In the first of a mini-series, John Bailey looks at some of his favourite Norfolk waters - starting with the rivers

My guess is that most of us from an early age are drawn to either freshwater or salt, either by dint of geography or inclination, and though many of my happiest and earliest angling days were spent afloat in Blakeney Pit or fishing for mackerel off Cley beach, it was the river Glaven I really and truly loved.

In the 1960s, the fishing around the sluice gate on the coast road had to be experienced to be believed and it’s one of my huge regrets that I was a little too young to have made the absolute most of it. But if you can’t catch monsters, then looking at them is just about as good when you’re a kid.

And monsters there were there, downriver in the salt and upriver in the fresh and moving around from one to the other as the tides dictated. Monster perch with bars coloured jet black. Vast roach, carpets of shoaling silver… didn’t Cley legend Bernie Bishop catch a three-pounder 60-odd years ago? Pike to keep crocodiles in their place and dace more the size of moderate chub. Trout, of course, too, browns setting sail from upriver and true sea trout spending their summers feasting on Glaven sticklebacks and shrimps.

Has time glamorised these memories? Were my childhood eyes too big for proper guesstimations? I think not. By the late 60s I was accomplished enough to catch cracking perch, large sea trout and the first of my 2lb roach. Though, of course, for those my life didn’t really start until 1970.

That’s when we come to the wonderful Wensum, where my angling took on new perspectives. Those rattling mini van journeys from Blakeney to Swanton Morley, filled with glorious anticipation there and often wild exhilaration back again… you really had to be there to appreciate the magnificence of those roach. I’d known the river before, at Bintree, where the miller had kept an eye on me through endless summer days of angling infancy (how much I owe to the Seaman family!) but it was Castle Farm where the magic really began for me.

The Hampshire Avon was big roach-rich in the mid-part of last century, but I once talked with the stalwarts of that time and left convinced there has been no better roach fishing in recorded history than that of the Swanton and North Elmham beats. How many 2lb roach did I personally catch between 1970 and 1987? Well, I once recorded 100 in a single season, so it was a lot.

Numbers are important historically, but not quite so much spiritually. My passion for the Wensum is hardly based on figures alone but more on the memories of lonely floodplains, mist-mantled dusks and dawns and huge roach rolling all along the glides of grey water. There were so  many fish of such great sizes that it is hard to explain the glory of it to any young angler today. Indeed, who is there left to recall those legendary times? Wilson has gone, so too Houseago, Hendry and so many other wizards far better at the game than I was.

So, the Glaven and the Wensum will always be my river loves, but the Bure deserves mention, the upper river especially, around Oxnead and Buxton where I spent enchanted days in the 1970s and again only five years or so ago. I caught a 2lb roach there on the first day of my return and later landed serious chub and perch amidst a poppy-strewn landscape that nearly took me back to those van days of my youth. But not quite of course, Norfolk is too fundamentally changed to claim that.

The upper Yare ( I was always an upper river man) had its many moments for me and the Waveney too. In the mid-80s I was mesmerised by the giant pike of the upper Thurne, fish I spectacularly failed to catch. I caught giant dace from the Nar and way back serious roach from the Babingley river Heacham way. I flirted with the Fenland rivers and the Lark and Gipping but it was always the Wensum and Glaven that drew me back.

Is there upper river fishing anywhere in East Anglia like we once knew nearly everywhere? How is it that within a lifetime our rivers have gone from extraordinary to average to appalling? Has anyone explained the decline? Has anyone admitted blame? Has anyone truly suggested workable solutions? Do we have to accept that past glories are exactly that?