Bob James and John Bailey have been well known anglers in the United Kingdom for many a year now with strings of books, countless articles, TV and radio appearances, lectures, teach-ins and a host of guided trips on their CV.
They are photographers and writers and they’ve plied their angling experiences in over fifty countries on five continents. Between them they have over 90 years of angling experience, forty of them shared together. This has been a long and enduring friendship because it is built on strong foundations . they are both absolutely passionate about their fishing. They love their fly fishing but they’re unusual in they are equally enthusiastic about carp, barbel, pike and all other fish more usually caught on bait. For decades, Bob and John, like others, have kept the disciplines apart but they’ve always been aware of the deep vein of please they fly fishing gives, that is so difficult to replicate with bait tackle.
“For us, there’s no such thing as a favourite species, “BJ says, “We love ‘em all but what we do is recognise that there are more attractive ways of fishing than others.
For years, when we’ve been bait fishing for carp or barbell, for example, we’ve missed the mobility and freedom that comes with a fly rod. A rod, reel, a few fly’s and off we go… so unlike the sheer weight of gear most bait fisherman think they need to have with them. Unshackled is how we want to fish – free to roam, able to explore, never tied to a single spot.”
J.B agrees. “I think we’ve undergone a gradual learning process that started back in the 1980’s and has gathered pace. In part, we’ve made use of technological advances. For example, the advent of Gore-Tex waders has revolutionized what we do. Now, we’re able to walk miles even in blistering summer temperatures without melting. Rods and reels also have become lighter and more durable through the past twenty years for fly and bait alike. First off, we began to concentrate on natural baits for carp and barbell especially. This involved us in a little pre-baiting on the day. It was neater, more streamlined. More water-friendly if you know what I mean. We ditched the umbrella – why to you need those when you’ve chest waders and light Gore-Tex, rain-defeating tops? We don’t take seats or bed chairs now. Why should we when we want to stand, wade, keep searching the water? And then, of course it hits you! Why bother with a bait al all when everything and anything any fish eats can be imitated so precisely with an artificial? For me, I began to look under stones and realized that everything that lived they is in a fly fisher’s box.”
B.J breaks in. “Yes. For me it was simply super-gluing a length of red elastic band to a hook and twitching it back through the surface layers for Rudd. I found that if you let it drop I pick up carp after carp. I wasn’t quite fly fishing but I suppose, in part, I was imitating the super blood worm and I realized the carp just love it.”
Of course, neither Bob nor John would claim that this move towards total fly fishing has not been explored by others: the Czech nymph technique is well-known for its success in Eastern European Rivers with all fish species, not only trout and grayling.
Saltwater fly fishing has proved reliable for more than half a century with species diverse as sea base, bone fish and marlin. The Dutch have had a great success with nymph-caught on bream. Fly-caught chub and rudd go back to Walton and fly fishing for pike has long been practiced in the States and Scandinavia . What John and Bib have done, however, is start to bring the whole thing together, accepting that anything that swims can be fly-caught if enough care and attention goes into the job.
“It’s important to grasp that we’re into the proper process, B.J. emphasizes. “We’re not talking about gluing dog biscuits to a hook, casting them out trout tackle and claiming a fly-caught carp. What’s the point in that? We’d just be cheating ourselves. What we’re truly fascinated in is the fledgling fly techniques that need to be developed. carp, barbel, and pike, obviously. Bream, even tench. Mullet in the estuaries. Roach. gudgeon. John even saw a three hundred pound sturgeon taken on a steamer fly!
“ That’s right, B.J. adds. “ We’ve been through all the strange phases that a life in angling throws at you and comes through not unscathed perhaps but wiser we hope. Fishing has never been more interesting or more fun. Or more exciting comes to that.
J.B strokes his chin… “We’re two old guys, I guess, who have done just about everything there is on offer in the fishing world. We’ve fished all over it and caught fish into the hundreds of pounds. I guess we’ve seen or landed hundreds of species too. What we’ve come to realise is that it’s not about size anymore. It’s about quantity. Angling is not a competition. It’s about enjoyment and that’s much more how you catch than what you catch. We’re nigh on a hundred years fishing experience between us but the road we’ve taken has shed the ages. We’re as bright and excited as kids again in the day when we were devising some weird paste for a park pond carp.
You’ve devised a new Pattern. You’ve fished it a new way, perhaps with a specially developed rod and reel. You just don’t know. You just hope. What you’re doing seems possible. You’re starting to doubt the fly, the method, your sanity when BAG!
The fly snaffled. There’s a fish on and running and you just know that you’ve found a solution to a problem, that few others even known had existed!