Tag: riverfishing

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

What next for our Barbel?

It’s just over a week ago since my talk at the Barbel Society conference and I have been overwhelmed by the response on social media, on email and by phone. I thank each and every one of you who has taken the trouble to weigh into this debate. The fact that you support my views means the world to me, especially at a time when I was doubting if I had got things right in fact.

The decline is real!

What has emerged from this affair is that most of us who love our natural fishing feel the same. We have all witnessed a decline in wild fish stocks year upon year and we are all losing faith in the statuary powers that be to do anything to reverse this trend. In fact, many of us believe that various bodies wilfully refuse to see the issues that we recognise as being paramount. I guess in the face of a catastrophic situation in so many of our natural waters many of us are feeling desperate, let down and powerless to act.
Of course action is what we all want to see, not just more empty talking. I believe that the excellent Anglers Mail are planning a story on the issue and I hope to use one of my columns to explaining why I feel so passionately cormorants must be tackled. A great friend Justin Whitfield who is owner of fisheries in both Gloucestershire and the south east  said to me yesterday “this is a war and one we cannot afford to lose.”

What can we do?

But what am I doing personally? I am thinking it might be a step forward if all of us help compile a list of our waters where we know cormorants have been a destructive factor. I am arranging a face to face meeting with Martin Salter, hopefully on the banks of the Wensum where I hope to put in place a proper plan of action by the time the cormorants reappear in the late autumn. I am meeting John Wilson on saturday 16th June ( how apt is that?) before he returns to Thailand. John was the first to recognise the impact cormorants would have on our sport and lives and it would be good to have his words of wisdom to guide us now. I am also renewing my own shot gun licence. I am also in constant touch with Trevor Harrop of the Avon Roach Project. He is the greatest of allies and if anyone has followed the route of action not words, it is Trevor. I hope we can all learn from each other-but do that FAST! By November, when our skies darken again with birds from the east, I want us all to be in a position to deal with them better than we have done in the past.”

Churchillian words from my heart gentlemen!

John Bailey



The decline of river roach

I guess it’s fairly true to say that one of the most sought after fish amongst anglers in 2018 would be a true river two pound roach. Once upon a time, in my lifetime come to that, two pound river roach were not too uncommon, even though they were always highly regarded. Here i look into some of the reasons why?

The history of river roach

If we go back to the 1970s, all the East Anglian rivers held two pound roach along with those in what we anglers call Wessex as well. Going back to the 1960s, just to show you how good things were, a great friend of mine caught twenty-two roach over two pounds in a single February afternoon session. Knowing Jack, he liked a long lunch so he probably didn’t get to the water until two p.m. and, as he was trotting, he probably had to give up at four. You can work out the maths yourself.

So, going back forty or fifty years, there were endless rivers in England that could produce two pound roach and, vitally, a whole raft of fish beneath that magic mark. In fact, in 1975, I can remember catching two hundred roach in a morning from two ounces to two pounds ten ounces with virtually every age group being represented. Rivers were simply teeming with redfins.

The recent decline

So, the decline is apparent and appalling. Over the last twenty years, if we take the East Anglian rivers which I know best, there have been endless false dawns. Over and over, I have seen promising signs in the shape of large shoals, no congregations more like, of decent roach in the four to fourteen ounce class. They look young, fit and healthy but, a year or two later, just when you’d expect big fish, they appear to have vanished. This is not an isolated occurrence. It has happened to me on scores of occasions, to the point where I am wearied of it all. My recent road trip around Wessex taught me alot about the current roach demise which i discuss here . 

The ‘habitat’ red herring

The tragedy is that we are told by the Environment Agency that it is all a matter of habitat. It’s not. My East Anglian rivers at least have never looked better. The deep dredging, the curse of the 1960s and ‘70s, has all but ceased now and the rivers meander in their old, voluptuous curves. Moreover, marginal weed growth is now luxuriant and everywhere you look, there is the so-called woody debris that is so important for river health. Yet, despite seemingly perfect habitat, there are no big roach, or hardly any anyway.

The Environment Agency will also try to say that it is down to food stocks. Just the other day, I chanced upon some of the members of a trout fishing syndicate who were busy sampling the invertebrate life on one of the upper rivers. They were kick sampling, disturbing the silt and seeing what invertebrates hit the waiting net beneath. According to them, the river was fabulously rich in olive nymphs, in particular, but also in most forms of invertebrate life. They have been doing this task for seven years and they have noticed no diminution in the number of invertebrates. According to them, there is food aplenty. Yet there are absolutely no roach in the stretch, a stretch where there used to be tens of thousands.

Why is the decline happening?

So, if the river is healthy and the habitat is fine, what is happening to these promising shoals of roach that flourish for a year or two and come to nothing? To me, you and virtually all anglers the answer is blaringly obvious. They are somehow disappearing but not into thin air as if some river magician has waved a wand.

The scourge of Cormorants

To anybody out on the river, any amount of time during the year, the answer is simply cormorants. It’s nothing more and it’s nothing less. In the 1970s, the number of cormorants was comparatively minimal. The growth in number has been twenty-fold during this period and those birds have to be fed. Unlike otters which can roam widely for food, eating lots of rabbits and wildfowl, for example, cormorants are stuck with fish. My fish. Your fish. And roach feature heavily.

Yet, though I’ve tried, getting the Environment Agency to admit this is an absolute impossibility. Fishery teams seem to want to look anywhere for an alternative reason. It beggars belief. If anglers everywhere can see this blatant truth, then why is it not admitted to by the Agency itself?

