Masked men with a mission

fishing lines

I AM pleased to solve a mystery that has doubtless been puzzling owners of fancy-dress shops all over the country: why have large numbers of shifty-looking men who smell of fish been buying grotesque masks? Now, this column is known for some fairly oddball accounts, but I think this one tops the lot. Those mask-buyers are anglers who pursue outsize fish, and it's part of a manic quest for secrecy.

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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner

£15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...

Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Account Executive - £40K OTE

£11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

£15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy