John Bailey: Are anglers’ waters wedded with meditation?

PUBLISHED: 10:21 17 July 2018 | UPDATED: 10:21 17 July 2018

A summer river idyll - John Bailey meditates with the water Picture: John Bailey

A summer river idyll - John Bailey meditates with the water Picture: John Bailey


I haven’t quite quoted Herman Melville correctly in the headline, but his words from Moby Dick will surely resonate with true anglers everywhere.

The glories of Norfolk dawns when monsters are possible Picture: John BaileyThe glories of Norfolk dawns when monsters are possible Picture: John Bailey

This is my only reservation about modern commercial fisheries. You have to wonder whether commercialism and meditation fit happily together when it comes to the sport of angling.

Most anglers know that lakes, rivers and the sea also, show their soul best on a summer dawn when they smoke with mesmerising mystery and a luscious promise of sport to come. Trout, bass, carp or even a river roach are surely possible when the sun pokes his top-knot over the horizon. An angler’s anticipation is a magnificent gift to have, leaving you poised on the edge of magical successes as long as the session might last. And, as old Melville pointed out about the white whale, if the fish don’t turn out to turn up, you’ve always got meditation to fall back on.

I think that is why virtually every angler I take out with me wants to float fish because, using that method, he or she is watching the water so intently they become immersed in it, absorbed by its shifting beauties. The float angler is connected to the water in a visual sense that an angler waiting for an alarm to sound cannot be. The water talks to the float angler, it hypnotises, it weds with meditation in an extraordinary way. Fly fishing and lure fishing might seem much the same as float fishing, but there is more action and more fishing thought involved which rather breaks this ‘wedding’, this conjoining with the element of water that we’re talking about.

But that is all in a perfect world, of course. Whilst we should honour and respect water, in this country, so often we don’t. Some of you might have seen reports of the nets recently found on that wonderful river, the Herefordshire Wye. Yards of the things had been laid and when they were retrieved, they were hauled in with a deathly toll of rotting barbel, chub, salmon and trout. My disgust is principally aimed at those who would treat water so rapaciously. As someone said once, “How very dare they?” Indeed. This is a lack of respect that is shocking, inhuman, an abuse of our world.

The glories of Norfolk dawns when monsters are possible Picture: John BaileyThe glories of Norfolk dawns when monsters are possible Picture: John Bailey

I’m also dismayed that water can be so treated in this country because we are near unique in our failure to stand up for it. I have fished in 64 countries and I think we are close to the bottom of these when it comes to protecting our waters’ resources. In India, the River Ganges is sacred and despite the rubbish that floats in it, the Indians bathing there feel a power that most of us can barely guess at. In Mongolia, the herders regard water as a living entity they would never disrespect. In Canada, if you are caught fishing for steelhead trout without the right licence or in the wrong way, you lose your car, your boat, your gear and a few thousand dollars in fines. In Slovenia the other year, my licences were checked three times a day. Eight years ago, in Poland, we saw an angler killing a trout from a ‘no-kill zone’ of the river and the police kicked him all the way to the squad car. Here, most of the anglers I talk with haven’t had a licence checked for years, if ever. A great pal at the Environment Agency tells me that even if by a miracle anyone is caught and prosecuted, penalties are so pitifully small, the culprits swagger out of court with a smirk.

I could talk about our disregard for abstraction, diffuse water pollution, our lack of predator understanding and a host of other sins against the waters of our land but I won’t because I’d rather end upbeat. There are so many people allied to angling in this area doing their best and I’d like to salute them. Think of the initiatives at Poringland Lakes that I’ve talked about. How wonderful is the creation of that oasis? Think about Robin Combe up at Bayfield Lakes and how he is striving to get fish stocks back there and introduce local kids to nature and to angling both. How about James Harrold down at Rockland Mere? He took the brave step to remove king carp from one of his lakes and replace them with crucians. What an amazingly brave gesture. Of course, it’s hit James financially but he’s more worried about the environment and status of our native crucians than he is his bank balance. An amazing man. I like to think of the clubs that I belong to that are so expertly run. The Norfolk Fly Fishers, the Lenwade Charity Lakes, the Dereham Club waters and the Buxton Syndicate are only examples amongst many of lovingly cared for fishing venues.

Finally, I always love my time with John Trett down at Lyng’s Kingfisher Lake. I know that he’d die to protect that lake and I have to wonder why the authorities can’t think a little more along the same lines?

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