Alan Stevens

Introducing the John Wilson Fishing Enterprise

It is a great honour to have been invited to be one of the coaches for the John Wilson Fishing Enterprise (JWFE) which we launched with our first events in April. Our activities covered both fresh water and at the beach. The ultimate aim of which is to help transform lives for the better.

In recognising the truly remarkable contribution John made to Fishing by way of his Television programmes, books, and general awareness of the green and blue spaces around us, Lisa, John’s daughter, wanted to create a legacy with an underpinning purpose for good.

However, it goes deeper than that. Like Lisa, having had a childhood that exposed me to the delights of nature and all that it offers is something I feel compelled to give back, but to the children and adults that may not of had this opportunity and/or never will. 

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Lisa is the driving force for this enterprise. Having worked with many children within social care: residential homes, fostering and adoption; as well as adults that have suffered with mental health, Lisa knows first hand the benefits that the outdoors can bring. Combine this with the art of Fishing and all the skills this can teach, and you have an excellent recipe to deliver the promotion of Mental health to all children and adults that need it most. When approached to be part of this, how could I say no!

As a self funded entity, we are mixing safe secure days at the lake for the kids and adults from social care as well as fresh water and beach fishing coaching sessions for commercial clients who want to improve their fishing skills and at the same time help support ongoing costs.

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The Social Care element

The aim of the John Wilson Fishing Enterprise (JWFE) is to promote mental health as a key objective, particularly for children and adults who fall under the social care umbrella. Its emphasis is to provide fishing opportunities and the chance to connect with the outdoors and provide therapy through the art of fishing.

There are so many ways that fishing can have a huge impact: – interaction with coaches and other angling participants can help build on communication skills, self-esteem, confidence and ownership as well as the chance to learn through practical experience – not to mention the ultimate trophy of landing a fish. Essentially; it’s about bringing about small steps of positive change into their world. JWFE will give opportunities and a different approach that wouldn’t have previously been available to the children who need it most.

Reepham Lakes. Our first event

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And so it began; our first event weeks ago at a sunny and warm Reepham lakes N.E. of Norwich. Having obsessively planned and rehearsed all our activities for weeks in advance, the first day was upon us. We couldn’t have wished for better conditions as we set up simple whip rods to floats with plenty of maggots and corn to tease the fish our way. Everything was ready when the kids arrived with their support team. I can’t deny I was nervous and looking at the other coaches I think I was not alone. 

I had no need to worry. The kids were fixated on the fishing from the start, almost hypnotised by the prospect of catching fish through their own efforts. From baiting hooks to simple flick casting with the whips, the kids got stuck in and were rewarded immediately with a barrage of roach, rudd, gudgeon, bream and a variety of carp that kept them busy from start to finish. They were brilliant throughout to the pride of their support staff and sadly before any time at all it was over. To be honest; I wish we could have fished on all day as we were all having so much fun. The drive home from Norfolk was a blur as I beamed with pride and satisfaction from what we had achieved.

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On to the beach at Corton – adult coaching

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Five days later and it was the second event. A completely different day where this time I would be conducting 1:1 non-social care adult paid-for coaching day. I was in my element – the beach. I was glad to be back handling big tackle and wild fish to tempt our way.

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Like the location, the weather was a total contrast to Reepham. Strong onshore north easterly winds greeted me and were whipping up waves of around 6-feet on a flooding tide. I was going to have to keep an eye on things for sure as the water rose. Setting up two rods in advance of my customer Gareth arriving, I prepared one two size 1 hook flapper rig and the other with a  bigger 2/0 hook clip down rig to demonstrate different approaches to target a variety of species. I had squid, mackerel, fresh peeler, lug and rag worms in hand to use on the rigs so all was good. Whilst waiting for Gareth to arrive I put out a rod of my own to see how the wind, tide and wave action impacted on the tackle. After one cast struggling to hold I upped the weight by a couple of ounces which sorted things out nicely. The water crashing on the pebbles screamed as it retreated dragging the small stones into ridges and I soaked up the clues as to where the gullies and troughs were being formed by the storm.

