Tag: johnbailey

Tench Fishing Tangles

I really don’t know if I am the only tench guide in the country but I am sure that between April and August there is a huge demand for the species that I have been trying to satisfy for years. There is something quite magical about fishing for Tench which is clearly appreciated by many thousands of anglers up and down the country.Tench can often be quite obliging to fish for but certainly not always! In this blog I take a look at why Tench can sometimes confound and what tactics pay dividends most often for me.

By and large i have been pretty successful. In the past 5 years catches have averaged between 800 and 1200 tench each  season which when you think about it is a hell of a lot. We are looking at around 10 tench per day which can be a killer to achieve in several weather scenarios. Tench are far more picky that carp and a whiff of an easterly will send them packing most of the time.

Gone Fishing

The popularity of Tench fishing and it’s challenges was illustrated while when I was working with Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer on the BBC2 series Mortimer & Whitehouse:Gone Fishing which I am the fishing consultant on. Paul and Bob were very keen to have a Tench fishing episode in the mix and who was I to argue. I baited heavily a number of swims on pits I thought I could rely on to deliver a fish or two. As is the way with mother nature on the day , yes you guessed it we had a easterly blowing.  After 5 hours of fishing we had caught nothing for the cameras. Whilst we had plenty of hilarious banter from Paul and Bob we needed a fish or two to make the show work. Fortunately finally late in the afternoon we managed a couple of super fish which was of great relief to me and the producers

Paul and Bob from Series 1


I’m well aware that much of the time success I have had over the years is down to the waters I fish. That is obvious. However, I have been fishing for tench since 1962 so if I haven’t got a clue by now it would be a sad admission. Of course , over 57 years, I have had to scratch my head a number of times but I can’t remember a year when the tench have had it so much of their own way. Every tench i have put a net under this year has been hard won and sometimes a fish has seemed impossible. What is going on??

As I see it, there are two issues.

Tench wise up

One. Tench on each and every one of the 14 lakes I guide upon have wised up to some degree. We all know this happens. Whatever the species, after a while you do get rumbled. I first truly realised the extent of this back on the Red Lion stretch of the river Wye in the early 90s. It became blindingly obvious that if you pressured a shoal of barbel there they would learn the game with startling rapidity. I began the practise of catching one or two fish from a shoal and then resting that shoal for days /weeks even months. The trouble was that on a public water you could not control the actions of others and the shoals that I was cosseting increasingly became blitzed by others. That’s fine. That’s life. That’s why I moved on.

A stunning float caught 5 lb Tench

Swim rotation?

Back to tench, that is why up here I have spent a long time building up a portfolio of private or semi private waters. At least that way I have some measure of control over which swims are fished when, how and to what degree. I certainly learned form my Red Lion days and I like to think I have treated my Norfolk tench waters and swims with kid gloves, rotating swims and moving anglers on to new swims and lakes once they have caught a certain, generally low, number of fish. And the approach I talk about in my top tips for tench blog has seen most of my success. The trouble is that as I see it, time has caught up with me. Despite my care, in all the lakes a certain proportion of tench have been caught or hooked or seen shoal members hooked and they now know the game. Back in Red Lion days, I saw it as a fact that once those barbel were educated to us , they never forgot, they never became unlearned. You could rest a shoal a month or a year but it never reverted to its virgin state. Is that now the state my tench have reached?

Heidi with a 8lb personal best. =you can see how happy she was!

A numbers game?

I am talking the roughest possible figures here. But let’s say that each of the 14 lakes hold on average 500 tench that equates to 7,000 fish, give or take quite a lot I know. Let’s now say that my clients have landed 5,000 fish and perhaps hooked or bumped or lost a further 1,000. Well you can do the sums on this one. Of course you can say that it is possible to try new swims-the lakes are large ones-new baits and new methods and of course these are the avenues I am exploring with some success right now. We’ll see and I’ll report back at every twist and turn. What this does make one realise is the immense difficulty of catching decent tench from day ticket and club waters where the fish are fished for on a daily basis. No wonder so many of my clients complain their home waters are beyond hard to crack.

A critically balanced bunch of live and fake maggots

Crack the code

This still does not explain why a handful of waters in my tenching life have been on the verge of impossible from the very get go. Lost Lake is a prime example. As its name implies, Lost Lake was completely virginal when I stumbled upon it 3 years ago. It has a good head of big fish and it is only four acres in extent , so location is no issue. Nor is it hard to concentrate tench and get them feeding on your bait. Day upon day, we have had swims frothing with fish very evidently on what we are giving them. Yet even a bite is a rarity and a fish cause for celebration. How can this be? The tench cannot have wised up. The tench are obviously feeding on bait. We have tried at least thirty different rigs, set-ups, baits, hooking arrangements-you name it and we have done it. It is not even as though the lake is crystal clear.
So the memory span of a fish is the supposed ten seconds is it?? tell that one to my Norfolk tench and hear them laughing all the way to safety.

Tench tactics and approaches that work

Having said all that I have to be pleased with the numbers of fish that I and my guiding clients have caught. Fish into double figures, probably in excess of 100 9’s and a high proportion of 8’s and 7’s. So what have I learned.

