John Bailey: End of a hard season

John Bailey and Martin Salter discuss the Angling Trust following their day spent together at Swanto

John Bailey and Martin Salter discuss the Angling Trust following their day spent together at Swanton. - Credit: Archant

I know that today we can coarse fish pretty well three hundred and sixty-five days of the year but March 14th is still a milestone in my mind and in the minds of other fishermen of a similar age.

It's in the days leading up to this date that allow you to reflect and make judgement on what has gone before.

2012 was in many ways a tough year for us, given the extraordinary weather, and 2013 has shown no let up whatsoever. The last few days fishing have been 100pc typical, up, down and all over the place. This really is a true dairy piece revealing the madcap world we anglers inhabit.

On Wednesday, March 6, I fished along with Martin Salter, the ex-MP for angling and now the voice of the Angling Trust.

It might be a coincidence or it might not but, as far as I'm concerned, the Angling Trust has really turned itself round since Martin got on board a year or two back. It's now a powerhouse of innovation and it is really tackling the issues that count for all of us. I think that in the Angling Trust of the present day we've got the organisation with the teeth and the bite that we've always wanted.

Martin had come in part for an end of season jaunt because we're old friends and we both love river roaching with float and centrepin.

An underlying reason was for us both to talk further about cormorants and where we go with these.

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The great thing about Martin with his parliamentary background is that he knows exactly how to tread the corridors of power. Martin's knowledge allows him to open doors that mere anglers, like you and me, never even know exist.

We met at the Kingfisher Clubhouse at Lyng, talked politics and conservation and then went fishing up at the Flyfishers stretch at Swanton. In truth, the roaching wasn't as good as Roger's excellent and endless cups of tea but we had a fine time with some lovely fish and a day with Martin is always exhilarating.

It's a tragic fact that the membership of the Angling Trust has not continued to rise even despite its good work. Martin refers to a glass ceiling when it comes to membership numbers and something has to shatter this once and for all. The Angling Trust needs the support of all of us and for £25 a year, most of should be able to give it. Believe me, we will see the results if we do in the years to come.

Friday was getting colder. I had with me Keith, 65, from Buckinghamshire, a river fanatic and suffering from Parkinson's. What a brave, lovely man. Though the wind was biting and as a Parkinson's sufferer he feels the cold acutely, he never gave in, his enthusiasm never wavering.

We had some cracking chub, we trudged a mile or more of the river, we got wet, we went back to the Bridge Inn at Lenwade caked in mud but with happy smiles.

A brace of five pounders had really set him up and missing three or four belting bites actually fired his enthusiasm even further! It's good to catch but it's often just as good to surmise why you don't. His wife came to pick him up and I waved him off knowing I'd spent the day with a very courageous angler.

On Friday I was with old mates, Lambo and Ragi (don't ask!) and again chub were the target. And once again, Ragi, just like Keith, contrived to miss some hammering bites.

I guess with chub you've just got to hit them as the tip whips round. It is tempting to sit on your hands and let the rod bounce off the rest, and sometimes, that ploy works too.

One thing we did notice was that my cheese paste made up on the Tuesday and allowed to fester, really did the business whereas ordinary bread flake was just ignored.

Sometimes you think that bread will always win through but it doesn't. There are times you've got to make the effort, make your bait more appealing and you'll get far more chub action as a result.

One thing. All the chub that I saw over these two days proved to be painfully thin. Once again, this slimness was a stark reminder of the appalling winter we and our fish have suffered. Chub, at this time of the year, should be massive, pigeon-chested, bold in colour and not washed-out, slender and pale as Twiggy back in the 1960s.

On Saturday I woke up with 'flu'. Man 'flu' very probably but pretty miserable for me all the same. And of course, this last day's really serious piking with some more mates managed to coincide with a wicked north-easterly that had the teeth of a lion.

Whilst I've been basking in temperatures of 14° earlier in the week, the car showed 2° on the way to the lake. By 4pm the snow was sticking to the ground and temperatures were hovering around freezing.

Given the weather, given my aches and pains, I was about as miserable as JB can ever get. Apart from one thing. We managed to bank a 30.8 beauty, exactly the way I'd choose to sign off the season.

What a glorious pike, what a fabulous reminder of what our Wensum gravel pits can produce.

I don't as a rule like or even condone bait boats when it comes to carp fishing but perhaps for piking they do have a place.

This magnificent creature was picked up at vast range on a dead bait that could never have been cast well over a hundred yards. The bait boat, though, made all the difference and reached a previously unfished bar we'd always fancied for a monster. Of course, at hundreds of quid, bait boats don't come cheap but every now and again they do tip the balance.

The rain, sleet and snow just continued all that Saturday. I watched the river rise and rise, going from tea-coloured to coffee to oxtail soup! I'd promised myself a couple of days off, perhaps the 14th itself. The swirling, swollen river depressed me to the core and my throbbing limbs hardly made me feel any the happier.

However, I'm not moaning. I know that life is full of twists and turns and the older you get, the more bends there are in the road. I still have my health and my happiness in life and fishing and I thank Keith for reminding me of that.

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