John Bailey: 2022 could see us fishing far and wide again

The River Test

Beautiful - the Test - Credit: John Bailey

All my fishing life I have been torn over the question of fishing and travel: is it better to stay at home and really get to know your patch or do you benefit from visiting waters new to you and learning new approaches that can expand your repertoire of skills and make you a more multi-dimensional angler?

Even now, after decades sampling waters both home and away, I’m not convinced there is a hard and fast answer and perhaps, as in life, a compromise is called for.

Omicron notwithstanding, I feel there is new optimism in the air and 2022 just could be the year when we might think of packing our tackle bags and doing a bit of exploring. I’m playing this one safe and not suggesting that you also pack your passport right now, and I’ve got to say there are lots of fish waiting for you in the UK if you want to venture out of Norfolk.

Perhaps not if you are a carp, tench, pike or perch man. You’d be hard put to to find better carp syndicate waters in any other part of the country and most day ticket waters aren’t up to much if it is 30s you are after.

Move out of East Anglia and tench waters are in tragically short supply these carp-crazy days and there is little to beat what we have on offer at, say, Billingford lakes. Broadland predator fishing I’d still rate the best in the country, despite its issues and challenges. I have a suspicion that some of the big tidal rivers like the Thames might push our own Yare, Thurne or Waveney close, but, blimey, do you really fancy your chances of a crocodile outside the Houses of Parliament?

Game fishing is a little different, however. Yes, there are some very decent still waters - well done the Norfolk Flyfishers - but our rivers are hit and miss and face desperate problems going forward. There are one or two highly-prized syndicates that are excruciatingly difficult to get into, so if we want top class, running fly water, most of us have to travel. I can only write about what I know so my list is subjective.

James Buckley at Wherwell

James Buckley at Wherwell - Credit: John Bailey

Once that’s established, I like the chalk streams, and who wouldn’t? You can have enough of their manicured beauty but for a day or two the Test, Itchen and their like offer a breath-taking experience. Fishing Breaks offer a great introduction and ex-UEA man Simon Cooper really knows what he is talking about. My favourite stretch of the Test is arguably the Wherwell Estate and if you search online, book a short time with under keeper James Buckley, who is a lovely man, great mate and will look after you well.

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Of course, the chalk streams are not cheap. You can find cracking, wild river trouting further north. It is tougher and the fish are harder than down south, but if it is beauty you want, along with value for money, Yorkshire, Derbyshire and the Lakes are all unbeatable, in my experience. Talk to Anne Woodcock at FishPal if you want inspiration. Contact Olly Shepherd at Flyfishing Yorkshire if you want to be inspired. Have a day with Eric Hope, contact through Hemings Fishing, and he’ll show you the wild side of the Lakes. And if you fancy a stillwater trout paradise, look up Watendlath Tarn for rainbows in the clouds!

Even though Paul and Bob both caught English salmon in the Gone Fishing Christmas Special, it’s a tall order this one. A few years ago I’d have suggested the Exe and its tributaries, but today you surely can’t better the Tyne. I’m not going to get all controversial about this and suggest the hatchery has something to do with the Tyne’s supremacy so I’ll simply advise you to get up there. I love the Tyne. I like its relative cheapness! I like the way it has become everyone’s river and the fact you don’t need a title to fish it. Look up the Warden Fishery and talk to Andrew Jackson or contact him through Anne Woodcock again. He’ll see you right.

We’ve still got river coarse fishing to look at. Forty years ago, why would you have gone anywhere but East Anglia for river roach - but those days are well gone. Mind you, 2lb river roach remain top of the want list nationwide and I’ll only mutter about the Hampshire Avon and the Dorset Stour. You can get day tickets on both with minimal research, but they are hard. If you catch that 'two' anywhere in 2022, then you will have earned it.

John Bailey on the Wye with a barbel

John Bailey on the Wye with a barbel - Credit: John Bailey

Barbel are a different matter. Being controversial once again, it is a disgrace that an East Anglian angler is forced to travel to find these amazing fish, but that is tragically the case. The Thames is the home of leviathans, but it is a toughie and no mistake. The Trent is prolific, but super busy, and I have no hesitation in recommending the mighty, juicy, glorious river Wye. This sumptuous river offers smaller fish than the Trent, but you can trot and sight fish for them in stunning surroundings. Try talking to Adam Fisher at Angling Dreams or even contact me at office@thomasturner.com. I started guiding there exactly 30 years ago and this year I’m doing a little bit again down there because it is simply so hard to ignore.

Adam Fisher and friends Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer

Adam Fisher and friends Paul and Bob - Credit: John Bailey

It would be nice to wet a line together, but wherever you do cast this new year, be it far or wide, enjoy every second of your precious riverbank life. 

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