Float fishing can be devastatingly successful if you pay attention to minimising the visibility of line in the water and critically balance baits. See my Youtube video Tench on the float for more tips and advice.


Some of the tench floats I use created by Ian Lewis of Handmadefishingfloats

1. Ring the changes with baits

– this can really can pay dividends and especially naturals like bloodworm and caddis grubs when they become preoccupied.

2. Baiting swims in advance.

– If you have the time and the pit you are fishing is accessible baiting consistently,will draw fish in and on big pits this can pay off big time.

3. The biggest Tench tend to come to feeder and scaled down carp tactics.

– and often the bait will be boilies, they will often feed alongside carp and consequently have a diet of carp anglers fair.

4. Remember the way Tench feed is to suck in food.

– make sure your baits are critically balanced so that the force of the suck lifts your bait into the fishes mouth.

Well I hope you are cracking the code for Tench fishing on your local Tench water and I would love to hear about the approaches that have work for you when times get tough.


John Bailey


Teaching an old dog new tricks – a lesson from the carp fishing boys

Throughout my angling career i have been lucky enough to learn from the best Ivan Marks,Fred Buller,Fred J Taylor and of course my dear friend and recently departed John Wilson. But as they say you are never too old to learn and i had a great example a few weeks back when i fished with ‘two young’ guns of the carp fishing world.
For reasons I cannot divulge yet, I was down Essex way last week, on a hot carp lake. Tom and Dan were my on-the-bank experts and, blimey, were they skillful or what? Half my age or less, they made me feel like the beginner out of the three of us.

Attention to detail

Of course, my pro carp days are a quarter of a century behind me but I was never a patch on these two who, incidentally, work for the tackle giant, Nash. Blimey, I can see why they do. Their casting. Their technical mastery. Their watercraft. All extraordinary, but it was their attention to detail that I took home with me. Especially this. Cutting to the chase, their obsession with ultra needle-sharp hooks fascinated me.

You are probably like me. Whatever you fish for and however you like to fish, you know a hook is better sharp than not and you will have a good look at the point before some, if not most, of your sessions. With Tom and Dan, though, sharp has become a religion. Nash make a hook sharpening kit commercially and they use theirs to the limit. Or Dan does. Working for Nash, Tom will use a hook for just a single cast and then replace it with a new one. On a top, rough, carp water, a cast can last a good while out there, but this habit still comes in at 50p a pop. Most of us would prefer to invest in the sharpening kit, I guess, but why take hook love quite so far?

Hook Points

According to the dynamic duo, the simple fact of being in the water can blunt a hook point as the acids work on it. Reeling in can be disastrous as the hook ricochets against gravel, stones, branches or even swan mussel shells. Hooking a fish and then removing that hook can be a point killer, too, they said. You have to get that file out or tie on a new hook altogether once the fish has been caught.

These boys were fishing self-hooking rigs, so blunt hooks cannot be compensated for on the strike. They are also fishing waters where a couple of runs a season are the norm, so a take is not something you want to miss, or risk missing. Not many of us are quite fishing on such a cliff face. Or are we? Fly, bait, lure, freshwater or salt, if we put a hook into a fish’s mouth, surely we have a responsibility to land it if we possibly can.

My Tench fishing

In that department, I stink. Back in Norfolk, I looked at my tench rods, set up with feeders. The three of them were still made up from the last warm autumnal sessions after the species. Those hook points could not have penetrated a bowl of custard. The more I thought about them, I realised, uncomfortably, that the hooks probably had gone on the rigs in April and stayed there for months. That equates to hundreds of casts. Endless bait-ups. Plenty of unhooking operations and a depressing number of tench bumped, played a second and then lost.

The more I replayed my summer, the more tench I remembered coming unstuck. Don’t get me wrong I had my fair share of good fish, and i think i know a thing or two about Tench fishing, but you always wonder about the ones that got away. The takes that never turned into hook-ups. I know we all have the importance of sharp hooks lodged somewhere in our consciousness, but I bet a lot of you are as casual about them as I have been. I hope this exhortation might land you more tench, trout, tope, or whatever in the future.


I’m less apologetic when it comes to knots. Tom and Dan had a list of them up their sleeves, notably 5 turn grinners. I’m a half ‘blood’ knot slob and have been for decades. Okay, if I have to, I can muster a few specialist knots to cover occasional situations when the ‘blood’ just won’t do. Ninety five percent of the knots I’ve tied in my career, though, have been ‘bloods’, either double, single or tucked or not. Whatever variation, the ‘blood’ is almost universally reviled, but it has done me proud, almost without exception. I have suffered endless knot snobberies but still managed to put as many fish on the bank as most. Perhaps confidence in what you do is paramount.

Matching nature

Over the years, I have tended to choose flies, baits and even lures that have merged with the natural foodstuffs that fish are eating. Tom and Dan rather rubbished that, baiting up with pink and white boilies. Why not? Sweetcorn? Orange ‘blob’ flies? Fluorescent lures? On my first trip out back on the Wensum, the pink boilies that the lads gave me caught chub like I wouldn’t have believed.

