John Bailey: Meet Bailey - the dog who loves a day's fishing

Ian, Kate, Bailey, chub and barbel!

Ian and Kate with a barbel - and, of course, Bailey - Credit: John Bailey

On one of the websites, I recently posted a shot of Bailey the Fishing Dog and the reaction was huge, a surge of interest never shown for my earnest laments on the state of the nation and its rivers.

It seems like it’s okay to be serious, but in small doses, and I should remember from my teaching days that the human mind can only take just so much stodge without a little sweetening. Angling’s history has been studded with tales of legendary canines and I’m sure many of us have enjoyed waggy-tailed company one session or another. And even I have to admit, doggy stories are preferable to more news of fresh sewage overflows.

In my life, there has been Paddington, Maddy and this last 10 years, Bailey, spaniel companion of best friend Ian. The dog is enough to make you believe in reincarnation. He just has to have been a passionate angler in a former life, come back to relish every minute on the river bank for, indeed, I have never fished with a soul so frantic for the action.

Yesterday, from dawn to dusk, Bailey was a brown and white whirl of action, up and down the banks, barking at every bite. Land the fish, get out the camera, and there’s Bailey, forcing himself into every shot like he’s the proud captor himself. He never sleeps or dozes and heaven help any one of us if we try to do the same. No. Fishing time is serious. In Bailey’s eyes, fish are out there and just have to caught.

Of course, a fishing dog has his downsides. Never, ever leave bait unattended when Bailey’s about or he’ll just have to ensure the flavour is just right. And, of course, never leave a bait on a hook when any dog is on the bank- Bailey once swallowed THREE hair-rigged boilies in quick succession and without veterinary ministrations lived to tell the tale.

Ian, Kate, Bailey, chub and barbel!

Bailey - busy as always on the bank - Credit: John Bailey

And, as for the actual catching, I’ve said it before that a margin-swimming spaniel must seem very much like a marauding otter to a wary old chub. I reckon yesterday that I spent one hour casting into the river and eight hours keeping Bailey out of it. Hardly any wonder that all of us crashed out in seconds in the bar come dusk, neither anglers nor dog able to keep eyelids open.

I’ve just mentioned “wary old chub” and of course the late and loved Roy Webster used to write disparagingly of them in his EDP column over many years. For Roy, the chub was the culprit behind the decline in Wensum roach, an alien species that somehow forced our redfins out of their ancestral home. I’ve never been convinced of that personally and have always felt that chub and, later, introduced barbel greatly increased the action on what was dying river. So, dear readers, here comes the stodgy bit of my column!

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it is 26 years since the Environment Agency was formed and gave us Norfolk anglers new hope. I remember Fisheries officer Simon Johnson speaking to us and sounding like a Messiah. Habitat, habitat, habitat was his mantra. Get the rivers right and the fish will follow. There’s little doubt that the rivers in East Anglia now look infinitely better than they did in, say, the 80s with all their meanders and overhanging trees, but where are the fish that Simon prophesied? To be honest, Bailey (dog) finds a day on the Wensum a dull affair and prefers to go spinning for pike on a neighbouring lake. How has that come to pass, Bailey (angler) asks himself?

Perhaps we have given the fishery experts their head for long enough? Quarter of a century of habitat improvement should surely have yielded results by now? I accept the Wensum, for example, has its issues with abstraction and diffuse pollution, but it is still a healthy, productive river if given half a chance, I believe. In the view of many of us, fish stocks have just sunk too low to replenish themselves and need a majorly helping hand, and that means restocking. I know that is a heinous word to all fishery scientists, but I’d like to see selective stocking or roach and even chub and barbel take place on a major scale. Yes, we’d have to be careful with genetics and we’d need to put in barbel too big for cormorants to hoover up each winter, but not one of these problems is insuperable. None of us is saying habitat is not of key importance but perhaps it is not enough on its own?

I’d like to end by saying Bailey says “woof woof to that.” But that’s too cheesy for even a chub to stomach!