John Bailey: An angler's view of 2020... what a year it has been

Robbie Northman and 'Frank' the heron.

Robbie Northman and 'Frank' the heron. - Credit: John Bailey

Remember back one single, solitary year? 

Was there even one of us who could have even dreamed of the catastrophes coming our way? Apart from Norwich propping up the Premier League, well nearly, things looked rosy indeed and it wasn’t till early March that most of us saw Covid for what it was. I bet there isn’t a reader who hasn’t had their life changed, perhaps even fundamentally and the Prime Minister’s announcement on Saturday only emphasised that we are not going to be out of this quagmire anytime soon. And yet, we have still been fishing, most of us and I know we will have our thoughts, memories and opinions. 

Take the fact that we were allowed to go fishing again from mid May. Was that relief down to the fact that fishing is as harmless, nay beneficial, an activity as there is and common sense prevailed? Or was it down to the campaigning done by the Angling Trust on our behalf? Of course, the AT would answer yes to that and they certainly did not harm our case but have they earned the right to assume complete leadership of our sport?  

I think about 15,000 of us are actually members so I assume most think they haven’t but perhaps the time has come to reconsider. Take the RSPB which boasts a million members or thereabouts. That number gives them real clout when it comes to dealing with Government over, say, the cormorant issue. When it comes to putting theses confounded birds on the General Licence list, who is Westminster going to listen to, do you think? 

Staying in springtime, it was with a feeling of exuberance that some of us watched Wensum roach spawning under Lyng Bridge. Ok, there weren’t many of them, compared with sights I witnessed in the seventies and the size was nothing to get excited about but at least those roach were saying something of about survival and renewal? That dawn did not last long. 


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Within a week, canoeists, boarders and free swimmers had trashed the weed and the eggs to pulp and those poor roach might just as well have not bothered. Were the Environment Agency or Natural England interested when contacted? Not one jot. Did the wider media, take up the story of wildlife destruction? No, it was too “sensitive” for them to cover.   

Of course, we were soon to realise that the EA was too taken up with trying to ruin Hoveton Great Broad as a bream spawning site to worry about the Wensum. Thankfully, amazingly, the EA has been battered into submission over this one, in part thanks to the Angling Trust so perhaps they are worth a few quid a year? 

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Moving into early summer and onto actual fishing, many of us did well with carp, tench and bream. The furlough scheme allowed many far more free time than they had ever enjoyed since their school days.  

My friends reported great still water trout fishing too but the rivers were in a state, still being battered by the “water sport” aficionados who found hot weather, lager and a life on the bankside hard to resist.  

Indeed, some chub experts looked for pastures entirely new and young maestro Robbie Northman spent the warm months exploring the coast from King’s Lynn to Southend. He found his plugs and poppers caught him more bass than they did chub and that by and large, he had the wide open spaces to himself- apart from visits from the Norfolk Bass Mafia on whom I have no further information whatsoever. 

There is no doubt that by now fishing as a sport was doing very nicely indeed. Tackle shops were booming (have you been into Wensum Valley Angling lately? It has expanded to the size of Harrods) and the trade was reporting record profits. 

I began to see ever growing numbers of families enjoying fishing as a group for the first time since the 1960s and folk were coming back into a sport they had deserted since their teens. Most noticeably, fishing was beginning to become acceptable again, a pleasing sort of pastime that should be encouraged rather than shunned.  

This probably had something to do with that national arbiter of taste, the BBC. The fact that Auntie had taken Mortimer and Whitehouse, Gone Fishing under her wing, commissioned more series and made it a national hit proved hugely important. Wives began to realise that their angling husbands were not entirely insane and kids even consented to having a bash themselves. 

Winter though is here again and even though Norwich are now top of their league, some of the gloss of summer is wearing thin. Many, if not most, of my friends and the people I guide live in Tier 3 and 4 areas and for them a fishing trip to Norfolk is hardly a realistic possibility. Pubs, partying and perch and pike forays are all on Matt Hancock’s not to do list and there is still the spectre of Brexit hovering ghoulishly over us all. Whatever we think of the EU, there is no doubt that many of its rulings over water quality were vital and might well be ignored now we are on the verge of total departure. After what we have witnessed in this strange year, there cannot be an angler left who has faith in the Environment Agency to put a bucket of water right, never mind our polluted river systems. 

Yesterday however I was out with the aforesaid bass master, Robbie Northman and we met up with a fine heron who became a true mate indeed. He followed us around one broad after another and he ate more of our roach dead baits than the pike did. That was my Christmas present alright, a realisation that there is still a world out there untouched by the mad life we humans have created for ourselves.  

Happy Christmas to you all! 

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