The fishery in question was Barford Lakes, near Norwich. A well known, busy commercial fishery that has been around for quite a number of years now. Not the kind of place I would normally fish, as I prefer the pursuit of specimens rather than catching a bag of fish. But we needed a venue where we could try out a few ideas and this prolific complex seemed the ideal place.
Not having fished one of the new breed of commercial fisheries before, I, like many other anglers I guess, have been rather susceptible to a lot of the derogatory remarks made about these places. Before going I had this image of a rather scruffy little pond containing emaciated tatty fish - oh how wrong can you be! Let me tell you straight, this was one of the very best fisheries I have ever visited, certainly much better than many syndicates and clubs I can think of.
I had a chance to have a good chat with Sarah, the Fishery Manager, and it was obvious that the team here really know their stuff. We had a long conversation about the current hot-topic in commercial circles - landing and keepnet materials, protection of their valuable fish being of the foremost concern. We also talked about bait bans, and whilst I still believe that most things in moderation do no harm, I could see that every rule was carefully considered to safeguard the fish and fishing. The main match lake is even closed to pleasure anglers for six months of the year, keeping the pressure off the fish and giving the bank side plants time to establish themselves. Not what I was expecting at all!
Conditions were difficult when I visited. It was a cold windy day with a strong under-tow. Really it was the perfect conditions for fishing the pole, but I stuck with my trusty 15 foot MAP float rod. Despite struggling a bit, bites came straight away, lovely plump carp averaging around the four pound mark. Each fish took off on a blistering run taking yards of line from the clutch and bending the rod into some incredible curves. I couldn't believe how long it took to subdue these little monsters. After a few hours ten carp had given me a really good work-out. If my float fishing hadn't been so rusty I would have doubled my score, bites were coming thick and fast, if only my reactions were a bit faster.
It was when we got the fish out of my big net for a quick catch photo that it struck me what excellent condition they were in. So much for fish in commercial fisheries being in poor condition! No split fins, cuts, or damaged mouths, the symptoms normally levelled at commercial fisheries. Good fish husbandry, coupled with well thought out rules mean that the fish are in tip-top condition.
And the moral is?
Of course, not all so-called commercial fisheries are as well run as Barford, but then nothing in life is ever as simple as that. I was amazed at the quality of this fishery and have resolved to visit a few more over the Summer. Rather than dismiss them out of hand, why not visit your local fishery and check out the facilities. I can think of few club fisheries that are litter free (although most litter doesn't come from anglers!) and have clean toilets on site. You normally have to pay a lot of money in syndicate fees to get even half decent facilities. Yet, fisheries like Barford demonstrate that this doesn't have to be the case.
So the moral of the story is, don't form an opinion until you've tried it for yourself. Not only did I have a lovely morning's sport, but I could also see why anglers are flocking to the commercial fisheries, particularly youngsters. Brilliant sport in a safe, clean and picturesque environment - what more could you ask for? The next time I need a break from the big fish scene I know where I will be heading.
If you are in need of a morale boosting day out in the 'bootiful' Norfolk countryside, then why not give Barford a call on 01603 759 624, or visit their web site at www.fisheries.co.uk/barford.
Dr Paul Garner
Aquatic Research & Management
01394 610 399