John Bailey: Fishing for a lockdown strategy

Memories are made of this... Heidi and Matt with a super tench Picture: John Bailey

Memories are made of this... Heidi and Matt with a super tench Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

The momentum of the coronavirus and the Government’s reaction to it has staggered us all.

The Ouse at Ely - it's the sight of the budding willow over the water that we fishers will truly mis

The Ouse at Ely - it's the sight of the budding willow over the water that we fishers will truly miss Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

I originally wrote this week’s column on Sunday, buoyed by the knowledge that the excellent Norfolk Flyfishers Club was displaying the bravery to keep its water open. Wensum Valley Angling’s equally excellent owner was making plans to dish out half a pint of free maggots to each adult-accompanied child so that fishing could continue to be a safe way of enjoying the spring. That gesture got me fired into thinking how I could make one of the lakes I control available to parent/child angling teams.

I had even started baiting swims here and there so they might be ready for action. I remembered back to this time last year when Norfolk’s Matt Gallant brought daughter Heidi along and the three of us enjoyed perhaps my nicest session of 2019. We caught tench off three lakes on different baits and by using different methods. The sun shone, Heidi landed two, perhaps three, PBs and a few days ago my dream was to see similar happy faces over the next weeks.

Not to be. Monday, March 23 and a Prime Minister’s speech that changed a nation. What I had written on a Sunday had become fossilised within 24 hours. This morning we are all struggling with the realisation that our lives have changed, every single one of us. I wasn’t alive in the War, but I studied it and even taught it and the curtailment of liberties now is not far off what our parents experienced then. They coped and so will we, but it will not be easy. Can we make it fun?

I’m hanging on to scraps here, but we are allowed one form of exercise a day. Does that include golf on a quiet course where you never come within putting distance of anyone else? A couple of my friends are playing today, keeping well apart and not even touching one another’s balls. Similarly, if a lake is open and you get there alone and fish alone for a few hours, does that count as your one form of daily exercise? I think we can understand why commercial fisheries might need to close for legal reasons, but natural waters might be a different kettle of fish, so to speak? And, after all, should anyone object, fishing IS a sport and IS a form of exercise. Me, well, I have a secret pond a five-minute walk from my house. Can I get myself there and watch a float nestling against a bush for an hour or two? Or would this tiny glimpse of solitary pleasure and exercise be seen as presenting some colossal danger to the future of mankind?

You never value what you have until it is gone. It is worth thinking about what we anglers will miss over the coming months of curtailment. Perhaps this yearning of mine to make a clandestine pilgrimage to a tiny scrap of water sums the whole thing up. I’m not going to catch monsters there, or probably anything at all, but I couldn’t give a hoot. It is the water itself that I am missing. The play of light on a stream. A murmur of breeze making a pond shift and stir. The reflection of a budding willow on a tranquil surface. The spring sun just warm enough to inspire early-year aquatic flies into a frenzy of action. Fish that sense the change in their world. A couple of bubbles there as they stir. A puff of silt over here as they tip to forage in the leaf droppings. Monsters are good, but not everything when fishing is boiled down to basics. We anglers are water folks and we simply have a primeval urge to get to where we belong.

I’ve never committed a crime in my life apart from burning down a hay field when I was six. This is not because I am especially good, but rather because I dread prison and the thought of being locked up. That’s something a little akin to what we are feeling now, so how do we cope, how do we even find positives? In the last paragraph of my now aborted first article I made a stab at an answer. I wrote: “But let’s say things change and restrictions become more draconian. I’m told you can find episodes of Mortimer and Whitehouse-Gone Fishing on iPlayer. Google Norfolk publishing house Harper-Fine Angling Books on the internet and order in some of the best reads in the sport. Me? Well, I have already started cleaning out the detritus in my angling shed. it hasn’t been pretty so far. How did I forget the liquidised cheese paste that is swimming nauseously in a jacket pocket? How on earth did a rotting sprat, smelt or something that once swam in the sea find its way to a hiding place in a moon boot? I haven’t even started sorting rods, reels, floats, hooks, feeders, flies, lures and all the rest of it. If I am to do a properly good job out it, well, that’s me busy till Christmas.”

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Since then, more thoughts occur to me. I see Ben Fogle has arranged the books on his shelf in colour coded fashions. I might not go that far but the earthquake that is my “library” could certainly do with a complete renovation and makeover. I can use the time to email, or even hand write to, a couple of hundred fishing friends I have neglected for years due to so-called pressure of work. This might even make me a better, more caring person? I have the fish to feed in my garden pond - if I don’t end up trying to catch them on one-pound breaking strain line and a size 30 hook. Above all, the photographic libraries on both my iPad and desktop are groaning under weight of numbers. I went digital 13 or 14 years ago and there is a lot of rubbish there so this might be the opportunity to delete. But nicer than that, I’d like to think I’ll stumble across fish, fishers and fisheries that I had half forgotten. I’ll take as much time as I please to let those memories come flooding back in. We are all the same. The pell-mell life we have been leading has obliterated the memory of so much we have relished in our past. Perhaps now we have the time to reflect on how lucky we anglers have been. And how we will be again in our future.

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