John Bailey: Some fishing thoughts from a jaunt up in Derbyshire

Some hairy Wye filming moments. Picture: John Bailey

Some hairy Wye filming moments. Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

I've just got back from Derbyshire with a head spinning full of memories.

John Bailey and Kate prove even the mighty barbel can be fooled into making a mistake. Picture: John

John Bailey and Kate prove even the mighty barbel can be fooled into making a mistake. Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

Before relocating down to Norfolk as a tiny tot in short pants, I used to travel the A6 from Manchester down to the Trent almost weekly with the Stockport Angling Club. On the way back, we'd stop close to Bakewell for the adults to have a Sunday night pint whilst we kids poached the Derbyshire Wye for a trout or two. It was there, aged six, I first got my collar fingered by the law and I have to say have learnt my lesson ever since. So, it was poignant to be spending time on that very bridge where I spent my lawless youth only four or five days back.

It was a strange sort of filming gig that I was on, spending all the time watching the water and the fish and barely any of it whatsoever in front of the camera. Strange days indeed, but the opportunity did let me watch the water with a clarity and focus that I'm not always afforded. Complete and utter fascination was the result.

For two days, I watched my guys before the camera flogging the Wye to a foam. I guess during that time, from my perch up the bank, I saw at least a thousand trout come to their flies, make a mouth and then refuse completely. The anglers didn't have a clue this was happening. Once or twice they saw a flash or a bulge on the water but that was about it. My quiet oohs and aahs were a puzzle to them. That's the way of it. I dread to think how many times all of us, fishing fresh or saltwater, don't have a clue how often our baits are inspected. I guess for every hook-up, there are a hundred refusals. It was only when one or the other of the anglers got everything exactly spot on that a trout would make a mistake. If the fly were the wrong size, pattern or colour, hopeless. If the cast went down with even the slightest of splash, disaster. And if there were even the remotest hint of drag on the line, futile. For all that time, I sat there observing, realising that in clear water, wild, educated fish nearly always have the last laugh.

I brought three lessons home with me from Derbyshire, all pertinent to East Anglia. First up, the question of cracking good Polaroids. I thought mine were pretty decent but Wye guide Don showed me his and, blimey, a whole new world was revealed. I could see trout just 10 yards away from me I'd never even guessed at with my own relatively expensive pair. His were Costas, obviously, streets ahead of what I possessed. Believe me, if you can see everything happening in front of you, it doesn't half help.


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Second, the Wye was alive with waterfowl and, to my wonderment, water voles. I saw plenty of the little chaps both nibbling on reeds and swimming busily here and there without a care in the world. Though I'm on rivers and lakes here in the East every single day, it's years since I've had sightings like these. So why on the Wye? They don't have any otters. I guess it's as simple as that.

Thirdly, I watched one gentleman in the Wye fishing club fishing Tenkara-style. This is basically a Japanese form of fly fishing, involving no reel, a long rod and a fly at the end of a piece of line. It's a cross between dapping and pole fishing, I guess but it was blisteringly successful. The fact is that the fly enters the water with virtually no disturbance at all, almost as naturally as the real, living insect. Of course, I've flirted with the Tenkara-style here in East Anglia on the rivers for chub and for roach. That's why I bought my own pole last winter and why it proved hugely more successful that normal running gear with even a light stick float.

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What Derbyshire taught me is that there are times, on rivers and stills both, that wild fish are virtually uncatchable. You have to present a fly, a lure or a bait with every detail, every minutiae of the approach done perfectly. One slight hiccup and you can't catch a tin of beans.

Rather than driving back from Derbyshire along the A17 feeling intimidated, rather I felt inspired. You can catch the most difficult fish providing you get it all right and that, at the end of the line, is what this cracking sport is all about. For trophy fish it's a challenge to the very end.

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