So that’s what I’ll be up to for much of the winter. You will find me on the rivers with a pink bait attached to a blood-curdlingly sharp hook, tied to the line by means of a half ‘blood’ knot, of course.

I will finish where i started- you most certainly can teach an old dog new tricks,and fishing with the new generation is as valuable as the old. So get out on the bank with a few ‘young guns’ yourself you maybe surprised what you learn. And watch out for those pink boilies!

John Bailey

John Bailey’s 10 tips to become a great angler

In this article i look at my top tips for how we can all be good and even great anglers if we want to improve enough and if we think about the whole process deeply enough. I’m proud to have known many anglers who I have watched going from decent, to good, to fantastic. In my book, they are the real heroes and you could easily join them.

I’ve always said that if I haven’t been working, I’ve either been fishing or playing football. I’m going to mention the World Cup to try and show what I mean about greatness. I enjoyed nearly all the matches but what I was aware of constantly was that in my view good footballers were only a hair’s breadth away from being great. Think about the Japan Belgium game. Japan so nearly won it because they were good, organised, motivated players following a well-schemed-out plan. In fishing or in football, you can achieve all your objectives if you follow certain basic rules. I have talked about what i see as the foundations of how to catch more fish,so here i am going to concentrate on some of the intangibles that can propel you on the road to greatness.


So many of us are held back by the fear of looking silly. There is a great amount of peer pressure in some forms of angling and I’m like many people in that I don’t want to look stupid. But who cares? Does it really matter if you’re catching? Rob Shanks, whom I’ve often talked about, is not only a tackle dealer but a great carp angler. I’ve watched Rob spend an entire session not putting a rod up, just walking, watching, thinking. Most of the other carp anglers on the lake have dashed to a swim, thrown up their bivvies, whopped out their boilies and sat back to snooze. You might think Rob is an odd one but, given the time that family and shop allow, he catches shed loads. Don’t bother about how you look. Concentrate on what you catch.


I’ve got to flag up Chris Yates here. He is typical of those great anglers who have an affinity with fish that is impossible for me, or for anyone, to put into words. They just click with fish, sense how fish are feeling and thinking and it pays massive dividend. A lot of great anglers have fished from childhood and I guess that’s something to do with it. They were brought up with fish in a way that anglers taking up the sport in middle or older age just can’t get their heads around. You don’t have to be an angler from childhood but I guess it helps when it comes to feeling at one with the water and the fish that the water holds.


            In large part, you become a fish whisperer by simply watching the water. If you do this long enough and intensely enough, you will begin to start seeing fish that you never knew previously were there. The great anglers know this. Richie Macdonald once told me that his binoculars were the most important part of his kit and a string of bubbles sighted at a hundred and fifty yards could change his season. On the other hand, a great mate of mine, sadly passed away, was Bernie Neave and he was eagle-eyed at watching fish just a rod length out. He could interpret every bubble, every swaying reed, every twig rising from the bottom. Watching the water and interpreting what you see is a fabulous gift and is one that can be learnt if you take the time to do so.


This is a vital one. All the great angler I have known have good kit, good bait and good methods. They’ve worked to put all these together and then they totally forget about the mechanics. They’re just not bothered about the hardware anymore, it’s the fish and the fishery that consume them. Too many anglers fret about their gear session in and session out. It’s a complete waste of your energy and it deflects you from what you should really be thinking about. Get gear, bait and approach right, then move on to the important bits.


I’ve already alluded to this aspect talking about Robert Shanks and Richie Macdonald. The fact is that if you just rush to the water, set up like a lunatic and get fishing, you are going to miss ninety-five percent of the opportunities throughout your fishing life. At its most basic, you might just miss some feeding fish in your haste. More importantly, you won’t sense what the water is telling you, you just won’t go with the flow. The more you strategise, the more you sink into the rhythm of the river or the stillwater, the more confident you will become and the more your ideas will flourish.


Now, importantly, I’m not talking here about the Alan Wilson approach which is to sit in a good swim, in a good water for months on end. I’m talking about taking your challenges with you in your head. Think about what you want from a water before you fall asleep, or on the tube, or in your lunch hour, or in any idle moment. You might be at work or on the motorway or wherever but in your soul and in your mind you are back bankside. If you live your fishing this way, it becomes part of your psyche.


All the good to great angler I have known set themselves up so that they can be mobile and can move at a moment’s notice. They’re not anglers who rush to what is supposed to be the best, going swim. Rather, they will take each fishing situation at its face value and plot where the fish are going to be. if they pitch down in the wrong place, then they are not so bogged down with stuff that they can’t get up and keep searching for where the fish are feeding. Rod Hutchinson would listen to weather reports and drive to a different part of the country or even to a different country depending on what they said. That’s extreme but you won’t catch a great angler sitting in a swim that his gut tells him is not going to produce.


Great anglers are like lions. They might spend the majority of their life asleep but, deep down, they’re watchful, waiting for waters to spring into life. A change in wind strength or direction. A sudden, intense cloud cover. An approaching storm. A change in barometric pressure. There are a score or more of natural phenomena that will spark the great angler out of lethargy and into life. Most big fish come during small windows, during short feeding spells. The great angler is alert enough to profit from these.


