John Bailey: Hard to describe euphoria of catch

Jackie couldn't quite understand my over-the-moon reaction to a Wensum 2lb 11oz roach caught a handful of days before the end of the river season.

After all, she said, I've been catching big roach since the early 70s and this fish, spectacular as it is, hardly makes my top 50. Ah, but times change. A fish that might not have made my life in 1982 certainly does, gulp, 30 years on.

In fact, this roach is my second largest of this century which sounds portentous and to me, is. To Jackie and non-anglers, I find it hard to describe the euphoria of a big catch, the way every other single aspect of normal life fades away into insignificance. I'll take roach, again, as an example. Thirty-six years ago – gulp again – when I caught my first Wensum three pounder, I didn't sleep that night or the next. I was teaching in my first year at Sprowston High School then and I must have been like Sir the Zombie throughout.

But there's more to my euphoria than the personal, believe me. It's all about love of a river, love of its history, love of the memories I have of it, love of its beauty, love of its uniquely special everything! Believe me, I've fished hundreds of rivers in scores of countries and, for me, along the Wensum is where I want my ashes spread.

Anglers reading this know the ills the river has undergone since the 1960s and 70s. Deep dredging was a killer. The ghastly roach disease, columnaris, left huge numbers of fish dead and thousands more grotesquely disfigure. Poor management of many of the mills (thank God for Paul Seaman) resulted in rollercoaster winter flood regimes. Industrial and agricultural chemical run-off was toxically damaging. Abstraction, drought years and infrequent pollutions all harmed water quality badly. I won't even mention predators adding their claws and their bills to this modern-day ecological cauldron of horrors.

And STILL this river has nursed this extraordinary roach of mine, huge by any standards, for ten, fifteen, even twenty years and given it a home in which it has been able to survive. In part, this is down to vastly improved river management by the Environment Agency. There is a sensitivity now towards the river I never thought in the 1970s and 80s I'd live to see. There is real intelligence and wisdom to applaud today at Norwich's Dragon House.

This is all heartening stuff, but it is the roach that I netted that I'd like to applaud as a hoary, embattled, feisty Trojan of a fish. In all probability, she was a female fish but, for effect, I've called him Rocky the Roach and for good reason. My heart stopped when I saw him surface. I hustled him to the net, hardly believing to what I was attached. There he lay. Huge. Hugely battered. The ultimate survivor. John came to take a couple of trophy shots. Holding Rocky was a hard job. He was all muscle, all aggression. He hated me, I could tell, and why shouldn't he? Who was I to disturb a fish that had endured such a history? John and I counted six, if not seven healed cormorant attacks along his flanks. This is a fish that has fought for life virtually all of his life and he was not going to give in to me. I returned him and he was gone like a ghost. A slap of water from his great tail fin drenched my face. I deserved it. A couple of glasses of wine from John and Jackie's cellar calmed me down a little but not completely. I still drove home in a dream.

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I've just been watching Lionel Messi, the world's best footballer on TV. He's insatiable for goals. It matters not a jot how many he's scored before, his still-boyish enthusiasm sweeps him on. I'd never presume to compare myself with the best but, dear, dear Jackie, there will never be enough Rockies for me.

It's the end of the river season now and there will be no more Wensum roach until October perhaps but already I'm looking forward to my tenching now that the sun has real warmth in it and the daffodils are beginning to appear. That's the beauty of being the all-round angler. As one door closes, another equally magnificent opens for you.

As ever, please continue to read my blogs at for my take on the ever-unfolding story of the glorious Wensum Valley.


It's renewal time for the syndicate members at the Kingfisher Lakes. I'm not sure if there will be many members dropping out and, anyway, places are very strictly limited. However, if you are interested in a Kingfisher Club membership, now is the time to get in touch with me at