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John Bailey: Catch took us back in time

15:07 30 May 2012

John Bailey and Henry - his

John Bailey and Henry - his 'Peter Crabtree'.

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There was a rain-soaked moment at around 4.30pm on Wednesday the ninth of this month when I felt myself back in 1957 or thereabouts. We were filming the first episode of Fishing in the Footsteps of Mr Crabtree and the gloom was so intense and the downpour so Biblical that the crew were all but hidden and forgotten about. Nine-year-old Henry Grayling was my ‘Peter Crabtree’, my protégé and my companion for the day and we were sitting on the grass, backs against an alder tree on Kingfisher’s little Lobster Pot Lake.

Our methods were pure 1950s – 12-foot rods, centrepins and handmade floats. Our baits were from austerity times, too, maggots and bread and some lobworms dug from the garden. And our tactics were simplicity itself. No hair-rigs, bolt-rigs or modern gizmos of any kind, just a cocked float, shot, a few inches of line on the bottom leading to the hooks where the baits were impaled direct.

Tench and carp were bubbling hard enough to disrupt even the lakes’ rain-pocked surface and the two floats, only a yard apart, were never still. Henry and I were truly galvanized. We talked in muted tones with hushed revelations about our hopes and observations about the weather and the fish we hoped to catch. I missed a bite and so did Henry. We speculated that perhaps, they were liners. It was man and boy and fishes in eye-to-eye combat and Henry’s glasses steamed up as if to register the palpable excitement that hung between us.

Mick Munns, our excellent bailiff at Kingfishers, drove past and waved (I suppose he SHOULD have been riding a bicycle really) and Henry looked at him with the type of awe I always felt for Norfolk water bailiffs as a child myself and, still, to an extent do. It’s the same with policemen: if you were brought up to respect authority, you never quite shake the deference off.

Then Henry caught a carp. One minute his flicker of red float was there and in an instant, it was gone. He played the fish with a skill I really did marvel at. Though new to a centrepin, never once did I think of offering the lad advice. He seemed to know instinctively when to give line and when to take it, when to raise the rod and when to lower it to the endlessly powering fish.

We landed her and she was exactly right. As a fully-scaled, old English-type fish and not a scattered-scaled mirror, a more recent European import, she was exactly what the Crabtrees would have caught. She was in pristine condition and weighed, just possibly, 10 pounds. Looking at her, she could have been lifted not from the Lobster Pot, but from page 59 of my battered 1952 edition of Mr Crabtree Goes Fishing.

Henry’s face was aglow. He danced a jig of triumph and we shook hands firmly in front of the delighted faces and lenses of the crew. The fish went back, the director called cut and a wrap for the day and we walked back to the apartment to chill out, warm up and rejoice in the session.

Of course, I know our world is not really like this today and that what Henry and I experienced is only a vignette of life when I was his age. I realise the vast majority of Norfolk carp now are carp caught on boilies, hairs and any one of an A-Z of rigs. I’m aware that on waters all over the country less fortunate than those down the Wensum Valley, bailiffs are subjected to abuse and sometimes violence. There are venues where they have to patrol in groups for safety and have to employ night-vision binoculars and hi-tech security devises to deter gangs intent on stealing valuable fish stocks.

I know most boys today are happier behind computers, watching television or playing with mobile phones than they are with a rod in their hands and a float in their gaze. It’s probable Henry, too, will change as adolescence draws on and he finds the pressures to conform overwhelming.

He might give up his fishing but I hope not. Episodes like we shared on the Lobster Pot are magical and timeless.

Visit www.kingfisherapartments.co.uk for more of my reflections on this remarkable place and the Crabtree filming as it unfolds. Also, to be in total touch with the Mr Crabtree revival, visit us on www.mrcrabtreegoesfishing.com.

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