John Bailey: Weather To Be Or Not To Be
We've just about finished filming Fishing in the Footsteps of Mr Crabtree.
It's been harrowing, it's been challenging, it's been exhilarating and, in truth, I don't have a clue how any of it is going to be received.
But that's not the point here. After filming, it's pretty traditional to sink a glass or two with the members of the crew and, after the last episode was in the can, they confided in me that they were mystified by my moans and groans regarding the weather. The guys aren't anglers and they couldn't see how I sometimes liked rain and sometimes shuddered at the prospect. Or sun. Or wind. Or just about anything this weird year has thrown at us. It seemed to them I was like the railway companies, complaining it was always the wrong rain or the wrong sunshine.
Let's take rain. When we were down on the Wye, it rained in bucket-loads which can be fine. However, this rain was cold, almost freezing, bouncing off the bleak Welsh mountains and cascading into a shivering river.
It was also dirty water, fast-rising, carrying rubbish and the colour of strong coffee. Barbel hate this sort of brew. It just doesn't suit them and sickens them off until they won't feed at all. If you do catch one, you will often find it is thin as a rake with its backbone clearly protruding.
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Here on the Wensum, though, in early September, they found I was actually praying for rain. What I wanted was warm, gentle rain that would give the river a bit of an edge. As it was, I was stuck with crystal- clear water that made catching roach and chub, especially, an absolute nightmare. I tried to explain that if proper rain had come in, if the river had lifted a few inches and visibility were confined to about 18 inches or so, the whole shoot would have gone differently.
What about sunshine, the boys asked? Here again, on the Wensum, I didn't want any sun at all. Given the crystal water, I needed the sky to be as grey as possible with light levels low as a dark January afternoon. With the sun up, the water clear and the chub nervy, you're really just going through the motions.
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Yet, when we were filming for tench back in the early part of the summer, I was actually praying for the sun! What I desperately needed then was some real heat to spark the tench into some sort of life. We had glorious luck. We were filming through the two only hot days of the period and the tench really built up to a feeding crescendo. So, boys, sometimes sun is good and sometimes it's bad.
So what about wind, they wondered? Big water carpers love wind. Remember that freak storm in North Norfolk that began in the late afternoon of Thursday, August 30. I was standing on the river bank at the Kingfisher Lakes with carp crashing everywhere on the back of a ferocious wind. It was primeval almost watching these magnificent, almost legendary fish just creating carnage. At one stage, I even saw four big fish lever themselves out of the water simultaneously. I was with the excellent Andy Charlton, product manager of Hardy Greys and he went on to land a personal best leather carp of 26lb. Fabulous stuff.
Yet, I hate wind on a roach river, especially if I'm trotting. The wind can push your float off course and make delicate presentation almost impossible. I hate wind when floater fishing for carp. I don't mind a breeze but if there's a real chop on the water then most fish just won't come up at all. I hate wind if I'm tench fishing, unless it's from the southwest and not above Force Five. And I hate any wind from the north, especially in East Anglia. When there were fish left in our estate lakes, a north wind could make it seem as though you wouldn't get a bite for the rest of your life there.
We're moving now towards the winter and everything will be exactly the same, I know. We'll have weather that's too wet or we'll be filming in weather that's too dry. I'll be moaning it's too cold or it's too mild. It will be too calm for pike fishing or the next day I'll be saying it's just too darned windy. In truth, what do I really know? Perhaps half the time I'm just looking for excuses. Perhaps some of the time I'm psyching myself out of any chance of success through all this agonising.
And as I always say, I just pray for the time I finally catch a fish that can speak English. Perhaps he'll be able to tell me what a load of rowlocks I've been talking all along.