Start with the margins. Many, if not most, of the greatest anglers have been experts close-in. It’s when you can see fish and when you know a piece of water intimately that you can make proper advances. Often huge advances. One of the truly great anglers of the modern era was Lenny Bunn. Lenny was a carp angler who took Norfolk apart, Redmire apart and then the whole English carp scene apart. He was the co-inventor of Black Magic, the forerunner of all modern baits. But above all, Lenny was the master of the margins. He never put baits out at random, only in tight feeding areas, often with a pea-shooter or perhaps even down a drainpipe. Along the margins, he could use his mastery of close control and above all, read the fishes’ exact reactions. This intimate approach can teach you huge amounts about fish, how they behave, what they like and what they’re afraid of. It’s an essential step to greatness.



            Unlike football, fishing is a sport where you often get better as you get over. There are a lot of promising anglers who simply burn themselves out. The Angler’s Mail through the decades has been full of fishermen who have made a splash, if you’ll pardon the pun, but disappeared after a season or two. Really good, verging on great anglers, have long track records. They are in fishing for the long haul, for life. There are plenty of young anglers I admire tremendously but it’s words of wisdom from the oldies that I’ll really cock my ear to. Rock on Archie Braddock my old friend.


  • Master the basic skills and then, confident, move on to fishing’s endless subtleties and satisfactions.
  • Don’t bog yourself down with the mechanics of tackle, bait and rig. Be happy with what you decide upon using and then clear your mind for the important stuff.
  • Eyes. Binoculars. Polaroids. These are your most essential aids so learn how to use them.
  • Matt Busby once said it only takes a second to score a goal and it’s the same in fishing. You are better spending four hours watching, thinking and feeling and then make one successful cast. Great anglers live a quest, a water, a single fish can even inhabit their dreams. The more your fishing becomes a part of your mental world, the better you will be at it.

John Bailey

My top tips to improve your fishing and catch more fish.

I am asked the question ‘what are your tips for catching more fish’, more than any other in my fishing life. So in this blog i’m going back to basics to give you my insights from 50 + years of fishing on how to put more and bigger fish on the bank.

To a large extent this may sound like teaching granny to suck eggs, after all isn’t that what we are all trying to do everyday of our fishing lives and if there was a magic wand wouldn’t we all (including me) be waving it?
There are days on the bank where i’m pulling my hair out trying to work out how to catch or more often help my clients catch, when all the odds seem stacked against us.
But if i stand back and reflect on all my years of fishing experience,not just in the UK but abroad there are some principles that stand out time and again as giving me and my fishing friends and clients the edge.
That edge might only be 10% or even 5% but that can be the difference between a blank and catching or a red letter day vs a good day. It’s fair to say that sometimes these principles get a bit lost in the day to day or hour to hour of  our fishing pursuits. They may seem obvious,but sometimes we can take the things for granted that might have the biggest impact on your fishing success.

So here are my top 5 fishing tactics and tips to put more and better fish on the bank.They are essentially what i would call the fundamentals of watercraft.

1. Observation

It’s so tempting when we have limited time in our busy lives, to arrive on the bank and get a bait in the water as quick as possible, desperate to make the most of the time we have.
If there is one lesson i have learned, it is that time spent looking at and observing the water in front of me is worth its wait in gold. On rivers i will use the close season in particular to walk the river and just observe fish behaviour,as i discuss in more depth here. On stillwaters,early morning tench bubbling, carp rolling,roach dimpling ,fry scattering, flat spots where a fish has disturbed the bottom, are all signs that fish are present.. The list is endless but it requires patience and training your eye to spot these subtle signs that are so easily missed . A great example of this was last winter when we arrived at a Pike lake in freezing conditions thinking fishing might be tough. However in the first 30 mins we saw three swirls on the surface indicating Pike were moving in the upper layers. One of our group, David, decided to try a lure while others had deadbait rods standing motionless on banksticks. 5 minutes later ‘BANG’ a take which resulted in a Pike of 30lb 8oz,a pb for David!

David Chapple with a PB 30lb Pike

2. Location,Location,Location 

 Phil and Kirsty have got it spot on. 30 minutes in a swim that holds fish is going to give you that real chance of catching rather than living in hope for 5 hours in a swim with no fish .  Playing a waiting game can sometimes pay dividends but if you only have limited pockets of precious fishing time it’s a risky strategy. Local knowledge from tackle shops,blogs,friends or other club members can be invaluable.

JG surveys the water for signs of fish activity

3. Preparation 

Time spent ahead of the game getting rigs sorted,bait prepared,rods tackled up and thinking ahead about tactics means very simply more time to catch. So many times in my guiding career i’ve seen people spending precious time getting gear ready,tying hook lengths,putting rod rests in etc.That first hour on the bank might be your best opportunity in the day to assess the conditions ,observe and get a bait in the water.Quite simply put more time observing and fishing more probability of catching. There are countless times i have been able to put fish on the bank because i was able to react immediately to a situation in front of me rather than spend precious minutes getting rigs together.

