John Bailey: Dodger Green’s vanished fishing world

Professor's pike

The Professor with a pike even Dodger would have been proud of! - Credit: John Bailey

I drove through Lyng the other day, past the super village shop there.

There was a procession of residents coming and going, all carrying copies of the Eastern Daily Press tucked under their arms, but I guess not one was under pensionable age. That’s probably why if I do get fan mail from this column of mine, the writer nearly always is of a certain age, remembering Norfolk fishing as it was.

And so it is with Ron 'Dodger' Green’s missive, sent me from his address in Old Palace Road, NR2. Dodger writes beautifully of Norfolk 60 and more years ago ( he is 87 next month) and of a county I remember with childhood longing.

Eight pen-filled pages of magic memories unfolded. A 7lb eel and bags of eels weighing seven stone and more, fish then so plentiful only one rod could be in use at a time. Journeys at night along quiet lanes to Beeston Lake at Neatished, home of the record bream about that time, Fritton Lake and even a private water, owned, it transpired, by a non too-friendly gentleman. Dodger writes of the fun that angling inspired and the colossal matches held along the Ant and the Thurne when humour and rampant competition held equal sway. The only dark cloud is what Dodger has to say about the Wensum from Hellesdon to New Mills Yard. “Rubbish, “ he says. “ Polluted and destroyed by the chemical factory which led to the city’s water being taken from upstream at Taverham.”

Dodger, I remember the trouble over that like it was yesterday but try as I might, I cannot recall any penalties given out. Conservation, eh? We talk a good game but that is about all, now, then and every year in between.

Take the case of the river Lugg down in Herefordshire, running the boundary of England and Wales. It has been on the news a fair bit of late because it has been dredged, canalised and vandalised despite being a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation. But, as Dodger would remind us, having designations like this has hardly done the Wensum much use over the years of hand wringing. That’s what the Environment Agency is doing now, down west. The Agency is so cross it has issued a statement on how many rivers, streams and lakes in England are in a good condition. Fancy a guess? Zero percent. Not one. That’s a scandal, of course, but the people I have talked to can’t see why the EA is keen to publicise the fact. After all, who is supposed to look after our waters and our fisheries? Don’t we pay our fishing licence fees to the EA so that they can do this vital work? I seem to remember that is what you and I are told each spring when it is time to cough up again. I don’t think any of us would begrudge a penny if the Agency were in fact fighting tooth and nail for our waters but they are not.

It might interest you to know that a large percentage of what you and I pay to the Environment Agency goes straight to the Angling Trust. I like the AT but I don’t remember saying I was happy with this arrangement, do you? Fish Legal, operating under the AT umbrella, does a decent job fighting polluters, but it does no conservation work as far as I am aware. But hold you hard, boy, as Dodger would say, there is worse to come. The excellent Simon Cooper, MD of Fishing Breaks and ex-UEA, has uncovered a further use for our licence fees of which I for one was ignorant. I might as well quote Simon in full when he says, “on the 1st December the government announced a £100,000 Get Fishing Fund that will be available in grant form for projects ranging from £500 to £5,000 distributed by the Environment Agency and Angling Trust in 2021 to encourage people of all ages to take up or get back into angling".

Nothing wrong with that at first glance but read between the lines and you will see this is all OUR money. This is entirely funded by us from rod licence fees. This is not new money. It is not even much money in the general scheme of things. We all also know that such is the inefficient nature of Government that for every £1 that reaches the river, £2 of licence fee income will have been gobbled up in bureaucratic and administrative costs.

A good while back members of the EA Fishery team (whose individual members are generally excellent I have always said) complained that the licence fees you and I were paying here actually got spent in Devon, Cornwall and the like. Today,  the situation would seem far, far worse. A good deal of our money disappears to the AT, as I have said, and another chunk goes to Government schemes, like Simon Cooper has said. I’m not sure what you think, but I can’t see the percentage of useless rivers, streams and lakes being improved upon in the near future, unless, perhaps, our money is spent where we are told it is being spent. There is a general feeling that anglers are treated like second class citizens and that we are regarded as fools. Simon Cooper again: “I have long thought the rod licence fee a huge injustice. Cyclists pay nothing to use the highways. Walkers in the National Parks, recipients of hundreds of millions, pay nothing. Canoeists on public waterways pay nothing. But anglers, for reasons historic rather than logical, are forced to pay by way of the threat of jail.”

On a happier note, my great friend, the Professor, finally caught his longed-for 20lb pike from a secret Broad, one of Dodger’s favourites I believe! It came in the midst of last week’s rain and snow, in a howling easterly, on a day when temperatures never clambered over two degrees and at dusk when they were falling below that. The session had been one of unendurable agony. The pike represented a tsunami of indescribable ecstasy. How great a sport angling is. How sad to see it being kicked around between government agencies that simply couldn’t give a damn.