John Bailey: Where do we stand on the issue of PBs?

PUBLISHED: 15:17 09 July 2018

JB prepares to weigh Anthony Butterworth’s PB tench Picture: John Bailey

JB prepares to weigh Anthony Butterworth’s PB tench Picture: John Bailey


In the heat of the summer, I worry about my fish, most especially a brown trout I saw struggle on its return to the water.

Bob Mortimer, star of Mortimer and Whitehouse – Gone Fishing, is aglow with the glory of his PB pike Picture: John BaileyBob Mortimer, star of Mortimer and Whitehouse – Gone Fishing, is aglow with the glory of his PB pike Picture: John Bailey

It was a beautiful fish and it had fought to its very last reserves. I’m pretty sure that it recovered and made it back to its lie in good order but this is the last time I pursue a big trout in the full of the day’s sunshine and heat.

As I guide, I see my anglers excited about fish that could be their Personal Bests and so I can’t just slip the hook and return fish of this magnitude. We have to weigh them and I understand that. But, I guess, we should all make the process as quick as we possibly can. The big issue, I truly believe, is to keep fish wet, especially in the heat of the sun. Make sure there is a bucket full of water so you can douse them regularly. I personally like to weigh fish in a plastic bag just with a skim of water in the bottom. You can make allowances for this when you set the scales. My aim always is to keep the unhooking, weighing, photography and return to under a minute.

I still occasionally wonder why we bother with this process. I guess knowing the weight of a big fish is partly down to simple human aspiration. Perhaps a list of personal bests also is a yardstick to how well we are doing as anglers and how we are progressing in our careers.

Compiling impressive Personal Best lists is dependent on more than our skill alone and perhaps one of the most important elements to the whole business is a question of postcodes. That’s where we are so fortunate here in East Anglia. A normal fish for us would be an absolute whopper on Merseyside or in Rotherham! A record fish for Barnsley we probably wouldn’t bother to weigh here in Norwich. We do well, though, to remember that any water’s performance is hugely variable. If we take 2018, we have big specimens of some species we would not have dreamt of 30 years ago and yet other species are in very evident decline and much harder this century than last. Let’s look, though, at some of the big asks in East Anglian fishing today.

I guess most of us would say that a 2lb river roach is just about the top of the wanted list for most general anglers. Last century, certainly in the ‘60s and ‘70s, they were just about everywhere. And now? You tell me!

Back in the ‘70s, a 5lb chub was a target but now, I guess, we’ve got to set the bar at 7lb. During that period, 1lb dace were coming out like peas in a pod, but just the other day I netted a 12-ouncer and it made me gasp.

A fish I’ve never pulled off is a 4lb East Anglian perch and there aren’t many anglers that I know who have. It’s interesting you can catch a hatful of twos and threes but that four-pounder is a magical barrier to break.

I was nearly 30 before I caught my 6lb tench and I still remember the euphoria that surrounded it. Today, most of us wouldn’t even get the scales out. Most of the tench fishers I know are after 10s, an unbelievable weight now. It’s the same with bream. Back in the day, my PB was just over 7lb. This autumn, I’m looking to bump that up to 19lb! Would you believe it?

We all have to admit that right now any East Anglian barbel is a mighty challenge indeed. Just 20 years ago, a 12lb or a 13lb fish was about the standard. I’d settle for 2lb or 3lb today. In the rivers, it’s absolutely magnificent that wild brown trout are coming back on several of our rivers. I’ve always longed for an 8lb-plus, naturally-born brownie and I might just have an opportunity in the next year or so.

Let’s talk about the biggies! I suppose for the carp angler, or at least the ones I know, the capture of an unknown 40 is getting close to the dream. As for pike, Fred Buller got it right many years ago in his classic title, The Domesday Book of Pike. Fred, in his wisdom, set the entry level at 35lb and that weight remains valid to this very day. You can read reports of fish of 30lb to 32lb but those extra 48oz take some locating.

The central issue in searching for big fish is to make the most of any window of opportunity. Big fish come, but more importantly, they can go with alarming speed. Many waters have produced extraordinary fish, but for a limited period only. The key is to explore, to keep your ear to the ground and listen for the merest rumours of big fish being caught. Best of all, be first. Try to locate your own big fish, and then, I suppose, keep quiet about their location.

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