Masked men with a mission
Friday 10 March 1995
This might sound as if I've been spending too long on the river bank myself, but I swear it's true. I've even seen a couple of the masked fruitcakes. It happened on the Norfolk Broads with Richard Furlong. A couple of times each year, I go fishing with Furlong, who makes his living from helping less able anglers catch big pike. Britain's only pike gillie, he has an uncanny ability to sniff out spectacular examples of these snaggle-toothed predators. On this occasion, we headed for a wild area of the river Thurne, miles from anywhere. During the day, we saw a marsh harrier, a bittern and two grown men wearing silly masks.
We had been drifting quietly along the river, sorting out the world's problems, when we spotted two anglers in another boat. That's pretty unusual in this spot anyway because it's so desolate. We prepared to hail them and ask if they had managed to tempt any of the river's large pike. But as we drew near, they bent down and fumbled in the bottom of their boat. And we found ourselves looking not at a pair of windswept pike anglers, but Ronald Reagan and Sylvester Stallone.
It didn't take me long to realise that the tattered boat did not actually contain the former American president and the star of the Rocky films. For a start, Ronnie never moved that fast and never wore a bobble hat, while Stallone would surely have been using his bare hands to catch pike. So who were they? Had we stumbled upon the filming of The Mask II? Was it a private fancy-dress party for pike anglers, to which we weren't invited? And if so, where were the balloons and the silly hats?
Taken aback by the unexpected appearance of such celebrities in windswept Norfolk, I failed to extend the traditional greetings and camaraderie. There was also something about their demeanour that did not invite small talk. Richard, who is so sociable that he even talks to the fish he catches, had merely glanced at them and given one small but meaningful shake of his head.
As we moved out of hailing range, I ventured to point out that we had just passed two fishermen wearing the sort of rubber masks favoured by bank robbers. While I hesitated to cast aspersions - not being used to the strange ways of those who live deep within the Broads - this struck me as somewhat unusual. Even Richard agreed it was aberrant behaviour, and he explained what it was all about. This particular part of the river Thurne is renowned for extra-large pike (later that day, I captured one of 26lb 8oz) and its location is jealously guarded by a select few. They are convinced that others are out to discover their secret places, and that hordes will descend on these hotspots if the site is discovered.
We're talking serious paranoia here. They can't stop people walking along the towpath or rowing past (though they would if they could), so their answer is to disguise themselves. And so, whenever anyone comes near, these crackpots don their masks, convinced that such cunning will deceive the most determined tracker.
Acclaim is very important to these furtive fishers, but they confuse the issue by reporting their successes months later. It's now commonplace, alas, to conceal, mislead or blatantly lie about where outsize fish are caught. A glance through the Angling Times reveals the extent of this practice. "Caught on the Thames", "taken from a Wessex river" or "captured on a southern stillwater" are typical.
Believing that their vehicles will reveal where they are fishing, some go as far as to put on false number-plates when they park (a custom that should interest the police). Others get their wives or the few who are in on the secret to drop them off. Using a mobile phone, they call when they are ready to be picked up.
To me, such people are severely disturbed and should take up a sport more befitting such behaviour, like golf. But then, I haven't got any fishing spots that are worth keeping secret. And as my wife cruelly points out, I don't need to wear a mask.
Latest in Sport
England vs Japan: Watch the moment Laura Bassett's own goal saw England knocked out of the 2015 Women's World Cup
Morgan Schneiderlin to Manchester United: Transfer news live - Robin van Persie to leave, Saints and Tottenham battle for Toby Alderweireld
David De Gea to Real Madrid: Manchester United goalkeeper spotted arriving at Madrid airport
Copa America 2015 final: Lionel Messi given cheeky 'ET' warning citing 'finger in anus' incident
Football kits 2015/16: The good, the bad and the downright worst new shirts from around the world for next season
- 1 Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
- 2 'Help me I'm trapped in a factory' messages keep being found on bottles of vitamin water
- 3 Right to die: Belgian doctors rule depressed 24-year-old woman has right to end her life
- 4 Wimbledon 2015: Dustin Brown knocks Rafael Nadal out of the championship
- 5 Primark and Penny's heir Barry Ryan drowns trying to save his 21-year-old son
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
Greece crisis: The wider lesson is that it’s time to abandon this failed experiment in currencies
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture
They are neither a 'state' nor 'Islamic': Why we shouldn't call them Isis, Isil or IS
£15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...
£11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...
£15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...