John Bailey: Why it is so important to treasure your angling buddy

PUBLISHED: 11:43 26 June 2018 | UPDATED: 11:43 26 June 2018

Matt and Heidi Gallant are the best father and daughter team Picture: John Bailey

Matt and Heidi Gallant are the best father and daughter team Picture: John Bailey


A few days ago, I received the shattering news that Ian Snowdon has died.

John Bailey, Heidi and her PB tench Picture: John BaileyJohn Bailey, Heidi and her PB tench Picture: John Bailey

You won’t have heard of him, but he was a lovely man, a great angler and the inseparable companion of his brother, Neil, who is obviously devastated.

They were a complete delight to fish with, both of them fun, warm, generous and inspiring. I haven’t been out with them for many years but I look back on our expeditions together with nothing but happiness. Neil, bless him, will continue fishing, but I suspect every cast for the rest of his life will be a forlorn one. My heart goes out to him.

Many of us do fish better with an angling buddy. Historically, Norfolk has had some great teams, Bill Giles and Reg Sandys springing to mind. Some angling partnerships are built on family relationships. I’m thinking of the Vincents here, a father and son who took Broadland pike by storm. I’m certainly a fishing buddy man. In the 60s there was Pete. In the 70s, the three Johns and Roger during the 80s and the 90s. I’m very happy to say that this century, I’ve got a whole host of fishing mates, including, of course, young Robbie Northman from North Walsham who has undoubtedly pushed the limits of my own angling further this last year or two.

There are golden rules to conducting a fishing friendship. Of course, there absolutely has to be trust. You owe your fishing partner the same sort of loyalty as you would a spouse. Indeed, the whole thing is something like a marriage. You share knowledge, expenses often, and you always go the extra mile for the person that you fish with. What is yours has to be theirs equally.

 TV and fishing pals Whitehouse and Mortimer enjoy a session Picture: John Bailey
TV and fishing pals Whitehouse and Mortimer enjoy a session Picture: John Bailey

Above all things, though, any triumph, whoever it belongs to, has to be celebrated wholeheartedly, with nothing held back. This is one of the most important lessons, I believe, in fishing. There should be a brotherhood of the angle for sure. Too many times in my long fishing life, I have seen the capture of a splendid fish marred by jealously. It’s pointless this particular emotion. If you keep fishing, whatever, your day will eventually come providing you are doing at least some things right. Truly, what goes around comes around in this fishing life of ours. If you celebrate the catches of your fishing partners, then they will reciprocate when you own rod bends and your own reel screams. Believe me, a triumph shared is a triumph doubled.

For 20 years in my angling career, I travelled abroad almost exclusively for my sport. I coined a phrase during those decades that I called ‘being there’. My point was, and is, that if you are present when a big fish is landed, then you are as blessed as the captor and you, too, can relish the ricochets of reflected glory. I really mean this. You cannot be king or queen of the river each and every time you go out. If you’re worried that someone else is going to steal the limelight, each session becomes a misery. If you accept that any great fish is a mutually shared success story, then you lift a massive burden from your shoulders.

I guess most anglers over the age of 60 will nod their greying heads wisely over these words. That’s why they are primarily directed at younger anglers in their 20s, 30s or 40s perhaps. Believe an old sage like me, please.

Some of you will have watched Mortimer and Whitehouse – Gone Fishing. I don’t know what you will have made of it, though many of the reviews have been excellent. Notably, they have commented on the whole theme of a deep and profound friendship and how this shines through. I’ll tell you this. Paul and Bob have been friends for decades, but it was filming this series that has taken their friendship to new heights. Angling has made them as inseparable as brothers.

Great mate Robbie Northman and my partner Enoka celebrate a tench Picture: John BaileyGreat mate Robbie Northman and my partner Enoka celebrate a tench Picture: John Bailey

So, this week, I’m ending where I started, with brothers. I know Neil is going to one of Ian’s favourite river swims very shortly to scatter the ashes there. I hope the sun shines. I hope the fish bite. I know whatever fish Neil might catch in the future, Ian will be watching and applauding from somewhere, probably from above that quiet smile spread right across his beaming face.

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