John Bailey: Record fish – and I’m there at last!

PUBLISHED: 10:04 26 February 2019 | UPDATED: 10:04 26 February 2019

On a wonderful spring river..who needs records? Picture: John Bailey

On a wonderful spring river..who needs records? Picture: John Bailey


Perhaps I ought to qualify that headline a tad before you get too excited for me.

Who needs records on beautiful February days like these? Picture: John BaileyWho needs records on beautiful February days like these? Picture: John Bailey

First, I didn’t quite catch this particular enormous fish myself: one of my guided clients did that. However, I devised the strategy and put the net under the fish so I do claim a little of the credit.

Secondly, I can’t reveal any of the details just now as the owner of the water has to give his blessing before I can tell the story in detail. So you’ll have to forgive me for an overblown heading, but one I still feel has resonance. I’ll tell you why.

You know, I have been fishing for big fish for 50 years now and this is actually the first record I have seen. It shows just how rare records are, even though I have come close. For example, back in 1991 I witnessed Norfolk man Steve Harper’s 104lb Indian mahseer being weighed on the banks on the Cauvery river, just outside Bangalore. That we think was a post Independence record for that country. A few years back, I weighed a 42lb pike for a dear friend. That would have broken the UK record for much of my own life. I’ve seen plenty of 10lb tench in recent years and I grew up at a time when the record was 3lb less than that. My own biggest roach I claimed at 3lb 10oz, but when the scales were checked they were weighing three ounces light at that weight. Thirty years ago, the record hovered only a fraction higher. An actual record, though, well, is something else.

It happened on Tuesday afternoon, February 19 at 3.05pm. What a jaw dropping moment. What a crazy sight as it lay in the folds of the net. What a turmoil of disbelief as the scales just kept on spinning. What a tsunami of adrenalin engulfed us all on the banks of the river as we stood there in awe (a river – there’s a clue!). How high did we throw our hats in the air? How long did we hug once the giant had swum safely away? Yes, these were time-frozen minutes which I will never forget and probably will never repeat but once the frenzy had died down the aftermath saw shadows begin to spread.

Even on the drive home, I began to worry about the accuracy of the scales and of the whole weighing process. Of course I am experienced. Of course I took monumental care but still, to err is to be human. Of course the process was witnessed but did the others even begin to concentrate, over-excited as they were? I can put all this down to neurosis but not my worry about the health of the fish itself. It was probably old and delicate and even though we weighed and photographed it with well-practised speed, it still took an age to recover. Do we really know how it fared once it had disappeared back into the bottle green depths, left to face the current on its own?

I fret too about pressure on the water once the story breaks into the media fully in a week or two. This column is the first hint something historic has transpired, but soon the world of river fishing will be humming, providing, of course, the owner gives that all important consent. I am under no obligation to give the beat of the river in question or even name it all, but those in the know will have more than a shrewd guess as to where that leviathan lives. Proper permission to fish there is hard to obtain but there are ruthless characters out there who would not shirk at doing a bit of poaching, ‘guesting’ as this practice is euphemistically called. What of my brave fish’s future then?

Now we are onto the less appealing side of angling, I haven’t been overwhelmed by the whispers that have already leaked out. Social media has already been awakened and there have been rumblings of resentment and doubts cast on the veracity of the claim. It’s a case of sticks and stones I suppose but even so it is a sad world where we can’t simply celebrate a golden moment. But it has been ever thus.

Donkey’s years back, Sid Baker broke the UK perch record with a 4lb 12oz monster, from Oulton Broad I think it was. Rumours always abounded about that fish and in the 80s I heard reports of the actual capture from those who claimed to be present at the time. Their story goes that Sid was pike fishing on the day. He cast out, got into a massive tangle and was sorting this out on the bottom of the boat when the fish took. He didn’t strike for ages and then hoiked it in, thinking it was nothing more than a jack pike. His ‘friends’ were at pains to tell me that a record had never been more richly undeserved!

Perhaps at the end of the day we should simply relish these glorious miracle February days on the bank and pray for nothing bigger than a minnow. A small minnow at that.

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