John Bailey: Angling ethics are a mirror to life

<Steve and John Bailey celebrate a PB together.

Steve and I celebrate a PB together - Credit: John Bailey

There was a slight rumpus at my favourite carp water in Norfolk when a member began using a drone, presumably to spot carp as well as map out gullies, bars and other features.

As so-called arbiter, my judgment was called for, but what a conundrum eh? Nobody wants to be called a Luddite and we can't escape the tsunami of technology however much we, me especially, would like to. We accept bite alarms and bolt rigs, but I decided that drones were a step too far, along with bait boats perhaps.

In part, many of the carpers are there for peace and solitude and turning the lake into an offshoot of Heathrow is hardly conducive to pastoral reflections. And, anyway, how far do you want to go to catch fish anyway? Should you really encourage the 'whatever it takes' philosophy? Is the end result and a big fish in the net landed by whatever means, our only valid consideration? Much like life, you see. Do you claw your way to the top of the greasy pole of society using any device open to you or do you play by the accepted rules? 

Pingers, Kate, Steve and Bailey the Dog share the moment!>

Pingers, Kate, Steve and Bailey the dog share the moment! - Credit: John Bailey

A couple of days ago, I was fishing with a great pal, Steve. Now this guy is a massive high-flyer in the medical profession. If I gave you his full name, you could Google him and see he is top of the tree in his chosen field. He is also fearsomely intelligent, immensely generous and good fun to boot. What’s not to like then? Nothing... apart from his driving desire to catch PBs most times he is out with me.

He’s pushing 60, our friend Steve, and you’d sort of expect his horizons to be wider and that he would want to drink in more of what a day on the river can bring. But that is me. That shows my lack of competitive desire. I have to appreciate that Steve’s demand for success is at his core and what has propelled him through his career with such spectacular results. As an aside, I have fished with Ian Botham on occasion and I’d make similar observations about him. But, equally, you don’t stand there tonking the Aussies all over the ground if all you want to do is smell the leather and the willow.

I fish happily with Steve because as soon as he catches the fish of his dreams, he is happy to sit back and relish the moment with a 'job done' smile on his face. What I find hard is the angler who just has to 'bag up' or in modern parlance 'fill his boots'. I’ve had issues in the past with those who just want to catch and catch, to empty a swim regardless of the carnage they are creating. However many they might catch, that’s never enough for them. Action is non stop or it’s not action at all. I can accept they might not get much free time and not many hours to fish. I understand they want to make the most of the day, but I can’t tolerate the damage they are doing to the fishery and the fish in it.

Fish are not commodities. They are living , precious creatures that you treat with all due reverence. I wonder what these anglers are like in their non-fishing life? Has every cup got to be drained to the dregs, every plate scraped clean?

Most Read

Mister Clean I am not, I hasten to add. I’m not jealous of other anglers' catches like I used to be in the past and I take greater pleasure by far in seeing others succeed. That’s good, but even that could be questioned. I like to catch nice fish but I like others to catch nice fish too. So it’s win win, a double whammy and I can’t go wrong in a subtly selfish way? I still use livebaits from time to time where they are allowed and when I know they are the only answer so that makes me a hypocrite when I talk about fish as 'living, precious creatures'. Perhaps that’s me in life then? All smiles on the surface but devious and dark beneath?

I’m a past master at waffling on about the beauties of fishing, of drinking in the wonders around me, but do I really appreciate the flash of a halcyon kingfisher in the way I say I do? Mindfulness is what we should all be seeking I’m told, but do I sink myself into the uniqueness of the moment or am I not always worrying about trivialities that belittle my life?

There’s a whole book here, not just six hundred words. Perhaps all we can conclude is that in the Covid Age, we think a tad more deeply about our time on earth , and the riverbank, than we have done in the past?