John Bailey: Should anglers stick or twist?

The freezing Welsh Dee

The freezing Welsh Dee - Credit: John Bailey

In fishing, as in life, how far do you stick with a situation that isn’t working and when do you decide finally to walk away?

Do you know, I’ve been looking at my diaries going back to the (very) late 1950s and I have to admit to fishing in excess of 10,000 times in that period. That’s a lot of casts, a lot of maggots drowned, a lot of fish seen, hooked, caught or lost. During those 100,000 hours staring at the water, I have learned a lot (who wouldn’t?) but I remain mystified a lot too. No matter how many times I ponder certain questions, there are answers that always escape me.

It really doesn’t matter if you are a match angler, a trout angler, a carp angler, a sea angler or a general all-round angler, the biggest dilemma you face is when to give up on a plan that palpably is not working. That, for me, is the problem with all-too-easy commercials. If you are hoiking out fish every cast, you never need ask yourself the most intriguing question in angling: how long do you stick with a fishless situation and when do you decide to try something new?

When I’ve been filming, or more often guiding, which has accounted for some 3,000 sessions, the stick/twist dilemma appears strangely muted. Perhaps if I am being paid to perform then I feel obliged to appear more in control? Whatever, I will tell my companion (s) that I have two, three, even four plans in my head.

For example, we will start after tench on a float between 8am and 10am. If that doesn’t work, we’ll move to a feeder further out for bream until lunch. Still no joy, then we might decamp to the river to trot for roach or even drift baits for chub. And failing all that, who knows, we might search for a surface-feeding carp as the sun loses its heat? That way, there is always hope and boredom is never allowed to cloud the day. Bingo. Job done. Most of my anglers drive away happy that at least one of the ploys has yielded up the goods and there are some happy trophy shots for social media.

But when I am on my own and being more honest with myself, I don’t have quite the same bravado. Take the week just gone when I was miles from Norfolk up on the Welsh Dee doing a grayling recce for a particular TV show.

I awoke on the Friday morning at 6am to find a frost lying thick as snow. It was light enough to fish from around 7am, but, of course, trotting a float was hampered by ice freezing in the rod rings and the thermometer in the gardener’s riverside hut appeared stuck on minus three degrees until the sun was way up in the bright blue sky. Yes, it was a glorious morning to be out, but I was on a mission that I really needed to crack. If I reported a failure, then the shoot would necessarily be in jeopardy and a lot of work and money would have been thrown up in the air. That float just HAD to go under.

Most Read

I have caught a lot of grayling - for a Norfolk lad that is. I have faith in my ability to recognise the water they love: nice, even pace; a glide at least 20 yards long; four to six feet of depth; a hard, clean, gravel or stony bottom; preferably some overhead tree cover too. I found just such a place and began to fish as well as my skills and conditions allowed me. I settled into a pleasing rhythm , feeding in maggots well, I thought, and controlling the 5BB float perfectly at even 40 yards range in the near windless conditions. It was a true Christmas card scene with the frosted flood meadows rising towards mountains that were catching the first rays of Welsh winter sunlight, but I was too immersed in the iron bleak river to notice.

Enoka with a much longed for grayling

Enoka with a much longed for grayling - Credit: John Bailey

The Dee is a big, burly river and as the minutes gave way to 10am coffee time,  all my doubts flooded in. Was I fishing deep enough? Was I overfeeding, or conversely, underfeeding? Were there no grayling there or was it simply too cold for them to move around and engage with the flow of maggots drifting past? Even in better conditions, I knew from experience grayling can take their time to respond, but time was the one thing i did not have. I needed grayling and I needed them fast. In short, should I stick... or should I move?

In the end, around 10.30am, I did move and some grayling were caught and, phew, it was job done. But of course, I do not know if I would have caught from the original swim had I stayed put or, indeed, if i would have caught from the second swim from the off, had I started there? All I know is that I was starting to panic and 'twisting' saved the day for me. This time anyway.

I have recently revitalised my Facebook account and it is nice to hear from some of my Blakeney FC colleagues of so long ago. Andy, Quentin, Bernie and all the rest of you. What complete stars you were. Ten thousand fishing sessions in my life. Nigh on 1,000 games for Blakeney. What a life!