In conversation with Roy Marlow

Owner of one of the country’s premier man-made venues, former Leicester Likely Lad Roy Marlow talks to tcf editor Gareth Purnell about fishery management, the close season and KHV.

A lot of people associate the name Roy Marlow with the Likely Lads and Ivan Marks. What are you main memories of that period?
We were all young, keen and green, and it was a very amateurish world in fishing compared to now. There were no professional anglers, although Ivan was way in front of anyone else. Becoming a better angler is about learning from the best and I’ve been lucky enough to fish with some of the very best anglers the world over. You have to shortcut because no-one lives long enough to learn it all. They really were what I now look back at as ‘the fun days’. And those fun days lasted through the late 1960s and 1970s and even into the 1980s.

For you, when did things change?
Two things happened. First of all the rivers went into decline and it got hard to catch a decent bag of fish. Secondly, it all got very, very serious. I started going on open matches and no-one was talking to anyone. For me it was never about the money, it was about having a laugh and a joke. Life’s too short. I wanted to catch fish and it became too hard. Commercials changed everything.

When did you get involved with running a fishery? Was it something you really always wanted to do?
I think it evolved. I was running Marks and Marlow tackle shop but by 1982 I’d had enough and wanted something different. I sold the shop at the right time. To be honest I think that around 90 per cent of those in the tackle trade would like to sell if they could. That’s when I got involved with Foundation Lake at Mallory Park. And the fun element came back. You’ve been on some of our matches and you have to have a thick skin here – but it’s a great laugh. We’ve got a terrific group of lads catching any amount of fish. We’re a commercial fishery, but we’re an angling club, not a day ticket water.

And after Foundation came The Glebe…
We built the Foundation Lake but although we control the fishing we don’t own it – it’s leased. I realised that my fishery business wasn’t on a sound footing and that the only way of making it so was to have a fishery of my own. That’s easier said than done. I needed somewhere close to Foundation, I needed a farmer who wanted to sell some land and of course then I had to get planning permission. But I was lucky enough to secure a 20-acre potato field off a farmer very near Mallory Park, although I had to pay over the odds for the land.

What’s your philosophy here at The Glebe?
If I look at the commercial fishery scene I see a few of them always trying to ‘be the best’. If you can catch 200lb at one the next one tries to make it so you can catch 300lb. My view is that it’s obscene and can result in angling being seen in the wrong light. I think 100lb of fish in a match is always enough. The clever thing when you build a fishery is to try and make sure everyone has a chance of catching that weight, wherever they are. Once you start to talk 200lb or 300lb you haven’t got many pegs that can achieve that.

How easy is it to achieve that on a commercial?
Well, if you design it from scratch like I’ve done, relatively easy. A lot of people inherit a fishery and there are obvious feature pegs where the fish congregate. Here, apart from the end pegs, there aren’t any feature pegs. So we have fish that roam all over the place.

You were one of the first to get Lottery funding for a fishery project, I believe?
I got the land to build The Glebe in 1999 just as the Lottery funding project was announced. We went for it and ended up being one of the first 1,000 projects awarded a grant. It was much easier in those days compared to now. In the first round, three out of four applicants who put in the right planning got the money.

You put in a very professional bid with a strong conservation slant, I know…
Yes we did, but the conservation side was not considered at the time – it was purely an angling project. It’s different now. If we’d set up as a commercial fishery we would not have won funding – we only got it because we are a club. We got two-thirds of the required money. But I didn’t have any and had to effectively screw the system to get The Glebe off the ground. We got some local sponsorship and got that matched with Sports Match money. I then went to English Nature and got sponsorship for all the ponds. The Sports Council took their hats off to us for milking the system – and then they changed the rules! The Glebe was actually audited as the best value of all the first 1,000 projects that received Lottery funding.

And then you extended the water to the eight lakes you have now.
We cashed in on the goodwill from the Sports Council to win another grant for the phase two extension of The Glebe. By that time hardly any angling projects were wining funding and only one in 13 bids of any kind were getting anything. But conservation had now become a big issue and we capitalised on that. The Sports Council once said: “Of all the things you could do with a potato field, the ‘ecosystem’ designed by Mallory Park Fisheries must be one of the most imaginative.”

What’s the secret then to setting up a healthy, successful fishery in terms of stocking policy and ongoing management?
You would be amazed how many people who own fisheries simply haven’t got a clue about it. When I built this fishery I created somewhere that I wanted to fish myself. That’s why it’s single-bank fishing with no red-hot pegs. I built the venue around fishery management rather than a place that looked great. In fact, some of my lakes are a bit bland. Since 1985 I’ve had a lot of hands-on experience and I’ve made mistakes – but you learn and you only make them once.

