John Bailey on Broadland Fishing at Dungeon Corner
I spent the opening week of the river season in the heart of Broadland and loved it.
It made me wonder why I spent the majority of my life on lakes, pits, coastal waters, and upper rivers as the Broads sat there, half an hour away.
Sure, I fished there in the 1980s and have done well with the perch recently (thanks to Robbie Northman) but I’ve been careless and I know it.
That’s why I went down to Tide Bure near Woodbastwick at 3am on the 16th. Big mistake. Have I ever seen more midges and mosquitoes outside of the Highlands of Scotland and the jungles of India? Devoured alive at five, I spent the next two hours hiding in the car until the sun rose and the creatures left the airwaves for where they hide during the day. And then the fishing started.
I was not alone, of course. A couple of big old people, younger than me I guess, sat down a hundred yards away and began to lie down on a large perch. One of them, Richard, had a two-and-a-half-year-old fish and lost a larger one. Fuck bloom, I thought, especially since all I could muster were skimmers, cockroaches, hybrids, and a ruffe (I don’t know what a ruffe is? Kind of like a dull stud by size, color and habits but with one I used to grab bucket loads when I was seven and haven’t seen one once since so my joy for that ounce was limitless ).
By 10 a.m. the sun was up and so was the cruiser traffic. Fucking bloom again. At one point I looked down from my ankle and all I could see was a white wall jutting out towards me, an armada of tourists plundering Broadland. Shirts off, music blaring, the captains and their radios didn’t seem to baffle the fish all at once and they kept coming in a constant stream.
Great buddy Nick Beardmore, a law enforcement officer at the Environment Agency, came over to chat with friends. Nice, but for the fact that he told everyone how I was his history teacher at Sprowston High in the middle of the last century. Nick, now you are thinking about your retirement yourself, you have to stop this, please! My self-esteem drops more and more each time you tell the story!
We all agreed that Broadland is teeming with fish and locals and visitors alike are lucky to have them. It’s great for the sport, the economy and the whole region and I only packed my bags to have some peace. I could still have fished a chuck until Christmas!
The day before, June 15, I had taken a ride on the Thurne, heading for Martham Broads. I had stumbled across Richard Starling and his friends in the legendary Dungeon Corner while I was there and what a joy it was. I thought I last saw Richard in the early 1980s when he was negotiating with Norfolk pike fishermen over fishing rights to Martham North. He powerfully impressed me at the time and our hour-long conversation simply reinforced the high esteem in which I have always held him. as well as Richard.
When he dealt with the pike problem 40 years ago, he showed common sense and a deep understanding of the area and nothing has changed. I am deeply fascinated by country folk who know their patch to the last whispering reed and hearing Richard talk about Thurne and his challenges is thrilling and enlightening in a popular way that boffins can never emulate. Yes, the Thurne has its issues, but Richard gave me enough hope that the fish were still alive and that I was in Dungeon Corner early in the morning of June 17th.
What a wet – 6 am and it felt like I was the only fisherman on the planet. Not a sound, but for the soft hiss of water over the grasses, the reeds, the slowly flowing Thurne. I had found my weed-free area on the edge of the corner, but preferred not to fish for a while and look around at a landscape that hasn’t changed much since 1900 or before. I half expected to see those legendary biters of old like the Vincents or Pye or Giles emerge through the mists to wish me good luck. Block a lone wind turbine and the scene hasn’t changed since I haunted the place in the mid-80s when I won the award for Thurne’s Most Unsuccessful Pike Angler of All Time. Magic, pure paradise.
A harrier fascinated me and as the rain rose, the larks came out to play. Could it get better, I thought, as I started to fish? Well, that was a nice little shoot. A few toddlers the size of a jam jar, then a big clonic rudd made my heart beat until it was a bream hybrid. A palm-sized bench of poles arrived followed by a grandmother tall enough to keep me an hour past my scheduled departure time. Regardless, as I walked the path to the ferry, I could only think of a wonderful, wet morning I had spent in a Broadland paradise. We’re in luck, or what!
Back in civilization, there was a game that I bypassed. These are real fishermen! But did I spy on the totem white cap of games legend Bob Nudd sitting there on his box? Now I know Bob a little bit from having worked with him at concerts in the past and I like him a lot. Should I go say hello, I asked myself? But I decided not to. If the Big Guy was in a school of winning sea bream, the last thing he needed would be a chat with old man.
However, I thought to myself that the presence of a world angling champion (on several occasions) on our Thurne river must reinforce how lucky we are here.
Broadland, for my part, I will be back!