Mill Road Fishery

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The trials and tribulations of a fishery owner

“It must be a dream owning your own fishery!” is a regularly heard refrain on the banks of our lake, and I am certainly not complaining about our lot in Stokesby. However, an overheard conversation last weekend has prompted me to put a few words together on the plight of the fishery manager.

Janet and I have owned Mill Road Fishery for nearly seven years now (May 2014 as I write), coincidentally the same length of time we have owned the house and surrounding land. It was an in joke in 2007 that the lake cost quite a lot of money to buy, but at least came with a free house and ten acres of land!

Although I was an experienced angler, I was new to fishery management, but we had a clear idea of the sort of place we wanted to run. We set out some objectives that reflected our ambitions to build a wildlife haven, a peaceful and natural environment and to have quality fishing with high quality fish. That was a long way from the mud-scape, bare hole in the ground that we acquired. We knew that nature was a powerful thing though and with some gentle encouragement we could make a huge difference.

But what of the conversation last weekend that prompted this piece? I’ll protect the identities, but two anglers happened to be fishing along the bank from me. Rosie had quite rightly asked them about their unhooking mats. After she had gone I listened to their moans. They didn’t like the way the rules were phrased, there were too many of them, didn’t we know who the paying customers were? And to cap it all the whole set up was likened to Stalag 15! I sat silently wondering why they ever came to Mill Road Fishery.

I certainly had no concept of the sort of challenges that we would face along the way, but for the benefit of the two grouchy anglers above and anyone else that is interested, here are just a few.

Water levels Our lake sits within what was originally a very wet field. The field was a lot wetter in the winter than it was in the summer (even with our current ‘out of kilter’ seasons). Consequently the levels go up and down a bit. In dry summers the level drops by 50cm (eighteen old inches) and the swims sit proud of the water surface and the island margins get very shallow. In the winter the levels rose, so much in 2008 that the surrounding area was completely flooded. Access was tricky and most swims were under water. After a bit of head scratching we decided we could make use of Norfolk’s own built in infrastructure in the form of the local dykes. A weekend spent learning how to drive a digger and we had made ourselves what we called the New Dyke which joined the swampy area at the top of the lake to the existing ditches. Some manual digging and sunken pipework resulted in the Civil Engineering Works and a way of managing the levels was in place. This now works very well, although I often look at it in the winter and wonder how?

Predators I know more about otters now than I ever wanted to know. When time permits I will put up a more detailed article on the measures that we have taken to protect our precious stock, suffice to say the permanent fencing has cost an arm and a leg and we still spend hours every year setting the electric wire, keeping the foliage from shorting it and stopping the buggers from digging underneath.

Otters give clues to their presence; cormorants just brazenly fly in and eat or kill while you watch. It is hard to describe the rage that descends when I am sitting in bed enjoying my morning tea only to watch a cormorant circle the lake and then descend. I tried shouting out of the window once, but that just woke the people staying in our holiday cottage. I took to sprinting down the lake waving my arms like a demented scarecrow. And they don’t just take small fish, they grab 3lb carp, work out they can’t swallow them and leave them on the bank dead. For the record, herons and kingfishers are welcome at our lake.

The anglers – Obviously the following doesn’t apply to anyone reading this article – but fisheries would be significantly better places without the attention of a significant minority of visiting anglers. I have fished hundreds of different venues and I don’t consider our rules excessive. They are aimed at protecting the fish and the local environment, and making sure anglers can fish in peace and quiet. Rules are displayed on the website and on a big red board in the car park. I assume that what we call the anglons (angling morons) either can’t read or feel that they have some connection with a higher authority that means the rules don’t apply to them? What is it about “you must have an unhooking mat in your swim” that is so difficult to understand? I don’t care whether you have never used one in the past, if you come to Mill Road Fishery you must use one, simple. We are reasonably fortunate as far is rubbish is concerned. We have a zero tolerance approach and that seems to create the right results, where people don’t see rubbish they tend to be more careful with their own. Except when it comes to cigarette butts – why do anglers think it is acceptable to smoke all day, make a little pile in the swim of their dog-ends and leave them?

I’ve lost count now of the numbers of rods, reels and pole top sections that litter the bottom of our lake. I assume they are all still in their somewhere as it is rare that any lost tackle is retrieved. Unattended rods or badly constructed tackle are fair game as far as our bigger carp are concerned. And no, I’m sorry, but you can’t borrow the boat to go and look for your kit, you should have looked after it in the first place. When I say we never retrieve tackle, that’s not strictly true. The islands provide a constant source of floats, leads and line. Beats me why people think they are going to catch on the island anyway, are they fishing for moorhens?

The toilet – Less said about this the better, and in any case its really Janet’s department! Suffice to say I’m glad I don’t live in the same homes as some of our visitors!!

Hot summers - Obviously great for getting a tan and lying around in a bikini or sitting in a beer garden, but tricky for well stocked lakes like ours. The summer of 2013 was particularly hot for a long while. This resulted in a number of inter-related problems, there was a significant spawning season for both the carp and the silver fish increasing the stock levels, water levels fell appreciably, algae increased significantly creating that green soup like look to the lake. For the carp the biggest problem was the high water temperatures and the lack of oxygen during the night. To monitor this we had to spend £400 on a dissolved oxygen meter and £1,000 installing an aerator. We still lost a few fish to the conditions, but managed to avoid any disasters.

The highlights - Fortunately it is not all hard work and grief and there are high points that make it all worth while. Things like seeing the first kingfisher, or emails from anglers that appreciate what we have achieved, seeing anglers catch a personal best fish and so on.