John Bailey: Angling’s great question - is it better to stick or move on?

John Bailey with a cracking chub caught on a stickfloat, but only after half an hour’s hard fishing

John Bailey with a cracking chub caught on a stickfloat, but only after half an hour’s hard fishing and feeding Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

Angling gets interesting when the going gets tough. That is when you are pushed, that is when you dig deep into your resources to save a session.

Neill Stephen with two big chub caught on consecutive casts..before moving on Picture: John Bailey

Neill Stephen with two big chub caught on consecutive casts..before moving on Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

So when the fishing is tough, do you up sticks and try new water or do you hunker down and fish the same swim but better? Even Stone Age man scratched his head over this one, so pardon me if I don't have the answers. As ever, though, I have my thoughts!

This holiday season I have been lucky to share bank time with my old friend Neill Stephen, who splits his life between London and Thornage in north Norfolk. Some of you just might have heard of Neill, one-time winner of both the Drennan and Korum Cups as well as holding national records for chub and perch. You'd think I would do well not to disagree with such a talent and generally I don't. On the question of moving or sticking, though, we do have our issues. These emerged on a grayling jaunt a while back. Neill's approach is to fish every run hard for three or four casts with either bait or fly and then move on to find fish. My rule is to find water I fancy and then dig in and fish it with determination until I am convinced the grayling are not there. Only then will I look elsewhere.

Neill and I were out on our Norfolk river this time on December 28, which you will remember was mild, overcast with a fining down flow and colour. A perfect chub day in fact. Again, our differences shone through. We both elected to trot with stickfloats and maggots but whilst I fished four swims in the day, Neill probably tackled a dozen.

I think we had seven chub each, so in fact it was honours even and no points proved either way. There is one fishing tip i picked up though and which I will pass on. He does hold the record for the species after all!! Whilst I baited with maggots and fed maggots, Neill fed with mashed bread and used four maggots on a size 12 hook at the sharp end. My guess is that the stream of mash got the chub up and hunting more quickly than my less obvious maggots did. Certainly, Neill's successes came with remarkable speed, at one stage two chub falling to his first two, consecutive casts. Perhaps the answer is to incorporate a bit of Bailey and Stephen both into your next trip out on a river?

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There is a more profound side to this debate. If we are talking about sticking or moving, is it better to know one still water or a single stretch of river intimately or is hopping from one venue to another a more sure way to success? My personal slant on this is the former for sure. When I was into my stillwater fly fishing I did far, far better getting to know one lake like the back of my hand rather than gadding here there and everywhere. In the great roach days of the 70s and 80s I had no doubt that concentrating on a three- to four-mile stretch of a single river caught me more, bigger roach that flitting all over the region. Most carp anglers too would rather settle into the 'single water zone' and get to read its every nuance than try endless venues. Okay, it is nice to have away days, but my gut instinct is that super fish come as a result of super knowledge and that is always hard earned. Often after months or even years of immersion into the moods of a single water.

Let's take the debate to its ultimate destination now. Neill has caught some amazing fish over the past 15 years but he would agree that is because he not only moves swims regularly but entire venues as well. He called it 'cherry picking'. Neill is typical of many anglers who will fish anywhere in the country where he feels there is a chance of a special fish. I hasten to add I am not criticising here. I was exactly like Neill for many years. I have only changed my approach with age because I feel the need to make waters close to me even more a part of my life, my soul, my entire being. For example, I might catch more big roach by going to the Hampshire Avon every weekend but to me, those fish would mean nothing compared to fish from the Bure or Wensum. Why would I always be on the move if I can stick in my own personal paradise?

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There is also the follow-on that if a lake or a river means everything to you, you are likely to work to improve it or to defend it from harm. This is why I sing the praises so often of Terry Lawton and Tim Aldiss and other Norfolk men because they stick on the waters they love and make them better year on year. Better for fish, better for wildlife, better for our world. Move then whenever you wish, but you will probably come back to sticking in the end.

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