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John Bailey ponders the best and most effective way to remember John Wilson

PUBLISHED: 16:25 02 December 2018

Thanks to photographer Robbie Northman, I look ever more the style icon Picture: Robbie Northman

Thanks to photographer Robbie Northman, I look ever more the style icon Picture: Robbie Northman

Archant

A couple of weeks back there was talk of a memorial to John Wilson, some of it from Archant, the publisher of this very paper.

John BaileyB shows how to look cool trotting a river Picture: John BaileyJohn BaileyB shows how to look cool trotting a river Picture: John Bailey

I was supportive, of course, but did stress that I felt John would have wished for something practical rather than decorative. He was that kind of man. It is worth remembering in this regard why he wanted to come back from Thailand to East Anglia to live. He said that he wanted to get back to his fishing roots and to see if he could make a difference, try to bring back the fishing he and I too had known in our 20s.

It is also worth noting that John had always preached action above words. Anything set up in his name should aim to do things, rather than just talk about them.

I see that Feargal Sharkey, one-time front-man of The Undertones, has recently been lambasting the talk-talk mentality of present day fishery management policy makers. The endless procrastination he describes in the game fishing world of the chalk streams will have JW nodding from on high. “In 42 years,” Sharkey writes, “a bunch of bureaucrats have generated hundreds and thousands of pages of reports, models, hydrological studies, geological studies, fishery studies and flow data. The last time I looked there were 39 reports about chalk streams in Hertfordshire alone. And yet only 14pc of rivers in England reach good ecological standards. What the hell have they been getting up to for the last 42 years?”

Most anglers are asking the very same questions, whether they live in Hertfordshire or East Anglia, whether they fish for trout, roach or even codling come to that. When John went off to Thailand he was asking the very same questions that Feargal Sharkey is asking today. Many of us think his memory would be best served by reducing the numbers of studies and increasing the numbers of fish. This might mean going back to the traditional policies of restocking, but after 42 years of fishery decline, surely a proactive way forward should be looked at?

I am, of course, talking about natural fisheries in this context. John never overlooked the role that commercial fisheries play today. They always did. It is wrong to think of them as a new creation because they date back to my childhood for sure. My mates and I loved struggling on the rock hard estate lakes of north Norfolk but we loved it more when our parents took us to the fish the rich waters of Hevingham pits. The surroundings weren’t as glorious, but it was good to see a float going under for a change.

Today, the commercial I have most to do with is Reepham Fishery, and what a good job it does. Of course it caters for the match scene, but pleasure and holiday anglers are looked after and so are children. I believe the owners want to expand the number of lakes available and they should be given every encouragement, surely. Well managed, larger scale commercials can give youngsters the opportunity to roam, fish, learn and explore nature in a safe environment and that is something else John and I grew up with and would support to the hilt.

I’m aware that the number of children fishing today compared with the 50s and 60s is much reduced and what a sadness that is. There are all manner of studies into this again, as Sharkey would say, and there are no doubt endless reasons. I can think of a dozen off the top of my head so I can’t believe any of it is rocket science. For sure, many kids do not see fishing as cool. I can see why. The other day I was posing for a picture with a decent perch with a couple of sniggering teenage girls looking on. Of course, I was wearing one of my ridiculous beanies I realised when I got home to look at the photos. I looked a complete clown. I sometimes think my mates enjoy making me look a figure of fun when in fact I am thinking I look the intrepid, triumphant angler. Headwear is something I must look into.

The man behind the camera on this occasion was great pal Robbie Northman. Or he was a great pal, anyway. We had just enjoyed a cracking perch session and the back story is interesting. We are talking Thursday, November 29, when the barometric pressure absolutely collapsed during the period we were on the water. The perch had been quiet all week but as the skies darkened and the winds rose to 40mph-plus, they went on a crazy feeding spree.

That’s something else John Wilson loved – the glorious unpredictability of our fish. Now we just want more of them back!

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