A few years ago, a local trout fishing club decided it wanted to get rid of many of the big roach that occupied its water. After at least two years haggling with the Environment Agency, they were allowed to move around four hundred decent roach from the pit into the adjoining River Wensum. For five or six years after that, the roach fishing along the stretch was almost back to how it had been in the 1970s. The answer was so obvious. It’s all about stocking with decent-sized roach and then looking after them. It’s worth pointing out that the trout fishery has a cormorant culling licence and employs a man to do this very task. As a result, the stretch of river where these roach were introduced was jealously guarded and protected. It’s all about stocking and protecting the stock that is introduced. Simple as that.

Not just roach

Of course, I have highlighted roach in this piece but I could just as easily have talked about dace. Or, come to that, I could have included chub and barbel. The fact is that along many, if not most of our rivers, juvenile chub and barbel have an impossible time of it, just like roach and dace do. Back in the summer of 2016, I watched a shoal of two hundred or so juvenile barbel in the River Wensum. They have completely disappeared, completely been wiped out by cormorants working the stretch.

This situation is a calamity. It is appalling that we are allowing this to happen. That our statutory bodies are turning a blind eye. All of us who love our river roach must come together to pressurise the EA into action before it really is too late!


The fishing debate that never seems to go away

Ever since my childhood, and that’s a depressingly long time ago, the debate over the validity of the closed coarse fishing season has raged from time to time.

Twenty years or so ago, the closed season on still waters was, of course, largely abolished. I wasn’t keen on the move then but I’ve come to appreciate it hugely now, so this does show I can move with the times. Recently, however, the question of a closed season on our rivers has reappeared and there are plenty of anglers out there calling for a debate, even a referendum on the matter. Frankly, I’m not too keen on referendums these days and I suspect one in fishing would be just as disastrous as one in politics. Still, it doesn’t do to be muddle headed and I’ve looked carefully at the arguments for abolition.


It’s rightly said that lifting the closed season on stillwaters hasn’t had a cataclysmic effect. It’s even possible that by keeping bait going in through April and May, several species are better fed and better able to spawn during June. It’s also true on many waters, like the Kingfisher Lake at Lyng, that anglers tend to pull off voluntarily when they know that their beloved carp are spawning. This is a humanitarian act that reflects well on fishing as a whole.

It’s also argued that the fishing industry would benefit financially if the rivers were kept open between March 14th and June 16th. I’m far from convinced, though, about this argument. I think it’s fair to say that the big money these days is in carp fishing and in match fishing and both those sides of the sport continue happily during the springtime period. Finally, it’s mentioned that there is rarely a closed season on rivers on the continent and they seem to be doing very nicely. I’m not too sure about that one and I’ll come back to it in a minute.


You’ve probably gathered from my tone that I am pro-retention when it comes to the closed season on running water. Without a doubt I am. I live very close to the river. There is a four-mile stretch there between two mills and my conservative guess is there are about 60 chub present in it. Come the middle of May, all those chub pretty well will assemble on a stretch of gravels just beneath a very small bridge that carries a lane over the water there. The chub are very visible to anyone passing by but, of course, at present they are protected. If they were not, I’m quite sure the word would get around and those fish would be targeted. It’s hard to see how their traditional sporting routine would not be seriously, even disastrously disrupted.

There’s a huge problem here. Sixty chub in four miles of river. That’s hardly prolific is it? You are more likely to catch a chub over six pounds than you are to catch one under six ounces. This all shows, surely, that there aren’t enough young fish surviving and growing on to maturity and it would be completely wrong to make the chances of their success even more slight.

I have to stress that this one example of chub is not unique but common on rivers everywhere. It doesn’t matter if you look at running water in our region or further afield to, say, the River Wye, the story is the same. On the Wye, from mid May to late June, all the barbel are on the gravels and if you could fish for them before June 16th, they’d be an easy target and spawning success would once again would be the sufferer. Very quickly looking abroad, I have a small cottage in Spain and at the foot of the village there runs a river with Spanish barbel present. Over the last few years, the authorities have stopped fishing for a three-month period around the spawning time so that the fish can procreate in stress free conditions. If the Spanish have woken up to a closed season, it’s not the time for us to go to sleep on it, surely.


I’ve come up with approximately 15 major problems that our river habitats face. As anglers, we are one of the few pressure groups that recognise these problems and fight for their solution. To me, it seems that if we also fight to abolish a closed season on rivers, we somehow lose the moral high ground. If we are so uncaring, so determined to catch fish at all costs, it makes our high sounding protests sound a little more hollow. Furthermore, most anglers and environmentalists would broadly agree with my 15 disastrous headings. Surely, as anglers and lovers of fish and water, it’s hardly right for us to add a 16th problem to the already onerous list?

I look back on many, many March 14ths spent riverside with bitter sweet memories. You will all be there with me in spirit. A mild, spring-like day. Daffodils along the bank, greening willows nodding in the breeze. The air is warm, benign and it’s full of insects once more feeding both the fish and the reawakening birdlife. It’s as though the fish are ravenous after the harsh winter just gone. That last chub or big roach is something to be wondered at, treasured, committed to memory. The walk off the river is painful, agonisingly slow. It seems so wildly unfair that you can’t be back there for weeks, months even.


But surely there is an answer? What’s wrong with buying a cheap fly-fishing outfit? Why not join one of the region’s game fishing clubs that offers trout fishing on our upper reaches for minimal cost? That way you can get out on the river in the glorious spring. Swap your maggot box for a fly wallet and you’ll find that life is just as good.