John Bailey: An angler’s treasured tackle is worth its weight in gold

A tense moment for Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer in Gone Fishing Picture: John Bailey

A tense moment for Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer in Gone Fishing Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

The sports editor got in touch recently with a long list of fishing tackle, which had belonged to the father of a friend who had sadly passed away and the family wondered if it had value.

The anguish of battle Pictyure: John Bailey

The anguish of battle Pictyure: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

In monetary terms, probably not a lot. There was a Diawa Whisker rod listed but no mention of its specifications. A couple of Shimano reels could be worth a bob or two, depending on condition, but most poignant was the mention of hundreds, if not thousands, of home-tied flies the friend had created during the long winter nights perhaps.

No doubt he had a Norfolk river or lake in mind as he sat at his vice, amidst a cornucopia of silks, plumages and pelts. I don’t know how finely these flies are finished but how do you put a price on dreams in any case? Put on a shed table, this gear might not look much and might raise only a hundred quid, but every item has been cherished and can probably tell a tale of triumph or disaster.

An angler’s tackle is his most precious possession, surely, something unique to him and often irreplaceable. When my time comes, perhaps I’d like my prize piscatorial pieces put in the ground by my side so I can use it on the rivers of the afterlife. More realistically, I’d better will the best treasures to my friends so they can keep the old rods and reels at work and remember me in the process.

There are two vintage bamboo Mark IV carp rods, a selection of centre pins and a plethora of handmade floats from masters of the craft like Paul Cook, Andrew Field and Ian Lewis. I’d hate to think that none of them will ever ride the stream again and perhaps get a ducking from a chub in the process.

Talking of old gear, you might be aware that the third series of Mortimer and Whitehouse, Gone Fishing begins this Sunday on BBC2 at 8pm. I know this a tenuous link, but as fishing consultant I have to give the programs a plug somehow and the talk of old gear made me think of Mortimer’s ancient, blue glass fibre rod that he has wielded since childhood. It is a pretty ghastly tool if the truth is told and its only merit, according to Bob, is that is the exact shade of a summer sky and therefore invisible to the fish.

Perhaps Bob himself has come to see the nonsense in that now that he has become a pretty accomplished angler because I don’t think the rod makes even a guest appearance in the new series. Which I tend to think is the best yet. I would say that, I hear you say, but I know you will be watching if you are fans and I’d earnestly advise you to check it out if you have not been. I could say many good things about the series, but I guess the best is that all the programs have been made with complete and utter honesty. Bob and Paul love fishing, love the countryside, love each other and the love absolutely shines through every scene. Yes, I do get paid, but I’d work for nowt, such is my belief in the good Bob and Paul do for the sport (only don’t tell the series producer that).

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Sticking with my tackle theme, I saw Daniel Brydon yesterday, the boss of Wensum Valley Angling. Who can’t but like and admire Daniel? He has already suffered the devastating death of his legendary partner in the business, the much-mourned Robert Shanks. Then a couple of years back, his shop was robbed with debilitating effect. Still, Dan has bounced back and has worked his boilies off these last months to keep all his customers in bait and gear and great advice. But, what do you know? The other week, the shop was broken into again by shiftless, selfish men who prefer stealing to working. I hope the culprits are not anglers. They would be a disgrace to the sport.

Finally , tackle talk again to conclude. After leaving Daniel, I got to the lake to find mate Simon tench fishing. He had just hooked into a fish which he had played for a minute or two already and was proving obdurate. I looked at my watch and saw it was 11.50am. The time is important because Simon was still playing that fish at 2pm. There are several things to say about this phenomenal battle. First, neither of us was happy about this prolonged, seemingly never-ending struggle. In the heat, it wasn’t doing 60-something Simon any favours, but we were much more worried about the fish (assuming it wasn’t a turtle or a crocodile on the end). The stresses we feared it must have been enduring worried us hugely, but what could we do once the monster had come attached? We could hardly cut the line and walk away. A clutch of our friends had materialised and they, too, said Simon just had to stick with it and see the battle through.

It is also important to add that Simon is a very good, very experienced angler with 40lb carp and 30lb pike to his credit. We are not talking a novice here. Nor was any part of his gear below par. Simon is meticulous about such niceties as a well-oiled reel clutch, new line, sound knots and all the stuff that can make the difference between a fish landed or not. Furthermore, I always tend to think he fishes a tad on the heavy side for his beloved tench, simply because he likes to get them in the net smartly, without undue fuss. So, really, I don’t think any of us can say he was fishing out of his depth or with irresponsible regard for fish care. To add to all this, I was impressed by Simon’s mental strength. I have witnessed mammoth battles abroad, for example in India when anglers have become embroiled with giant mahseer for hours on end. In many cases, their bodies have ached, but it is the mind that has given way. Apprehension gives way to fear and then panic. Cool control breaks down and frenzy and errors step in. Not so Simon, who was still on top of things at 2.04pm when the hook hold finally gave way.

We were of course gutted – as we anglers say – for both the fish and for us equally. We’d never got anything more than a suggestion of a look at the fish responsible but our guess was, of course, a carp. It must have been a mighty one though. Simon had landed a ‘20’ on the same gear back in July in just over 10 minutes. Two and a quarter hours, though... that is insane. The only plus is the thought that there are still mysteries in fishing, that not everything has been laid bare and YouTubed. And of course the suspicion that Bob Mortimer and his little blue rod would have had the fish out in minutes.