Never too old to learn a lesson in this angling life we choose

John Bailey on happier days of fishing. Picture: www.mrcrabtreegoesfishing.com

John Bailey on happier days of fishing. Picture: www.mrcrabtreegoesfishing.com - Credit: Archant

What a strange weekend. I've fished all around the world with all manner of anglers and I thought there was not much left that could faze me. Oh, what a simple old clot I am, writes John Bailey.

What a strange weekend. I've fished all around the world with all manner of anglers and I thought there was not much left that could faze me. Oh, what a simple old clot I am.

The gist of the story is that I was guiding a Russian Oligarch-type over the weekend with his two sons who each hold five different national passports. They arrived in a chauffeur-driven limo and they left in a helicopter. And I felt afterwards that I wasn't quite charging them enough. But to the fishing.

It started well on Saturday with a few small pike that were caught and safely released. It wasn't until the mid-afternoon that a better fish was landed and the boys fell upon it, unstrapping their hunting knives. I leapt between them and the fish and explained that in this country we tend to put our pike back.

Misery all round. We're hunter gatherers I was told in no uncertain terms. Then inspiration struck. We went on the river with three large mackerel dead baits and the fun began. By the end of Sunday afternoon, they caught a bucketful of signal crayfish and were happy. I'm not sure about the legalities, but they took the crayfish back with them so at least they didn't go back into the river. I then got an e-mail just before midnight on the Sunday to tell me that the crayfish had been consumed during an impromptu party and my health had been toasted by innumerable vodka drinkers. Rarely have I seen anglers disappointed by catching a pike and elated at reeling in a mackerel decorated with signal crayfish. I sense a new business opportunity opening up here. My bewilderment continued into the next day. I was booked to film with a Sky camera crew and we duly met at the appointed bridge at nine o'clock in the morning. We fished together until 4pm on not a bad day really and on a river that looked completely in order. I'd settled on about a dozen swims, all top ones and all pre-baited for a couple of days beforehand. I've got both float and light leger tackle with me and buckets of different baits. And of course, if there's one species I really know how to catch it is chub, so I was privately predicting to myself a pretty starry type of day.


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I waved them off as I said at around four as the sun was setting. They seemed happy with the day and we're planning another trip soon, despite the fact that I didn't get a single, solitary bite of any sort. Not even from a crayfish. Not from a minnow. The day was a complete and utter blank. Never before in 27 years of fishing in front of a camera have I managed to fail so spectacularly. And, in a sort of way, I'm glad.

Don't forget, any of us, that we're pursuing wild fish when we're after our river chub. And wild fish are just that.

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They live on their wits. They're experts in all the arts of survival. If we think that we are their masters or their betters, then we're mistaken.

There are times when you just will not catch and you will never know the reason why. This is how it should be. Nature should keep her mysteries and her secrets. This is why we go fishing, not go catching. It's good to be humbled, to be brought right down to earth, to realise that you're not the master of the river universe.

I think it's nice, too, for a film at last to show an angler, supposedly a good one, fail.

That's because we all fail sometimes. In truth, a lot of the time. Doesn't it get tiresome for us all to see celeb anglers succeed session after session, grinning over their trophies? Real fishing, real life, doesn't work out like this and it's good to remember that.

Baffled Bailey I might be but, believe me, that failure has only made my enthusiasm the keener.

I've talked with a score of anglers about this piece in regard to how we should deal with signal crayfish, especially those that come along unintentionally. The bottom line is that the bye-laws are ignored, misunderstood or not even known about. My own view is that there seem to be lots of grey areas that could be made clearer and certainly more sensible. I do defend this piece. If you do incidentally catch signal crayfish on bait, then it seems just as environmentally friendly to take them away as a food source as it is to grind them into the mud. From which a good few might escape to re-enter the river. Surely the best laws are those that reflect common sense?

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