John Bailey: A delightful family affair

From left, dad Rob, James Buckley with a big river roach and friend Simon. From left, dad Rob, James Buckley with a big river roach and friend Simon.

by John Bailey
Friday, November 2, 2012
5:44 PM

During the filming of Fishing in the Footsteps of Mr Crabtree my apprentice ‘Peters’ were chosen from a huge national competition amongst 8-14-year olds.

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The Crabtree kid who just kept missing out by an absolute whisker was James Buckley. He kept bubbling up near the top of just about everyone’s list but, in the end, didn’t make more than first reserve. He was kept on the bench throughout, which was a mini-tragedy, so it was with great pleasure that I took him and his father out recently for a day on the river.

I love to see father and son teams on the riverbank. There is something just so natural about that relationship and so family-affirming. James, with father Rob, both enjoyed the day equally, sharing it just like two friends. Fishing together like this, builds up their mutual bank of memories and shared triumphs and disasters. It’s a great regret of mine that I never once fished with my own father. He showed no interest and, anyway, was virtually always busy, away working. But this left a hole in my life, I cannot deny and I’m so glad for James that Rob is piscatorially there for him.

Our day was absolutely enhanced by the presence of old friend Simon Ratcliffe.

Simon is pushing my age but he’s still got that boyish enthusiasm that I look for in everyone I fish with! I like to think the four of us were all pretty well stuck at 11 years of age, all bubbling for a bit of adventure and excitement. A bit too much adventure and excitement on Simon’s part. When he gave James a piggyback to a little Wensum island and sank in over the top of his thigh boots we all sobbed with unadulterated, childlike glee!

Still, the whole thing was very much about the ‘brotherhood of the angle’, showing again that fishing transcends the generations.

This has to be good. If we can bring fishing back into children’s lives then surely it has to strengthen family and by doing that society is inevitably strengthened as well.

And the strength of society translates to the strength of other important elements, too, not least respect, care and understanding of the environment.

Those of us of a certain age will look back to days like the one James enjoyed with affection. I remember the late ‘50s and ’60s when endless adult anglers took me under their wing. Then, it was natural for a man to see a kid struggling and to step in and help out.

I suppose, then, we lived in the Dixon of Dock Green society when there was nowhere near the same level of suspicion and mistrust. A good deed was taken at face value without any sinister insinuations or undertones. As I’ve said, my father didn’t take me fishing but scores of other adults did and they added hugely to my life in general, not just my life on the riverbank.

So if that’s all good, so is this. James, Rob, Simon and even I all caught fish. This wouldn’t have happened on our rivers that long ago but happily, today, there is far more understanding about how they work and how they must be treated.

Coincidentally, just before James’ arrival, I was down on the river when at least a hundred undergraduates from the UEA Environmental Studies Department came down to conduct a multitude of different samples and investigations.

It really was thrilling to see such a large number of youngsters, girls in the slight majority, getting in and getting dirty and pledging their futures to the study and care of our environment. In my uni days, environmental studies barely existed and whilst we oldies might grumble about falling standards, perhaps it’s time we took our heads out of the maggot box.

Thanks to Paul, too, for having this tidal wave of students on his river...I can only think of a handful of people who love and know the Wensum in the league of Mr Seaman!

On my day with James, we caught plenty of river roach, trotting with sweetcorn, learning how to use a centrepin. A couple of them were big, too.

A cracking perch came along with endless back-up dace and chublets. It truly was like fishing the river back in the late 1960s before all the damage was unwittingly done. Who knows, if we work hard individually and as a society, what other environmental treasures we might reclaim.

Me? Till about five years ago, it’s probably fair to say six months of my year was spent travelling around the UK or, more commonly, fishing abroad.

Of course, those two decades of my fishing life, I will always look back on as a huge privilege but, today, I’m totally happy to be pretty well completely focused on Norfolk. I’ll have an Indian trip and perhaps a couple of jaunts to Spain but that’s it. Now, it’s Norfolk rivers and stillwaters and their successes and their challenges that have me enthralled.

Obviously, we’ve all got to think about our green footprint. Obviously, too, we all endure quite different financial circumstances today. These things apart, though, the real excitement for me now lies in watching the waters I used to know as a tiny child reclaim their former majesty nearly half a century on.

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