4. Approach

Have a plan for how you are going to tackle the session be confident in your approach but be flexible. Fish the conditions in front of you on the bank not in the living room the night before. Do as much research based on your experience and knowledge and set out a plan of attack-bait,rigs,approach. If you turn up and conditions have changed or you see a different species rolling in your swim don’t be afraid to adapt. This is particularly true in terms of bait choice. There are countless occasions that by changing bait I have managed to turn around a blank session. Most notably switching to caddis grubs transformed a tench session and enabled me to land 30 fish,when previously bites couldn’t be had.So adaptability is one of the most important lessons i have learned over my years of fishing.

Caddis grub in its protective shell

5. Belief

I’ve had the privilege of fishing alongside some wonderful talented fishermen over the years,people like John Wilson and Ivan Marks, and the one thing i have observed is that they have real belief,conviction and confidence in what they are doing and how they are approaching their fishing.This means not that they never blank,or mess up from time to time but on balance they have the edge to catch more and better fish. So whatever your level of skill or experience give it your best and stick at it. Practice,practice,learn ,watch have patience and you will get the rewards.

#fishing #johnbailey #catchmorefish #tacticsandtips


John Bailey


Some painful fishing lessons in the sun

Naturally-born fish in clear waters under a bright sun can be a nightmare to catch. No. Make that impossible.

No 1 – the carp

It’s last Wednesday and Steve and I have crept into position on the carp lake. We are out of the northerly wind, facing a pocket of calm, warm water. Sweat is on our foreheads. Horseflies are playing around our arms and our ankles. We are watching two very large carp looking suspiciously at our piece of floating crust.

I’ve made sure that the hook is hidden and that the line close to the bread is buried under the surface film and nigh-on invisible, but the carp aren’t liking it. One, the bigger of the two, comes so, so close and simply noses it, almost letting the bait rest on its forehead. Suddenly, as though a secret word has passed between them, they swirl and power off into the depths of the lake. That’s it. The end. How on earth had those carp divined our presence?

No 2 – the chub

On the Friday, I have dressed myself up to look just like Davey Crockett and I’m pushing through the riverbank undergrowth as invisible as a man can be. I’m watching my footfall and keeping my eye on my shadow so that it never falls on the water. I haven’t even got a rod with me and I’m simply watching for chub, plotting their future downfall. Hah! Not a chance. Within the hour, I have found 10 chub, five of them I would say are pretty large. I know I have not disturbed them because I have looked at them all in detail, noting their scale patterns and any possible blemish or old wound. The point is this. I have thrown pieces of slowly-sinking flake to each one of those chub and all 10 have scattered in terrified haste. Nine barrelled off downstream and just one fled up. Catchable? Not a chance!

No 3 -the trout

It’s the weekend now and I’m with Robbie Northman. Robbie is drop-shotting expertly for big perch in a secluded mill pool. You can see his tiny, silver lure glinting about four feet down, perhaps, attracting shoals of minnows and the odd baby perch. Then, from the lilies, a massive, colossal brown trout emerges. Robbie says it’s seven pounds, I am thinking eight. The fish, spotted like a leopard, roars into the attack, its mouth agape. It’s a heart-stopping sight but the fish stops short and, in a boil of angry water, disappears. What a fish. What a dream shattered. How on earth did the alarm bells ring for it at the very last moment?

No 4 – the tench

It’s last Thursday morning, very early and I have a tench swim, all weed dragged out and heavily-baited on the previous night. It’s a cool dawn but the swim is a cauldron of bubbles produced by feeding tench. I have fed hard with boilies, chopped worm and corn so these are the baits that I am advising Anthony uses on the hook. We fish each bait in turn, but the float never dips or wavers. Calm confidence is giving way to vocalised desperation. The sun climbs higher in the sky and in the crystal water we begin to see a legion of dark shapes, tench coming in to feed and going down over the bait. We can even see their mouths working as they drift back to mid-water, munching on the food. They are balletic in their poise, their effortless elegance and completely baffling in their brain power. Our conservative guess is that there are 50 fish there in the swim and yet, we are hopelessly outfoxed. Right at the end of the session the float dips and one fish comes to the net. We suppose it is a triumph but one of sorts.

No 5 – the barbel

Finally, after two years of working on a particular barbel swim, perhaps one of the last to hold Wensum fish, I achieve my aim and actually hook one. I’m tooled up, I think, to cope with a bus. But not with a barbel of furious magnitude. My clutch is screwed spanner-tight. My 10lb line seems impossible to break, the rod, though, is my weak point. Its give, its softness is my undoing. The fish powers towards sanctuary and I face oblivion. I pile on every ounce of pressure that I can muster, almost holding the rod straight at the fleeing fish. It’s to no avail. I’d woefully underestimated the sheer, roar brutality of an enraged double-figure barbel. In previous days, I’ve been done by the brain power of my fish, this time by their athleticism.

Carp, chub, trout, tench and barbel. I’m sunburnt, crestfallen and battered by them all. Still, what on earth would I rather be doing this glorious Norfolk summer of ours?

John Bailey

An in-depth look at the influence of Richard Walker on angling.

