John Bailey: Where now for our fishing future?

Memories are made of this... Heidi and Matt with a super tench Picture: John Bailey

Memories are made of this... Heidi and Matt with a super tench Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

Can any of us remember a time when our lives have been subject to such rapid and fundamental changes?

Catch an episode of Gone Fishing on iplayer Picture: john Bailey

Catch an episode of Gone Fishing on iplayer Picture: john Bailey - Credit: Archant

I’m not sure that even in the war years did government announcements come quite as thick and fast with such immediate and fundamental impacts on how we live our lives. All this is by way of saying that what I write today might be outdated, even outlawed, by tomorrow. Still, as a columnist, you have to start somewhere.

I was elated to read a message from the Norfolk Flyfishers in my inbox. I have long felt that if there is a harbour of common sense in the angling world this is where you will find it. How sane of the committee to vote for continued fishing at the lake providing common sense rules are obeyed along with all governmental strictures.

Like me, the committee members aren’t exactly in the first flush of youth and you might expect them to err on the side of extreme caution. Not a bit of it. These are seasoned anglers who realise the massive benefits a fishing session in the open, springtime air can bring to you.

Relaxation away from the rigours of isolation is a vital part of our well-being they are saying. As you would expect, the committee have made it a rule that all locks must be opened and closed by anglers wearing disposable gloves and that packing together into the clubhouse should not happen. Beyond that, the advice is get out, keep safe, use common sense and catch your supper.

Paul and Bob at work! Picture: John Bailey

Paul and Bob at work! Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant


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I have also been in touch with former Member of Parliament, Martin Salter, who now has a central role at the Angling Trust. He told me the Trust’s stance is to keep fishing safely, within government guidelines. He attended a meeting of Sport England last week where angling was praised and supported as a great way to get outdoors in the safest possible way.

Angling Trust CEO Jamie Cook speaks for us all when he said: “Fishing is a fantastic activity which gets you outside, keeps you and your family isolated, close to home and has a proven record of well-being and improving mental health. It can make memories for life whilst adhering to government guidelines.”

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Personally, I have been out and about, wearing gloves and keeping away from other anglers but still baiting tench swims in anticipation for temperatures rising and easterly winds swinging to the south or west. To do this, I have, of course, needed the bait and my trips to Wensum Valley Angling, close by Taverham Garden Centre, have been frequent. Owner Daniel has assured me that while he can, he will remain open and he is working on a scheme to give kids free maggots and pellets if they can go fishing with family members in a safe environment. It is worth checking out the shop’s Facebook page to see how this develops. If it does, then I am already working on ideas about how I too might offer my services.

In an ideal world, hard to imagine I know, stay-at-home parents might be able to take out-of-school kids fishing to a safe place and enjoy quality time together in an open air environment, exactly as the scientists are advising. Daniel has warned that the tackle supply chains are faltering. Most of what we use in the way of hooks, floats, lines and feeders come from China so stocks are running out. Even this sobering news might have an upside. Perhaps if we can’t get hi-tech gear, we might be forced back to a time when angling was simpler and refreshingly uncomplicated. We might one day be making our own floats again and digging worms from the garden as bait. A load of you my age did these things as kids and I bet we enjoyed our fishing just as much then as we do now.

One of my nicest memories from last year was all about the issues I have been raising. Norfolk’s Matt Gallant and daughter Heidi joined me for a day’s tench fishing in glorious spring conditions. To say the two of them bonded is the understatement of the year. They made super memories together in the most natural and unspoilt environment. They had fun, excitement and they solved challenges to catch cracking, personal best fish. We had all the modern baits with us, but, guess what? Yes, the winner by far was the humble worm. That day, the tench just loved them and they seemed to stream to the net in a magical carpet of olive green. I’d like to think Heidi will remember that day, all her life, for decades after the coronavirus is a thing from the long-distant past.

But let’s say things change and restrictions become more draconian. I’m told that you can find episodes of Mortimer and Whitehouse - Gone Fishing on iPlayer. Google Norfolk publishing house Harper-Fine Angling Books on the internet and order in some of the best reads in the sport. Me? Well, I have already started cleaning out the detritus in my angling shed. It hasn’t been pretty so far. How did I forget the now liquidised cheese paste that is swimming nauseously in a jacket pocket? How on earth did a rotting sprat, smelt or something that once swam in the sea find its way to a hiding place in a moon boot? I haven’t even started sorting rods, reels, floats, hooks, feeders, flies, lures and all the rest of it. If I am to do a properly good job of it, well, that’s me busy until Christmas.

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