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
  • Get to the point
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: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence