John Bailey: What happened to the heroes?

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Published:
06:00 February 9, 2022



If I’m not fishing or driving, I just have to read.

It’s a compulsion I’ve had since I was five and I’m going to have to live with it. I don’t just read about fishing either, although in my head I will always try to make connections. For example, I just finished a book on appeasement foreign policy in the late 1930s and throughout I couldn’t forget that Chamberlain was a keen fisherman. Salmon of course, as you would expect from a Tory Prime Minister, and while I wouldn’t exactly call him a hero, I would associate him with words like ‘honesty’, ‘integrity’, ‘self-sacrifice ” and to see”. . What happened to concepts like those in number 10?

I was also involved in a new biography of the legendary killer of tigers and man-eating leopards in mid-20th century India, Jim Corbett. If you haven’t read or even heard of Corbett, buy a copy of his Man Eaters Of Kumaon and prepare to be amazed and terrified.

This is the story of a man brave beyond belief and tough beyond comparison. I made the mistake of reading Corbett in 1989 on my first trip to India while camping in the very region of the lower Himalayas he describes. I haven’t slept for a month. Each snapping twig made my heart pound in terror. Plus, when he wasn’t risking his life to save beleaguered villagers, Corbett was an angler, something of an expert on the fabulous Indian mahseer from the Ganges region that I was there to catch. Or try to catch. These mahseer I crocheted that year had me simmering. I couldn’t even tame the fish that Corbett had rushed over, so God only knows what I would have done with a man-eating tiger.

But there is another interesting point in Corbett’s story, I think. Corbett learned the traditions of the jungle from the time he was able to roam the Indian forests. He used to say that he didn’t learn the jungle craft as much as he absorbed it and it was exactly the same with angling. In my book, you can come to angling later in life, learn it, and become proficient, but you’ll never have that instinctive understanding that comes from living by the river. This sixth sense, this innate affinity with fish and its habitat, can only come from a knowledge that is probably self-taught and that certainly begins in early childhood.

I was immersed in morality, by international religious leader and Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sachs. Sachs, who died relatively recently, was a hero of the mind, a man brave enough to argue that there is no freedom without morality, no liberty without responsibility. I am indebted to her for making me re-evaluate the concept of regret, a notion I had casually dismissed – until now. I had always looked at regret in one dimension, in terms of life accomplishments rather than deeper in the story of my actual actions.

For example, Sachs forced me to re-examine the Lake Barningham perch case of 1987/8. That season I had caught bags of large perch from the lake, but when my good friend Bernie Neave asked me about them, I lied and said I had caught them somewhere else. Bernie is long gone, but that memory has always lurked at the edges of my consciousness and it took a man like Sachs to confront me, to make me realize in the future that I need to do better in every way.


The Angling Times article mentioned
– Credit: John Bailey

It will be a relief to know that I have also read the Angling Times, which just published an article asking, What next for Iconic Wensum? As you’d expect from a grumpy old man like me, I’m quoted in the article and I largely disagree with all the so-called fishing experts, especially those employed by the Agency for Fishing. ‘environment. However, The Times also spoke with Tim Ellis, president of the Wensum Anglers Conservation Association. Now, I haven’t always agreed with Tim – and he certainly hasn’t always agreed with me – but I readily acknowledge that Tim is a hero, a model of hard work and selflessness, a man who never sought publicity or acclaim, just the betterment of the river he loves. The news along sections of the Wensum is that it is now producing more and better roach than it has since I was in short pants and a lot of that is down to Tim and his low-key colleagues .


Wensum and gilthead seabream have always been synonymous

Wensum and gilthead seabream have always been synonymous
– Credit: John Bailey

It kind of brought me back to my title, to men and women who work for the good of others, without reward or recognition, but who are heroic in their ambitions for a better world. How we need more heroes like these in our angling and in our public lives.

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