Author: John Bailey
Reviewed by: Chris Plumb
These two excellent volumes could be said to represent the ‘bookends’ of John Bailey’s angling career to date. Genesis and Revelation if you like. Reflections from the Water’s Edge covers the first 30 years of John’s fishing from early boyhood beginnings to the emergence of the compulsive angler. It also, by and large, covers the time in Bailey’s angling before he was struck with the wanderlust to travel the globe in an endless search for the ‘perfect fish’. Trout at Ten Thousand Feet is a retrospection, and at times an introspection, of that search.
Reflections from the Water’s Edge was the first Bailey book I read and I still think it represents his best work. I guess, though, I was pre-disposed to like it. It was given to me as a Christmas present by my wife-to-be just a month after we’d set up home together. (Don’t you just KNOW when you’ve met the right person!) Through a series of short stories the book plots the birth of a great angler. The writing really is top-notch and captures time and time again the essence of being on the bank. It is about the angling experience. It’s the type of book which you occasionally put down in your lap and stare ‘trance like’ into the middle distance. A knowing smile plays on your face. Your own angling memory has been triggered by something John has written. He may have fished different waters, caught different fish to you but the experiences he so brilliantly describes are, to a fellow angler at least, universal. The book is adorned throughout with a generous helping of black and white photo’s and half a dozen excellent illustrations from Chris Turnbull. As you might imagine this work is becoming something of a collectors item – if you see one for under 25 pounds, buy it!
“How quiet it was that silent night. All was calm. All was bright – for now, around 10p.m., the moon began to shine, and, five hours after sunset, the roach shoal moved once more. Under the new silver light, I saw more of the fish; their heads, their depth, their very scales were highlighted with startling clarity. I felt a sense of inevitability. Now I knew our paths were destined to cross. I watched the dough bobbin with absolute certainty of success. The church service began across the river from me. Only half aware of the carols, my eyes flitted like a hawk’s from bobbin to rod tip and back again. Whenever the wind rose to stir either of them, then my heart all but died within me. And when, at last, the bobbin hit the butt in a gentle sweep upwards, I hesitated dangerously long before laying into the strike. First the roach plugged away down deep, but as it neared the net it threw the water high in diamond cascades. It shook its great head and, right at the net rim, I saw the silver hook sparkle. By a sliver of skin that roach was mine.
It was huge, It glowed, It absolutely shone like the gold presented to the Lord in his stable. The quest was completed.”
(From Holy Night)
Trout at Ten Thousand Feet is a remarkable book or rather a book of remarkable angling adventures. ( Well, actually it’s both). John Bailey takes us on a personal pilgrimage to some of the MOST remote and inhospitable places on the planet in search of fish – or as he admits on the penultimate page, in search of the most perfect fish. They don’t come much more remote than Greenland or Mongolia and there are also stories places as far apart (and as different) as Russia, India and the Bahamas. There are some cracking yarns within, my favourite is of being towed across the Caspian Sea by a huge Beluga Sturgeon. The fish which had been hooked on not much more than beefed-up carp gear was estimated by their guide to weigh 850 KILOS (We’re talking the weight of a family car here!). Eventually, after 5 hours, the guide cut the line, the fish had brought them to close to the Iranian shore! As usual Bailey’s great enthusiasm and respect for nature shines through. The overall tone of the book though is quite reflective, contemplative, perhaps even a little self absorbed at times. But then, if you’ve survived a plane crash in Mongolia as John did, I think you’re allowed to be!
“I saw a bulge of water rise up behind the fly. Crazy. How do you say it pandemonium? And there I was playing a mighty fish. It leapt, silhouetted against the moon, head like a dog shaking a rat. The merchants saw this too and reined in their camels to watch. The fish was so big and so fast I never thought I’d land it on the tackle I was using but I did after nearly an hour. There was cheering from both banks as I struggled ashore with my prize. What the fish was I didn’t have a clue but by the lamplight we saw it was a Taimen, a landlocked salmon, you know, a cousin to the Huchen back in Europe. We weighed it on the camp scales. Sixty-two of your English pounds. It was enormous but there were two things that struck me. Firstly that crimson tail, glowing like fire. And the head. Vast, with huge jaws and glaring eyes. It was a fish from the dawn of history.”
(From Mongolian Odyssey)
Reflections from the Waters Edge. The Crowood Press, 1987.
Trout at Ten Thousand Feet, New Holland Publishers, 2001. 12.99