Night of sheer mayhem was a real lesson well learned

John Bailey and Derek cradle a hard-won chub...they had to fish three rivers in a single day to find

John Bailey and Derek cradle a hard-won chub...they had to fish three rivers in a single day to find it. Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

You know, when I'm guiding, my lovely clients seem to prefer my old fishing stories to any fishing advice I might be able to impart. Strange, eh?

But I suppose we all have a lurid interest in the piscatorial past and what the so-called stars of the sport got up to. A recent thunderstorm made me rethink a night almost exactly 40 years ago I spent with Mr John Wilson. It's quite a story really, completely true and I only offer it up now because there is an important point to it, a fishing lesson that can't really be ignored, or shouldn't be.

As I say, when I picked John up from his house, then in Taverham, it was a muggy, close evening around 8pm. Our plan was to go to the infamous Bream Corner on the River Bure at Horstead. There, we'd pitch in for the night and, hopefully, catch a bream in a giddying excess of 8lb. However, John was restless. Perhaps it was the approaching storm but, around 10pm, we upped sticks and set off for Upton Broad.

Well, that was chaos. By 11pm we were out in the middle of the Broad, the two of us, trying to set up 11-foot rods in a 10-foot boat in pitch blackness. We didn't really know where we were, or where we were casting apart from when the sky was lit up by great dragons of slithering lightning. John didn't like it at all and soon we were rowing for the shelter of the boathouse.

By 2am we had decamped to Gunton Lake, hopefully to catch some bream from the dam wall there. But it was like the storm was following us around North Norfolk. There, in the close, humid night, once again, we saw the hall occasionally as the shafts of light backlit it before John's terrified eyes. No good. He was fretful. We were on our way again.

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Oldies out there will remember Wolterton Lake back in the 1970s, also known as The Marsh. That's where we landed up at 4am. The thunder had passed, thankfully, and the morning had dawned comparatively crisp. John, at last, was at ease. I'd never known his fear of thunder before that night. However, it was not to have a happy ending. After two completely biteless hours, we wandered around to the shallower end of the lake and found the entire population of tench busily spawning. There was a very nice PS, however. Just before it was our time to leave and for me to drive him back to Bridewell Alley in Norwich to open up the shop, my bobbin actually moved. I seem to remember landing a personal best perch then of 2lb 14oz.

In a strange way, the night had been vindicated. Okay, I had driven something like a hundred-odd miles, which was no joke as I was studying for a Post Grad teaching course at the time and money was desperately tight. However, John's insistence on moving until we found success had reaped its reward and I was glad.

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That's the moral. That's what I've learnt whether I'm guiding or filming or whatever. If plan A doesn't work then move to plan B and if necessary, to plan Z. Fishing is all about controlled impatience. If you simply sit back with the line tied to your big toe, as it were, you are going to reap what you sew and catch not much at all. If you're light on your feet, constantly thinking, constantly working, you might well get somewhere on the most difficult of fishing days.

A fishing life is full of lessons learned or lessons ignored. I've committed some howling mistakes along the way, but that particular thunder-riven night in Norfolk taught me a lesson that I learned very well and have applied over the last four decades. And with some amount of success!

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