While some fisheries have always been a costly, private shop, the current surge of anglers is fuelling a shift in pricing and access. Whether it’s fisheries plagued by careless day ticket anglers, or sheer demand for quality fishing, many waters now come at a high premium. But is this healthy?
That might depend who you ask, according to respected specimen angler Neill Stephen, who fishes both public and private waters.
“The creep towards the elite troubles me,” he says.
“Sure, I’ve benefited from waters where I’ve had to pay more than the next man, but I’m uncomfortable with the way things are going. In past decades, anyone could access our best fisheries; now there are waiting lists. It’s supply and demand, I guess. If you’re in the club, great - but if you’re outside it can feel like success is bought, and at a level many can’t afford.”
He’s the first to admit, however, that it’s a nuanced picture. “I’ve fished free or cheap areas that were like the Wild West!” he says.
“Syndicates take good care of their waters and tend to produce better environments. But ultimately there has to be a balance. Some angling will be elite and costly, other bits will be wild and cheap. We’d all do well to maintain a healthier perspective - and I know I’ve been guilty of this, but perhaps we get too obsessed with big fish?”
In recent times numerous famous waters have turned into syndicates, while others have announced plans to do so. Gunthorpe Lock on the River Trent is one such case, with the island zone which has produced so many huge barbel of late set to turn syndicate from next year, although the club also offers day tickets nearby. Nor is syndication just a case of reaping maximum profits. Trust is key, with many groups shying away from open access because of the pitfalls that occur.
Perhaps tellingly, not one angling syndicate we contacted was willing to speak on the record. One owner, however, told Angling Times:
“Anglers can be their own worst enemy. You see all sorts these days – and excessive noise, litter and alcohol can all be a problem. We’d rather limit numbers to those we know, who respect the rules.”
Bucking the trend
While spiralling costs might raise eyebrows in some locations, there’s still some incredible value elsewhere. South Ribble Community Angling Club is a case in point, with secretary Karl Lucas only too happy to share his vision of angling for all with us.
“I’m alarmed at the way some clubs fence off fisheries and move to limited access, joining fees and aggressive policing,” he said.
“That’s not the way to grow the sport.”
Along with founder Chris Mercer and other like-minded anglers, their answer was to create an open and welcoming club at an amazing £20 a season at Shruggs Wood Lake, with bold plans to engage local community groups and charities.
“We want to make angling accessible to all,” adds Karl. “Sure, we could stock big carp and make it a syndicate, but we’d rather take the community with us. Otherwise there’s a danger there’s not much out there.”
Do they have battle to keep things running and manage the public, though? “What we’re not offering is totally free fishing,” says Karl.
“If you give it away for nothing, people take the Mickey. We want a sense of shared ownership. That way, there’s respect and everyone looks after it.”
The highs and lows of angling ‘value’
A Test of the wallet!
In the day ticket stakes, the River Test remains Britain’s most exclusive river. Fly anglers can pay £200-£300. Guide not included!
Carping in four figures
£300-600 can be normal for syndicate memberships, while Wellington Country Park once peaked at a whopping £2,000, reflecting its amazing tally of 50lb-plus carp.
Passports to value
Beautiful surroundings and great fishing don’t always mean big bucks. The Wye and Usk Foundation offers a degree of exclusivity from £25 a day, and the Westcountry Angling Passport provides wild trout and coarse fishing for as little as £6.
The ultimate bargain season ticket?
Several clubs still offer incredible value. Birmingham AA has a staggering amount of fishing for £40 a season. For canal addicts, the Waterway Wanderers permit is just £12 per year for Angling Trust members.