John Bailey: Always fish on the bright side of life

The John Bailey Jack Action Float ready for next winter’s adventure Picture: John Bailey

The John Bailey Jack Action Float ready for next winter’s adventure Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

Everyone seems to be doing their bit, from Premier League footballers giving up some of their pay to Gary Blake’s Norwich Airport Customer Service team.

My floats all buffed and ready for the off - one day Picture: John Bailey

My floats all buffed and ready for the off - one day Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

All 54 of them have combined their heavenly voices to a rendering of Madonna’s hit “Holiday”. From what I have seen, going viral is guaranteed, and so it should. Anything that keeps spirits up and encourages the feel-good factor to shine through the gloom of coronavirus is to be applauded. Of course, not every one of us is actually suffering from the lockdown, and some not at all.

I have a friend who is a river keeper on one of the finest beats of a southern chalk stream. The estate on which he works has a cottage and is both vast and completely uninhabited, so he can fish the river and the lakes there, walk, hunt and live the life we can only dream of. There aren’t even any fishing guests, he tells me, so he has the whole blissful paradise to himself. I suppose Adam felt much the same way until apples tripped him up. My man even has his kids with him, of course. They can tell one type of woodpecker from another just by the sound of the call they make and his daughter is now a whizz at making venison stew. Son goes out to collect the herbs needed from the valley floor and then does the washing up. That’s what I call useful home schooling.

For the rest of us anglers, the days are little more humdrum. We are exhorted to get busy in the tackle shed making floats and traces and hook lengths and everything and anything that will make our sessions better, once we get bank side again. Having fingers as dexterous as pork sausages, my tasks have been a little more basic. But here is a tip. I have actually been sorting pike traces from the last couple of winters and looking at them carefully under a magnifying glass for flaws. What I have found is that in some cases the wire has actually rusted underneath the crimp that holds the whole trace together. Water has obviously got in there, remained undetected and made the trace an accident waiting to happen. I’d check yours if I were you and if in doubt tie up new ones.

Another predator tip. Whilst I can’t dream of making a float, I have had the sense to collect, dry and polish a couple of hundred of the favourite ones in my collection. Many of them were given me by the master float maker from March, Andrew Field – check out his website if you want a serious drool. In 2012 he produced the most extraordinary float of all time for me. The John Bailey Jack Action Special was how he called it.

My experience was suggesting that several local pits at the time held just a very few monstrous pike that were happy to exist completely under the radar. They could do this by feeding exclusively on jack pike between one and perhaps five pounds, so whenever I found one this weight that had expired, into the freezer it went. Andy’s float allowed me to fish behemoth baits effectively and a couple of times, Titanic like, the float actually sank. The best pike caught thus was a “mere” 22-pounder, but for those of you wanting a cherished 30 this is an idea for when the dead jack presents itself. But remember, you’ll need a larger than usual trace – and check those crimps!

For those of us who do not have country estates, the Angling Trust has produced a type of online magazine it calls Fishingbuzz. You can get onto it by going to the Trust website or From my preliminary scans, it looks like it could fill an hour or two if you can’t go off to catch your own trout and fillet it for supper. For my money, even better than the Trust’s indicative is the idea come up with by Phil Humm of the admirable Wensum Anglers Conservation Association. He has asked members to contribute their own best fishing stories to be put up on the website each and every day. It’s said every angler has a book in him, or her, and so these crackers prove it to be. Leading Norfolk angler Chris Turnbull wrote about chub, Bob Chambers about roach and Bernard Cooper told a lovely tale about fishing with his niece. It has been suggested by Bernard that I add something about a lost fish that at some time or another made me weep.

Most Read

I haven’t done so yet, thinking Norfolk anglers have quite enough Bailey in this column every week. But then another website came to my attention the sunny Sunday just gone. This one can be found on, an intriguing journey through some of the most exotic fisheries on the planet. I was especially drawn by the photo of a colossal taimen, a kind of land-locked Asian salmonid, caught from a Russian hotspot. The site’s founder, Heinz Machacek, says in the caption that Russia boasts the planet’s biggest taimen, but that cannot be. In 1997 I hooked a taimen in Mongolia’s river Shiskid that was at least the equal of the Russian beast. I’m wary of writing big fish battles, but when this fish hit my lure, think volcanic eruptions. When it barrelled off downriver, think having a tiger by the tail. Simon Channing, my partner on the trip, and I took turns on the rod, so exhausted was I after following the beast of a fish for well over a mile. After two hours, the fish was not nearly done, but at least it was close to the bank and in the shallows, just as dusk began to lie over the forest around us. It was then we did look disaster in the face.

Down the river, a bear appeared, wading towards us, growling and mean. Channing and I exchanged looks, pulled for a break and got ourselves out of there fast. But frankly, I was far less scared than I would have been if Gary had suggested I sing a bit of Madonna.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter