A Life in Fishing

J

John Bailey

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Fishing one way or another has dominated my life. I started to fish at 4 years of age and I wrote my first angling articles twenty years later. In my thirties, I left teaching to fish full time and I count the past three decades as the happiest of my life. All in all, I have had over fifty books published on the sport and incalculable thousands of articles and columns but the demise of the Anglers Mail brought me up short. Even a dinosaur like me had to realise that the age of the printing press is on the cusp. If I am to fish-and tell the world about how I see fishing in all its guises-then I need a new platform. That is why I am so happy, grateful and relieved that my long-time friend Richard Hewitt and daughter Kirsty have asked me to take this role with Thomas Turner and their associated websites.

But who exactly am I? I ask myself this question in all seriousness. There are many full-time anglers who are well defined, matchmen for example, or carpers, or salmon experts. Me? I’ve done it all to one degree or another and though I might be a Jack of all trades at times at least I’ve come close to becoming a half master in some disciplines. A really brief chronology of my angling life might show where I am coming from and help me assess it all when I see things in black and white.

1950s – a kid in Greater Manchester, loving the canals, the mill dams, and trips to rivers like the Dane. One of a lucky generation of kids that could learn fishing with mates, by endless trial and error. No coaching, no boring instruction, just getting out there teaching ourselves. Match fishing on Sundays, off with the local fishing club. Trout fishing through the holidays in the reservoirs on the footsteps of the Pennines.

1960s – increasingly fishing in Norfolk and catching bigger fish than I had ever dreamed existed. Species too. Now there were sea trout, bass and eels to add to my growing catch list. Carp loomed large and I began to get to grips with tench and even chub. University late in the decade didn’t slow me down, just gave me more time to fish.

1970s – my breakthrough decade. My Wensum roach obsession and the first of hundreds of two pounders came my way in 1970. My first articles in, yes, the Anglers Mail. John Wilson became my fishing partner and older mentor and I moved from being a lad mad on fishing to a young man who could actually fish. My first barbel, my first 20 pound carp and big pike. Years of rapid growth and change. Life in a Norfolk cottage on the banks of the river ..I was living the dream and a job as a teacher gave me the time to live it to the full.

1980s – years of carping, piking, roaching and taking my game fishing onward. Stillwater trout and salmon became a constant target in the long school holidays now I was a teacher. In 1984, my first book was published and fishing became a realistic life and career choice for me. In 1989 I left teaching to make the hour-long ITV documentary Casting For Gold with Paul Boote. This film on mahseer fishing in the Himalayas changed my life. Wrote The Great Anglers which introduced me to legends like Hugh Falkus, Dermot Wilson, Fred Buller and other giants who influenced my life thereafter.

1990s – my writing career flourished as I spent long periods after ferox trout in Scotland and increasing periods abroad. Now I was fishing every year in India, Mongolia, Siberia, Greenland and throughout Europe and the US. My TV career advanced as well with long periods filming for BBCs Countryside Hour and specials like the Tales From The Riverbank series. My guiding career began in 1992 with trips to the Wye but within 4 years I was taking groups to Asia and Europe.

2000s – my travelling and guiding developed apace. I was writing more and appearing increasingly on Sky and Discovery. I also joined Hardy and Greys as a part of their creative team, responsible for brochures, adverts, lifestyle photography and tackle development. I travelled frequently with the England Fly Team and spent more time in the game world presenting at Game Fairs and shows here and in Europe.

2010 – 2020 – increasingly I centred my fishing back home in Norfolk. Whilst my guiding commitments and consultancies increased my interests centred more on conservation and the problems of East Anglian rivers, estate lakes and pits. Discovery commissioned two series of Fishing In The Footsteps Of Mr Crabtree and from 2017 I have worked as Fishing Consultant for Mortimer and Whitehouse-Gone Fishing on BBC 2. This role has taken me to all points of the UK on recces for game, coarse and sea venues.

So, you can see, fishing has meant that I have always been reinventing myself and I have always faced new challenges. I don’t kid myself I will find this new role easy. I know I can transmit information and because I am constantly on the bank, I have plenty to say that I hope is useful. I can take photographs too, and again because of what I do, my camera is always clicking. But now I have to think digitally. I have to master the putting out of material in ways I have only been guessing at. If I can figure out how they work, I am especially looking forward to the forums. In previous days as a magazine and book writer there were obvious barriers between me and my readers but not so in forums. I know they can be prickly but I relish the chance for more developed, hands-on relationships. I have always told the truth about my fishing, warts and all, and I have nothing to hide as a result. If I don’t know something, I’ll tell you, or find someone who can tell you! I’d like this new friendship to be a two-way street. I’ll say from the outset, I can’t Wallis Cast, I can’t fish a river waggler and my Spey casting is rubbish. And that is only for starters. I’d love to think that this new chapter of life will continue to teach me as richly as all the ones that have gone before.

