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John Bailey: Time of the year to consider our fishy reflections

Simon Ellis, a record grayling and John Bailey looking on Picture: John Bailey

Simon Ellis, a record grayling and John Bailey looking on Picture: John Bailey

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The river coarse season ended last week. The cold winds are telling us it is too early for tench and bass. The river trout season has not begun and the start of their spawning activities suggests we should be giving stillwater pike time and space to do their thing.

Of course, pit carp are up for it and there are the commercials and the stocked rainbow waters to go at but, in reality, this is the hiatus in the angling year. If we are ever going to take a deep breath, take stock and examine what we are about, it is now.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I played a part in the capture of a record fish. Well, here in brief is the story. I was guiding fly anglers down on a southern chalk stream for grayling. One of them, Simon Ellis landed a 4lb 8oz grayling on a heavy nymph, a fish four ounces over the long-standing record weight of 4lb 4oz. What a beast that fish was. I have seen well over 50 3lb grayling, but this was a breed apart. Simon was a true angler, a true gentleman and the day was perfection. Most people agreed by text, emails, phone and on social media. Some did not.

Perhaps the fall-out of the capture is one of the more interesting consequences of them all. There were those who were furious. One complaint was that only rich anglers can afford a guide and therefore somehow do not deserve the kudos of the capture. Weird. And in the same vein I was repeatedly asked whether I didn’t feel bitter, or envious or had wished I had caught the fish myself. Look at it like this. There are just perhaps two million anglers in this country. How many of them have seen a record fish and been a part of an historic moment? Perhaps 10? A dozen tops? I had been present at monumental captures in my long angling past, but never an actual record. In that way then, I could see that grayling as the pinnacle of my angling career, especially as Simon had the generosity to say he would never have caught the fish without me.

Angling is a reflection of life itself of course. It is wrong to think of it as a harmless, bucolic pastime. No, fish fire us up with dreams, aspirations, targets and inspirations. For us anglers, catching a monster is one of the great adrenalin-filled moments of our lives and the euphoria can last for days, weeks or, in my case, forever.

As in life, dealing equally with angling’s successes and failures is one of the big lessons, especially as so much in fishing is waiting to go wrong. Especially the weather.

Spring can be wonderful to the angler when it is kind. I’m sure there will be days in April and May when the sun shines, a zephyr of a breeze whispers in from the south and the tench are bubbling and the trout are sipping in flies the size of postage stamps. We live in East Anglia though. Glorious as our region is, it is bedevilled by winds from the north and east, especially for the next 10 or 12 weeks. It does not matter what we might be fishing for, or where, these are killer air streams that simply batter our chances of success.

Last spring was particularly cruel. Between April 10, when my tench season started, and early June, there were depressingly few southerlies or westerlies. Day after day we were blasted by freezing winds from Russia. Catches were dire and success was hard won, but worse was the impact on the fish for the coming year. 2018 was the first time in a decade I did not slide my net under a 10lb tench. Numbers of fish were down badly too and my guess is that fish of all species fed intermittently during the most important period of the year for their future growth and condition. We will see what 2019 brings but one thing is for sure, no other sport is so closely tied in to the workings of the natural world as angling and that is just one of the factors that makes it so preciously unique.

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