The holidays would mean one thing... lots of fishing!

John Bailey with a wild brown trout, a welcome returnee to many of our rivers. Picture: John Bailey

John Bailey with a wild brown trout, a welcome returnee to many of our rivers. Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

I bet if you're over 40, or certainly 50, August rings a very nostalgic bell in your head. If you were an angler then, like me, I bet every day of that hallowed month would be spent waterside.

You'd probably get up, like me, at dawn and not get back home until after dusk. Those were my parents' rules, you had to be back before dark, but that was just about it. By the time term started again, we'd all be brown as hazel nuts and have eaten nothing but sandwiches for weeks on end.

Of course, it's not like this now. In the intervening years, popular imagination has it that behind every bush is lurking an adult to do an unprotected angling child harm.

I don't know about that, but I do know the sport of fishing is suffering as a result and I believe kids are too.

Perhaps children are fixated on computers these days, but what other choice do they have? I've been out on the water pretty much every day since school was out and I've yet to see any kids fishing on their own. They're not allowed to. The trouble is, staying at home, they're not building up their experiences and their abilities to cope with life.


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They're certainly not bonding with the environment like you and I oldies learned to do.

Of course, when we were kids, we'd all have our own, grotesquely knotted keep nets with us. It was part of the fun.

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However, in this day and age, I do question the validity of a keep net outside matches, of course. I'm still pretty stunned to realise that the Environment Agency byelaws state that you can take up to 15 fish a day away with you, fish of up to 20 centimetres in length.

For pike by the way, that's 65 centimetres. Who needs these antiquated rules? I can understand in the food-strapped '40s and '50s how freshwater fish could have been a welcome nutritional bonus, but not today when the supermarkets are groaning with food. It's an appalling anomaly and should be ironed out at once.

This bizarre and antiquated ruling certainly makes it hard for our Environment Agency Enforcement officers. Over and over, I'm told, they find neglected keep nets hanging from the side of cruisers all over the Broads. Inside might well be stuffed a dozen dying fish. The problem is, of course, the rule that they can be taken away. Any careless angler apprehended can simply plead that he or she was going to kill them at the end of the session anyway. Without this rule and without the legitimacy of keep nets, less fish would suffer and there would be more fish to be caught and procreate, surely?

I bet when you were a child like me, you'd be really keen on using minnows as bait? Our bible in those long lost days would almost certainly be Bernard Venables' classic, Mr Crabtree Goes Fishing. On page 84 of my tattered copy, Mr Crabtree describes to Peter how to make an efficient minnow trap out of a wine bottle. Great stuff and the diagram served me well between the ages of six and 20.

Not now! Anyone using a minnow trap to catch the little fellows for bait faces a fine of up to £50,000! My, that would eat into my lollipop fund! Yep, we really do seem to live in a crazy, bureaucratic, mad world, that's for sure. I don't guess things were better then than they are now, but sometimes it seems so.

What those halcyon days by the river bank taught all of us in those days was an understanding of how water worked. We all had the time to absorb it, to take it in. Take minnows. I think as lads we all knew that high summer is the time when predation is at its height. Everything is eating fry, fingerlings and small fish. Even roach and dace are at it and I can remember back in the '60s, catching pretty much every species going on my beloved fine, fat minnows. Best of all, for a cash-strapped boy back then, they were a bait that was completely free.

I don't know why I'm moaning and looking back nostalgically because I'm lucky enough to spend pretty much every day of my adult life on river or lake. In fact, in the autumn of my life, just like its beginning, I'm still immersed in water, mentally rather than physically mostly. What I continue to realise that is on the stillwaters, so many fish are now feeding off the bottom, but not always on the top, somewhere in the middle of the water column. When we were lads, nobody had heard of Zig Rigs, certainly I can find no mention of it in Mr Crabtree. The Zig Rig is something I intend to master over the next few weeks. As I've often said, it's never too late to teach old dogs new tricks and I'm sure this carp technique can be adapted for tench, bream and roach. As ever, I'll let you know if I get a minnow-sized modicum of success!

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