John Bailey’s Barbel challenge raises £950 for East Anglian Air Ambulance

John Bailey, Jim Tyree and friends hand over a £950 cheque to the East Anglian Air Ambulance.

John Bailey, Jim Tyree and friends hand over a £950 cheque to the East Anglian Air Ambulance. - Credit: Archant

I have personal experience of how invaluable the East Anglian Air Ambulance Service can be.

Some years ago, I was down on the Wye Valley guiding some anglers when one of the more elderly clutched his chest and staggered. This was more than a crisis and could easily have proved tragic. However, within 30 minutes of making a call, the EAAA helicopter appeared and my guy was airborne, being powered through the sky to hospital and, as it proved, safely restored to health. Truly, a magic service for an ailing angler so far away from any road or access point.

I know you're all sick to the back teeth of hearing about Bailey's Barbel Challenge of a few weeks back and how I failed to catch a whiskered gentleman from the River Wensum. This was a productive failure, however. Through coverage in the Eastern Daily Press, the Angler's Mail and the various websites I am involved with, £950 was raised for the EAAA, with its helicopter based at Norwich Airport. A few days back a group of us made our way there to present the cheque to Klara Mears of the EAAA. She was delighted with what we had all done.

'A lot of people think that the Air Ambulance Service is funded by the government,' Klara said. 'However, that's not the case and the service is funded entirely through donations.

'It actually costs £200 in fuel per hour for the helicopter to fly, so your £950 is actually paying for four hours and 45 minutes in the air. I'll be quite happy, John, if you failed to catch fish in the future if this is the result.'

I'd invited Nick Beardmore from the Environment Agency along with me to hand over the cheque. Also present as a vital part of the team were Josh Fisher and Chris Roberts as well as Jim Tyree who had set the whole thing up in the Angler's Mail in the first place. I've got to say from the word go that although I didn't catch that elusive barbel, Nick, Josh and Chris helped me to the hilt to achieve that aim. They advised me on locations, gave me bait, and even suggested some methods. That Bailey remained barbless is certainly not any reflection on their efforts. You might not have heard of these guys, but they're serious anglers. They keep themselves well under the radar and though some of their captures would make front page news, they prefer not to have it that way. East Anglia has a history of fishermen like these. It's been my privilege to have known some fabulous anglers hereabouts over the last 50 years or so who, despite earth-shattering results, have always wanted to keep out of the limelight.

You could say this is something down to selfishness, a desire to keep great waters secret, but I wouldn't personally go along with that. These guys are modest, love their fishing and like it to be a purely personal experience. You've got to be careful of the lure of fame. I've known other anglers who have become addicted to seeing their name in the angling press, falling for the so-called glory of capturing big fish.

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Having the boys there reminded me so strongly of that phrase, 'brotherhood of the angle.' I think back over these years fishing in Norfolk and realise how many people I have to be so eternally grateful to. I don't think any long term anglers can say that they have done it alone. We're always dependent on others for generosity, help and advice. I can't start on my own personal list of thank-yous because I'd fill the entire paper, not just this column. However, to the hundreds of you out there, a deep, deep thank-you from me for making my fishing life what it has been.

So, what's the status of barbel after all that? I'll always remain buoyant, always hopeful that the small fish I talked about back in the autumn will come through to be the big ones that we all would love to see being caught. I just wish I'd hit that one true barbel bite on the last day of the Challenge to prove my point and highlight the fact there still are some mature fish left.

I'll freely admit that I missed that barbel bite because the pellet I was using masked the hook on the strike. There was nothing wrong with the pull, which was vibrant, it was my hooking arrangement that led me to disaster. I think, even during that pre-dawn session, I was unsure, a little worried that perhaps the hook point was not as free and proud as it should have been and I lived to regret not taking more time to think things through more carefully.

This is vital when the fishing is rock hard, so please remember this advice in the winter months to come. Do absolutely everything to ensure you maximize your fishing time. There are still some great fish to be caught between now and March, but you've got to work at it, you've got to cover all bases and not make the mistakes I made on the last day of the Challenge.

It's worth pointing out that when we all arrived at Norwich Airport, the helicopter was actually out, in service, off the north Norfolk coast. The winds that day, the Thursday just gone, were violent. These men who risk their lives to save ours are valiant in the extreme and deserve every last penny in our pockets, every last prayer in our thoughts.

Let's do everything we can in the future as anglers to keep this tremendous service airborne.