John Bailey: The lightning thread that electrifies angling

Enoka and chub

Enoka, chub and on the farm goes right for once! - Credit: John Bailey

First up, congratulations to my friend Kevin, who has not only been fishing in this atrocious weather but who has caught something into the bargain.

I know he has been sliding down on the Yare somewhere - it’s a long river so I’m not giving his game away - and catching some very decent roach. This time, just a few days back in the midst of those earth-cracking frosts, he had roach of 1lb 11oz, 1lb 9oz and 1lb 8oz, all in the one session. Some smaller fish followed on and then he hooked one that threw the hook after well over a minute. He said the lost fish spooked the shoal and that is why he left, but my guess is that he was just heart broken and his spirit was in his boots.

I bet throughout the fight with the big one, his heart was in his mouth and he played it with kid gloves, his breath coming short, adrenalin pumping. Fish battles are relative. It is one thing to wage war on a marlin the size of a bus with gear to land an elephant when you are strapped into a fighting chair. It is quite something else to play a fish weighing 30oz on gossamer line and a hook point the size of a pinhead. Neither battle is superior. They are both simply different, but at the same time strikingly similar in so far as the angler is praying and sweating for success.

I was fortunate years ago to salmon fish with David Profumo out in Canada. You might have read his stuff in The Field and if so, let me assure you, he is the real deal, a brilliant angler and a thoroughly lovely man to boot. He tells me he has a book coming out in the spring called The Lightning Thread. He wouldn’t expand on the plot apart from saying our adventure gets a pride of place mention. But it’s an intriguing title is it not? My last book was called something like How To Catch More Big Uns , hardly an appeal to the imagination. The Lightning Thread? I’ve hummed and hawed over this for several evenings and it has to be a reference to that moment when the line suddenly zings tight in that electrifying way that tells us a fish is on our hook. Of course, until I get the book I won’t know, but it seems a good enough guess to me and it makes sense, surely? Think Kevin and that mammoth Yare roach as it thrashed away from him in the deep dark waters and the secret has to be out.

David is predominantly a game angler and the arts involving fly and bait are subtly different. It can be argued that a game angler has a more direct connection to his trout or salmon. Rod, line, fly, fish, that’s it. No floats, feeders, leads or any contraption to dilute the experience, the umbilical joining of angler and fish. There’s also something essentially pure about tricking a trout to take a wisp of fur or feather, a tiny smudge in the vastness of the water around it. There’s none of that grubby feeding involved in fly fishing that coarse anglers depend upon to get their fish in the mood. After all, you can’t get a shoal of rainbows worked up by throwing in a box of pheasant tail nymphs tied on size 16s. So when a trout takes the fly and the thread of line flashes tight it does seem like a bolt from the blue, a feeling to thrill like no other. I get that. In my life I have done perhaps 40pc fly and 60pc bait and I appreciate both approaches equally. And in truth, in my later years, perhaps tend towards the latter.

I’ll tell you why. At the moment I am living on a farm, right by the Wensum. In fact there have been times this winter when I felt I might be living actually IN the Wensum it has risen so high, but I have obviously survived. When I was small there was a children's program about puppets on a farm and they were called the Wooden Tops and that is how I feel I have become. The Wooden Tops had a pet called Spotty Dog and that is exactly what I have got here, a brown and white spaniel called Katie. The thing is that Katie and her fellow farm dog Lady have become best mates because Enoka and I feed them titbits all day long. The four of us are inseparable, a relationship built on Bonios.
Outside my window here we erected a bird feeder with various cages holding peanuts, seeds and fat balls. For the first day or two all we got to amuse us was a fat pigeon and a grumpy old crow. After a week, there a couple of tits and a handful of brown jobbies. Now, after having spent a fortune at the pet shop, we have flocks of tits, robins, finches and more feathery friends than we can count.

Most surprising is this. Following Environment Agency guidelines, every time I catch a signal crayfish from the river (which is a lot) I kill it and throw it on the lawn. I began to pile them in a rough heap, thinking I might well attract an otter to feed outside our window in much the same way as the blue tits have learned to do. No such luck there, but what has started to come to the lawn every day for its feed of crayfish is ....a buzzard! Yes, it also eats worms, beetles and bugs whilst it is there but the horrid crayfish get demolished first. By donning the mantle of providers, Enoka and I have, in just a few weeks, flipped the way the creatures at Wooden Top farm live their lives.

Whilst all this bird and dog feeding has been going on, I have obviously not neglected the fish. The corner shop has been selling me two white sliced loaves every day which have been mashed and thrown into every likely spot for weeks. You would think that after loading in tons of the white stuff, just like Katie, Lady and our birds flocks, the chub would be crawling up our rods to be caught. Five bites in seven weeks suggest that they are not doing this. Yes, there have been floods and frosts and snow melt and just about everything bad the weather can think up but the fact remains that Wensum chub have shown themselves far more independently minded than Spotty Dog.

And it is that that makes bait fishing just such an absorbing way of fishing. You might think you can feed your way to success , and sometimes you can, but in the end, it’s always the fish that call the shots.