John Bailey: History shows that anglers have never had it so good

10:57 20 June 2012

John Bailey, seen here with a tench, feels there has never been a better time to be an angler.

John Bailey, seen here with a tench, feels there has never been a better time to be an angler.


The Diamond Jubilee surely has cast us all back to our roots.

We have to think of the 60 years of Elizabeth’s reign and the colossal changes that have taken place on the world stage, within the UK and within our own lives.

As I’m football and fishing mad, I can’t get another summer out of my head. Another soccer tournament just like the present Euros is coming up but this time, it’s the heady days of ’66. As we were Manchester United crazy kids, we had our Nobby Stiles day on the sixth of the six, nineteen sixty-six in honour of his legendary shirt number.

Nobby went on to win World Cup glory – not without a bit of controversy on the way – whilst I went on to dismal ‘O’ level results (GCSE’s to a lot of you) because of football, fishing and a lamentable lack of any revision. How on earth could I go roach fishing on the eve of a geography exam when for two years I’d done next to nothing still baffles me.

I’d recovered professionally by the time of the Silver Jubilee but still the fishing and football worlds ruled.

At that celebration I played soccer for Foxley in a street football match whilst the excitement of Norfolk’s tenching and Wensum roach were the fulcrums of my fishing world.

Teaching at Sprowston High School was demanding, exhilarating and those classroom days stay with me forever.

Unprofessionally, though, mine was the first car out of the gates each and every afternoon, forever rushing to the Wensum before nightfall.

The Diamond Jubilee weekend just gone I’ve been writing the book to go with the TV series ‘Fishing in the Footsteps of Mr Crabtree’. The smallest of things have been making me realise what conditions were like then, in the late 1940s, when the cartoons first appeared in the Daily Mirror and, from 1947, in book form, to the very eve of our Queen’s accession to the throne in 1952.

You realize that Bernard Venables was writing a book to celebrate freedom, the freedom to fish unchallenged by what could so easily have been a German occupation.

You quickly understand that in the cartoons and the accompanying illustrations, Bernard Venables portrayed England as a wonderful land, a paradise on earth, so unique and so irreplaceable that any of the hardship suffered between ’39 and ’45 were worthwhile and just had to be made. Crabtree’s waters were fit for returning heroes to fish in. In some ways, Mr Crabtree was a celebration for what had been saved.

However, there are endless hints of how austere the years immediately after the war could be. You sense rejoicing was muted after the relief of victory had faded.

How about Mr Crabtree’s lesson on how to preserve dead baits... ‘wash the dead baits in cold water and put them in a shallow dish containing a syrup of one part sugar to four of the water. Nowadays sugar is not to be had for such a purpose. So, after washing them, bottle them in a very much weaker solution of formalin.’ It’s easy to forget that sugar was rationed until the 1950s.

Or how about these thought provoking words in one of Mr Crabtree’s cartoon bubbles? ‘I’ll throw in some ground bait before we tackle up.

Good ground bait is bread, bran and boiled potato but we must manage with stale bread scraps, sand and boiled potato peelings these days.’ That’s why pretty well everyone is lean in the newsreels of the periods!

But we live in the present and we look to the future.

As anglers, we probably have never had it as good.

Let’s remember that when we slip our nets under nine pound tench, thirty pound carp and when we cast with our superb rods, our Rolls Royce reels and shovel in so much sweetcorn and luncheon meat as bait that, in 1947, would have kept a family for a month.

And whilst we rightly worry about the state of our waters, think, too, how much they have improved as well. If on June 3 our own Queen had fallen into the Thames whilst saluting a thousand ship sail past, she would have been hauled out wet, cold but not much worse for the experience.

A hundred years ago, had George V suffered the same fate, he’d have been dead within hours.

And a hundred and fifty years back, if Queen Victoria had even sniffed the summer vapours rising from that river, she would probably have been hospitalized for a month.


Other Fakenham and Wells sport

Mon, 09:20
Fakenham Town's Ashley Jarvis scored the only goal of the game, from the penalty spot. Picture: Ian Burt

Norwich United extended their lead at the top of the Premier Division table to eight points thanks to a 4-2 win over Gorleston.

Friday, January 23, 2015
2015 World Indoor Bowls Championships at Potters resort, Hopton, 
Mervyn King. 

Picture: James Bass

The Open Singles has produced the strongest bunch of quarter-finalists ever assembled, no fewer than six of the eight contenders having experience what it feels like to stand on the winner’s podium.

Action from the 22nd January meeting at Fakenham Races - 3.00 Fourth Race - Tom Sucdamore on Twenytwo's Take. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Trainer David Pipe and jockey Tom Scudamore grabbed an impressive albeit short-priced double at Fakenham yesterday with two successful hurdlers.

Thursday, January 22, 2015
A typically mazy run from Robbie Harris. Picture: Tony Miles

Leading scorer Robbie Harris is set to return to the Fakenham Town squad for Saturday’s visit of FC Clacton.

Most Read

Saturday, January 24, 2015
The Norwich City players look dejected after conceding against Brentford. Picture: Paul Chesterton / Focus Images

What did you think of Norwich City’s performance against Brentford? Let us know by rating the players out of 10 at

Read more
Monday, January 5, 2015
Shane van Vuuren goes over for the only try of the game for North Walsham at Luton. Picture: Hywel Jones

It was celebration time for North Walsham on Saturday as they won their their first away game in more than 13 months.

Read more
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Chelsea goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer claims a high ball against Atletico Madrid. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

Gary Cahill has backed veteran goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer to ensure Chelsea don’t miss injured first choice Petr Cech for the remainder of the season.

Read more
Thursday, January 17, 2013
The Ghosts celebrate after the early goal from James Tricks.

Fakenham Tn 3, Braintree Tn Res 2

Read more
Thursday, November 22, 2012
Benny The Swinger is heading for victory until taking the wrong course. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Chaos and controversy shrouded the handicap chase at Fakenham on Tuesday when teenage jockey Brendan Powell threw away victory by taking the wrong course.

Read more

Local Weather

Partly Cloudy

Partly Cloudy

max temp: 1°C

min temp: 0°C

Digital Edition

Read the Fakenham and Wells Times e-edition today E-edition