Fishing Lines: A pike staff on right stream

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BRITAIN'S most successful pike fisherman hasn't caught a pike since 1991. In fact, he hasn't captured a 20-pounder - the piker's benchmark of success - for years. But few would challenge Richard Furlong's claim to the title. He is the country's only pike gillie, and in the six years he has been working on the Norfolk Broads his customers have caught more than 1,000 pike above 10lb.

'It's probably a lot more than that, but I only count those over 15lb now,' Furlong says. 'It doesn't worry me that I'm not fishing. I get just as much satisfaction from finding big pike for someone else.'

His uncanny ability to locate the fearsome freshwater carnivore, even for beginners, can sometimes work against him. 'Last year, I took out a father and son who had only fished for trout. Within 10 minutes of starting, they caught pike of 18lb, 15lb and 14lb. By lunchtime, they had caught three more double-figure pike and packed up because they thought it was too easy.'

He adds: 'People hear stories, like the eight-year-old girl, fishing for the first time, who caught a 19lb 12oz pike, and expect that I can do it for them, too. You can't just lay on pike that big.'

Or so Furlong says. But after spending years trying to catch a large pike, I captured fish of 14lb 6oz, 18lb 8oz and 21lb (more than 3ft long) under his guidance. Most anglers spend their life dreaming of a 20lb pike. It took me just two hours with the man locals call the Crafty Cockney.

A London fire-station officer (he earned a medal for his part in helping victims of the Moorgate Tube disaster), Furlong spent all his spare time fishing Norfolk waterways for pike. When he was pensioned out of the fire service with a dodgy knee, it seemed logical to head east and go fishing.

Left alone with the angler's dream (a riverside home, an abundance of water and time) he caught pike up to 34lb 8oz and would probably have fished himself to death. Fortunately a friend with some business acumen suggested that Furlong stopped frittering away his days and make some money from his talents.

That was in 1987. Since then he has rowed his boat for bankers and busmen, children and chief executives, and he's never yet failed to find them a pike. Every fish is put back. 'That's one of my rules,' Furlong says. Another is that he discourages portable telephones. 'Sometimes I sit here with chaps smoking fat cigars and talking multi-million pound deals, but I'm not envious at all.'

Two years ago, Furlong started running summertime carp-fishing trips, and his results have been just as spectacular. In seven trips, taking only three anglers at a time, he has recorded 11 carp over 40lb and 59 over 30lb. 'What those figures don't show is all the hard work I put in to locate the carp and find out how they were feeding,' Furlong says. 'I had 36 blank days without a fish.'

And the funny thing is that, though anyone going fishing with him can almost guarantee to catch fish, he's not so good at catching them for himself any more. 'I've only been pike fishing myself once this season - and I didn't catch anything.'

A day's pike fishing for two with Richard Furlong costs pounds 95 inclusive. For details of this and his carp trips, telephone Norfolk Angling Centre (0603 400757).