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John Bailey: Strictly Come Dancing or angling ... timing is everything

PUBLISHED: 19:21 23 September 2019 | UPDATED: 19:21 23 September 2019

After a day of disappointments, John Bailey gets his timing right at last Picture: John Bailey

After a day of disappointments, John Bailey gets his timing right at last Picture: John Bailey

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Strictly Come Dancing is my guilty pleasure on a Saturday evening when I am left exhausted by the week just gone.

A huge mirror is safely returned after a capture of exquisite timing Picture: John BaileyA huge mirror is safely returned after a capture of exquisite timing Picture: John Bailey

Amidst the sequins and sparkling teeth, there's even a grain of sense from time to time. Last Saturday, for example, judge Bruno said that timing in dancing, as in comedy, is everything. Silly man. He actually meant timing in angling where it really does reign supreme.

Ten years ago, I lived up in Salthouse and whenever I could I would walk down to the beach there as the sun set. It was generally a gloriously uplifting part of the day, but this one evening I could hear the gulls before I could see them. I crested the old sea wall and the tiny whitebait-type fry and fingerlings were in the surf in biblical numbers. Tiny fish were showering out of the water pursued by mackerel which were in turn being gorged upon by the bass. Further out, seals were cruising, mopping up everything they could get. It was like something out of Attenborough. I sprinted to the cottage, grabbed a lure rod and had 10 minutes to catch two mackerel and one bass before the spree was over and the North Sea donned its grey, impenetrable mask once more.

I failed to get my timing right on Sunday, though. I have always longed to achieve the perfect kingfisher photograph, the image to make the world gasp. Three days ago I had it in my grasp. In the early light, with the sun radiant, a pair of the halcyon birds had buzzed the lake for minutes, a super show of sound and colour. I had all the time in the world to take a chance and take my camera out, fit a long lens and keep my fingers crossed. I didn't bother. My time had come and one of the birds arrowed onto the old mooring post four feet from me, where it spent a full two minutes preening, looking this way and that and generally making himself look gorgeous. Fool that I am.

So, my fault then and no mistake, but my timing had been good on the previous Thursday when it was ill chance to let me down. On one of my river walks, by sheer good luck, a hefty barbel showed itself in a long golden gleam along a gravel bank. What timing was that, gifted me by the fishing gods? This was my chance, this was my time to catch a fish rare as a golden goose and I was back with gear within the half hour. I saw the fish, 10lb at the least, I stalked it and I weaned it onto small red pellets. My plan was perfect, my bait was hooked and my cast was about to be made when three canoe loads of laughing, splashing, loudly-swearing lads appeared out of the upstream willows. Blown. I'm not entirely sure that barbel has stopped fleeing yet.

Friday, I had a long gruelling day on the river with a cherished friend wanting to catch a chub. I have said repeatedly that chub in low, brightly lit water are a massive ask, but this day we nearly got it right. I'd been to Sainsbury's and bought myself a dozen raw giant prawns that looked and smelled not unlike signal crayfish. My friend immediately sniffed the plan and we set off to walk five miles, dropping those killer prawns into every chub hole we came to. In one way, we succeeded magnificently. Over the course of the day we recorded eight smash and grab bites from chub that evidently thought they were looking at crayfish that they would die for rather than let escape. In the conditions that was an extraordinary result, but we failed in so far as we, or he, missed every one. Of course, we fiddled with hook size, hook placement and even cut down the size of the bait by judicious use of the scissors. Still those chub got the better of us and escaped chuckling, on four occasions with a free prawn between their lips. Not funny at a quid a throw, we felt.

My pal said enough was enough and he left me as an Indian summer sun sank towards the horizon. A voice said timing to me, it's all about timing. So I took the last prawn and flicked it on a size four under my last target bush. In a minute, the line sang tight but I gave slack and sat on my hands for just 15 seconds or so. Six pounds on the nose it went, the result of a quarter of a minute's time.

Perhaps best of all was a mahoosive carp that came along just a day or so back. I took a mate (aren't they the lucky ones?) to a swim that has produced 12 carp in 12 visits over the past three seasons. Nothing unusual in that, but every fish, bar none, has come along between 3pm and 4pm in the afternoon. We still arrived early doors, of course, and whilst the hours crept by and my friend's face lengthened I maintained my cheery optimism. No matter, I told him. it is all a matter of timing. And the time was 3.5 pm when the slack pulled straight, when the rod tip bounced and the alarm burst into life. We asked that mighty mirror why she and her chums always came along during that single, golden hour, but we got no reply. If she'd had one though, she might well have just looked at her watch.

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