John Bailey: Make most of freedom to fish
I can look back forty-odd years with the sure realization that July and August were always the best months of my life. The moment school closed for the summer was the best one of all. It heralded six, seven or even eight weeks of untrammelled freedom, freedom basically for me to fish.
I'll admit these emotions and enthusiasms were just as vivid in the twelve years or so I actually was a teacher myself. Of course, as most experienced anglers know, July and August are possibly amongst the worst fishing months of the year but that's to carp! Better to fish when the waters are middling than not to fish on them when they're on fire.
Way back, where to fish was never particularly a problem. A bigger challenge was to choose a venue from a whole load of juicy possibilities. I guess, today, kids and visitors both don't have the same wide options of choice. So many waters have seen their fish stocks dwindle to next to nothing for one reason or another. Others now have access closed down.
Yet other waters are tightly-controlled syndicates with joining fees way outside the normal young angler's pocket. There are plenty of commercials about but they charge day tickets which might seem reasonable to an adult but are pretty mind-boggling to a kid, especially when a pint of maggots these days is a serious investment.
That's why I was so delighted a few weeks back to be invited to the formal opening of half a kilometre of new public angling access at Postwick on Norfolk's tidal River Yare. The stretch forms part of the river known locally as Surlingham Bends and the whole stretch was purchased by the Environment Agency in 2009. Since then, there have been improvements to car parking and a major landscaping of the riverbank. The icing on the cake was the installation of an easy-access footpath with twenty-three hard-surfaced fishing pegs.
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I believe this is a sterling piece of work, a real signpost to how we ought to be developing fisheries in the future. This particular project has seen the Environment Agency, the Broads Angling Strategy Group, the Broads Authority and even Postwick Parish Council working together to achieve something truly noteworthy. As Steve Lane from the Environment Agency says, 'The quality of fishing in the Broads draws large numbers of anglers from around the country so we are delighted to make this very important contribution towards providing new public angling access in the Broads.'
What a superb initiative. Twenty-three fishing pegs on a scintillating piece of river and all of them absolutely free to anyone who holds an Environment Agency fishing licence. And you don't even need that if you're under the age of twelve.
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I was a little unsure of my role at the opening but, as an Angling Ambassador for the Angling Trust, I was proud to be there and actually to cut the ribbon along with Mark Casto which declared the stretch open. I've never done pomp before. For a moment I felt a little like a great aunt or a dowager duchess but, what the heck, any project that brings kids into fishing is all right by me.
I realize that fishing is a hard sport to sign up for. What gear do you buy? Do you want to sea fish, game fish, river fish or coarse fish on stillwaters? How do you set the gear up – most rigs are full of fiddling technicalities. And, perhaps above all, where do you actually go fishing in the first place. This is where the Postwick initiative comes in. The more swims that are safe and well-signposted and the more fishermen we will see occupying them.
Whilst I'm passionate about my fishing and would recommend it to anyone, I don't think it matters too much what kids do providing they're out there, away from home, doing it. A year or two ago, I was enjoying a drink on the green at Aldborough, just south of Cromer, in the middle of the school holidays. It was around about lunchtime and the kids of the village were everywhere around the green playing football, cricket and even tennis. My friend and I were warmed by this. We beamed at the sight of so many kids enjoying real sports in the way that we used to long before the computer age. It was one of those moments that gives you a glow. Then, a window was opened, a lad leaned out and hollered to the rest, 'The electricity's back on!' Within seconds, the green was emptied as out idealized children sped back to their computer games, our dreams shattered.
The week just gone we were filming episode five of Fishing in the Footsteps of Mr Crabtree. I had a truly interesting, quirky little lad with me, Michael from the Midlands. He was a hard one to read and I liked that. Not everyone wears their heart on their sleeve. Carp were the subject of the episode and, as I was eleven when I caught my first, I suppose Michael was about ready for them.
We made a bit of a mistake. We took him to a water that was just a bit too adult. We managed to catch fish of fourteen, sixteen and twenty-two pounds which make for good television but were, in truth, way above Michael's head. He was excited, for sure, but the experience was just too big, too overblown and too hard for him to grasp in any real way.
Next up, I took him to Lily Lake on the Kingfisher complex. It was a warm, sultry afternoon and the carp in there were on the top bubbling away after biscuits and bread crust. These were much smaller fish, generally between four and eight pounds but Michael was a totally changed lad.
Seeing these fish around him, watching them as they fed, feeling part of the action, turned Michael into a fishing demon. We couldn't pull him off the water for supper. We couldn't get him to do his walk-ins and his walk-offs. We couldn't get him to do his little bits to camera because all he wanted was to get after those manageable carp on Lily and feel he was controlling the action. It's important to remember to give kids what they actually want and not what you think they should be wanting.
There's a rumour going around that we might have something of a summer. If warm weather were to come along then perhaps July and August would prove to be spectacular months after all. Certainly, there's just a chance that the tench fishing might pick up and turn this grim season from a flop into a triumph. Above all, I'm yearning to get onto the summer rivers when they're running clear rather than bank high and chocolate. For me, there's little better than stalking summer roach and chub in a crystal stream.
You don't have to catch many fish, it's seeing them that's the real excitement. And being there, of course, walking endless meadows, watching the wildlife around. That's what Mr Crabtree was all about. That's what our childhood consisted of and what very many children, deep down, would love to be enjoying today.