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Who are the truly great East Anglian anglers?

PUBLISHED: 06:13 05 July 2017

John Bailey and Robbie Northman – a hero in the making. Picture: John Bailey

John Bailey and Robbie Northman – a hero in the making. Picture: John Bailey

Archant

It’s all the fashion these days to compile lists and I am forever being asked who are the great anglers I rate both past and present from the region. Twice a week on average I am stuck with this dilemma, so perhaps this will clear my muddled mind and lay the questions to rest.

John Bailey with John Wilson - – definitely one of the greats. Picture: John BaileyJohn Bailey with John Wilson - – definitely one of the greats. Picture: John Bailey

The hardest question of all is what actually makes a great angler in the first place. A pioneer in bait, rig, fly or tackle invention possibly? An angler with easily recognisable skills probably? Someone with a list of big fish, though this can accrue from simply being in the right place at the right time, I guess? Should he or she be a specialist, or an all-rounder? An aquatic conservationist, a piscatorial writer or artist? The great angler might be a super fishing teacher and, or, a mixture of all these things.

I’m aware of the piscatorial minefield I’m stepping into. Every reading angler will have their own favourites and disagree with mine, I know.

However, I’ve asked around and grafted the suggestions of trusted friends onto the basis of my own deliberations. I don’t know much about sea anglers but East of England star Paul Kerry is a national name and, historically, Great Yarmouth and Norwich tackle dealers, Dave Docra and Tony Allen, were just giant names when I was younger.

Freddy Williams was a 20th century star, not only as a fish catcher but also as a coypu trapper of repute. Today, I’ve been told to keep my eyes open for young Henry Randall who is making a name for himself.

Some of the great pioneers in the carp world lived here in East Anglia. Lenny Bunn took the scene by storm in the 1970s with his protein bait discoveries. His breakthrough Black Magic concoction, to a degree, started the boily revolution, but even Lenny was outshone by Jack Hilton, one of the giant carp men of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Hilton was a writer, tackle-maker and helped progress the particle bait revolution, especially the use of sweetcorn, believe it or not, a phenomenon at the time. Today there is a plethora of top carp anglers, all hugely capable, brilliant even. Pete Regan, Rob Aylott, Martin Quick and Rob Shanks are a few names plucked from many who could catch a carp from a bucket and, of course, you can’t ignore that carp-catching machine, Jim Shelley.

East Anglia isn’t really a game county of the top rank but modern greats would have to include writer and fishery expert, Terry Lawton, TV presenter and author, Charles Rangeley Wilson and traveller, Nick Zoll.

On the match scene, we have always been well represented with greats. John Wayne, originally Polish not wild western, was a ‘70s star, but Tom Boulton, the former Mile Cross tackle dealer and Essex County star, was my hero back in the day. Tom really knew how to fish and, of course, inspired many of the youngsters who worked for him and have become big names themselves. Anglers like Glen Hubbard and Daniel Brydon really carry on Tom’s legacy.

Let’s not forget Ken Smith of Norwich who won the old national championship, a tremendous feat at the time and who also helped found the Norfolk Flyfishers. For my money, it’s anglers like Ken who have my vote. These are magnificent all-round fishermen and John Wilson, although originally from London, is one of the foremost examples. I always said that if I had to choose anyone to fish for my life, it would indeed be John.

Many of Ken’s contemporaries were equally magnificent all-rounders. I count myself fortunate to have known and fished with men like Jack Fitt, Michael Robbins, Frank Wright, Jim Knights, Bill Giles and many other big names that I grew up hero-worshipping and tried to model myself upon, even to this day. I feel it’s fortunate that we have young all-rounders like Josh Fisher and Robbie Northman continuing this aspect of our rich East Anglian angling legacy. We do have something special here in the East of England’s angling. And long may it continue to flourish.

I can’t help but finish with a memory from way back, perhaps in 1972 or even ’73? I remember watching Jimmy Hendry, that roaching maestro, trot a float in a Dereham Club match and land a roach of, I think, 2lb 11 oz. It was sheer poetry in motion. Classic angling laid out before my very own eyes. What inspirations I have had to guide me.


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