John Bailey: I know where I am heading if Boris gives fishing the thumbs up

The bluebell path to the everlasting crucian pool Picture: John Bailey

The bluebell path to the everlasting crucian pool Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

May 10 is the day widely touted to see some relaxation of England’s lockdown rules.

John Bailey enjoying Life On The Wild Side Picture: John Bailey

John Bailey enjoying Life On The Wild Side Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

Certainly, all anglers must be hoping to see Boris Johnson walk to the podium and announce a widening of outdoor activities we can now pursue with caution and with due reverence to the new social distancing rules.

We could be mightily disappointed, of course, and I know a good few people who would sink even deeper into despair if that’s the case. And it could be the restrictions imposed might not suit all or any of us. I have heard the five-mile radius discussed with foreboding. But surely, limiting us to waters within that distance of our homes is nonsense on several counts. One good example is a friend of mine who lives in south London. He points out he couldn’t go to the river Wandle, four miles away, as it is out of season. His only venue would be Clapham Common Pond, three miles off, where he would probably find most of the city’s 20,000 anglers sitting. It would be much the same for those of us in Norwich. Shallowbrook might have to start selling a thousand tickets daily and the temptation to poach the out-of-season Wensum on the way there might prove irresistible. But we will see. We don’t have long to wait.

Whatever happens, I do feel we owe a debt of gratitude to the Angling Trust (AT). Most days the last fortnight I have either received their blogs and newsletters or have had direct contact with the new CEO, Jamie Cook. Like all of us, I have had my doubts about the Trust, but I honestly feel it has turned a corner. Jamie’s commitment to getting us fishing has been astounding. The Trust’s message to government, When We Fish Again, was exemplary, just what was needed and if you have picked up on it, I’m sure you will agree.

The fact is that angling does need a strong, intelligent voice to speak for it and the Trust is sounding like the real deal. Whether Johnson heeds the call or not, I still feel we can put our faith in the AT henceforth. What they have been doing contrasts strongly with the stance of the Environment Agency (EA). I have had scores of emails angry that the authority has been very visible by its absence. I appreciate that the EA is a government body which puts it in a delicate position, but the very least it could do is offer a refund or an extension to licences in these lockdown times of financial distress.

John Bailey and Shirley Deterding, Norfolk’s great angler Picture: John Bailey

John Bailey and Shirley Deterding, Norfolk’s great angler Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

Perhaps, then, in my column next week, I will be able to report on real, actual, live fishing at last. If Johnson does the right thing, where will you go to put your long-hatched plans into practice? Will it be to a trout river or lake or will you be after tench, carp, bream or a fine, fat perch? (I’m guessing we are a bit early for the best of what the sea has to offer but put me right if I am wrong). And after all this Covid stuff, will we have changed do you think? Will we be more generous with help and advice? Will we be more relaxed about what we catch ourselves and more focused on the general good of the sport? Will we be more tolerant of blanks and bad days and more appreciative of wild life and the fact that we are actually out there, doing what we love again, irrespective of the result in dry pounds and ounces?

Me? During the lockdown days, I have been taking my daily walk up and down the valley, retracing routes and pathways I had forgotten about since the 1970s. Of course, many of my expeditions have ended in crushing disappointment and it really is sobering to realise the massive spread of urbanisation that has taken place in our life times. I once worked on a farm in my uni holidays with an old man who remembered the present Boundary roundabout when there were trees there and a pond. They used to rest the livestock in the pastoral shade on the way to walking them to the Norwich auctions. That was a long while ago I know, but it highlights how we have seen a steady progression from grass to concrete over the past century. Mind you, it is still possible to strike lucky. After several days of looking I found a track, garlanded in bluebells, that I had last trodden in 1974. I followed it a mile and came to a marl pit where I had been granted permission in those days to fish for crucian carp that were the very essence of perfection. As the day was warm, I sat a while to enjoy the complete peace, the birdsong and a whole volume full of happy memories. And, would you believe it, well into my reverie, a crucian of a pound or so rolled almost in front of my very nose. Likely story, I can hear you grumble. Anything to make an article. Well, you are wrong. I’m not saying there is Through The Looking Glass enchantment everywhere, but we live in a region where there are oases of wonder here and there if you bother to look. Now my concern is whether my permission to fish still holds. Forty six years is a long time but if I can get the nod, I know where I will be if we get good news tomorrow.

My initial plan this week had been to write about a new book that has just been sent to me. Life On The Wild Side is by Shirley Deterding, very probably the most consummate sportswoman this county, perhaps this country, has ever known. There is not a single field sport Shirley has not excelled at, though probably it is as an angler that she will remain in the record books forever: the woman has caught THREE 50lb-plus salmon for goodness sake and that fact alone would make her a fishing goddess. That only scratches the surface of her achievements and that is why I will mention her life and her book again, once I have read it thoroughly and when I know how you can get your hands on a copy, if you so wish. Norfolk has produced a whole pantheon of great anglers over the years, but for my money Shirley is pretty much top of the list. She might be in her 80s now, but I still could not imagine fishing with anyone as formidable, generous or engaging. She’ll be an angler when she is 100 and that is the great thing about the woman and the sport of fishing itself... just let us enjoy it again, Mr Johnson. Please.