Mick Toomer is one of Britain’s most experienced fishery bosses, but two weeks ago he was forced to walk away from his beloved Gloucester Park after the council refused to renew his lease.
It marked the end of an era for the Essex man, who had transformed the crime-ridden venue into a fish-filled safe haven. Angling Times went to catch up with him.
Q How did you first get into fishery management?
A I was approached by Lakeside Fisheries, who wanted me to curb troublesome youngsters. I ran the venue for a while, got rid of the problem youths and made the locals feel safe. Basildon Council got wind of it and asked if I’d like to have the lease for its park lakes.
Q What type of problems did the lakes face?
A Drug dealers, rapists and paedophiles were regularly seen around the lakes. Most of the carp anglers had also been shot at with air rifles and their bivvies had holes in where the pellets had gone through.
Q How did you set about resolving the problems?
A When bailiffs went round to collect money they were often confronted by thugs. To combat this, I hired bouncers to go round with them. They had a few scuffles, but people got the message. I also scoured the country for the biggest Alsatian stud. I found it and was offered one of its puppies. I named him Bear and once he was fully grown - all 11 stone of him - he helped fend off troublemakers.
Q What did it take to maintain a pleasant environment?
A I was forced to live in my 4x4 by the waterside for most of the week during the warm months to keep an eye on the oxygen equipment and to keep cormorants away. There were some weeks when I would get only two or three hours’ sleep each night. I’ve also worked every Christmas Day since 1991. I liked to view the lakes as a grenade - keep a tight grip and everything will be fine, release your grip and it will blow up.
Q What was your biggest achievement at the lakes?
A Seeing it change from a deprived area into one where people felt safe.
Q Over a 16-year period you gained a lot of fans for the transformation you oversaw. Were you, therefore, surprised when Basildon Council opted not to renew your lease?
A There were changes within the council and new personnel came in. They went from a good all-round service provider to being interested in certain projects. They started arranging things like dragon boat races on the lakes without letting me know and started to get awkward. When these things came about, I knew what was going to happen when my lease ran out.
Q Are you disappointed by their decision?
A I think it’s quite a good time to get out of it. Developments relating to the Olympic Games are being built around the lakes and those could cause problems. The social situation in the area is also deteriorating. I’ll miss some of the regulars, but I won’t miss having to stop fish thieves and cleaning rubbish up.
Q What do you think about the recent decision by the new chief to stock one of the venues with carp?
A Stocking carp is the cheap option, but it’s not a route I’d have gone down. Northlands Park used to produce bream bags over 100lb on a regular basis, and three-hour events have thrown up 60lb-plus bags. There aren’t many waters around that can do that.
Q What does the future hold for Mick Toomer?
A I’m keeping my options open, but I’d like to take a break. I won’t be rushing into anything, but I could go into the tackle trade eventually. Various bosses of big fisheries have also spoken to me about being a relief manager.