John Bailey: Reality check after tales of woe on the riverbank

I love my EDP tag. How nice to be a Renowned Angler. It suggests experience, wisdom, the type of authority that will never be challenged. 'Renowned' has that distinctive ring to it, perfect for a fisherman of my age and my experience.

Yes, you'd think I would be floating like a swan, serenely down the stream of my angling life. Ho-ho-ho! This last week has been like nothing I've ever known before for years. My failure has been complete. My stock has sunk below zero. 'Renowned' would be better termed 'Reviled'. I'll come clean. This is how it happened.

Over the weekend of July 7-8, I was guiding a fine team of anglers, hungry for tench. Now, tench are a fish that I'm pretty smug about. If anyone can signpost a fine session or two with the tench, then it's got to be this particular Renowned Angler. After all, I've got a clutch of the finest tench waters at my disposal. I've got tench for beginners, tench for the more experienced and tench for the experts. If you want big tench, they're always on the cards and if you want just oodles of nice tench, that's an easy one. Except it wasn't.

Over four sessions, I had five anglers who failed to catch a single tench. You can't blame them. You can't blame their methods. You can't blame their baits. You can't blame their waters. As guide, you have to blame me. Okay, I got the tench bubbling for them, for sure. Sometimes, the swims looked as though I'd dumped in an underwater washing machine. Floats were physically knocked about by the fizzing! We saw tench roll. We saw them slap out, flicking their tails down hard. We saw them do everything, in fact, but give us a bite. Those floats just refused to go down. They lifted, they hovered, they wafted, they curtsied. But disappear? Not a chance. I waved goodbye to five disgruntled anglers on the Sunday afternoon and drove home, if I could have done, head in hands.

Still, onwards and upwards and the next day, Monday, Sarah and I set out west at the very earliest o'clock to film Fishing in the Footsteps of Mr Crabtree down on the Wye with a couple of female 'Peters'.

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The Wye was up, as I knew it would be. The girls, in truth, charming and delightful as they were, were not really experienced anglers. None of this would matter, I blithely told my director. After all, who knows the Wye better than old JB, the Renowned Angler who has been fishing it for more than half his life?

So we met the girls, we reccied the swims and I piled in the bait. The barbel would be hard, I told my team, but they would be pretty well guaranteed. The Monday afternoon seemed to back me up. We landed a chub or two and one of the girls lost a barbel. Monday night I slept well, anticipating a fine barbeling day.

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We fished from around dawn on Tuesday to late afternoon on Wednesday with just one break for sleep. We hooked just two barbel and both of them dropped off. They were the only two chances to come even remotely our way. I fished floats, feeders and leads. I used pellet, luncheon meat, meatballs, sausages, anchovies and every big, smelly bait that flooded water demands. I fished into darkness and I fished at dawn. And we've still got to go back and do it all again. I drove back to Norfolk again, head even more deeply in my hands than before.

You've got to ask why? Have I lost it? Am I now the Rubbish Angler? Or is it this confounded, cold, cloud-dominated summer of ours? Is it the fact that daytime temperatures never clamber above 20? Is it the fact that the wind seems to blow from four quarters at once? Is it the fact we can't get a single day without rain? Is it the fact I'm still dressing up as though I were setting out for a winter piking session rather than a day after tench.

I guess confidence has as much impact in angling as it has in any other sport. You can instantly recognize a striker or a batsman at the top of his game, and so with a fisherman. There have been times when I have felt capable of hauling fish from my bath tub and I have to find that positivity again, and soon. If I don't, whatever the weather dumps on me, I will continue to let myself and others down. So watch this space for more laments from The Anguished Angler!

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