Are there any sporting venues weirder than some of our day-ticket fisheries? I’ve lately been reminded of their randomness in spectacular fashion, here in the muddier depths of Devon and Somerset.
For every couple of venues you visit that are welcoming and smoothly run, you’ll find another that belongs in an episode of The Twilight Zone. The classic arrangement is an appalling farm track, followed by a couple of bedraggled pools and a haunted cabin.
At this damp time of year, as visitor numbers dwindle, I’m particularly drawn to the really cranky fisheries. The lack of any reliable information is weirdly tempting. You imagine big fish thriving on neglect, or at least some welcome mystery and solitude, even if the reality is usually bad directions and general bafflement.
I don’t mean to be cruel here, because I desperately want smaller fisheries to succeed – but if you were an angling beginner approaching these places, you might be forgiven for thinking you’d been sucked into some sort of anti-matter wormhole, where the only discernible laws that existed were on a piece of A4 that read: NO DOGS NO BOILEY’S BARBLESS HOOK’S ONLY. Tomorrow’s wayward teenagers won’t need to experiment with drugs when they can simply go fishing in the West Country.
Last week was a humdinger, as my chosen fishery ticked every box on the list. Barely legible hand-written signs? Check. Owner’s cabin resembling a terrorist attack on a garden centre? Check. No official website or internet presence of any description? Check. Toilet cabin full of spiders and no evidence of toilet paper? Check.
When you get to these places at first light, the effect can be even scarier. Never mind finding the box to deposit your seven quid, part of you wonders if you’re about to be kidnapped and eaten.
Of course, even when they do possess a modicum of organisation or, miracle of miracles, a Facebook page or website, the available crumbs of information can muddy things even further. Virtually every one of them proclaims to have fish more befitting of a 100-acre gravel pit than a farm pond. Starved 6lb carp become 20-pounders, and without fail there are 5lb perch. One comedy gold website even promises “31lb roach”.
I assume this is more likely to be “3lb roach”, as opposed to a fish more than seven times bigger than the British record?
I couldn’t find the owner in the end. Which is a shame, because I’ve always wanted to meet Baron Munchausen. He might also have pointed me in the direction of his fabled monster perch, instead of some gnarled tree roots and a dead duck.
Still, it’s not all bad. I had some perch to about 1lb 8oz. I found solitude from the modern world in spades, too. And while I got a chilling vision of what Britain’s post-apocalyptic coarse fisheries might look like, I also managed to escape with my life, which is smashing.