There probably isn’t an angler out there that hasn’t been influenced by Richard Stuart Walker, one way or another, even though he was born almost exactly a hundred years ago.  For those born anytime between 1940 and 1970 or so, that influence will be especially real and vivid, whatever species you fish for. Like me, you will all have read his books, his articles and have been aware, in awe even, of the twentieth century angling god.

Amongst historians there is the phrase called ‘the stream of time’ that is useful in assessing the impact any of us make, whatever our position in society. Of course, great men tend to be analysed more closely. Let’s take an example, Winston Churchill. Would he be remembered without the Second World War catapulting him to Number 10 and eternal glory as a war leader? In the same way, Walker was no doubt helped in his life of angling glory by the way society was changing around him. Post war technology to pioneer angling in the unique way that he did. Without the advances in monofilament line, reel, rod and hook design it is doubtful if he could have hooked or landed his record carp, for instance. However, even given these leaps that tackle had made, it still took someone like Walker to capitalise on them fully. Like Churchill, Walker was the man of the moment and he, more than any of his contemporaries, seized his opportunity for angling greatness.

Let’s add some other significant factors to this particular thread. By the 1950s, there was more general affluence and more anglers could afford better tackle. Even working men began to see more free time, too, from the 1960s and, of course, travel was revolutionised. Walker made his way to Redmire in September 1952 to catch that record carp in angling companions Pete Thomas’s car. The fact it broke down on the way didn’t stop private transport revolutionising the range that anglers could fish between the 1950s and the 1970s. Walker’s words, Walker’s tackle, more pay, more free time and the wheels to enjoy all this changed our fishing world.



Walker was an engineer by education and trade, he studied at Cambridge on the eve of the Second World War and brought a supremely logical mind to fishing. It is completely wrong to think angling mentality was mired in the bunkum of Izaak Walton’s day and the Victorian and Edwardian period had produced great angling writers like John Bickerdyke, Francis Francis and J W Martin, better known as The Trent Otter. Still, much mumbo-jumbo still remained, as Walker saw it, and his fishing was pledged to putting clear thinking into practice, whatever the species, whatever the bait, method or approach. Walker brought science to general coarse fishing, to carp fishing famously and latterly to stillwater trout fishing. He caught a record carp, a near record trout and huge barbel, dace, roach, bream, perch and virtually every species that swam. In pre-Walker days, the capture of a big fish was regarded as something that happened by chance, and perhaps happened once or twice in an angler’s lifetime. Walker proved that luck played very little part in the matter. He showed us that by applying logic, by using the right gear and placing the right bait, in the right place, at the right time could result in big fish for us all. Walker truly heralded in the age of specialist angling and made us all feel we could become specimen hunters ourselves.

Walker, though, was not simply a fish catching machine. He did, as they say, appreciate the roses along the way and the companionship of his own particular, very special gang of fellow fishermen. Yet, he would still say that a day without a result was in some ways a day wasted. Walker was at the bankside to catch fish and, should he fail, the day had to be scrutinised, analysed and put right. With Walker, it wasn’t catch at all cost but it seems that his career came close to that.

I never saw Walker actually fish, though I spoke to many of his companions who did on many occasions. Devastating efficiency was their general verdict. He perhaps wasn’t a great float man (though he pioneered a drift-beater for stillwaters) preferring big baits on the bed for big fish. It was this aspect of Walker’s fishing that inspired kids of my generation. I’d been brought up in Greater Manchester, on the float, on the canals for jam jar fish. Walker’s teaching gave young anglers like me the hope of big fish, fish we could barely dream of. Walker amassed PBs that were colossal for his time. When he turned from coarse to pick up the trout rod in the autumn of his career, he broke records in that arena, too. You have to give the man a 9.5 as an angler.


After university, Walker worked for the Royal Aircraft Establishment during the Second World War, developing radar but also flying regularly over Germany where he was deafened in one ear by a shell which exploded just outside the aircraft. He went on to manage a company designing lawnmowers so his world was very much rooted in technological development. There was barely a tackle manufacturer of the time that he didn’t advise and his relationship with Hardy was legendary. When I worked for that company for twelve years, I’d have done it for nothing, so proud I was to follow in his hallowed footsteps.

There wasn’t much Walker didn’t influence in the world of tackle design. Floats. Fly lines. Fly patterns. Hooks. Bite alarms notably. Without Walker, would we have ever had Delkims, bivvies and the whole carp scene? Perhaps we would but perhaps later and in a different form. It is for the Mark IV Carp and Avon rods that perhaps he is best remembered. These rods, to Walker’s design, were the greatest of all steps into the modern age. Originally, Walker conceived them and built them in cane but they went on to translate very well into glass.

It wasn’t just tackle where Walker had his innovative impact. He talked to us about the thermocline, the importance of barometric pressure, moon phases, wind strengths and directions and the senses that fish use so successfully as their defence mechanisms. What a think Walker was. What a man.


Walker wrote his first article in the 1930s for a fee of less than a pound and then went on to write many thousands of illuminating columns throughout his career. He wrote books, too, and for many of us, the big three are ‘Drop Me a Line’ with Maurice Ingham, ‘Stillwater Angling’ and ‘No Need To Lie’.

