It’s been a long time since I seriously fished the Thurne for pike. I remember in the early ‘90s catching a ‘scraper’ 20 pounder from Martham and thinking that it had been involved in a rugby scrum. It was in a terrible state. Then a trip to Horsey Mere on March 1st, when 33 boats turned up was enough to make me think, “This isn’t worth it anymore”. Of course I was wrong because the Thurne system will always be worth fishing (provided the sea defenses do not give way) simply because the poor survival of pike due to prymnesium results in much bigger pike than any of the other Broadland systems.
So as each of my quiet retreats elsewhere became less quiet, I was forced to reconsider my options. Hearing that the authorities had put a stop to the out of season fishing on Horsey Mere, I thought March 1st would see me fishing Horsey for at least a couple of days with some hope. The night before, I left it rather late to go up on the mere and found it was so dark I couldn’t see where the turn for Meadow Dyke was. After several false starts I eventually found the right route, always aware that my boat could get stuck if I didn’t get it right fairly quickly.
The two nights and a day were totally fishless.The water temperature was very low so perhaps it was no surprise that it was a struggle. I remember fishing Horsey in good conditions and catching one 13 pounder in thirteen days fishing. Good conditions on Horsey were usually mild with a big wind.Well this March we didn’t see any sign of that! The easy way to explain poor fishing is simply to blame the out of close-time fishermen. Norfolk pike anglers have for over 20 years fished where they shouldn’t and where they ought not to go. Now for some strange reason, I have never fished Horsey during the closed period. It is something I ought to have done, but for some strange reason I never got around to it. Before anyone condemns me for thinking this way, let me explain.
If somewhere is out of bounds then there must be enforcement to prevent people from taking liberties. Unless that enforcement is such that no sane person would run the risk of a big fine, then people will fish when they shouldn’t. It is no good saying that pike anglers shouldn’t do this. Pike fishing is now so popular and so competitive that any edge an angler can find will be quickly used and exploited. The old adage applies, “If I don’t do it, someone else will”. My view then is that there are two ways to deal with this problem. One is to use the law to enforce the close time.This is easier said than done. For a start, you have to catch people in the act. If you don’t catch them, then the chances are that they will return again and again. Does anyone seriously intend to patrol Horsey Mere every night in December?
What then if the offenders are asked to get involved? To do this there must be something on the table. In 1969 Horsey was open on February 1st. How about opening it again on this date and making it plain that any close period fishing will see the concession lost? Pike anglers can self regulate. We do not have any problems on Blithfield where 50-odd pike anglers are limited to lure fishing, yet all would be chucking trout livebaits at the drop of a hat. The best approach is to draw the naughty pike anglers in and offer them something worth behaving for. If I was on the Thurne on, say 28th December and knew that ‘Billy Rotten’ had gone up onto the mere, I’d tip-off the authorities. So I think,would a lot of people.
My view is that if the over-wintering birds are that important, a compromise that works is better than strictures which probably will not. We must remember that the pro-bird lobby has not always been honest with us. The RSPB has opposed cormorant culling, a bird which is not scarce by any means. The RSPB have little regard for anglers, yet we must not respond in kind.We need to be responsible. The RSPB can kill as many Ruddy ducks as they like to prevent inter-species reproduction. We realise how two-faced these people can be, but we at least have to play a straight bat. By all means be prepared to negotiate, but let’s at least not give our rights away just like that. If we do, we’ll never be able to draw the maverick anglers into the fold.
Will I then be fishing the Thurne again? Well, in this game you can never tell where you are going to end up next season. One thing is certain - waters where there is a chance of a 35 lb plus pike are very few and far between. The Thurne is one such place, though the odds are heavily stacked against the individual. Perhaps I’ll find somewhere closer to home where the challenge is more important than the ultimate size of the pike. One thing is certain; I really hope that the Horsey situation gets sorted out. If it doesn’t, I’ll be left constantly wondering if I’m missing out by not fishing it during the closed time. I really do not wish to get involved in the cat and mouse antics of the early eighties.
I realise that members of NACA and the PAC are trying to sort this out. I, for what it’s worth, know many of the people who have fished it during the closed period. None of them are idiots and some effort needs to be taken to talk to them, otherwise it will be difficult to come to an agreement that suits everyone. ?
Original editors comment
Nice call, Nev.
Being that I am in the unenviable position of representing NACA on both the ‘Broads Angling Strategy Group’ (BASG) and the ‘Broads Forum’ and representing BASG on the ‘Upper Thurne Working Group’, your call for a longer open season on Horsey has echoed my sentiments entirely and is exactly the approach I have recommended from the outset on this issue. At a BASG meeting on 1st March, 2004 Stephen Harper suggested reinstating the February 1st opening date on Horsey Mere as a possible solution, to John and Robin Buxton who also attended the meeting. The suggestion seemed to be well received by them, but was not taken further by the Horsey estate. David Batten, the PAC representative on BASG also shares this position. Whilst various factions have resisted this, there seems to be a groundswell of sympathy towards this proposition, including perhaps amongst the owners of the Broad.
Coupled with the current legislation afforded to protect over-wintering birds on the Horsey SSSI, lengthening the winter open season would provide a ‘carrot and stick’ solution that would provide positive gains to both the anglers and conservationists alike. As for sitting down with the anglers who flout the winter closure to try and gain their co-operation, I am open to this suggestion should they care to contact me! If this compromise were to succeed however, it would require a committed agreement to honour such an arrangement. A positive outcome would provide a major gain for pike anglers all-round.
However, I must admit to having strong doubts that this would satisfy certain individual anglers among us who have repeatedly shown themselves to be committed poachers with no respect for statutory close seasons, private fisheries or fishery bylaws alike. Indeed, one of the most notorious of these individuals is almost entirely responsible for the present situation on Horsey and is the catalyst that has forced the authorities into trying to tighten the legislation. Unless it were possible to bring individuals like him onboard I fear the situation will never be fully and consequently we all lose out. ?
Pike fishing on Horsey Mere
There is currently limited Winter Access to the fishing on Horsey Mere via a negotiated 'trial' with the Horsey Estate, NWT and Broads Authority, negotiated through the BASG, as referred to above, which provides access for 1 boat and 2 anglers from 1st November each winter by pre-booking a permit with the Horsey Estate, through to 1st March, when the Mere is completely open for the final two weeks of the season on a day ticket basis.
You can access more information and permit application forms by visiting the Thurne Fisheries website at: www.thurnefisheries.co.uk