John Bailey: Fancy owning John Wilson’s barbel rod?

John Wilson’s rod, photographed over the signed copy of Another Fishing Year which he gave John Bailey

John Wilson’s rod, photographed over the signed copy of Another Fishing Year which he gave John Bailey on his 60th birthday - Credit: John Bailey

Vladimir Putin might have duped world leaders like Bush and Blair many years ago but he never fooled pike anglers like us.

Remember a good while back when he posed for the press with a very nice '20' but called it '40'? We knew then that the man was a liar and a leader whose word could never be trusted and it’s just a shame that the Pike Anglers’ Club never had a seat in the Cabinet.

“No need to lie” is an old angling phrase that Putin has evidently never stumbled across, but it exists all the same and it could be said to apply to the extraordinary career of my old mate, John Wilson. I’m not here to list Whizzo’s endless achievements, but to reel back to the year 2013 when two things happened.

First up, I engaged in a fruitless , well-publicised attempt to catch a Wensum barbel during a single October week of that year. I raced up and down the Wensum valley from New Mills Yard in the city centre to Swanton Morley in the north west and caught bucket loads of fish. All chub. I did miss a barbel bite and I did have a barbel on for five seconds, but there’s no point in going on about that lest I’m accused of 'doing a Vladimir''.

More importantly, the second event I refer to was John's and his wife Jo’s move to Thailand in 2013. There’d been much family agonising about it, but the decision was made and John and Jo set sail. Before John left, tongue in cheek, he awarded me the rod and reel that he had used over the years to catch more Wensum barbel than I had enjoyed hot breakfasts. He told me he had even left the rig on the end of the line and a boilie on the hair of the hook to make my eventual success more likely. Even despite this 'gift' , it still took me five or six years to net my next Wensum barbel, a fact that amused Whizzo greatly whenever we got in touch.

Rummaging through my tackle shed a few days back, I came across the outfit again and noticed a mouse sometime this winter had the audacity to snaffle the boilie. I rather felt I was not looking after the heirloom like I should and began to ponder its future. The outfit is not especially glamorous I suppose, a Masterline Heritage WHR 115 Carp model.  I hardly know what the WHR denotes and I’m told that more rare is the sister rod, a John Wilson Heritage Wensum Barbel WHR 120, but there you go. What he used is what I have got. The accompanying reel is a little multiplier, the Rovex Oberon, loaded with something like 15lb BS line.

John Bailey with a barbel

John Bailey - still catching barbel after all these years! - Credit: John Bailey

So, what’s this little lot worth? Even though both rod and reel are in good fishable condition, I can’t see collectors beating down my door for the maker’s mark alone. No, the selling point here is the provenance, the fact that this rod bent again and again to some of the most amazing barbel that ever lived, wielded by one of the most amazing anglers who has ever fished. Hold this rod and imagine it in action at Lenwade Mill or on Sayer’s Meadow. A brutal fight. The rod locked solid. John muttering “come on Wilson, you can do this”! If you are a Whizzo fan, you more than get the picture.

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So my reckoning is this. If I could allow the outfit to fester in my shed all this while, that’s a tragedy that should be rectified. I’d like to see the gift do some good for someone and that’s why I am putting it up for sale on the Thomas Turner vintage tackle website. Whatever I get, I will pass on to charity.

I have in mind Fish In Need, which is doing great work already, even in its first months of existence. Check that one out on www.fishinneed.org.uk please. John’s daughter Lisa also has a super scheme going with kids so that obviously would be dear to the great man’s heart.

And what about this? One of the FIN trustees has pledged to match any sale price for the rod and reel with money from his own pocket, to a ceiling of £2,000!

Mark my words, I’m not letting this go for a song. Thomas Turner have very kindly said they will not charge commission on any sale and that helps, of course. However, I want to see proper money for this package, certainly a good three-figure sum, if not four. If not, then I’m completely happy to take the outfit off the market and use it myself on either the Wensum itself or even on the Wye.

In fact, thinking about this, I might even let guided clients or friends use the rod and reel for a fee which I can collect and donate. It’s rather up to the bidders, but I do want to make this item of Whizzo’s legacy really count for something and ensure he’s sitting up there nodding in approbation.

So, get your piggy bank out! Remember that John’s biggest barbel was just about the size of Putin’s biggest pike, if Vladimir were to be truthful just the once.