‘Drop Me a Line’ was great. Maurice Ingham and Walker traded letters, pre-email, of course, and there is a tangible sense of excitement as the two anglers began to apply their original theories, especially to uncrackable big carp waters. The book is full of vibrant writing, humour, generosity and deep, affectionate friendship. It’s a true insight into the start of angling’s specialist era.

‘Stillwater Angling’ was, for most of us, a true bible. Walker was right in predicting the decline of river fishing and saw that stillwaters would become more and more important as the twentieth century progressed. ‘Stillwater Angling’ was a tome, a textbook, a complete guide for a new generation of anglers on a water type that was to a great extent unexplored and unexploited.

Whilst ‘Stillwater Angling’ was to a large degree, though not entirely, a technical treatise, ‘No Need To Lie’ showed the other side of the man. Published in 1964, it highlighted the best of his descriptive writing. The tales in it are wonderful, telling in richly evocative tones the ins and outs of his great, red letter days. It might have been an endless success story but Walker was ever modest, never patronising and always gave the highest of credit to his angling companions.

Walker appeared many times on TV and radio, notably on Desert Island Discs and it’s worth going onto the internet and listening to this in full. He was also an intensely active writer of letters. We corresponded between 1978 and 1983 and it was with the greatest sadness that I realised I had lost some thirty of his letters during a house move a few years back. If he wrote thirty to me, how many countless thousands did he write to all the other anglers begging him for his generous advice and support?


In angling, there has always been gossip, especially around the celebs of which Walker was one of the first. There is so much to say about him. He was certainly a force of nature. He had strong opinions and he was never backward in expressing them. There were times, in the sphere of his writing, that he could be accused of arrogance but, in the flesh, all his friends spoke of him being charm itself.

He was very much a part of the Joyous Crew that Fred J Taylor described, although, in truth, he was probably first amongst equals. You only have to read ‘No Need To Lie’ or any of Fred J’s works to realise that to fish with Walker was always a warm, life enhancing experience. He was very much into his music and songs often were sung at the end of the day.

My old piking friend Bill Giles of Norwich, talked of a 1960s trip that he, Reg Sandys, Pete Thomas, Fred Buller and Walker had taken to Loch Lomond. They’d camped and met at dinner times for food, wine and talk in the central caravan. Bill had placed a recorder on the table and taped the evenings’ debates. On the 25th December 1988, Bill gave me those tapes, all wrapped up as a Christmas present.

I played the tapes in the car as I drove home and at first found them hard to follow until I realised Dick’s habit of talking in so many different dialects. There were many exciting pieces. Dick always dominated but Fred Buller was a constant foil, holding his ground, countering argument with argument. The tapes show just why Walker was a centre of such a strong, intellectual group of anglers that included men like Taylor, Buller, Thomas, Ingham and Peter Stone. Generosity comes out of the tapes as he talks about helping people learn to trout cast. There is humour as he explains how his old granddad always used to give a taking pike ten minutes by his fob watch before striking. There is a great awareness of the need of conservation in angling and the promotion of new fisheries for the ever-growing number of anglers. He is also constantly controversial. On every issue he provokes debates and flares Buller into constant retaliation.

It’s no wonder that when Walker died, his friends found him impossible to replace. So did angling.


It was my mistake never to meet Walker, though he often offered me a meal, a discussion and a bed for the night. My mistake. I did meet Bernard Venables, though, many times in the great man’s later years. It’s almost like a Ronaldo/Messi debate. Many of us were Walker men, an equal number followed the great god, Venables. It is very well-known now, of course, that Venables did not have a lot of time for Walker. I was lucky, of course, to be able to ask Bernard why and, for him, Walker stripped too much of the magic, the mystery and the soul from our sport. Bernard accused Walker of virtually declaring war on fish, of pursuing them by fair means or foul. Bernard believed that the Walker philosophy had bred a new and alien spirit in angling, an obsession with the self, PBs, big catches and personal glory. For Bernard, angling was about nature, contemplation, nourishing the inner man.

The obvious truth is that Walker and Venables in fact worked in tandem. They were complementary. Superficially, Walker appealed to the mind, whereas Venables pulled at the heart strings. In their different ways, they inspired millions, yes millions of us. ‘Stillwater Angling’ went hand in hand with Crabtree. Together, they showed us how to catch fish, love fish and live for fishing. Between them, they changed the face of fishing for ever. Walker and Venables truly were the Titans of our Time.

John Bailey

An angling week that has left me with more questions than answers – part 1

When everything doesn’t go right in an angling life, it can lead to deeper questioning and sometimes more profound answers. Here i look at some vexing issues that have really got me scratching my head about my spring tench and bream campaign. 

That’s how it has been for me. And probably for you, given the outrageous ups and downs in weather systems that we’ve been experiencing these last few weeks.

If there’s one thing we all know it’s that fish appreciate stable conditions, to an extent, either good or bad. They like to know where they are if they are going to feed with anything like confidence and that goes for all freshwater fish.

The tench above were  caught by Mick and Enoka on a red letter day , which sat between many frustrating days of .. well frankly not much!

