John Bailey: Angling powerhouse

John Bailey, left, with angling great John Wilson.

John Bailey, left, with angling great John Wilson. - Credit: Archant

I feel strangely bereft at the thought of my old mate John Wilson leaving Norfolk in favour of a life in Thailand.

We've known each other nigh on 40 years and while the road hasn't always been smooth, I like to think it's been entertaining.

It's been comforting for me to know that John's always been at the end of a phone line and now, soon, that will be no more.

I suppose my best times with John were in the early days, when we were kids back in the early to mid 70s. John was a breath of fresh air blowing over my own fishing scene and talents. He lifted me from an angling childhood into an angling maturity and I will always thank him for that.

It was John's powerhouse attitude to the sport which really blew me away. Previously, I'd been a bit sleepy, a bit bucolic, happy just to smell the roses. John got hold of me and changed that forever. There was this particular night that was typical of my awakening angling education


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I picked him up from his home then in Taverham in my old clunky minivan and we decided to head for Bream Corner on the Bure above Worstead. It was around eight o'clock at night, I guess, humid, overcast, with just the scent of thunder in the air. What I didn't know then but was soon to be made dramatically aware of was the fact that John absolutely detests lightning.

Around about nine thirty, John simply had, had enough. He's always been one to fish instinctively and to feel the vibes and I could tell he was fidgety, dissatisfied. At ten p.m. or thereabouts (I guess we were fishing in late June) we headed off to Upton Broad, still with our bream heads firmly on. By half past ten, we were in a tiny little boat there, way out in the middle of the lake, trying to put up two eleven foot six rods! It was a case of the Chuckle Brothers coming to angling. The boat rocked and span as we fumbled in the dark and made a complete and utter hash of things. Worse, the thunder was growing closer and the sky frequently lit by slithering dragons of light. John did not like this in the least.

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By midnight he'd cracked. We were back to the landing stage, back into the minivan and heading north to Gunton Hall. By the time we got there, around one to half past I'd guess, the storm had crescendoed. Now the rain was coming down in sheets and at three we both called time.

However, as we were nosing out of the park, the rain began to abate and the air began to clear. Just time for a quick session, John decided, at Wolterton Lake, in those days code-named The Marsh. What a fabulous water The Marsh was thirty, no forty years back. Our spirits lifted. Five, even six pound tench, massive then, were always on the cards.

I guess our gear was out finally for a fourth time around four or four-thirty a.m. The lake was strangely quiet when we'd expected it to be electric after the passing storm. The reason was plain to see. Along the shallows, in the thick weed, the Wolterton tench were spawning with tremendous gusto. John was in the deepest of dumps. He lived for our Wednesday nights, those periods he could get away from work and family and really fish with devilish intent. This had been a Wednesday night of complete and utter frustration.

In those days we were a bit competitive and I don't think it helped when my own bobbin flicked, lurched and then trundled to the rod butt. The culprit was a fine Wolterton perch. I can't offhand remember the weight after all these years but I think it was about two and a half pounds, seriously big for me in those long gone times. John, to do him huge credit, took a photograph I still treasure before we trooped back to the minivan for the umpteenth time. As I write now, it saddens me that none of these waters are now as they were then and, in truth, that is the reason that John is going east.

Back in the long suffering van, I steered south and by eight-thirty we were back in Bridewell Alley and John was opening up the legendary shop, John's Tackle Den. We had a coffee and, as a student in those days, I knew I could drive back up to Blakeney and have a couple of hours kip. For John, though, it was a case of serving all day and then getting back home to placate the wife and play with the kids.

We'd driven over a hundred miles. We'd put our rods up four times and taken them down four times. I'd spent more than my week's petrol money in a single night and apart from my perch, we hadn't had a bite. But that was John then, always on the move, just as he is now, a crackling livewire.

Can you guess now why I've called him Whizzo these past thirty-five years!?

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