John Bailey: Four types of angler... and a question from Paul Whitehouse

Paul Whitehouse models the latest angling must-have hat...Picture: John Bailey

Paul Whitehouse models the latest angling must-have hat...Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

We all know that fishing is the most complex, multi-dimensional sport on the planet.

If you play football or cricket the only questions you face are what your position might be and at what level you play. Things are so very different for us anglers, and it is not just a case of whether you fish fly, lure or bait or whether you fish the salt or freshwater. Oh no. There’s much more to it than that.

Before we even investigate angling mind sets, why do you even fish in the first place? I’ll be pious. There are those who fish to feed their egos and I don’t like that. How someone (mostly a man) can think cradling a big fish makes him somehow a superior being is beyond me personally, but each to his own I guess. In the same vein, I’ve often been unsure about the quest for Personal Bests. I do this myself, so I have no room to talk. I guess that a PB is a nice thing to catch providing the pursuit doesn’t become obsessive and mask the joy of simply being bankside in the first place. Sticking my neck out even further, I feel being casual about fishing is even worse than being fanatical. I get exasperated with those anglers who can really take it or leave it, who don’t feel the passion and who could just as easily have taken up carpet bowls. I’m a bit of a Bill Shankly in believing that fishing isn’t a matter of life and death. It is, as we all know, more important than that.

Still in my pulpit, I feel the foundations of a long, happy life as an angler are based on love. Love of fish. Love of water. Love of nature. Love of friendship and a genuine belief in the phrase the “brotherhood of the angle”. For me, even loving soccer as I have done, fishing is the sport that has fulfilled every dream. But I mentioned mind-sets. There are four ways you can choose to fish, it seems to me.

You might choose to fish with ruthlessness, employing every method that is legal. Multiple rods. Self hooking rigs. Fishing in the dark. Live baits. Big flies ripped back. Whatever it takes to catch the fish you want is fine by you. Or you might want to fish more gently, fishing a dry fly or nymph or float when you can, but still being less esoteric when conditions dictate. I’d put myself in this camp, for what it is worth. For example, I prefer to catch grayling on a nymph, but I’ll trot a maggot if I must. Perhaps, though, you are a persistent purist, the type of angler who never forgets your principles. It will be dry fly only. A fish on a float is worth 10 on a feeder. You’ll probably wear a tie wherever you cast. Or, fourthly, endearingly, you might not give a hoot what you catch. A bite is a bonus. Sighting a kingfisher is what a session is all about, or a Kelly kettle bubbling. Or a shared joke with a good friend. A lot of me wants to go this route. I might make it one day.

This whole sermon has been inspired by two events this week past. First up, I fished with a pal who is laid back, unadventurous and fishes old style without pretension. I had him on a top tench water and I pleaded with him to fish maggot feeders or bolt-rigged boilies, both professional approaches with terrific track records. He preferred to do it his way, with groundbait, an old feeder he had found and a piece of corn straight on the hook. My three rods produced one tench. His one rod landed 14 of them. What a walloping. My “go for it whatever” fishing had been blown out of the water by a guy just happy to be on the water and listen to the reed warblers. Wonderful, I hear you say, and I agree. In my blinkered way I had not considered the possibility those tench had seen enough of me and my professional approaches. Old style fishing was something these educated fish had not bargained for and something they had no defences against. Fish don’t read the rules we concoct and we do well to remember that.

Even more sobering is this angling event. Great pal Ian Lewis and I had fished the Wensum for roach a few days back. It had been a grueller. We had walked miles – and I mean miles – and caught next to nowt. We had fished well, or so I had thought. Tiny floats, carefully trotted. Precise baiting. Top watercraft. No fish there, was our verdict. Then Alec came into my life. He wanted to fish the same stretch of river that had defeated me and Ian... but this time with his fly rod. Good luck, I thought. You’ll need it, chum. This is what happened. On a tiny red bloodworm pattern fished under a strike indicator, Alec caught 16 roach in three hours to nigh on a pound and a half in weight. In short, once again I had witnessed a trouncing inflicted by a so-called inferior method.

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Finally, what about this? Great pal Paul Whitehouse, star of Gone Fishing with Bob Mortimer, wrote an article eulogising the joys of angling for the Sunday Times magazine a while back. Brilliant bloke (and angler) that Paul is, he rang me to say he was going to give his fee to an angling charity. Had I any ideas? The obvious answer is the Angling Trust, but big organisations just consume money. Can anyone out there think of something really fitting? It could be anything unexpected, perhaps even taking an old angler out for the session of his or her life, fulfilling a lifetime angling dream. If you have the answer, then let me know. We’d both be grateful.

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