John Bailey: I love angling’s exacting intricacies

John Bailey, with care and concern, returns Neill Stephen's monster carp Picture: John Bailey

John Bailey, with care and concern, returns Neill Stephen's monster carp Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

Don't you love the high end of any sport? Those tiny wrinkles and sophistications that can change a game or, in angling terms, a session.

The way that the introduction of an overlapping full-back can pull an opposing midfield out of their previous shape. A bowler who goes around the wicket rather than over and induces three edges to slip in the next three overs. There's a lot going on in the head of Joe Root or Gareth Southgate, but no more than in the grey matter of an avid angler. One thing I am very lucky with: I have angling friends who are creative sporting geniuses who take my breath away season after season.

Five days ago I was with Neill Stephen from Thornage who has made a name for himself on the big fish circuit, and I can always see why. We were tackling hard carp water and trying to convince some big fish to move away from their bloodworm fixation. Baiting with particles would only have encouraged them to dig hard and feed slow. What Neill wanted was fish on the move, hunting out titbits they could not resist. He introduced his own killer mix boilies and, sure enough, the bubbles broke up and began to appear in small tight clusters here and there around the swim. Once he had weaned them off the bloodworm, a take came inevitably and the common was deservedly huge.

Bloodworm play a big part in the diet of all big fish, bream especially. On an incipient big bream quest yesterday I was hunting for the right swim to attack on a 25-acre pit. Get down to the far bay, John told me. That is where you are always eaten alive by midges and mossies. That is because it is there that the biggest bloodworm beds in the lake are to be found. And find the bloodworm and you'll find the bream. I'm only just starting my big bream bash so I'll know the wisdom of John's words soon, but I like his style and I love his out-of-the box thinking.

A week ago, we could not catch a tench, even though the swim was heaving with them. We tried this and that until JG pinned three yards of line up from the hook into the silt. It took him half an hour to fit back leads and putty, but bites came instantly. In crystal water the tench were seeing the line and wouldn't have anything to do with it. Burying it with huge attention to detail was a game changer.

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Sometimes I go on too much about young mate Robbie Northman from North Walsham, but the lad is one of the maestros I am talking about. Four days ago I took him to rock hard carp water he had never seen before. Nobody else had done much, but Robbie liked what he saw close to the small island. Despite the wind and low light he identified two fish feeding. He only had a cupful of boilies and half a loaf with him but over an hour he drew the fish closer and closer to him by precise feeding. It was like magic but he got them to his feet, presented a cube of popped up crust of all things and walloped into a pristine 26lb common. Breathtaking.

I used to work for the great tackle company Hardy and Greys when they sponsored the English Fly Fishing Team. In my role as company photographer, I was sent to cover the action in the internationals. I was blown away by the ability of the boys, but it was the evening team talks that were, again, game changing. We are not talking about changing a fly pattern or anything significant like that. No, it was tiny, minute changes that made the difference. Perhaps a fly had to be just an inch lower in the water column or a hook size had to be dropped from an 18 to a 20 to produce. Every single second that fly was in the water was analysed and every second a trout refused to take was scrutinised. It was like they could watch the underwater action through a microscope. Like with Neill, John and Robbie, you felt the fish were talking to them, guiding them to success.

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Fishing is a sport and just as thrilling a one as football or cricket when you get into it. There is more, though, so much more. Perhaps above all considerations, it is natural history in exacting, intricate action. The fish are out there whispering to you. You just need to plug in your hearing aid or learn to read their lips to achieve astonishing successes.

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