John Bailey: The sport of fishing is what the kids really want

A few weeks ago you might remember me talking about the revival of Mr Crabtree, the cartoon angling character from the 1950s, and our search for his new 'Peter apprentices' to star with me in the TV series that we begin to film in March.

It's been gratifying that we've had so many entries and each and every one of them has made fascinating reading. You realize that out there, there are still thousands of kids who want to take up the sport of fishing or to improve on the start that they've already made. That, in my view, is absolutely fantastic. Can there be a better sport for life? It's certainly served me and my friends well for many decades. However, reading some of the entries make you realize that, as an adult, you don't always know exactly how to get a child 'hooked' as it were. Perhaps for many of us our own childhoods are so far back in the mists of time that we forget the basic excitements that make fishing so addictive.

I've never had children of my own but, for many years, I was a teacher and ran school fishing clubs. I suppose most successful was the one that I started up during my time at the Norwich School.

I still keep in touch with some of the 'boys' of that period...though they're now well into their forties. It's heartening that some of them at least still go fishing.

But in hindsight, though we enjoyed ourselves mightily, I'm not sure I got it right.


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True, many of the boys went off to university with very enviable big fish lists. The trouble was that they had been so successful that I know many of them felt they'd been there and done that.

They'd caught big everything in their three or four years with me and were ready to move on into different walks of life. Still, looking back, I don't know how I would have done things differently. These were very bright lads who read all the books, magazines and papers and understandably just wanted big fish. It took me, up in the canals of the northwest, three years to get my first bite.

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It's perhaps fortunate that for the TV series we're looking for Peters or Petronellas who are younger than the Norwich schoolboys that I used to drive around Norfolk's fishing world. Reading the entries, you begin to realize that their ambitions are far less ambitious. One of the entries came in as a piece from Ben Ellis's diary. I'd taken Ben and his father Tim out in summer 2011 and I think it's worth quoting what he writes in full.

Dear diary,

Today was fantastic I went to a secret fishing spot in Norfolk and it was amazing! Me, my dad and John Bailey (a famous fisherman) went fishing for carp after a long two-hour drive. We saw the large beasts everywhere around the lake and I mean everywhere.

We all took different places around the lake, and then, it started.....

I started with a maggot and lob worms and got about 30 odd rudd at the end of the lake

Then all of a sudden out of the depths of tree roots came the king of the lake. Around three and a half pounds of vicious perch thrashed around on my line, John came to take over the mighty beast but then it jumped off the hook, was off and swam back into his lair.....

We sat down for some lunch that someone had kindly prepared us. After lunch I caught a small rudd which died and we used as dead bait for eels. Next I went up to two ponds near another lake which had some very nice frogs in so I tried to catch one but it was too darn quick. I was back at my maggot spot with John trying to get the elusive golden rudd then with a lucky cast it was ours and it was beautiful. Suddenly at a small part in the reeds where my dad was (I'd been there for a few minutes) we had a big take and this is the BIG ONE! It was a huge effort to keep it away from the reeds because it was a carp that felt like a 20 pound muscle pulling me around the place. Then my dad had to take over the writhing beast but he lost it too! The sun was beginning to set but we kept on trying for a beast. (I found a lovely caterpillar.) I had a second strike but still I lost it.

At the end of the day I went home without a carp but I did go with some lovely memories. I was very sad when we left but we'd fished for nine hours and had a wonderful time. I can't wait to go back.

It's true, every last word of it. The bizarre thing is that Tim and I were desperately trying to catch him one of those 'beasts,' 20-odd pound carp that we could see swimming around on the surface whilst all Ben wanted to do was catch the three inch rudd that proliferated everywhere.

And when he caught that golden one, his eyes rolled, his mouth fell open and you'd have thought he'd gone to heaven.

The big fish were simply a distraction that took him away from his ruddlings, his frogs and his caterpillars. We'd do well to remember that.

I'll do well to remember that when filming starts in a few weeks. I've got to put myself back to when I was a kid, when I took pleasure in any bite, any fish, however small. I've got to rediscover the joy of seeing a barn owl at dusk again, a flock of starlings coming in to roost, or simply the glories of a stunning sunset or rise. I guess for me and for many of you, these pleasures have never totally gone away.

It's just good, sometimes, to remember how special the things are that we witness and polish up our appreciation of them until the whole day, every day really shines.

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