John Bailey: Meet the rock star who wants to solve a Norfolk angling crisis

JB and Fergal Sharkey meet in Hertfordshire Picture: John Bailey

JB and Fergal Sharkey meet in Hertfordshire Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

I doubt if we have ever lived in an age when fame has counted for so much and, often, had so little meaning or worth.

Lee Cartwright with his stunning 35lb Kingfisher common Picture: John Bailey

Lee Cartwright with his stunning 35lb Kingfisher common Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

It makes it extremely satisfying, therefore, when you happen upon a celebrity deserving of the name and who is a positive force for good.

Can I introduce Feargal Sharkey, who I had the fortune to meet on the river Lea a week ago? You might remember him as the front man of The Undertones and singer of songs such as Teenage Kicks or A Good Heart. You should know that he could become angling's saviour.

Am I overstating the case? No. If you listen to the radio, read the press, even switch on the TV, you'll know Feargal is leading a crusade to save our rivers, our chalkstreams in particular. He has been concerned with those streams north of London, like the Lea most recently but he is keen to get his teeth into the problems afflicting our water courses up here, notably the Wensum.

I listened to him for an hour. I was agog. Passionate. Articulate. Informed. Unstoppable, perhaps. I didn't know the upper Lea would run dry if it were not for the discharge from Luton sewage works. I hadn't realised to what degree we are squeezing the water-giving aquifer dry and how each new housing development endangers yet another waterway. I've said before that we focus on plastic and climate change to the detriment of a concern for water, but when Feargal says it, it sticks. We are wasting the stuff like you wouldn't believe. Here in the UK we use, each of us, on average well in excess of 150 litres of water daily: in Copenhagen your eco friendly Dane exists on exactly half of that.

A fish to bring joy as the rivers flow again Picture: John Bailey

A fish to bring joy as the rivers flow again Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

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Many of us anglers have seen this summer how all this pans out. Our region's rivers have wilted to little, or in the case of the Stour, to nothing. The blessing of a wet autumn should not make us deaf to what Feargal is preaching. We absolutely need to spend money on conserving and storing water now before we have squandered the lot. Where Feargal and I fished, you could have jumped across the Lea, even at our respective ages. It was shrunk just to a trickle, very much like the East Anglian rivers I had investigated this summer.

As I always am, I was indebted to Barry Tomlin last week, who forwarded me the Environment Agency's report into managing water resources along the Wensum catchment. I showed it to Feargal who laughed tears of bitter irony.

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Anyway, rain has come to save our rivers for now, and our fishing. The deluges have done the stills good too. They have risen, they have coloured a little and they have re-oxygenated and fish have fed. I was delighted to photograph a stunning 35lb common carp for friend Lee Cartwright at the Kingfisher lake. I think it was one of the 10-pounders I stocked there 10 years ago and for which I got a certain amount of abuse. Sometimes when it comes to fishery management you have to look to the future, not just the here and now.

On the rivers, levels have been restored and there is even some colour back there. They are even flowing again, a sight which two months ago many of us would have regarded as a miracle. The combination has meant that chub aren't spending all their time hiding up trees and even the roach are catchable again. It has been bliss to be walking the banks after the despair of the summer. As you hear the glorious rain falling on the bivvies and the brollies you sense the aquifer soaking it up, becoming alive again.

Very probably the greatest skill there is in coarse fishing lies in the art of feeding. When I guide, my anglers ask why I sometimes feed not at all, or sparingly or at other times why I pile it in. Explanations are frequently very hard to give. Good feeding often comes from gut feeling, which in itself is borne out of experience. In essence you have to know when fish are hungry and when they are not. You have to decide when heavy feeding will wake fish up or draw them in or create a spirit of competition. Equally, you have to sense when heavy feeding will sicken fish off or even scare the pants off them.

Let's take the Friday of last week as an example. Mate Simon Clark caught three 5lb chub by feeding three pints of maggots to them in an hour and a half. The rain of maggots drew them out of the tree they were living under and drove them in to a feeding frenzy that rendered them almost oblivious to their comrades being caught around them. Further upstream, Steve managed another big chub by simply feeding a pinch of bread mash every 15 minutes for an hour. First cast, the float sailed away and the fish was his.

I caught a very decent roach by dribbling maggots in constantly and then making my first cast after 10 minutes. Once again, the shoal was primed and the float went no more than five yards before burying.

I simply loved that roach, a blissful sample weighing a pound or so. I loved it that the river was full, flowing again and in good heart. And I love it that men like Feargal Sharkey and Barry Tomlin are there to care with such passion.

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