Fly fishing gear

John Bailey: 2022 could see us on our fishing trips

6:00 a.m. on January 5, 2022

All my life as a fisherman I have been torn by the question of fishing and travel: is it better to stay home and really know your corner or do you get to visit new waters for you and yourself? learn new approaches that can broaden your repertoire of skills and make you a more multidimensional fisherman?

Even now, after decades of sampling waters at home and outdoors, I am not convinced that there is a hard and quick answer and perhaps, as in life, there is a trade-off.

Despite Omicron, I think there is new optimism in the air and 2022 just might be the year we could think about packing our tackle bags and doing some exploring. I’m playing this one cautiously and not suggesting that you also pack your passport right away, and have to say there are plenty of fish waiting for you in the UK if you want to venture out of Norfolk.

Maybe not if you are a carp, tench, pike or perch man. You’d be hard-pressed to find better waters for the carp union in any other part of the country and most daytime waters don’t measure up if you’re looking for 30s.

Get out of East Anglia and tench waters are tragically scarce in these days of carp madness and there isn’t much to beat what we have to offer, say, at Billingford Lakes. Broadland’s predator fishing I would always say this is the best in the country, despite its problems and challenges. I suspect some of the big tidal rivers like the Thames might push our own Yare, Thurne or Waveney nearby, but, damn it, do you really wanna have a crocodile in front of Parliament?

Big game fishing is a little different, however. Yes there are some very decent calm waters – well done the Norfolk Flyfishers – but our rivers are hit and miss and face desperate problems in the future. There are a couple of very popular unions that are extremely difficult to get into, so if we want first class running water most of us have to travel. I can only write about what I know so my list is subjective.

James Buckley at Wherwell
– Credit: John Bailey

Once that is established, I love chalk streams, and who wouldn’t? You may be tired of their polished beauty, but for a day or two, the Test, Itchen and their ilk provide a jaw-dropping experience. Fishing Breaks provides a great introduction and ex-UEA man Simon Cooper really knows what he’s talking about. My favorite stretch of the test is arguably the Wherwell estate and if you search online book a short time with goalie James Buckley who is a lovely man, great companion and will take good care of you.

Of course, chalk streams don’t come cheap. You can find wild and cracked river trout further north. It’s tougher and the fish are tougher than in the south, but if beauty is what you want, with value for money Yorkshire, Derbyshire and the Lakes are all unbeatable, according to my experience. Talk to Anne Woodcock at FishPal if you want to get inspired. Contact Olly Shepherd at Flyfishing Yorkshire if you want to be inspired. Spend a day with Eric Hope, contact through Hemings Fishing, and he will show you the wild side of the lakes. And if you fancy a calmwater trout paradise, look for rainbows in the clouds at Watendlath Tarn!

Even though Paul and Bob both fished for English salmon as part of Gone Fishing’s Christmas special, it’s a tall order this one. A few years ago I would have suggested the Exe and its tributaries, but today you surely can’t get better than the Tyne. I’m not going to argue too much about this and suggest that the hatchery has something to do with Tyne’s supremacy, so I’ll just advise you to get up there. I love the Tyne. I like its relative cheapness! I love how it has become everyone’s river and the fact that you don’t need a title to fish it. Look for the Fishery Guardian and speak to Andrew Jackson or contact him again via Anne Woodcock. He will see you well.

We still have big game fishing in the river to watch. Forty years ago, why would you have gone anywhere other than East Anglia for river roach – but those days are long gone. Note that the 2 pound river roach remains at the top of the wanted list across the country and I will only be talking about Hampshire Avon and Dorset Stour. You can get day tickets on both with a minimum of research, but they are difficult. If you catch these “two” anywhere in 2022, you deserve it.

John Bailey on the Wye with a barbel

John Bailey on the Wye with a barbel
– Credit: John Bailey

Barbelle is another matter. Being once again controversial, it’s a shame that an East Anglian angler has to travel to find these incredible fish, but tragically it is. The Thames is the home of the Leviathans, but it’s a tough guy and you can’t be wrong. The Trent is prolific, but very crowded, and I have no hesitation in recommending the mighty, juicy, and glorious River Wye. This sumptuous river offers smaller fish than the Trent, but you can trot and catch them on sight in beautiful surroundings. Try speaking to Adam Fisher at Angling Dreams or even contact me at [email protected] I started guiding there exactly 30 years ago and this year I’m starting over there a bit again because it’s just so hard to ignore.

Adam Fisher and his friends Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer

Adam Fisher and his friends Paul and Bob
– Credit: John Bailey

It would be nice to wet a line together, but wherever you cast this New Year, whether far or wide, enjoy every second of your precious riverside life.