John Bailey: We’ve gone fishing crazy, and Paul Whitehouse has a helpful idea

PUBLISHED: 06:00 07 October 2020

Paul Whitehouse casting more in hope than expectation Picture: John Bailey

Paul Whitehouse casting more in hope than expectation Picture: John Bailey


For years it has been nothing but doom and gloom in the tackle industry.

Wild angling where the heart of jeopardy beats Picture: John BaileyWild angling where the heart of jeopardy beats Picture: John Bailey

Norwich and Norfolk were once festooned with angling shops, but this century we have seen one closure after another and even legendary emporiums have disappeared.

Not now. Covid might well be a terrible thing, but every cloud has its unexpected lining. Certainly for Wensum Valley Angling out at Taverham. After all the troubles owner Daniel has faced, especially after the passing of his much-loved partner, Rob Shanks, things are on the up and stratospherically so.

So busy are Dan and brother Jason, they have even taken on extended premises to keep up with demand. Yes, we have all gone fishing crazy since lockdown was eased and the sport is as buoyant as it ever has been since the 60s. We all know the undoubtedly sound reasons for this and there is no safer place to be than a riverbank in these weird times. Pity we didn’t see more of Mr Trump down on Riverside Road... perhaps.

Good though this news is, there are still things to be done as we all know. My column’s headline this week obviously and tediously borrows from the BBC2 series Mortimer and Whitehouse, Gone Fishing that has just finished. However, I don’t mention this gratuitously. Anyone who has watched the series knows that Bob is the novice and he has realised that getting started in fishing is not that easy. It’s fine wanting to fish, but even getting onto the ladder’s first rung can be a step too far. Tackle shops were a fund of advice when I was a kid and that is why I am such a fan of Dan at Wensum Valley because I have seen him take endless hours out to help beginners young and old.

John Bailey looks out on a loch stocked by nature alone Picture: John BaileyJohn Bailey looks out on a loch stocked by nature alone Picture: John Bailey

Today, though, most of those shops are gone, along with the help I received hundreds of times each year on the bank side from adult anglers happy to take a kid under their wings. Today, of course, post-Savile, kids don’t fish alone and adults wouldn’t dare to step in as teachers even if they did. There are instructors out there, in both the game and coarse worlds especially, but I have my reservations. I have to say much of what these accredited experts teach I’d have found dull as ditch water when I was six or seven.

Mr Mortimer has realised all this and knows steps towards competency can be hard to take, even if you have Paul Whitehouse and JB to help to a greater or lesser degree. As a result, he has told me he is preparing a website where those interested in learning more about the sport can contact the guides used nationwide during the filming. The idea is that these guides would then offer a day, or half a day, of real live angling, supplying all the gear and bait. People could then make their own mind up if fishing is for them without going to the expense of buying all the kit and not knowing how to use it. A great idea I think and I’ll let you know how Bob’s initiative progresses, especially as wannabe anglers of all ages and both sexes will be welcomed. We all concentrate on bringing children into the sport: perhaps it is a good idea to remember the 50-somethings who gave up 30 years ago and want to re-engage?

As more anglers and more money flood into fishing, perhaps we should think how this money should get spent. As I travel around the country with the Gone Fishing band waggon, it strikes me how much more attention is paid to game fisheries than to coarse ones. Sometimes it is down to simple finance. On the Test in Hampshire, for example, you can pay £600 per day for a bash on a top beat and you expect it to be looked after. However, on many less-exalted club fly waters, some costing £50 per year, it seems members are hugely keen to volunteer help with river improvement projects, often with startlingly successful results. As more members join post-Covid, more money enters the coffers and more work can be done. Sadly, by and large, this level of commitment is rarely found in coarse fishing circles. When the Norfolk Anglers Conservation Association was in its prime with a team of inspirational leaders like Chris Turnbull and Tim Ellis at the helm, lengths of the Wensum were transformed, but brave coarse initiatives like this are rare in Norfolk and nationwide. As the Norfolk Flyfishers Club will attest, I’m a broken reed when it comes to working parties, but both I and the majority of coarse anglers should really begin to change our ways.

In my view, after a lifetime thinking about this, angling is all about jeopardy if it is to maintain interest. If you have watched Gone Fishing programmes, one of the joys is that you don’t ever know if Paul or Bob, especially, are ever going to catch a fish. That is what gives viewing an edge and what makes actual fishing exciting. If I have a gripe with commercial fisheries in both the game and the coarse worlds, it is the fact that catching can be often guaranteed. Even if hot weather trout can be tricky, you know if you do get one it will be 2lb, give or take, and it will have been lorried in a short while back. If a wild game angler is fishing for sea trout or salmon, he or she won’t even know if there is a fish in the river sometimes, let alone if one is going to take a fly. If a float goes down on a natural lake, a tench, bream, carp, rudd, roach or perch could be the culprit, weighing anything from three ounces to 30lb. This is why we have to look after our wild rivers and stillwaters because it is here that the true soul of fishing can be found. Once a fish becomes a commodity and once jeopardy is jettisoned, we might as well shoot ducks and catch goldfish in a barrel.

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