Broadland Tom’s methods can still amaze us all

Broadland Tom remains a great read and insight into the way fishing things were.

Broadland Tom remains a great read and insight into the way fishing things were. - Credit: Archant

Some years ago, I was given my copy of Broadland Tom by Terry, a treasured friend, and I'll always thank him for that. The book was written by Tom Cable in 1991 and published by Geo R Reeve Limited for those interested in trying to find a copy. Tom was a water bailiff between 1952 and 1976 and this entertaining account gives the most extraordinary picture of what fishery management was like mid-last century.

It's quite apparent in Tom's version that habitat was not really much of an issue at all. Fishery management then tended to focus on fish, fish stocks and not much else. Environmental degree courses had not really been invented then and the whole industry of water management that is so current today simply did not exist. Tom and his team members simply rolled their sleeves up and, summer and winter alike, got into the water and got down and dirty with the fish.

It was a wild west world in those days, things being done that would not even be countenanced today. One example was the random swapping of Broadland bream for northern barbel, a deal probably struck over a cup of coffee and a fag. Which brings me to the politics of the book.

Broadland Tom is not backward in coming forward over the fisheries men who peopled his world. He wrote glowingly of Roy Webster (who wouldn't?) and he had some time for that Lenwade maestro, Dan Leary. It was evidently never an easy life being a water bailiff in days that we might think of as being bucolic and somehow more easy than today.

Broadland Tom and his mates battled on in a world with very little scientific knowledge to help them. The only problem today is though we seem to have oodles of scientific knowledge, our fishing, outside the commercials seems to get worse and worse season upon season. Over the last year, I have talked at some depth with at least 50 water scientists on pretty much every single aspect of water management you can conceivably come up with. They have all had their suspicions and their thoughts and they've all tended to agree that wild fish in our rivers and broads especially, are getting fewer and fewer. The whole scenario rather reminds me of Nero, a fiddle and a burning city.

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In February 1976, a friend and I fished the Wensum at Lyng. I know we finished around 1pm because I had to get to Heacham to play football. We probably started around eight o'clock so that gave us five hours. We stopped when, between us, we had landed 400 roach. I sometimes doubt whether there are 400 roach left in the entire river today.

I'll tell you what Broadland Tom and his mates would have done. They would have looked at a river with very few roach in it and then looked again over the banks at the multitude of gravel workings alongside. In the majority of these pits, there are hundreds of thousands of roach that originally came from the river that are not wanted in carp and trout fisheries. One way or another, Broadland Tom and his chums would have found a way to transfer those roach from the stillwater to the running water. Experts today will tell us all that this is barely a solution worth considering.

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If Broadland Tom were still alive and kicking today and doing things his own particular way, I'll bet my bottom dollar I'd be catching more roach. I also guess many of us would rather have a bag of fish at the end of the day than a netful of experts.

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