I truly hope we enjoy our fishing together and grow it as we go! Thank you for your time!

The post A Life in Fishing first appeared on FishingMagic Magazine.

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Peter Jacobs

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Well John, welcome to the FM forums where I am sure you will be welcomed by all.

You will find anglers here of all standards from beginners to experts, many of us can Wallis cast as well ;)
 
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Philip

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I have told this story a couple of times on FM but its worth repeating …He won’t remember me but as a young angler I met John on the Wye many years ago. I was staying in the same Pub and John walked in one evening so I decided to go over and hello. I shook his hand, said I enjoyed his books & left it at that. He had paying guests with him & even though I saw him each day I made a conscious effort to stay out of his way as I didn’t want to be the annoying “fan” as such.

Towards the end of the week I was tucked under my umbrella on a rainy day by the river when I saw John wandering down the bank towards me. He stuck his head round the brolly and asked if he could join me. Of course I said yes and we spent the best part of an hour discussing all things fishing. The next day he took me round the river showing me all the good spots. Remember he had paying guests and had absolutely nothing to gain by doing this & was just trying to help a young mad keen angler on his way.

I have never forgotten and I have probably now embarrassed him but I think it’s a measure of the bloke & Fishing Magic can only benefit from his input.

Welcome aboard John.
 
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lambert1

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I too met John once at The Big One. I had not long returned to fishing after a lengthy absence and frankly was talking a load of carp. Mercifully I noticed his eyes start to glaze over and stopped. Talk about a wasted opportunity to meet someone of interest! He very diplomatically said in the Mail that he had man flu that day, which was kind of him, as I expect he had to put up with a few other numpties like me. I am much wiser now I hope. Have very much enjoyed everything so far, so please keep going John.
 

whitty

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John,you have a great way of describing all things angling,I can waggler fish on rivers(pretty well),I can Wallis cast(poorly imo),I certainly cannot Spey cast,but it hasn't detracted from my life in angling,a life so pleasurable I have to pinch myself to see if it really has happened,my friends within angling I hold dear,great guys,welcome John,I have enjoyed your threads and will enjoy more I'm certain.
 

grayson

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I must admit that the demise of Anglers Mail rather brought me up short. I'd read Angling Times since the mid Sixties, devouring Richard Walker's every word , and while I had bought the Mail now and again , it wasn't until the 2000s that I found myself reading the Mail far more often. That became exclusively about a decade ago, when it was so very obviously a superior read to the AT . Or at least it was for those of us with attention spans longer than an ant .I enjoyed JB stuff(even though he did sometimes show signs of being an even grumpier old git than I am ) and while Steve Collett's 'trousers on fire' style could be toe curlingly juvenile , it didn't disguise his enthusiasm, or his undoubted skill. As a magazine , it was a good read , even if it needed some tighter sub editing, and I could have done without some of the portentous drivel that some anglers (allegedly ) uttered when describing their latest success.

I've now re-subscribed to Angling Times, because it is the only show in town . And it is simply awful . Today's took me 15 minutes to read . You can ignore most of the text because it's tired factoids we've read a hundred times before (how to shot a waggler -who knew , eh ?) or advertorial aimed at folk who fish for F1 carp. That leaves Martin Bowler - thank God he fishes better than he writes, as he belongs to the 'feather footed through the plashy fen passes the questing vole ' school of writing . Which leaves dear old Des Taylor ,still trotting out his trademark ' Went on the Severn , caught a big fish , drank a pint and ate a curry; isn't life great? 'schtick .

Two quid for this old tut every week? Hmmm ....
 

mikench

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Take adverts out of the equation, plus meaningless reviews and the same old boring anglers promoting their own and sponsored products and there's nothing left. It isn't worth a subscription imo.
 

whitty

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Sorry Grayson,how do you shot a waggler,I say this because even though i've fished wagglers and match fished to a high level,there are so many ways to shot a waggler,or any float come to that,most anglers these days and this includes many of the top match anglers don't use different different diameters,materials,funny really when you look back at anglers like Ivan Marks,Billy Lane,Kevin Ashurst and Kenny Giles(and more),all had floats for every purpose,designed and made for it,there are less float designs available today than there were,I know,because some patterns are irreplaceable imv,the reason,commercials,virtually every waggler sold is made for them,poles too have meant match anglers carry three poles and one float rod,that is the way it has gone,the AM,AT,shouldn't really be an instructional medium,it should be telling of sessions,catches,match results and definitely not bumming up sponsors products despite they're being absolute garbage....
 

grayson

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Cripes - that's put me on the spot hasn't it ? I can't say I have fished to a high level - whatever that means- and apart from winter grayling fishing I tend only to float fish for still water roach and tench , the latter with lift method, so I am the last person to claim much waggler expertise. But I'm sure next week's AT will offer some deathless prose on how to do it . And the week after's ...

