Famous for their fishing, the Broads may not be what they were but you can still find good sport.
In the Middle Ages vast amounts of peat were dug for fuel in north-east Norfolk. Gradually the extensive workings flooded to form a network of reed-fringed meres, dykes and slow-moving rivers draining into the North Sea at Great Yarmouth – the Broads. For the first half of this century the Broads offered probably the best coarse fishing in England. Record pike, specimen rudd and perch, huge bream bags and excellent roach and tench fishing drew anglers from far and wide.
Down but not out
Sadly, Broadland is a vulnerable environment. Silting and the spread of alder woodland (carr) meant that by the beginning of this century many Broads had shrunk considerably. But worse was to come.
In the 1960s, motorboat traffic increased greatly and the wash from fleets of holiday cruisers began to erode banks and hasten silting. Motorboats have also clouded the water to such an extent that plant and insect life have been badly affected.
Since the 1960s, Hickling Broad, Horsey Mere and other Broads along the River Thurne have suffered from the effects of agricultural drainage pumping as well. Because of the pumping, their salt content has risen to provide perfect conditions for a toxic alga called prymnesium. Since the late 1960s, every hot summer has seen outbreaks kill vast numbers of fish.
Having said all this, the Norfolk Broads are still very much worth fishing and with a little guidance you can still find excellent bags and specimens.
Best from a boat
Because the Broads tend to be heavily reed-fringed, the best fishing is usually from a boat – so boat-handling experience is useful. But remember that though fish are plentiful they aren’t spread out like currants in a bun. Certain rules of water craft should be followed if you are to contact fish quickly and regularly.
Bream spend much of the daytime in quiet bays and reedbeds, keen to avoid the boat traffic. You often see them rolling or simply basking in the sunshine with their backs proud of the water. On muggy, overcast days you can catch them on bread, worm or maggot provided you moor your boat silently and away from the actual shoal.
Probably your best chance of a big bag, though, is late in the evening and through the hours of darkness as the shoals patrol the deeper boat channels and river courses actively looking for food. But be prepared to take a lot of bait if you want to hold a shoal or worms hard against them. Tench and reedmace are always found together because both like a hard lake or river bed. Pike are perhaps the most famous of all Broadland fish, with twenties (9.1-13.6kg) common and thirties (13.6-18.2kg) always a possibility. True, the piking season is really more autumn and winter but it still pays to have suitable tackle handy in summer if one shows in the swim. One cast then could produce the fish of a lifetime. of 100-500 large hungry bream for any length of time! And for the sake of the fish, don’t cram them in a keepnet. Rudd are one fish you can catch during the day. You can spot them in smallish shoals in soft weed, around lilies and moving in and out of the reedbeds. An accurate cast from a distance with slow-sinking breadflake may then take two or three good fish before they spook. Observation is all and it pays to move steadily and stealthily, perhaps watching with binoculars, to find these charming fish.
Tench are the fish of dawn to mid-morning in Broadland. Six to seven pounders (2.7-3.2kg) are there to be caught but location is the key. Look for beds of reedmace then fioatfish sweetcorn, bread, maggots, casters
Where to start
You could spend a lifetime exploring the Broads and not get to know them all. Assuming you have rather less time on your hands, here are some suggestions. The Ormesby Broads can provide fabulous bream and tench fishing. Little Ormesby, Rollesby, Lily, Great Ormesby and Filby Broads are all connected and together cover over 800 acres. There’s no tidal channel into them and they’ve escaped the invasion of holiday cruisers. Only sailing and angling boats are allowed and here you can find traditional Broadland peace and sport.
The Thurne system has made a rapid recovery from recent attacks of prymne-sium. Hickling Broad, Horsey Mere and Heigham Sound total nearly 1000 acres. Together with the River Thurne itself they are beautiful waters that hold vast bream shoals with some very big specimens. Even rudd are making a promising comeback and there’s also the chance of immense pike.
Alderfen is a much smaller, more intimate, Broad. At around 25 acres it’s a preserved water that smacks much of original Broadland. So does the fishing. It’s a mixed fishery but the bream and tench fishing is famed nationwide, with bream to 9 lb (4.1kg) and tench to over 7 lb (3.2kg).
Hire fishing boats for the Ormesby Broads from George Alexander (Tel 0493 748746) and for the Thurne system from the Whispering Reeds Boatyard (Tel 069261 314) and the Martham Ferry Boatyard (Tel 0493 740303). Permits for Alderfen Broad are available from Wroxham Angling Centre (Tel. 0603 782453), whose staff, incidentally, are extremely helpful and expert not just on Alderfen but on all of the Broads.