Gareth and I had spoken by phone prior to the coaching session where he explained that, although a keen and reasonably successful fresh water angler, he had struggled when at the beach. The plan, given what he said, was to focus on the basics and with the wind freshening as he arrived even further it was clear that the skill of casting into strong winds was going to be the primary focus of the day. Gareth is a great guy, we got on really well. He explained that he is a highly experienced chef and was keen to catch fish to take home for food. I was feeling the pressure again and felt the wind increase on my face as if it was daring me to quit. But no, we soldiered on. 

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After explaining the basic tackle set ups and the target areas (given the wave action we could see) we focused on off the ground casting techniques, to minimise wind disruption to the casting action. I was smiling as the anglers either side of us were struggling to control their tackle and direction of cast as Gareth began to master these basic techniques in extremely difficult weather conditions. He was doing great, relaxing and keeping his actions simple and aligned, not stressing too hard on the rod in his casting action, which is the natural tendency for anglers when facing a gale doing everything it can to return your lead to shore.

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The flapper rigs were baited with lug on the bottom hook and mackerel on the top hook and it was no time before Gareth was in to the whiting on both hooks. I was relieved that dinner was sorted for him after he had kept half a dozen decent sized fish and we began to focus on a change of bait for alternative species. The clip down rig was baited with crab and on first cast snared a reasonable dogfish.

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Changing from mackerel to squid/worm cocktail attracted a decent pouting so three species claimed in the first two hours. The fishermen either side of us remained on blanks whilst still frantically trying to blast uncontrolled baits into the water.

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The waves became steeper and the wind was by now howling but I had one more trick to teach. Changing to ragworm on the clip down single hook rig and shortening the cast to focus on dropping the bait into a gulley caused by retreating waves, no more than a short flick from shore, Gareth snared a beautiful school bass that duly fought as it it was twice its weight in the raging surf. With this the surrounding anglers packed up grumpily and went home without any fish to celebrate in contrast to our mastering of the conditions. I have to confess being pretty happy with this.

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The session closed and Gareth headed home to prepare his supper. Whiting fillets with patatas bravas and aioli. Very nice indeed.

Gareth and I will return to the beach soon for more technique enhancements and hopefully less wind to contend with. For now, I want to thank Gareth for his time and company.

Back at Reepham with ITV News

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Two days after the gales at Corton we were back at Reepham Lakes with the kids in social care. The wind had gone, the sun was out and the excitement was high knowing that our work had attracted the attention of ITV Anglia News, who were on their way to film for the day. Just as before, the whips were set up ready for the kids and we soon got them in to action. They were doing great and so focused on the fishing that they hardly noticed the film crews around them.

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Seeing the kids totally engrossed in the art of fishing is one of he most fulfilling things I have done in a long time. When the TV interviews were conducted the kids were brilliant and did themselves proud with what they said.

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I don’t think I can describe the day any better than just to ask you to watch the link to the news article that was shown on TV a few days later. The link is at the bottom of this blog.

Moving ahead

With plenty more days already booked with the kids in social care to come Lisa and our team of coaches are delighted with how it has began. Lisa’s vision is now in action and I, like the other coaches are privileged to be part of this. 

JWFE Coaches

We can do so much for the kids in social care and I want to get them on the beaches too once their core skills are mastered on the lakes. For now, we can only do what we can within our means and would love more commercial bookings to help fund the project. The lake fishing is brilliant for kids birthday parties for example and naturally the beach fishing coaching on techniques and the craft of reading the beach is something that I would love to more of throughout the east anglian summer weekends. If you are interested in making a booking please reach out to Lisa at

This week I am heading down to Cornwall for some serious wreck/reef fishing with the Colchester guys. A real marathon of Essex to Looe and back in a day targeting ling, conger and pollock. Can’t wait to write about that one for next Sunday if I survive.

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