But product placement is a pain , I agree. Match results... I dunno. They are so easy to get on line and while I used to find the results of big river matches useful and interesting , who cares that Battling Bert from Burnley hauled out 500lbs of F1 carp from some ghastly parody of a lake ?
 

theartist

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I've expertly shot many a waggler - Into trees, bushes and into some of the most elaborate tangles

Come to think of it, is there anything in fishing that quite has the tangle potential of the waggler? I've found there's way of shotting to negate this, the best being to shoot it straight back into the float box and dig out a stick :)

My life in fishing would start with my dad saying "Not another tangle son" Fortunately things have picked up since then yet I still do one every now and then for nostalgia purposes of course.
 

lambert1

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A man after my own heart. The trees on my rivers are like those in The Lord of the Rings and will grab my float at the first opportunity! They conspire with the wind that blows the float towards them! I actually prefer it that way with lots of overhanging branches, as when you do get the cast right, it can be very rewarding. I work on the theory that the more cover the fish have the better.
 

rayner

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I enjoyed reading the synopsis of your life in angling John, very succinct. Welcome, I'll enjoy reading more.
 

rubio

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"How to untangle a waggler rig" would be a far more useful guide to many of us. I agree with others the style of articles is generally dull and formulaic. I'd rather suffer "questing voles".
I've enjoyed all the new articles. Hope to enjoy many more.
 

whitty

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Sorry Grayson,i've match fished to a high level with a 'good' team(a million years ago it seems),I agree reading about commercial matches aren't that interesting,which shows how long it is since I bought a weekly,my comment was really based on the fact that shotting floats isn't as simple as one size fits all,maybe a starting point,but that is all,constant tweeks an sometimes major differences need to be made,with some experience as to why your doing so helps enormously.....
 

Philip

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I do sometimes wonder what people expect from a weekly fishing magazine....I dont think we can expect someone to come up with something fundementally new every week so there will always be repetition. Same on a forum like this.

What I do find interesting is things that you can cross over to other branches of the sport...so perhaps something jogs your memory and you think ah yes I forgot about that & I can adapt it to something else I am now doing.

Its also one of the reasons why I think anyone who focuses on just one species is probably missing out on what the sport has to offer...variety is the spice of life and all that.
 

Ray Roberts

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I do sometimes wonder what people expect from a weekly fishing magazine....I dont think we can expect someone to come up with something fundementally new every week so there will always be repetition. Same on a forum like this.

What I do find interesting is things that you can cross over to other branches of the sport...so perhaps something jogs your memory and you think ah yes I forgot about that & I can adapt it to something else I am now doing.

Its also one of the reasons why I think anyone who focuses on just one species is probably missing out on what the sport has to offer...variety is the spice of life and all that.
It’s more what you don’t want. I don’t want page after page of biased reviews, I don’t want another bloody article on catching carp on commercials, that’s almost exactly the same as last weeks. I don’t want pages of match results that if you could be bothered or have an interest in, could be Googled. I don’t want to see pictures of carp, they may be important to the captor but being as I don’t know the captor they hold no interest whatsoever for me and look almost the same as the previous 1000 photos of carp.

I would like to see more amusing articles. Frank Barlow’s column was one I enjoyed and I don’t even match fish. He did a good job of showing the camaraderie and rivalries of angling and was funny too. There used to be a column by a river keeper too that was good also. Maybe a diary type column by a commercial fishery manager could be interesting and give an insight into what goes into running a successful business. Day out with a successful specialist, not just carp. I think they could shake it up a lot.


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Philip

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I would agree with your wish list Ray and personally I much prefer the anecdote type magazines to the ones that are focused on technical how to do it articles or just catch reports.

However I suspect my view is a minority one & I dont think thats enough to make it viable...not for a weekly anyway.

I am actually surprised any magazines survive since the internet took off.
 

Ray Roberts

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I would agree with your wish list Ray and personally I much prefer the anecdote type magazines to the ones that are focused on technical how to do it articles or just catch reports.

However I suspect my view is a minority one & I dont think thats enough to make it viable...not for a weekly anyway.

I am actually surprised any magazines survive since the internet took off.
On the other hand Philip there are loads of minority interest magazines that you wouldn’t think would stand a chance of continuing to be published. Look at the number of camera magazines for example. Not only general photography but magazines dedicated to individual makes and AP is still published weekly.


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