This article by John Bailey first appeared on the Eastern Daily Press website on 6th September 2023.
Fishing For Schools is the most praiseworthy of initiatives in our sport, and I cannot overstate my admiration for it.
I wish I could give it more support - for example, I’d love to attend a special get-together at Aylsham High School in October, but work issues conspire against me. What a pallid excuse when you consider the passion shown by Norfolk’s key supporter, Sally Acloque, and the main driving force of what is a national movement, the legendary Charles Jardine.
I’m privileged to know both Sally and Charles and I’m ashamed my help is so inconsistent. Especially as a teacher and an angler, shouldn’t I, of all people, show more commitment? Don’t I know how fundamentally fishing can help kids in every sphere of their lives? I wonder if all teachers get the truth of that message or whether Charles and Sally ever meet with resistance from some in the profession?
Some of you might have watched the first episode of Mortimer and Whitehouse - Gone Fishing on Sunday night. It might not be hardcore enough for some anglers, but it is about as far as the Beeb is ever likely to go along the fishing road because, let’s face it, angling is not held high in the wider public affection, like it once was not that long ago. There is a slightly left wing, slightly woke section of the public that doesn’t really like angling, in large part because it doesn’t understand it. At the very least, Bob and Paul show the warm, acceptable face of fishing that you and I recognise and love. But I’m quite sure there are numbers of teachers who will not tune into BBC2 on a Sunday night and remain sniffy about everything Charles and Sally are trying to do. I don’t know this of course, but I suspect it might be an issue.
Perhaps the greatest of angling’s arts and the one least understood by the sport’s detractors is that of watercraft. True watercraft is also the skill that is perhaps the most satisfying of them all and almost certainly the most difficult to learn. Watercraft is at the foundation of all meaningful angling and it’s in many ways the truest form of natural history. There are two forms of watercraft, the one more superficial than the other. At its simplest, it takes no great genius to divine that fish like places where they feel safe and places where they can find food easily. That’s why we all look for swims close to overhanging trees, reed beds, lilies and all the usual advice that amazes no one.
The much higher level of watercraft is all but a dark art, an almost magical communion between fish and fisher and one that is impossible to describe in words. You have to see it to believe it and in that respect, I was lucky to have the late Norfolk maestro, Bernie Neave, as a friend. Bernie was one of those fish whisperers who could read a piece of water like few others I have ever known. The most drab seeming of waters could speak to Bernie and deliver secrets that the rest of us only guess at. A single bubble. A twig the size of a matchstick breaking surface. Two pinhead fry jumping. A stain of water the size of a centre pin. If a fish as much as sneezed, Bernie clocked it. Nothing, absolutely nothing escaped him.
I don’t know if this were an innate skill or a talent born out of thousands of hours of quiet, contemplative experience or both. You couldn’t possibly explain it to an angling agnostic... or even today to many anglers themselves. I don’t know how you teach it, certainly not in the confines of a necessarily rigid coaching session. We revere those who have special relationships with animals of all sorts, almost anything that lives and breathes apart from fish. If the amazing work Sally and Charles do could produce a single Bernie then I’d say Fishing for Schools has been even more of a triumph than it already most certainly is.
Following the piece, Charles Jardine, said:
"In the 19 years of Fishing for Schools, our express aim has always been to “educate through angling” .
All of us connected with this astonishing initiative, hold aspirations that the thousands of young people we have encountered will fish and go on to be superstars…some may.
"We have nurtured internationals, some have gone on to train in a angling based career; the important thing is, and always has been, is to show a way that leads from the classroom to the waterside. And let the sport work its magic. Mostly, it does."