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'One of the best days of my life' - memories of fisherman once voted 'the greatest angler of all time'

PUBLISHED: 14:00 20 May 2019 | UPDATED: 14:26 20 May 2019

John Wilson and Jason Coe

John Wilson and Jason Coe

Coe family

Ahead of the cathedral memorial service for John Wilson, Jason Coe remembers the day he went fishing with the Norfolk television star.

Jason Coe's 21st birthday present - a day fishing with John WilsonJason Coe's 21st birthday present - a day fishing with John Wilson

A memorial service for John Wilson, once voted "the greatest angler of all time," is being held at Norwich Cathedral on May 24.

The fisherman, famous for the television series he presented, died aged 75, in November, and is mourned not only by friends and family, but also by many who loved his programmes and read his books.

Jason Coe met John just once, 20 years ago, but has vivid memories of a perfect day fishing at John's Great Witchingham home. Jason's parents, Krystyna and Neil Coe had won the fishing day at a Children in Need auction - to give to Jason as a 21st birthday present.

"I can still remember the excitement now," said Jason. "At the time I was a keen angler. I used to do a lot of match fishing at Wallington Hall, near Downham Market. I used to go with my dad quite a lot. I always used to watch John Wilson on the television. I even remember the car he used to drive on the programmes, an old Lada. I loved the way he would talk about the fishing places and the environment, the plants and the birds. The camera crew would show us pictures of birds swooping and flying along with the flora and fauna. I adored it.

John Wilson at his lakes in Great Witchingham. 
PHOTO  SIMON FINLAYJohn Wilson at his lakes in Great Witchingham. PHOTO SIMON FINLAY

"When I arrived at Johns private estate lakes I was on my own; no groups, just me and John. I was nervous but at the same time absolutely overflowing with excitement too!

"John was waiting when I got out of the car, three fishing rods by his side and a small green fishing bag resting by his feet. He greeted us with a lovely warm smile, chose a rod for me and after a few minutes of talking I said goodbye to my mum and to be honest I think John was as excited and as keen as me to start the day.

"As we were walking towards his lakes, John shared his stories of how he tended them, and the plants and trees that he had put around the lakes, the types of wildlife that could be seen. It was a beautiful conversation that continued throughout the day.

"I remember John mainly used a float with a light rod to fish with, no specialised baits as we have today, it just felt so natural in a beautiful natural surrounding."

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Jason, who grew up in Runcton Holme, near Downham Market, describes landing his first fish with John as one of the best moments of his life. "I had just caught a fish out of the lakes of my fishing idol and he was actually standing next to me, coaching me! John even took a photo of me holding the fish on his own camera that he had around his neck at the time, which he sent to me later once he had it developed."

Another memory of that perfect day still makes Jason smile. After several hours of chatting, and coaching Jason, John picked up his own fishing rod. "He drew the rod back to cast and whipped it forward. It was amazing to see, the float flew through the air, the angle was perfect. Majestically flying the distance it soared...straight into an overhanging bush. He swore, we laughed and then he placed the rod on the ground, took his shoes and socks off, rolled up his trousers and strolled into the lake, not really much deeper than thigh height, retrieved his float returned to his rod and reeled it back. We both laughed; it was one of those 'most precious' moments I will remember for life.

"John was kind and considerate, compassionate about people and the environment around him. I remember him waving goodbye, with that iconic smile you can see in my picture and on his television programmes - the legend John Wilson. Rest in peace and thank you for one of the best days of my life John."

A memorial service for John Wilson MBE will be held in Norwich Cathedral at 2pm on Friday, May 24.

John presented Anglia Television's Go Fishing from 1986 to 2002, plus several more television programmes covering sea, river and lake fishing around the world. He also wrote fishing books and in 2004 was voted The Greatest Angler of all Time by readers of the Angling Times.

In Norfolk, his adopted home county, he inspired many people to discover the waterways of the Broads. He lived in a property with its own lakes at Great Witchingham, near Norwich, until moving to Thailand in 2013. He was planning to return to Norfolk when he suffered a stroke and cardiac arrest and died in Thailand.

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