John Bailey: A week of angling issues that we all need to consider

Robbie holds Dave’s PB Broadland pike and displays the rubber burbot it was caught upon. Picture: Jo

Robbie holds Dave’s PB Broadland pike and displays the rubber burbot it was caught upon. Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

Some of you might well have heard of Bob Roberts, an angler well known on the Trent circuit.

He has always been a welcoming presence the times I have bumped into him at angling shows so I was devastated to hear of his serious problems with skin cancer. I pray for his recovery of course and, as Bob says, as anglers out for hours in the summer sun, the disease all of us should be wary of.

Indeed, the issue is one I have been aware of since another of my childhood buddies died of similar causes a couple of years back. Together we had spent our school day holidays getting burned as hazel nuts on the banks of Norfolk lakes and the damage done caught up with him. Sun cream is the obvious answer I know though an Australian doctor I took fishing a while back had some doubts. His research suggested that skin cancer had become a major issue down under only ten years or so after the use of creams became the norm.

His suggestion was that the skin gets used to the sun's rays and builds up defences if left to its own devices. I thought too of all the farm men and women I had worked with through my university holidays. They were mahogany brown, always had been, had never thought of suncreams and yet they survived into their eighties and beyond. But I don't know, perhaps none of us do exactly. All I am sure of is that this is so serious for all of us and we should not forget the issue simply because the sun is low in the sky at the moment.

I also believe that Bob did some angling guiding before his illness. There have been odd bits and pieces written about this in the coarse angling media of late, not all complimentary. Suggestions have been aired that some guides aren't the genuine article, aren't up to the job and, anyway, who needs guides anyway?

As someone who guides a little and adores it, I feel quite involved. I can also add that I have employed guides as well on scores of occasions so I can speak from both angles as it were!

I have to say that over the past 30 years I have had my fishing and my life enhanced by many of the guides I have been privileged to spend bank time with. I have learned things about fish, waters, baits, fly and lure choice that I would never have guessed at on my own.

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When I guide now, I think back to the masters who have guided me and try to incorporate a little of their genius into what I do myself. When I come close to succeeding I feel tremendous satisfaction and that, I believe is fundamental. If you are ever going to guide I can tell you one thing above all others. You simply must put your client's dreams top of the list. You have to sacrifice any ambition you might have personally and dedicate all your ability and aspiration to making the day the best of your client's fishing life. When I have met Bob in the past, such has been his warmth and generosity I have no doubt he has been able to do all this with complete sincerity.

Staying with the guiding theme I took a dear friend (that's how clients soon become) to the Broads with me the other week. David Stephen is the nicest of men, has the highest regard for my great pal Robbie Northman and we decided to make it a team event. As is well known, Robbie is not just lure fishing crazy, he is obsessed. I can try to talk to him about any subject under the sun but within a millisecond Robbie will be back on his hot topic so it was no surprise when he produced a new lure for us to try out. I suspect many of us feel it is important in angling to match the hatch. By that I mean if a trout is gorging on mayflies, it is an artificial mayfly you tie on your leader. If a bass is eating sand eels, you give him something slender and silvery. On our day with Dave, the pike were evidently consuming roach so a light grey lure with scarlet fins you might think would do the job. Not a bit of it. When Dave eventually had his PB pike, it fell to Robbie's new, rubber burbot, a species of fish of course not seen in Broadland for 70 years or more. And when pike did eat burbot for real, they were coloured mottled brown, not the blood orange of Robbie's offering. Yet that 20 PB pike snaffled that weird creation like she had been waiting all her life for it. And there is a lesson here.

A big, bold, dynamically different lure can often conjure a serious pike out of seemingly nowhere. It will probably never work again but on that first occasion, it can perform miracles.

My postbag, a quaint term from the past I know, contained a lovely hand written letter this week from Tony Howes from Thorpe St Andrew in Norwich. Tony wrote beautifully about "being beside a river, trying to unravel its mysteries, learn its secrets. As the light fades and night puts on her dark mantle, tiny sounds are amplified and your senses are on full alert. Like you, I would put the humble roach top of my list and memories of them are like gold dust but hopefully some keen lad way off in the future will thrill to the thump of a huge roach on the end of his line."

That was the thrust of Tony's letter to me. He quoted the late, great, naturalist Ted Ellis in believing that everything we experience in the natural world has happened many times in the past and will probably reoccur in the future.

Perhaps this is correct. In one of my old Norfolk books, I seem to remember the author, perhaps Alan Savoury, lamenting the decline of huge upper Bure roach in the 1930s and yet they came again three decades later. Those who witnessed colossal pike killed by prymnesium on the river Thurne in the late 1960s never guessed 30 and 40 pound fish would be taken there again by the 1980s.

So thank you Tony for that. Perhaps 2020 will be full of similar messages of hope for all of us!