A sad start to year but everyone should have their own Mr Ragi

Life with Mr Ragi was anything but dull! John Bailey

Life with Mr Ragi was anything but dull! John Bailey - Credit: Archant

Mr Ragi, aka Ian Jackson, actually kick-started my guiding career, if you can call it such.

Twenty-one years ago he asked me to introduce him and a group of his friends to the River Wye and her barbel and that's how it all started. He stayed loyal ever since, even though that first trip was very much a case of the halt leading the blind. I hadn't really a clue what my role was as a guide and, in fact, I'd had very few Wye barbel at that stage in my life. Still, we muddled through, had fun and fish and I realized that seeing someone's rod bend is frequently much more pleasurable than watching your own.

So why Mr Ragi? I suppose it's one of those stupid nicknames that anglers the world over have acquired over the years. Ragi took his first trip to India with me some years back and in the hilarity of the moment, he actually ate some of the ragi paste bait meant for the fish rather than the fishermen. We put it down to the most wide-eyed excitement after the capture of his first, great, golden mahseer and I've seen people do more crazy things than that when they've made contact with the most back-breaking fish on the planet. Ragi just dwarfed our Indian guides and there was always a lot of fun manoeuvring him in and out of the relatively flimsy coracles. However, they, the whole camp in fact, loved that largeness of spirit and laughter and generosity. It's as well to remember that in actual fact, when you fish in company, you have an obligation, a duty to be a team player. Ragi never forgot this.

I'd fished with him before Christmas when he was lethargic and tired and distinctly below par but with no hint of what was to come. I've just heard the news that his funeral date is set, it all happened as quickly as that. I wouldn't want you to think that this is simply a lament, though, for a guy you've never met. Sad for you that is. I'd like to think there are really solid lessons here. First up, of course, is to value your friends. Don't snipe. Don't criticise. And don't be jealous of their catches if they surpass your own. It's odds on that any fish you catch together is a joint effort and you should all take a share of the glory. Don't have secrets. Remain loyal and, above all, cherish every moment you have fishing in their company. I've just learnt that life is too short to regret or waste a single second of it.

Above all, always remember to have fun with your fishing friends. We're not fishing to put food on the table anymore and so what on earth does a blank day matter?

Life is serious enough without bringing your worries into fishing. Again, if fishing with mates, you have that duty to sacrifice self and Ragi always understood that.

It would be wrong, though, to explain Mr Ragi away as just the most exceptional of fishing friends. He was also a top-flight fisherman himself. He was a big man and a big fish man. Carp, pike, mahseer, anything to put up a scrap, to make the knuckles whiten and the eyes start out – Ragi was not a man for dace. I've always said that if you want any fish landed, then Ragi was always your man for the job. I've seen him fall in to land a fish. I've seen him jump in to land a fish. And I've seen him being pulled in and still he's landed his fish. Ragi was more than up for a laugh around a campfire but if a fish were on, his focus was one hundred percent intensity.

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Playing a fish is all a state of mind and achieving a level of unshakeable confidence.

You've got to make sure every last knot is secure, that the hook is sharp and that the gear is well-chosen, well-maintained and fit for purpose. You can be as light-hearted as you like most of the time but when it comes to putting big fish on the bank, then Mr Ragi knew when it was time to get serious.

I guess I've always been lucky with my endless fishing friends and partners that I can trace back over half a century.

Alan was the first years back when we used to catch perch so small we could keep them alive for most of the day in a jam jar. I'm fortunate there's been a succession of great blokes since him and I hope I'll be fishing with many more in years to come. All I can add about Mr Ragi is that perhaps he was first amongst equals.

Much as Mr Ragi loved his fishing and, especially, he adored his mahseer, he never went as far as his fellow Indian traveller, Alan. Alan's will states that he wants his ashes taken out to India, mixed with ragi paste and used on the hook. I'm not sure if that isn't taking special baits just a cast too far!

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