who knew him.
He was, too, a tireless worker for the benefit of the fisheries that he loved. In the 1980s he was relentless in his dreams for the Abbot’s Hall trout fishery on the Bure near Aylsham. I remember with pain and shame a call from him one Sunday morning when I had overslept and was missing a working party there. As he asked,I got my backside over there toute suite. Robbie taught French of course and I was as awed by him as his pupils were.
Above all, I loved Robbie for his passion for fish. I saw him relish Wye barbel, Norfolk trout, carp, pike and roach. If it swam, then for Robbie, it was fair game and that is what I think makes for a great fisherman. I grew up respecting Robbie when I was a lad along with his generation that included Norfolk names like Jim Knights, Bill Giles, Reg Sandys, Jack Fitt, Jim Hendry and Eric Kett. As I aged and the better I got to know them, the more that respect grew. I don’t think we are in the habit of leaving such legacies today.
God bless another evergreen, Lyng’s redoubtable Mick Munns who celebrated a 70-something birthday a few days back. We were both fishing the glorious Kingfisher Lake that he can near cast to from his kitchen window. He had decent bags of tench whilst I struggled. Bombed more like. Seven of us fished three days with three rods each. We used boilies, pellets, hemp, corn, maggots, worms, flavoured ground baits and eight 15-kilo bags of Vitalin as a base mix. In all we piled in nigh on 400lb of bait and tried upwards of 35 rigs, baits and hook set-ups. Between us we put in over 40 hours bankside. If you multiply that by the 21 rods we used that comes out at some 800 rod hours. I think the tally was around eight tench, five smallish bream and two eels. Robbie would have laughed his waders off, especially as Mick bettered our total with his usual half cup of maggots.
The lack of action gave me time to sit, think and watch the watery world around me. I know this is a constant lament of mine, but biodiversity has crashed at Kingfisher this century. Where are the coots, the swifts, the swallows, the oyster catchers, the terns, the water rails, the tits and warblers that used to make the reed beds sing with life? Pretty much all you hear are pigeons, crows and the year upon year growth in the growl of traffic on the A1067 a mile away. Thank goodness for the ancient crook-legged heron that has to be the same one that glared at me when I first visited in 2007. I bet he has a tale to tell.
The most glorious day of our protracted session was the last, Friday, August 31. A piercingly cold night gave way to a classic sunrise and by 8am temperatures that had felt like winter ones reminded you that it was still just summer. The tench began to bubble furiously as the water warmed, only not in any of the places where we had shovelled in groundbait on an almost industrial scale. The fish even rolled and frolicked to an extent that I came to think they were mocking us. Robbie would have relished that.
I reminded myself that Robbie was membership secretary of the Norfolk Flyfishers Club when they were based on the Kingfisher lake before their move to Swanton Morley. He interviewed me for the club when I first joined around 1982. Well, sort of. He looked me up and down, sniffed when I mentioned that I taught at the Norwich School and told me that I’d do. The whole job took less time than it does to land a tench-as if I would know.
I had arrived terrified of Robbie and his reputation. I had prepared a whole raft of answers to his possible questions. I needn’t have bothered. I realised at once, like thousands of others, that I was just in the company of a lovely, lovely man.