John Wilson: I've no regrets

As John Wilson packs his backs for his new life in Thailand, Angling Times were granted an exclusive interview with Britain’s most famous angler.

What is it about Thailand that has prompted you to move there?
It’s got a lot going for it as a fishing destination. For instance it’s hot all year, between 85 and 95 degrees F, the water temperature averages between 80 and 90 degrees and that’s important because it means that all the fish stocked into lakes and rivers grow very fat at an alarming rate and they’ve all got tremendous stamina. There are something like six species that grow to over 100lb and four of those grow to over 300lb so the fishing there is absolutely spectacular. Apart from that I love Thai food, so does my wife Jo, the little bit of arthritis we both suffer will perhaps go, the cost of living is less and it’s a challenge that we’re really looking forward to.

Do you feel sad about leaving the UK?
No not really. I’ve lived in the UK for most of my 70 years, and I’ve lived here at Lake House in these lovely grounds for 31 years. I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to do, run fisheries, planted trees, raised the kids and I’m ready for a new challenge.

How have things changed in fishing here in the UK?
The changes have been astronomical. I’ve just finished my latest book ‘Where to Fish in Norfolk and Suffolk’, the eighth edition 40 years, and the changes can be seen with each edition. Basically angling in the UK has gone from roach fishing to carp fishing. When I was a kid living in London there was a little lake where I caught little carp after my paper round and that was the only place where I could catch carp. Most of the lakes that hold carp now, even 40 and 50 pounders, weren’t even dug when I was a kid. At the same time of course, all the clear-flowing upper reaches of rivers in Norfolk especially have all been denuded of roach and dace by cormorants and so while I would sooner be trotting down a river with my centrepin, holding back and catching a big roach in the winter, I can’t do that any more because there are very few places to do it.

Are you leaving the UK with any regrets?
I like to think I haven’t got a single regret. I don’t wish to grow old as an angry old man moaning that the Wensum hasn’t got any roach in it any more and things like that. I’m going to Thailand, we’re going to have a fishery there, I’m going to follow my fishery instincts with all these weird and wonderful, exciting, colourful species so I’m going on to a new thing. I’ve got no regrets about the fishing in Britain because it is evolving on its own.

Are you leaving with a smile on your face?
Very much so. I loved fishing in Britain. I think I’ve had the best time that any angler could possibly have in Britain in the last 40 years. I’ve seen the swing from roach to carp, I’ve run my own fishery here at Lake House, I’ve looked out every day at this beautiful view that really is unique and I’ve caught lots of fish along the way.

What positive message can you leave for Britain’s anglers?
If you need to specialize as I have over the years, get yourself out there sea fishing. Catch a few bass from the beach, go up to Scotland and catch a big skate. O go to the Wye and catch a bag of barbel like I have with Martin Bowler (see feature on the centre pages). Don’t just put up with your own environment. We’ve all got good cars now, it doesn’t take too long to get anywhere. Broaden your horizons, fish new places.

People are saying you’ll soon be back. Is this the end of Wilson in the UK?
Obviously we’re going to be coming back for special occasions now and again but we’ve spent a lot of money having a bungalow built out there, we’ve a beautiful lake that I’ve had reshaped, it’s a jungle setting and we’ve got lots to do. I’m not say in later life when one or both of us become decrepid and we can’t handle it out there we won’t be back but who knows? People say to me: “Are you going for good?” to which I reply: “What’s for good?” I’m going with great intentions, a lot of hope and I’m really looking forward to it.

If there was one thing you could change as you leave, what would it be?
I would love to show kids the delight of putting a float down running water. I would love to have kids spend more time looking through polarising sunglasses and climbing trees than sitting in a bivvy. But each generation has its own guidelines by which it lives and it’s probably unfair for an old codger like me to what I want to see because the youth of tomorrow is already enveloped in the way it fishes and its desires and its hopes and its dreams and you can only be good at what you do and be well known in your own generation.

How would you like to be remembered by British anglers?
For the broadcasting I’ve done – 160 half-hour television programmes in 25 years. I’ve contributed to over 90 books, 40 of which have been my own books and just recently I’m delighted to have been involved with my new book which allows readers to scan it and watch a half-hour video on their smartphone or tablet. I can’t think of a better legacy than that.

What are your greatest memories of fishing in the UK?
This would take hundreds of hours but if I was forced I’d nail it down to two. A catch of nine double-figure bream that I caught slider fishing from a boat. That was a unique session and years before people started getting double-figure bream on carp gear. And I guess perch fishing on the Ouse, when I had three sessions when I caught four fish over 4lb per session. Dick Walker, my hero of the 1950s, used to write that perch were the biggest fish of them all and until you’ve caught a 4lb perch, you don’t know what he means. But when you actually catch a 4lb perch and hold it in your hands, you think somebody must have made it. It’s too big!

Will you miss fishing any particular waters in the UK?
The River Wensum for its big roach, and now having fished it with Martin Bowler I’ll miss the Wye and its barbel, but there’s not a lot that I’m really going to miss because I’ve had a wonderful life of fishing all over the British Isles.

What UK fishing styles will you miss?
Definitely long-trotting with a centrepin reel for big roach. That’s why I came back to Norfolk in the 1970s. Sadly that’s pretty well gone now in Norfolk but I have more recently gone down to other rivers like the Test, Dever and the Ouse and I’ve enjoyed some long-trotting. For me it’s the most skillful technique of all.

EXCLUSIVE! John Wilson's last UK interview