John Bailey: It’s a dual love affair... I am proud to be a fishing Canary
- Credit: Archant
I've admitted before that if I haven't been fishing during my waking hours, then I've probably been playing football. Or both together.
I once nearly missed a kick-off at Great Massingham because I'd got too involved in the carp ponds on the village green there. It's this dual love that explains why I hate to hear fishing being described as a hobby or a pastime. It's not. It's a sport. It's also this dual love, which explains why I think the skills required on both sports are so similar and also, perhaps, why so many professional footballers are also anglers in their spare time. The recent heart-stopping cup tie between Norwich and Chelsea highlighted exactly my case.
Not having Sky or BT Sport, how great it was to watch the game on the Beeb so that all the yellow and green half of East Anglia could be proud and come together as a sporting community. I suppose the first link between fishing and football that I witnessed was the importance of having a plan, something Daniel Farke claimed he took with him to Stamford Bridge. I know this: if you don't have a plan how to tackle your session, or your match, come to that, you could get a real thrashing. As an angler, I never cast out until I have my approach firmly established. It's true that if I'm blanking, the equivalent of being 2-0 down, that plan can change, but I will always give the original my best shot before shelving it.
The very best anglers I have fished with over the decades have all been experienced, but that has not quelled their sense of adventure. Timm Klose played with mature calm all game at the back, but he still had the spirit to surge up field and put in the cross for that late, dramatic equaliser. The really wily older angler knows how to fish tight throughout a session, but he will still take an opportunity out of nothing. He might see a fish roll, or it might be nothing more than a sprinkling of bubbles that attracts his attention. Whichever, the landing net, or the goal netting, bulges.
I fish with endless young anglers who haven't lived long enough to develop experience like this, but they are good because they are fearless, they write their own script. During the game, I'm thinking of Jamal Lewis, of course, but on the bankside, I sometimes watch a young, rising angling star like Robbie Northman and wonder what he is doing something for, but the technique generally works out for him. Why was Lewis in the Chelsea penalty area in the last minutes of the game, we exclaimed. But we were all glad he was there.
Energy, too, is necessary in both sports. Think Harrison Reed on that dramatic night down in west London. He never stopped. It's customary to think of angling as a sedentary type of sport. But it's not. This is the time of the year that my pals and I roam our rivers for our wonderful chub. I often take a pedometer with me and it's common to cover 10 kilometres of bankside during the day. I know we are not running but, of course, we're wearing heavy clobber, big boots, pushing through undergrowth and often boggy wasteland. I guess we're as tired even as Reed was by the end of the day.
Concentration is a vital part of angling and any session that you daydream through will be unproductive. You also need to ally that concentration, though, with skill. I'm thinking, obviously, of Angus Gunn's stunning save from Danny Drinkwater during the game. Before Christmas, I'd experienced a biteless afternoon and when the float did go down on the point of darkness, I was daydreaming and missed it. Not Gunn, though; his finger was ever on the trigger, no matter how little work he'd been called on to do beforehand.
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Finally, skill is nothing without confidence in fishing. The very best anglers can have lean patches when they feel they will never catch again. It's just like failing to score a goal. Nelson Oliveira showed exquisite skill with a curled volley that clipped the Chelsea crossbar in the first half. In the penalty shoot-out, his slightly diffident shot was saved. As an angler, hit the first bite of the day and you'll catch a hatful. Miss it and you'll struggle with your doubts and your demons. How many strikers have experienced exactly the same?
So, I didn't get to bed until 11pm. The alarm was set for 6am but still thoughts of the game whirled around my head. In despair, I got up to write my piece for an American magazine on liars and weight falsifiers in the historic angling world. Then I thought of Chelsea's Pedro, and his hysterical, histrionic actions in the Norwich penalty box. It seems there are cheats in both sports, too.
There are a fair few cricketers who adore their fishing as well. I've accompanied Mike Atherton a few times, for example, and he fishes like he used to bat. He allies enormous concentration with considerable technique. To watch him fish a salmon river really is an eye-opener, I can tell you. He explained that he learned to fly fish out in South Africa as an escape during a particularly punishing cricket tour out there. The trouble was, he said to me, that he began to find the fly fishing more exhausting and stressful than the cricket itself.