John Bailey: Not Really Fishing - a book that says it all

the autumn river

Drink in the beauty of the autumn river - Credit: John Bailey

I’ve got a lot of time for the Wild Trout Trust, which has just released a Christmas stocking filler present with a difference.

Not Really Fishing is a miniature masterpiece, a book barely 100 pages long that is made up of reminisces by the Trust’s membership of days by the river that really meant something to them. We are NOT talking tedious trophy fish here, the usual puff to an angler’s ego, but rather those sessions that are life affirming in some way, even, dare I say it, life changing?

Not Really Fishing book

The little bible itself - Credit: John Bailey

This really can happen! If you live for your fishing then there are times when it lives for you, when you just suck up what is happening around you and think, 'blimey, is this heaven or what?' Naturally, you have to be open to these moments of epiphany, not just sit with your head in a maggot tin, fretting where the next bite might come from! This is like religious faith. You have to trust in the magic of the river bank and have faith it can work its miracles for you and on you.

So, if you acquire this tiny tome and read it thoughtfully, you might just find that your angling life takes on new dimensions and depths. These pieces teach you to look at a kingfisher and truly appreciate the explosion of halcyon wonderment that it is in fact embodying. Yes, even an otter. Rather than worrying about your carp and throwing bricks at the damn thing, you might find yourself in awe of its sinuous grace, its muscular breasting of the river’s current and the sheer gorgeousness of its presence before you. Okay, I appreciate this might not actually happen in even the WTT world, but just consider what the next weeks might bring.

Soon we’ll be seeing those winter mornings whitened by frost, willows dusted in ice and the river sliding blackly between the beds of rusted brown sedge. This is a fragile moment and savour it before the sun rises and the vision melts before your eyes. Or think of those mild, early dusks when the Norfolk skies are alive with skeins of geese coming in to roost and your mind is turning to the warm security of home and the glory of that hot bath. Too sentimental for you? Well, I’ve got a friend who we’ll call Ron. He is extremely ill and tells me that in his last months he has been learning to relish every last second of his fishing life and cherish the smallest of experiences he has spent his years overlooking. That’s the message of Not Really Fishing, a timely kick up the backside to make us realise how blooming lucky we are.

Even a float can be a thing of beauty

Even a float can be a thing of beauty - Credit: John Bailey

I was truly impressed that one of the contributions paid tribute to the cat-like grace and bull-like strength of the barbel. Now, you might not expect a coarse fish to be appreciated in a game publication, but that is what I like about the WTT. It is a broad church and its fundamental belief is in the sanctity of pure rivers and thumbs up to any species that might prosper in them. That’s how fishing should be, surely, totally inclusive, shorn of the snobbery that we see is so many aspects of non angling society?

Alongside the essays, the editorial team of Denise Ashton and Theo Pike have included fascinating facts that I didn’t know but am happy to know now. How about “during a mayfly hatch, hobbies (those small hawks we all love) can pluck a mayfly out of the air every seven to 10 seconds, pulling off their wings before transferring their soft bodies from talon to bill in flight”? I didn’t know swifts can fly 500 miles in a day and that arctic terns can cover 44,000 miles in a single calendar year (can that really be right?). And the angler in me likes the fact that “a 68lb trout was netted in Lake Maggiore, Switzerland in 1928” and that “the largest subspecies of Salmo trutta is the Caspian trout, reported to weigh up to a massive 112lb”.

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There are a lot of old anglers like me who think that much of the magic of fishing has been lost in recent years. The emphasis on baits and rigs and the obsession with weights and PBs have eroded pretty much all of the mysteries that enticed us into fishing in the first place. Technology is all well and good, but it can’t be a substitute for the wonderment that has been at the heart and soul of angling for centuries.

Not Really Fishing takes us back to a happier time. I’d recommend you buy a copy for yourself and copies for all your mates too. Your lives, not just your fishing ones, will be enriched as a result.