I’ve believed for two or three years now at least that a heavy baiting campaign will pretty much always switch tench and bream on when the approach is applied to our gravel pits. It’s an attack that has barely ever failed for me and I accept that it is a means of buying your way to success. Simply filling a swim in with food and waiting for the fish to congregate there isn’t the most intelligent form of fishing but it can be very productive and it virtually always is.

So, when Simon and David came down to fish with me the other Monday that was the attack that we decided upon. We spent a couple of hour’s spombing out bait – what a wonderful word that is – along a deep channel between two plateaux where fish are often seen. The whole project was set up with extreme precision, no heed for the amount of bait and the tackle was finely tuned. We sat back to wait.

And, cor blimey, did we wait. We waited all Monday, all day Tuesday and till four o’clock on Wednesday when the only run of the session was missed. We might just as well have thrown a hundred quid in coins into the swim rather than feeding it with the most lavish of fish goodies.

Simon did manage to winkle out this bream he saw feeding alone on an adjacent pit while on a break from the monotony of simply no action.

How on earth do you account for all this? The Tuesday, admittedly, was pretty dire but, still, pressure was rising and warm weather was on the way, so you would have expected the fish to have responded to that. We tried absolutely everything in our combined repertoire of skills and experiences. The only thing we did not put on the hook were caddis grubs, the bait that worked phenomenally well last spring. The reason? We couldn’t find any! Explain that? Why does a lake heave with caddis grubs in 2017 and seem completely bereft of them 12 months later?

What have been your experiences this spring so far?

John Bailey

Fishing via Facebook tells only half of this new story

Well, let the truth be out. I’ve been carried kicking and screaming into the 21st century, into the modern age of communication. So what is the story around social media- here I take a look at the pros and cons.

Yes, I’m forced to admit that modern social media is good for so many things in angling and I’ve come to recognise that. Being able to share your triumphs almost instantly enhances that moment of supreme pleasure. It’s extraordinary that you can catch a good fish one second and the world knows about it the next minute. I also have a growing sense of community, of being a part of a likeminded circle of anglers that I never even knew existed. My WhatsApp group gives me instant access to my close friends and also entry into angling niches that I was totally unaware of previously. I’m finding that I am privy to a treasure trove of information on tactics, rigs, baits and even new venues. It’s like whatever I want to know about anything in the sport, I only need ask.

Social media can turbo-charge campaigning

So much of my time is spent on conservation issues and I am now finding that social media can speed up all my campaigns massively and almost instantly. Whatever I might have to say about cormorants, or otters, or the decline of roach, my words are spread to thousands no sooner than they are uttered. There is no doubt that social media has enabled the angling community to build up a far better grasp of what is important now and in the future. It’s a really strong force for mobilising opinion.

I’ve got to mentioned the financial benefits, social media has massively increased the ability of manufacturers to promote their products. It’s not a one-way street however. Social media also enables independent reviews that enable people to choose gear far more selectively. There is so much advice out there, so instantly on tap, an angler knows exactly what he or she might really need.

The spread of ideas and inside information

New ideas in angling can be spread so quickly now because of social media and I have benefited from that, too. I’ve already cottoned on to the use of single circle rigs for pike dead baiting, for example, and the Ronnie Rig (Spinner Rig) for big, suspicious carp. In the same vein, slightly left of centre angling disciplines have now received their full share of the spotlight because of social media. Lure fishing is a great example. For years, it’s been rather on the periphery of fishing but now, because of social media, it’s right there in the beating heart of it.Whether it is lure fishing , fishing with a centrepin or tench fishing there are groups devoted to these passions which enable us to immerse ourselves in this sport in a way we never could before.

A great way to engage the next generation

Perhaps best of all, fishing and social media go together when it comes to promoting the sport to kids. Social media is the vehicle of choice for anybody now over the age of six it seems. Social media is cool and many of the angling stars there are lads in their teens and early 20s. This is especially so when it comes to YouTube where so many of the angling stars have arrived on the scene in the last 5 years.  Carl and Alex ; https://youtu.be/iqebOrn0ltw are building there angling careers based on engaging content communicated in the venacular of the new world of media. My great friend and protege James Buckley is sharing his angling adventures via his blog; https://anglingbuckley.wordpress.com/  .

Watch outs

So what’s not to like? First up, I’m becoming more wary of much of the so-called information that I’m reading on social media. A lot of it, I’m pretty sure from my own experience, is not altogether simply right! The point is, that in the past, when a book or an article were written, you knew that the author was tried and trusted and what he had to say was very generally built upon decades, probably, of experience. Not everything that you read in the old fishing books you could take as gospel but a lot more of it was more right than what we see on our screens today.

But most of all, I just wonder if social media dents that magic and the mystery of this extraordinary sport of ours? To some degree, angling is all about our own explorations and discoveries. This is what makes it perpetually exciting for me. And then, of course, there is the simple delight of getting out into nature, being as one with the aquatic environment. This is a very real satisfaction for very many of us and it can easily be disturbed by the constant pinging of a smartphone. There are times when you need to breathe, and breathe deeply to smell the roses along your angling pathway.

Social media is a force for good in angling if embraced in the right way but let us not lose sight of the real value of the escapism and mindful therapy that fishing and nature can provide.