Where it all began
I began my fishing in the northwest on the canal systems of Greater Manchester. The fishing in those days was tough. In fact, I regard my serious fishing career beginning when I was four and it wasn’t until I was seven I actually caught a fish. It’s that type of angling background, I believe, that helps you through the inevitable hard periods when you are after big fish. Early success is great but it can weaken your resolve. I’ve kept that angling realism, I like to think, throughout my life and throughout the decades when fishing has become easier. I’m also eternally grateful to the amount of mentoring I received in those long gone days before the world was suspicious of every adult helping hand. I can honestly say that in all those years, I only received help, advice and reassurance. I’d have been lost without it.
When I was small, my parents virtually retired down to Norfolk and for the holidays at least, my fishing life took on a new aspect. Compared with Greater Manchester, Norfolk waters were kind indeed. From the age of eight, I began to catch fish that I had previously only ever dreamed of. In those days, it was all about Norfolk estate lakes and small rivers like the Glaven, a Mecca for me for both roach and perch and, later on, sea trout.
I guess I began serious angling in the early sixties when I tentatively entered the so-called carp scene of those days and began to realise that big fish could be caught by design. That was a period when I began to ditch Crabtree in favour of Walker and, as a result, I was ready when John Wilson came into my life in the early ‘70s when I was still at university.
The ‘70s were my defining period in many ways. I discovered the fabulous Norfolk roaching of that period and began to make my name with a string of two pound and eventually three pound roach. This was the period that I began my putative angling writing career with a string of articles for, firstly, the Angler’s Mail and then famously for Coarse Fisherman magazine, for whom I wrote for the next thirty years.
The ‘70s were vital to me. I began to carp fish more seriously and understand river chub fishing at last. My tench fishing took off, too, and, under the influence of John Wilson, I began to travel further for my fishing, for example to Wilstone for big bream.
Writing and TV career
The ‘80s were exploding years for me. I was still teaching them and this profession allowed me plenty of time during holidays and after school to fish compulsively. My writing career, too, continued to flourish, especially after the publication in 1984 of my first book ‘In Visible Waters’. Many more books followed through the 1980s as did many more big fish and my first excursions into TV.
In 1988, I worked on the Channel 4 series, ‘Rivers’ and in 1989, made the now legendary film, ‘Casting for Gold’ along with Paul Boote on the River Ganges in northern India, hunting the golden mahseer. That was a film the changed my entire life and career. As a result of it, I left teaching that year and embarked on a full time career as an angler.
That was never my avowed intention. I’d simply wanted to write and photograph but angling quickly took over. A stream of books for a number of publishers followed through the 1990s along with many more TV appearances on ‘Countryside Hour’ and ‘Tales from the Riverbank’, both on BBC.
More recently I have bought to life the work of Bernard Venables Mr Crabtree in the TV series ‘Fishing in the Footsteps of Mr Crabtree’ .
1990 also saw the beginning of my twenty years of extensive foreign travel. Throughout the ‘90s and the first eight years of the new century, I travelled extensively to India, Nepal, the north eastern states of India, Mongolia, Siberia, throughout North America, Greenland and most of Europe. The only continents that largely evaded me were Latin America and Africa. During this near twenty year period, I fished in sixty-four different countries for well over a hundred species of fish.
This was also the period when my guiding career proper launched itself. My first guided trips took place in 1992 and from then on, they multiplied in quick succession. In all, I led over a hundred serious angling expeditions, from Siberia to Greenland, to Iceland, Mongolia and throughout India. These were great days, meeting great people, seeing wonderful waters and landscapes and catching great fish. I count myself blessed.
2008 and the financial crash heralded a change in my directions. I became much more UK based, fishing largely in Norfolk, going back to my roots, as it were, and specialising in freshwater fishing. I’ve never regretted the move. For the past ten years, I’ve been immersed in guiding, conservation, writing, photography and, above all, trying to piece together the wonders and mysteries of the aquatic waterscape.
I have been fortunate that my guiding career has continued apace. Indeed, much of my year is now taken up with this though I continue to be active on the book and magazine scene with plenty more television work in the can and in the offing.
I am eternally grateful to that great English tackle company, Hardy for employing me as consultant for nigh on fifteen years throughout the earlier part of this century. It was a wonderful experience and it took me to America and Europe on a regular basis. I am also hugely grateful to the Angler’s Mail for giving me a start in my angling career so many years ago and still employing me to this day.
My Angling Passion
As I’ve said, I’ve led the most fortunate of lives. I know, to an extent, you make your own luck but I have been helped endlessly and tirelessly along the way by some great anglers and some great people. In large part, this is why I take my guiding so seriously now. I know that I have so many people to thank and it seems only right that now I try and pay back and pass on the knowledge that has been poured into me for so many years.
I love fish, fisheries and fishing. I realise, possibly uniquely, the pressures that the sport faces during the coming years and I am pledged to do whatever I can to ensure that it carries on successfully into the future.
Angling has, therefore, been in many ways, a major part of my life. I am eternally grateful to it.
John Bailey – 60 second Review
My favourite fish. Always a toss up but a close run race between roach, tench, pike, mahseer and taimen.
Which is your favourite river? Once again, a close contest between the Cauvery in India, the Shiskid in Mongolia, the Wensum in Norfolk and the Wye in Herefordshire.
Your most notable capture? Almost certainly my three pound ten ounce roach caught from the Wensum back in the late 1980s. I’d also rank my hundred pound mahseer well up with that fish.
My angling hero? There are so many it is almost impossible to underline a single one. Probably, if pushed, I’d say Fred Buller because he was as great a man as he was an angler.
What is your favourite fishing book? Well, out of my own, I’d probably mention ‘Trout at Ten Thousand Feet’ which was a story of my travels abroad over many, many years. Overall, I think ‘Going fishing’ by Negley Farson is hard to beat. But there are so many others, by so many authors worldwide.
What about my sports and pastimes? My other passion in life has always been soccer which I played to a semi-professional level in my teens and twenties and for local teams right up until my mid-fifties. I was honoured to play for Manchester United Legends at Celtic Park a few years ago in front of a crowd of 57,000 people. I talked with Roy Keene back at the hotel till three o’clock in the morning. And got out alive! I’m an avid reader and, after studying history at university, taught history and still love it today. I also love music, travel, photography and decent wine, perhaps a little too much.
My social life? Probably it is just a little too fishing oriented? However, from fishing I have a gang of the most fabulous friends. The guiding that I have done over the last quarter of a century has introduced me to some great men and women who have become pillars in my life. I’m eternally grateful to every single one of them for making my days as rich and as entertaining as they have become.