Is being self-sustaining in terms of stocking important?

Roy is not a believer in net dips.

It’s got to be – it’s the only way. Most people with fisheries just keep throwing fish in, but every time you put a fish in you are putting a stick of dynamite in your fishery that could go off at any time. I predicted all these KHV problems with carp last year and, mark my words, come May and June there are going to be countless fish deaths.

What exactly is KHV?
It’s Koi Herpes Virus and it’s been around a long time. I go to dozens of places that have stocked F1s and had major problems. Now we have being stocked these fast-growing F2s from Israel where KHV is endemic – it’s crazy. The Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) isn’t legally able to stop them coming into the fish suppliers. The Environment Agency (EA) could have done, but didn’t. So they came in, fisheries took them and so we have a problem with KHV. It was so obvious what was going to happen. There’s talk about the fish being vaccinated, but the EA have admitted to me that they don’t know about the potential of vaccinated fish spreading the disease. It’s sad from an industry point of view and it’s sad for fisheries that buy fish in good faith. I warn everybody, Bruno Broughton warns everybody, the Commercial Coarse Fisheries Association warns everybody. But fisheries still go and buy them.

In your view can viruses only be passed from fish to fish – or can they be passed in nets? I know you have never had net dips at your fishery.
Viruses can be deadly but they are very delicate. All viruses are closely related to the host. If you get a fish with KHV and it dies, within an hour the virus is also dead. All I can say is that every single case that I’ve ever known has always come from live fish transfer. We don’t have net dips at The Glebe. It is possible for a virus to live on a wet net but 10 minutes in the wind and sun and it’s dead. So the odds are very remote.

I suppose you would say that the fact that you don’t have net dips and have never had a problem are not unrelated?
I don’t blame any fishery for using dips to be honest and I fish waters that do. But dip material is iodine-based and it’s deadly. First of all, to guarantee killing everything on your net you’d need to leave it in there for 15-20 minutes and that does not happen. Let’s say there are 50 people in a match, all throwing in two keepnets that have just been dipped in a deadly poison. I think you will do more harm to your fishery that way than by not having them. If anglers rinsed their nets thoroughly after dipping, okay. But they don’t.

You’ve got a thriving barbel population in one of your lakes. What do you say to those who think barbel should only live in rivers?
I haven’t got time for them. If nature didn’t want those barbel to survive they would die, simple as that. Having said that I wouldn’t put barbel in any stillwater. Barbel require more oxygen than most fish. That’s why they are only in Pool One, which is high up and gets a lot of wind on it – that keeps the oxygen levels up.

I’ve heard there might be a star award system for fisheries lined up. What can you tell me about this?
I don’t think ‘holes in the ground’ are a good image for the industry. Fisheries are going to be awarded gold, silver or bronze stars in a scheme fronted by the Angling Foundation and the EA. I think in the years to come these are going to be very important. So it won’t be just about having a good fishery, it’ll be about being able to tell the world that your water reaches a certain standard. The award won’t be about what facilities you have or how many fish are in there – it will purely be based on the quality of the environment the fish live in. It doesn’t matter how many fish you have in a fishery. What matters is how many happy fish you’ve got – because they are the ones that will feed.

If you had one bit of advice for the average angler on commercials, what would it be?
The major mistake is in feeding. Invariably pleasure anglers don’t feed enough. It’s not that you need masses, but you do need enough quality bait. You don’t need to spend a fortune either. Here you might use 10-12 tins of corn in a five-hour match – and at 30p a tin that’s not going to break the bank.

How did Ivan adapt to commercials? He fished here a lot in his latter years.
He didn’t adapt. I could never have beaten Ivan in his Welland days. He thought that if he had enough casters and worms he could catch enough of every fish to win. But he took that many batterings he had to think about paste fishing. He learned quite quickly form the likes of Andy Findlay when he finally caught on.

There aren’t many stocked fisheries that have a close season, but your does. Why is that?
When the close season issue came up I asked my members what they wanted, and they overwhelmingly voted to close for two months – which was handy as that’s what I was going to do anyway! We close from April 1st for two months and that’s when we get all the work done, and we have at least 40 member volunteers who turn out to help. Working as a club here it doesn’t make any difference to me financially. I honestly think that you can get to the stage where the fish are getting far too much pressure.

Thanks Roy – you can be proud of your fishery which is certainly one of the best in the country.

Angler File
Name Roy Marlow
Age 59
Hometown Whetstone, Leics or The Glebe
Sponsors: Dynamite Baits, Pure Fishing
Angling achievements: I’m doing what I love, and hope I continue to enjoy it