John Bailey: Let us cherish the feminine angle on our region’s waters

John Bailey and Ruth with a much-prized tench. Picture: John Bailey

John Bailey and Ruth with a much-prized tench. Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

A mutual friend introduced me to Ruth from Wymondham just the other day and I'm glad she did.

Ruth has never fished but catching something decent was in her life's bucket list so old JB was wheeled in to oblige.

It turned out to be an interesting day and a hugely enjoyable one. Though Ruth had never actually fished before, you wouldn't have known it and, furthermore, she taught me a thing or two about the sport into the bargain. I decided that tench should be Ruth's target. They're big, beautiful, fight like Furies and are catchable if you get the right swim.

Ruth landed three superb fish. Hats off to her and what impressed me was that she was a natural at playing fish.

This is not unusual when it comes to girls, a bent rod and a screaming reel. I've noticed often in the past that women are just more perceptive when it comes to coping with a hard fighting fish.

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They have a sensitivity and delicacy of touch that a lot of men just don't share with them.

Ruth had a real feel for what the fish was doing and even more importantly what it was planning to do. She knew instinctively when to retrieve line and when to let line go.

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I suspect this is a little bit like horse-riding. Women are frequently more in tune with what is happening through the reins just as they are with what is happening down the rod. Perhaps this is a lesson for all us blokes to take on board. When we are playing something big, let's think about what the fish is doing as the baseline for our approach.

Ruth did struggle with striking and actually hitting fish initially. Or did she, in actual fact? After two or three missed bites, I began to wonder if the fault was mine and in the end, I rather think it was.

If I'm honest, I think at the outset, I'd set a 10ml boily up on rather too long a hair. What we have to remember is that tench don't suck a bait in with the power of a carp.

As soon as I moved over to a very short hair, Ruth began to connect with fish so the fault, in fact, was mine.

What I also did was increase the depth between the float and the bait and this had an impact, too. When the tench picked the bait up, there was more slack and they didn't feel the resistance to the float until it was too late.

You know, we blokes, who are so often out on the bankside, sometimes don't really appreciate what we are seeing.

Ruth's joy in the wildlife around the bay that we were on was really eye-opening. She took on board the flight of the kingfisher and even the grace of the swans in a new and fresh way that made me look at them all over again. Sometimes we just don't fully realise the beauty of our waterways and a newcomer can really jolt us into a fresh and surprising appreciation.

We treated those three tench with enormous care and respect but Ruth, as a complete novice in the sport, still worried about the effect on the fish. I stressed to her that all the captures good anglers are involved with, try to make as stress free as possible. This means keeping fish in the water for as long as possible and reducing handling to a minimum. Wet hands, wet nets and unhooking mats are obligatory. Today, too, we have either barbless or micro-barbed hooks and even if we are going to use keep nets, the mesh is far more forgiving than it used to be when I was a lad.

Still, in these days of political correctness, we have to be aware of the tide of public opinion. My own view is that anglers are truly guardians of the stream and that without us, fish as a whole would have a far more difficult life. If any life at all? After all, without anglers, who would fight pollution, abstraction, chemical run-off and all the other ills that affect our waterways? We enjoy catching fish but protecting them should be our primary aim.

I was going to write about bream this particular week but I guess the ladies are closer to all our hearts. I have fished all over the world and if you go to Florida and anywhere in Scandinavia as an example, you will come across far more women fishing than you do almost anywhere here in the UK. Perhaps the weather has got something to do with it? Or perhaps in these two regions, fishing is seen as a central activity in the outdoor life. I always relish seeing an American or Swedish family out together enjoying the countryside and enjoying an age old activity like angling.

Angling has been part of our psyche for countless millennia. It's great that Ruth tapped into that ancient instinct, even for a day and I hope she might tell her friends what an absorbing sport angling can actually be.

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