John Bailey: Captivated by Broadland's Dungeon Corner

A Bure perch

My friend Richard and a Bure belter - Credit: John Bailey

I spent the opening week of the river season in the heart of Broadland and loved it.

It made me wonder why I have spent the majority of my life on estate lakes, pits, the coastal waters and the upper rivers when the Broads have sat there, half an hour away.

Of course, I piked there in the 19809s and I’ve done well with the perch recently (thanks to Robbie Northman) but I have been remiss and I know it. 

Hence me getting down to the tidal Bure near Woodbastwick at 3am on The 16th. Big mistake. Have I ever seen more midges and mosquitoes outside the Highlands of Scotland and the jungles of India? Eaten alive by five, I spent the next two hours hiding in the car until the sun was well up and the critters had vacated the airwaves for wherever they hide through the day. And then the fishing began.

The Bure at dawn

The Bure at dawn - Credit: John Bailey

I wasn’t alone, of course. A couple of grand old chaps, younger than me I guess, sat a hundred yards away and began to lay into big perch. One of them, Richard, had a fish of two and a half and lost one bigger. Blooming heck, I thought , especially as all I could muster were skimmers, roachlings, hybrids and a ruffe (don’t know what a ruffe is? A bit like a drab gudgeon in size, colour and habits but with a spiked dorsal like a perch. I used to catch bucket loads when I was seven and haven’t seen once since so my joy for this one-ouncer was unconfined).

By 10am, the sun was up and so was the cruiser traffic. Blooming heck again. At one stage I looked downriver from my peg and all I could see was a wall of white advancing towards me, an Armada of tourists out to pillage Broadland. Shirts off, music blaring, the captains and their radios didn’t seem to discomfit the fish one jot and they just kept coming in a constant stream.

Great pal Nick Beardmore, enforcement officer at the Environment Agency, came along for a chat with some mates. Nice but for the fact that he told one and all how I used to be his history teacher  at Sprowston High back mid last century. Nick, now you are thinking about retirement yourself, you must stop this, please! My self esteem sinks ever lower ever time you tell the tale!

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We did all agree that Broadland is packed with fish and that locals and visitors alike are blessed to have them. It’s great for the sport, the economy and the whole area and I only packed up to get a bit of peace. I could still have been catching fish a chuck until Christmas!

Now, the day before this, June 15, I’d had a poke around on the Thurne, up towards Martham Broads. I’d happened to bump into Richard Starling and pals on the legendary Dungeon Corner whilst I was there and what a joy that was. I reckoned that I had last seen Richard in the early 80s when he was negotiating with Norfolk pike anglers about fishing rights on Martham North. He mightily impressed me back then and our hour’s chat simply reinforced the high regard I’ve always held him in. No wonder the Norfolk Naturalists Trust is so lucky to have him looking after the area because there is no one who understands the area a fraction as well as Richard.

When dealing with the pike issue 40 years back, he showed common sense and deep understanding of the area in oodles and nothing has changed. I am in deep thrall to country folk who know their patch down to the last whispering reed and to hear Richard talk about the Thurne and its challenges is enthralling and enlightening in a grassroots way that the boffins can never emulate. Yes, the Thurne has its problems, but Richard gave me enough hope that fish are still alive and kicking that I was up at Dungeon Corner the early morning of June 17.

What a wet one - 6am and it was like I was the only angler on the planet. Not a sound, but for the gentle hiss of water on the grasses, the reeds, the slowly-flowing Thurne. I’d found my weed-free patch on the cusp off the Corner, but I preferred not to fish a while and just look around me at a landscape that cannot have changed much since 1900 or before. I half expected to see those legendary pikers of old like the Vincents or Pye or Giles to emerge through the mists to wish me well. Block out a solitary wind turbine and the scene hasn’t changed since I haunted the place in the mid-80s when I won the award for the most unsuccessful Thurne pike angler ever. Magic, sheer heaven.

A harrier entranced me and as the rain lifted the skylarks came out to play. Could it get better, I thought, as I began to fish? Well, it was a pretty little session. A few jam jar-sized toddlers and then a clonking great rudd  got my heart racing until it turned out to be a bream hybrid. A shoal of palm-sized perch came in followed by a grandmother big enough to keep me an hour beyond my planned leaving time. No matter, as I walked the path down to the Ferry I could only think of a wonderful, wet morning I had spent in a Broadland paradise. Lucky are we, or what!

Back in civilisation, there was match going on which I skirted. Real anglers these! But did I spy the totemic white cap of match legend Bob Nudd sitting there on his box? Now,  I know Bob a little from working with him at shows in the past and I like him a whole lot. Should I go and say hi, I wondered? But I decided not. If the Big Guy were into a shoal of match-winning bream the last thing he needed would be a chat with little old me.

However, I did reflect that the presence of a world champion angler (on multiple occasions) on our river Thurne must reinforce just how lucky we are here. 

Broadland, I for one will be back!