John Bailey: Proof that fishing should be a family thing

Norwich’s Anthony Butterworth with a cracking Broadland pike, the result of traditional watercraft P

Norwich’s Anthony Butterworth with a cracking Broadland pike, the result of traditional watercraft Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

This paper's sport team could not have chosen a better photograph to go with my column last week.

Mr Crabtree would hardly approve of the Deeper pro..but it worked for us Picture: John Bailey

Mr Crabtree would hardly approve of the Deeper pro..but it worked for us Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

It showed 15-year-old Hayden Parfitt-Bland expertly holding a fish-of-a-lifetime pike, caught from Wroxham. The image was a cracker too, taken by Hayden's angling partner Tom Ellis, so there are two young men taking the pike scene apart.

But, best of all for me, was due acknowledgement given to the part played in the capture by Hayden's dad and by his granddad Roy, both of whom have played the role of mentors in the young lad's career. This is how it was back in the day and, surely, how it should be now. Fishing is a sport that for generations was handed down through the family and it is great to see the tradition upheld by the Parfitt-Blands.

Perhaps the most successful father/son pike team Norfolk has ever known was the Jim and Edwin Vincent pairing on the Broads last century. Most of us would settle for catching the number of pike in a lifetime that they landed in a single season. Yes, they were that good but then many of us would relish the chance to fish Broadland in the 1920s rather than the 2020s I'm afraid. Today, father Rob and son Will Leonard have landed some clonking Wensum chub together this winter. I've always been proud to help pilot the Kingfisher lakes up at Lyng, largely because of the personnel: Stu Davison is a case in point, teaching his kids the true art of carping there over the years. I happily encouraged Harry Waye Barker the other day when he wondered if he could take his own dad there for a few sessions - it is great when the mantle of mentoring is passed on like this.

I suppose historically kids were taught about tackle control, baits and methods and hands-on instruction is better than the internet will ever be. In my case, there was a fair bit of very necessary character building too. My Nanny was my guide and in subtle ways I realise she passed on the virtues of patience, selflessness and acceptance of failure and success in equal measure. I remember losing a first-ever tench at Holkham lake and sobbing uncontrollably until she gave me a hard slap and told me to get on with it and hook another. I did. It weighed 3lb 4oz.

Perhaps the greatest of all skills to be passed on is, or was, watercraft. Today with the supermarket levels of fish stocks in some small commercials, where to fish is not an issue. Elsewhere it is crucial and finding your fish is the most fundamental skill in learning to catch them. I'll bet anyone reading this column over the age of 40 will have been brought up on the Mr Crabtree book. For those under 40, this was a cartoon strip drawn by Bernard Venables and it featured the most famous fictional father/son team of all time. Dad Crabtree took son Peter fishing countrywide for every species throughout the year and the big message on each and every venue was how to read the water and decipher what all the signs, hints and clues are telling you. A lot of older anglers will tell you that this is what the core of fishing is all about. The best anglers are the detectives of the natural world and they know solving angling's riddles rarely comes down to luck. At it's simplest level let's go back to Hayden's 23-pounder: granddad Ray knew that pike love a roof over their head and that is why he advised fishing hard in to moored boats. There is a lot more to pike watercraft than that but it is a blooming good start, as the photograph proves.

What Mr Crabtree did not have much of was in the way of high-tech shortcuts. Last week a pike the size of Hayden's came my way purely because of an electronic gizmo called Deeper Pro. This is a cricket ball-sized sonar that you cast out and as you retrieve it transmits data to your phone. Crabtree would have scoffed, but Peter would have loved it, as we did. What I could not work out was why pike were hunting a very tight piece of water at about 80 yards range. Crude depth findings over the years had suggested the whole area was deep, about 20 feet, and featureless. The Deeper Pro shattered that misconception in about two minutes. It revealed that the epicentre of pike activity was over a small but distinct plateau about six feet deep. The sonar also showed there was weed growth there and plenty of small bait fish hiding within it. Everything was miraculously explained and when the wind got up my pal could drift a bait out to the feature and see it nabbed almost instantly. The fish was "Parfitt-Bland" size and a huge success for 2020 Watercraft methodology.

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Mind you, I'm unconvinced about every aspect of our information-overloaded world. I was brought up to believe that if your watercraft abilities lead you to find some exceptional fish, then you kept the news to yourself and your immediate fishing circle, often your dad, granddad or in my case Nanny! In part this was selfishness I accept, but it also meant that vulnerable fish were not exposed to potentially harmful angling pressure. In this regard, as we all know, pike are uniquely vulnerable and though a big pike looks tough, she is not. In fact (apart from seals and otters) anglers are a big pike's greatest threat to health. Why then, in the Facebook age, are so many fish captures advertised with exact locations often given too? I know that in places this winter, the habit has led to over-fishing, over-exploitation and over-heating of temperatures. There are plenty of anglers out there it seems looking for short cuts to success and this often does not bode well for the welfare of the fish, or even for fishing itself.

But for now, just let's celebrate the Parfitt-Bland family success story and say well done to Hayden and Ray and Dad too. Families in fishing are a great way to safeguard our future.