John Bailey: Teaching the art of angling

The Norwich Fishing School led by John Bailey (top right) back in the early 1980s. The Norwich Fishing School led by John Bailey (top right) back in the early 1980s.

by John Bailey
Thursday, February 14, 2013
10:56 AM

My barn, aka the tackle shed, is, in truth, a pig sty.

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Even in the summer, I don’t keep it nearly as tidy as I should, but come the winter, when it’s like a fridge in there, I simply go in, grab what I think I’m going to need and get the heck out as fast as I can.

However, a recent raid of rodents has forced me to pay more attention. I’ve tidied the place up a bit and taken a bit more care with objects I don’t want ruined.

One of these was a case of old photographs and within, was this extraordinary reminder of my school teaching days.

I guess the picture was taken in or around 1982, in The Close, just by the Cathedral itself. These proud lads made up my Norwich School Fishing Club. A very young JB you might spot on the extreme top right.

My colleague and right-rodhand man, Chris Reelscreamer Rowe, you will spot on the extreme left.

All the boys I can recognize even if, after 30 years, I can’t put a name on each and everyone.

I do remember the Bensteads on the back row and Andrew (front row extreme left), Mark and Dominic (front row extreme right).

They were great times and I guess I was lucky that in those days there were not the yards of red tape that surrounds teaching these days.

In the summer, I could take the lads down to the River Severn, camp with them by the banks and pretty much forget all about them.

They’d fish all night whilst I might be having the odd beer. It makes me tremble to think about it now but at the time everybody was laid back and I can honestly say I didn’t lose a single lad.

Today, with all the risk assessments, I doubt whether I’d have got them fishing further away than Cow Tower.

Considering a lot of them were about to go off to university, I guess my relaxed attitude prepared them for independence rather than cossetting the initiative out of them.

Dominic I still keep in touch with. Dom didn’t go to university but I remember finding him a job on the oil rigs and he forged a career in the industry and is now based in Copenhagen.

I see him from time to time when he pops over and I’m hoping this spring and summer we’ll get to go fishing again. Dom and his great mate Andy had some notable fish.

I remember one particular Wensum bream Dom took with a black spot on the root of its tail.

I’d landed this fish myself back in the ‘60s before Dom caught it some 12 years later. I was actually to see it again in my net in the later ‘90s and, for a last time, in around about 2003. That’s another character I’d like to know how is faring.

Reelscreamer Rowe had always dabbled with coarse fishing but was new to fly fishing.

In one of our endless summer holidays, I took him to what was then a very exclusive trout water south of Norwich.

It was owned by somebody rather posh...let’s call him The Major. The Major, his wife and I were talking on the far side of the lake when I noticed Reelscreamer had got into a fish and looked horrifyingly out of his depth.

The rainbow trout ran to every part of the compass and Reelscreamer got evermore into a muddle. Soon, he was on his knees in the water and it wasn’t long before his fly line had wrapped him up like a Christmas parcel.

In stony silence, the three of us watched as the trout continued to leap just in front of Reelscreamer’s nose until, in despair, he flopped on the fish much like a grizzly does on a spawning salmon. He clutched it to his bosom, flung his fist in the air and let out a roar of triumph.

“Your friend seems very enthusiastic,” said the Major’s wife after the most pregnant of ten second pauses. I believe I crawled under a stone.

I’d love to know if any of the lads are still fishing today. Looking back, I guess I spoiled them.

By the time Andrew was 18 and had left school he had a specimen fish list longer than my float rod. He’d caught two pound roach, two pound rudd, 20 pound carp, big bream, three pound perch...you serious pike. As far as fishing went he’d been there and he’d done that.

But what were my options? How could I tell bright lads like these that we’d start off with gudgeon, move onto dace and, by their third year in the club perhaps graduate to roach?

These were boys who read all the magazines, knew what they wanted and wanted them fast.

My hope is that perhaps in early middle age, with jobs secure and children under control, they might be thinking about dusting out their gear once again.

Before Norwich I taught at Sprowston High and ran a similar club there.

One of its stars was the excellent Nick Beardmore who, as regular readers of the Eastern Daily Press know, has grown into an East Anglian angler of renown.

He’s also risen through the ranks at the Environment Agency and when I do bump into him, it’s often on the riverbank where he’s involved in electro-fishing surveys or checking licences.

It’s nice to think that I might have had a tad of influence there. There’s a kid who loved his fishing, got a load of encouragement and went on to make fish and fisheries his livelihood.

I guess Nick might not be driving around in a Bentley but I hope he’s a very happy man and, speaking as a teacher again, I think that is a lad who has done well in life.

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