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
Berbatov flees Bulgaria following kidnap threat
Phil Hughes injury: Cricket world reels as Australian opener 'fights for his life'
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund player ratings: Who was the star man at the Emirates? Alexis Sanchez? Santi Cazorla? Or Yaya Sanogo?
Phil Hughes: A swashbuckling, raw and talented batsman who had the world at his feet
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund report: Yaya Sanogo and Alexis Sanchez are on target as Gunners secure impressive victory
- 1 'Kidnapped boy may have been abused and murdered by VIP paedophile ring,' say police
- 2 Ridley Scott on Exodus, Gods and Kings casting: 'I'm not going to get it financed if my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such'
- 3 Girl, 7, gets Tesco to remove 'stupid' sign suggesting superheroes are 'for boys'
- 4 This letter from a reader explains why women can’t play football
- 5 'You should come to my house and eat cheeses with me': 4-year-old sends adorable love letter to girl at school
Ukip says babies born to immigrants in the UK should be classed as migrants – which would include Nigel Farage’s own children
Rochester by-election: Ukip gains second MP as Tory defector Mark Reckless holds seat
'Beast of Bolsover' Dennis Skinner takes Ukip MP Mark Reckless to task moments after he is sworn in
The young are the new poor: Sharp increase in number of under-25s living in poverty, while over-65s are better off than ever
Tamir Rice: 12-year-old boy playing with fake gun dies after being shot by Ohio police
Exclusive: UK approved £7m Israeli arms sales in six months before Gaza conflict
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join one of the UK's...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has arisen in a Winche...
£300 - £400 per day: Argyll Scott International: I am currently recruiting on ...
£16000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Field Based Sales Surveyor is...