John Bailey: (More of) Dodger Green's great angling anecdotes

John Bailey on the Wensum

John Bailey fishes the winter Wensum in the hope of one of Dodger’s historic roach - Credit: John Bailey

In these grim lockdown days we are all grasping at straws to keep our spirits afloat, so it is with delight that I greet the postman delivering me another of Ron ‘Dodger’ Green’s letters. 

‘Fan mail’ is largely a thing of the past, being replaced by emails or abuse on social media, but Dodger still has pen, paper and knows what a stamp is. This week I was lucky enough to have not one but two of his A4 hand-written manuscripts and I took pleasure in settling down to absorb them. I’ll admit Dodger’s illustrations and instructions on how to build a butt indicator were beyond me - something about hair curlers, hair pins and Ena Sharples - but his fishing stories, as ever, bounced off the page. 
He enclosed a photograph of a crocodile of a pike that is too blurred to reproduce here, but believe me, it was colossal. It wasn’t weighed but I’m thinking a 30, and it fell to a humungous herring with the houses of Norwich in the background. So a Wensum fish obviously, in the days before seals decided City life was a good option, I presume. 


The Winter Wensum, scene of so many of Dodger’s triumphs - Credit: John Bailey

But then Dodger’s letters telling of the great days of the 70s are full of big fish in big numbers. In the second missive, he tells me of three 2lb roach in three casts from the river between Ringland and Costessey. Later, at dusk, a roach of 2lb 13oz came along, just one of countless thousands of similarly-sized fish in the Wensum of those days. Eels, too. I hear the story of his 6lb 11oz eel again but also tales of nets of smaller fish taken on babbed worm. To be honest, I never babbed myself, but I saw it done. As I remember it, coarse wool replaced the hook and worms were threaded or woven into it. As the eels munched , their teeth got snagged and, bingo, they were in the bucket to join their slithering mates. Dodger points out that all the conservation talk today is of creating eel passes to help the baby elvers ascend our rivers whilst back then they swarmed over all the mill sluices in a streaming, glistening carpet, completely unaided by any fishery scientists. 
So, thank you, Dodger, for your tales that take me back to when I was young and memory suggests every cast landed me a big one. Of course, a trawl through my diaries of the period reminds me of the three-day week, crippling strikes, talk of petrol and electricity rationing, riots, the collapse of the pound and ruinous inflation. There’s a picture there too of my mini van, resplendent in rust, riddled with mice and refusing to start in rain or frost. Happy days indeed.  

One of my consuming jobs in lockdown is not only to write for this paper that is so close to my heart, but also for the Fishing Magic website... a leap into the electronic age I never thought I would ever make. In an attempt to divert thousands of bored, frustrated, lockdowned anglers, last week I listed my own personal Great Anglers. I was surprised and gratified by the wave of response the piece engendered because I guess it shows how much we love angling and how deeply we care for it. 
I’m not going to pointlessly précis the column because you can go onto the website and see the whole thing, but I am going quickly to mull over what greatness in angling actually means. 

IIn my long experience, there are anglers who are simply brilliant, far better than their peers. Carp, trout, specimen, match, shore... it doesn’t matter, these anglers can catch fish from a bucket. Then there are innovators, the anglers who invent bolt rigs or nymph fishing and change the face of angling forever. Let’s not forget the communicators, those who inspire us on TV, or YouTube or in books, magazines or even with their paintings or photography. There are the tireless administrators who sit a lifetime on tedious committees so that we can fish new waters or in matches or actually get our waters restocked. The trouble is that greatness often goes hand in hand with exposure and great humans are not often seen as those of the silent retiring sort. Angling though, in complete contrast, is, or should be, all about reflection, contemplation and merging with the watery world. The Greatest Angler of them all (perhaps?) Isaac Walton told us “to study to be quiet” and not go around making a racket about how good we are and at the end of the day, I begin to see how right he was. 
I’m going to quote in full one of the posts in reply to my Great Anglers piece.  

‘Theartist’ writes: “I’m a bit biased here but I have fished with the greatest of the lot and it’s a no brainer – my dad. At times neither of us knew what we were doing but he taught me the basics and we learned together. What he taught me was priceless... to look after what you caught and to leave your swim looking just as good as when you found it. That is all the advice I have ever truly needed. Not once did he ever snap at me or raise his voice, despite countless kid’s tangles and never has his enthusiasm waned. Fishing for dad was all about fun and will always be so for me as a result. I have been so, so lucky to fish with that man and hope to do so come the summer. Legend.” 
A ray of light in this dark winter? Greatness indeed. If only all of us, anglers or not, could pass on such a treasured, unsurpassable legacy. Let’s pray the summer does come with all its gifts for Theartist and his dad. And for Ron too, and for all of us, however great we are.