It’s 5.55am on June 16, 2025. The gates to the fishery aren’t yet open, but the queue of anglers waiting to gain entrance is already snaking back up the road. The owner, rubbing his hands at the prospect of taking £50 off each of them, soon appears and the vehicles begin the process of filing into the purpose-built car park that sits neatly within a complex surrounded by 8ft tall metal fences that are set 4ft into the ground.
One by the one the anglers remove gear from their vehicles and head to the tackle shop, first to pay for a day ticket and then to buy bait. Even though everything must be bought on site ¬ pellets, boilies, maggots, casters etc ¬no-one argues. If you want to fish this type of venue, then you stick by the rules, regardless of how stringent they are.
There’s no rush for pegs. They all look the same and there are no ‘flyers’. The depth and width in each are uniform, while all have identical features ¬a far-bank groyne, a near-side bush, a depression at the end of a gravel run ¬ to keep up the pretence of authenticity.
Unsurprisingly, every one of the 25 pegs has its own carefully constructed and comfortable platform too. What may be more surprising, however, is the fact that this isn’t a stillwater. No, on this venue the water, thanks to a specially designed pump house, continually flows. Welcome, everybody, to Britain’s first contained, commercial and totally artificial river fishery.
Life here is entirely ¬ and strictly ¬ managed. Heavy overnight rain? No problem. Sharp frost? So what. Pollution? Unheard of. Cormorants, otters or crayfish? Don’t make me laugh. Hard fishing? Not here. Everything, from water temperature and flow, to predators and stock levels, is at the mercy of the owner and, just like the purpose-dug stillwaters that have preceded it, the emphasis here is on convenience and ease. Bites are guaranteed and business is brisk. It would be. Anglers, after all, don’t have a choice. If they want to catch species like chub, barbel, roach and dace in a running water environment, they come here. Why? Because there’s no point visiting their own, local venues. After years of systematic destruction by abstractors, polluters, immigrants and creatures like cormorants and otters, Britain’s natural river networks are entirely devoid of meaningful quarry. By 2025, the traditional river angler has nothing left to fish for. So he heads for the one place where he can still catch his old favourites ¬ even if it means visiting somewhere dug from scratch, where the flow is manufactured and the entire complex is surrounded, like a safari park, by predator-proof fencing.
If this vision of the future all sounds like far-fetched, over-spun nonsense then, just for a moment, please indulge me.
Are the UK’s rivers, generally speaking, in a worse state than they were 25 years ago? Does major industry, either inadvertently or not, continue to act with arrogant disregard by dumping noxious waste into our unsuspecting waterways?
Have abstractors, keen to service the increasing demands of an ever-growing population, drawn so much water from already threatened reserves as to leave levels so low that in places they are barely trickles?
Has the Environment Agency systematically failed in its duty to protect fish stocks, through its painfully slow response to the problem of immigrants taking for the pot, and in its ineffectual but expensive flood defence schemes?
Are predatory pressures on our fish, through mink, otters, beavers and any other furry mammal that environmentalists see fit to introduce without a moment’s care for the impact on what we can’t see beneath the water, continuing?
And have successive angling governing bodies, with their, frankly, pathetic abdication of responsibility, allowed us to be walked all over when what we’ve needed is the strength our vast numbers deserve?
If the answer to any of those questions is ‘yes’ then surely the prospect of man-made river commercials remains a possibility.
But don’t just take my word for it. Martin Bowler, a man who spends more hours than most on the banks of the nation’s rivers, is utterly convinced that our waterways are on a downward spiral to inescapable oblivion. He’s adamant that his epic Catching the Impossible series could never be made today, the ‘impossible’ fish he and his guests caught for the camera long since gone.
The peak of specimen fishing, he argues, has passed. Predation and pollution, he says, the chief reasons.
Then there’s Terry Lampard. The seven-times winner of the Drennan Cup, big-fish angling’s most respected and coveted prize, has just revealed that he has bought a full set of flyfishing gear that, because of the severe downturn in the coarse fishing sport in his area, he intends to use next summer.
Now I’m not saying that the experiences of just two anglers are in any way conclusive, but they do provide a definite sign of the times. Specimen fishing, particularly on rivers, is only getting worse.
I have written before that big-fish angling is cyclical and the slump we are currently experiencing is just part of nature’s recurring process. I have also written that our rivers will one day recover. But if they don’t, could this be the answer?
One fishery owner has been here before. Back in 2002, Bryn Ilsely announced to much fanfare that he intended to do exactly as I’ve described ¬ make a flowing water venue from scratch. His idea was, almost inevitably in a sport where progress is viewed with extreme caution, met with derision and the fact that the project never ultimately left the design table was greeted with joy in most parts.
But given the way angling is going, with its penchant for convenience and comfort, and given how otters continue to breed and spread, nothing would surprise me if someone took a gamble and created Britain’s first man-made river fishery.
The question is, would you be one of those queuing to fish it?