Birth of a Fishery...
or, how to get a financial hernia!
by Dave Mason
Having spent many years in the tackle trade, Pete Thexton saw a gap in the market for a well run commercial fishery in his local area, as long ago as the late 80’s. It was until 1990 when he seriously decided to do something about it, and the search started for a suitable site. Dave Mason visited the site to see for himself, what a DIY fishery is all about

A fishery cannot be built just anywhere, the land has to be right in so many ways. It needs to be in the right area, that’s obvious, but it also needs to be the right kind of land... land that will hold water! It’s no good just digging a hole in the ground and filling it up, what would happen if the water drains away? Then, of course, the right land needs to be available for purchase. You can’t build on land you don’t own!

Pete could have bought several sites were the land was predominantly gravel, indeed, he could have bought at least one gravel pit, ready for planting and stocking. But he wanted his lakes to fish well all the year round and pits tend to go very clear in the winter months. So the search continued for a suitable site with a clay subsoil, high water table and, with good access. Not much of an shopping list, is it!

Fourteen years passed before Pete found the right site, and promptly bought it. The plot he found lies just north of Langley Mill, a small village on the Nottinghamshire/ Derbyshire border. It’s not far from Denby, a little town famous the world over for its pottery... and potteries need clay! All the land in this area sits on rich clay deposits, which is why the industry grew up here... it’s not just in Stoke-on-Trent, you know!

Being a local lad, Pete knew this only too well, but all the other aspects of the land had to be right as well, that’s why it took such a long time to find. Having spotted the perfect site that 'checked' all the boxes, the actual purchase process was simple enough. Pete simply knocked on the door of the nearest farmhouse and ascertained that he was speaking to the owner of the land. Over a cup of tea in the farmers kitchen a deal was struck and the solicitors instructed to get the sale formalised!

With the site's purchase now in hand, the next job was to plan it all out. The layout of the lakes, car parks, clubhouse, toilets, entrance to the site, all needed to be mapped out thoughtfully... and the small matter of planning permission of course! You would think it would be relatively straight-forward enough.... wrong!

With so many years experience in the tackle trade, Pete has a veritable army of friends to call upon, builders, tradesmen, draughtsmen and more keen amateurs than you can shake a stick at! So, working in conjunction with the Environment Agency, a builder and a technician who physically drew the plans, the shape and layout of the fishery was born. They would consitute a complex of 5 lakes, offering a total of 130 pegs as well as a clubhouse with room for match draws and meetings, toilets both indoor and outdoors, the obligatory car parking for 130 cars, that's one car space per peg, all were included. Access to the fishery would also be seemingly fine as the lane is fairly straight at the point of entry and with careful siting and shaping of the entrance everyone could come and go in complete safety. The problem came when the Highways department got involved. Although they accepted that the fishery itself was fine, they were worried about its junction with the lane and also the main road, which was just a few hundred yards away. On Pete's original proposal, the plans were rejected. Not one to give up on a dream, Pete then spent the next two years sorting out the problem, eventually getting the plans in front of the local authority, no less than three times, before final permission to commence work was granted.

So, here we are today, four years after buying the land, paying to have the plans drawn up, forking out every time the scheme went up to the planning committee before finally, work can start. Do you still fancy building your own fishery?

Pete's first job was to dig an exploratory bore-hole, to make sure that the lakes will hold water. If a hole is dug and doesn’t fill up with water, then the watertable is too far away and the lakes won’t be a viable fishery. And if that happens, the whole project would fall flat on it’s face, after years of searching and further years of overcoming planning problems. It was now time to start really worrying! However, the hole was dug and it filled up straight away, literally, in a few hours! Pete’s choice of land had been completely vindicated, most emphatically!

Work could start on digging out the lakes themselves. With the lakes done first, they couls be left to 'mature' while the clubhouse and car parks are built. It wasn't just fish that needed time to settle, plant life needs to be established in the lakes as well if the lakes were to thrive and grow. Pete was not simply building a few lakes, he was creating a whole eco-system, and that takes time. By starting with the lakes, he was giving them the maximum time possible to settle in.

On the day of our first visit, just a few days into the project, the first lake was taking shape nicely and work was afoot on the access. All the lakes were going to be 'canalised', with a central island accessible from every peg at a range of about 12 metres, comfortable fishing for all anglers and not just those lucky enough to own 16m poles! Depths would be around the five foot, with both an inside and far side shelf offering an area for reeds and aquatic plants to grow, not to mention a prime fish holding feature.

Each lake was projected to take about 4 to 6 weeks just to dig out, then there would then be the landscaping and planting as well as the diggers and dumpers, plus drivers to pay for. Don't forget the building of the clubhouse, at about 2000 square feet, with all the connections of water, electricity, telephone, sewerage facilities, and the car parks. You can now start to get a feel of the knee-tremblingly costs involved! STILL fancy building your own fishery? Oh... and don’t forget, we have the small matter of stocking the lakes as well!

And on the subject of fish, which, let’s face it, is what we’re all really interested in, Pete realises that there are many potential pitfalls ahead of him. So in order to minimise them he’s taking advice from the EA, right from the very start. Even before the diggers moved in he’d spoken at some length about his plans with their scientific people, taking advice not only on fish, but on what type of plants to introduce in order to give his fish the best possible environment in which to thrive.

With the land being very boggy to start with, much of it actually marsh land, there were already plenty of water loving plants 'on site'. There were enough reeds to provide planting for most of the lakes, and by using what was available to hand, the suitability of those plants was never in question. More plant life would have to be brought in as the development grews so specialist suppliers were being investigated. This is another area where the input of the EA’s scientific people would prove invaluable. The same will go for the fish stocks as Pete would not buy fish from just anyone. The suppliers he'd use would be chosen from recommendation by the people who know best... fishery experts, both independent and those at the EA.

This type of responsible planning reinforces Pete's idea of creating, not just a fishery, but a whole aquatic habitat, where anglers, fish and all manner of other wildlife can benefit.

By the time we make our next visit, the lakes should be taking shape, in fact the first two or hopefully, three, will be full of water and settling down and the layout of the site will start to become apparent. Work may even have started on the clubhouse, but that will depend on the weather. We’ll catch up later with Pete for a chat about his planting and stocking plans and as he says, this project is one BIG learning curve, who knows what’s around the next corner?

As the fishery develops, new challenges are sure to arise. These will be overcome, make no mistake, as Pete is one man to be relied upon to see a project through. It may be that new ideas come along that will be incorporated into the final scheme, or unforeseen problems crop up, the whole team knows that nothings 'engraved in stone', and they'll be ready to respond, if and when the situation demands it. As things stand at the moment though, the plans are drawn and work has progressed. With Pete’s vision, determination and readiness to take advice from those 'in the know', we can be sure that the end result will be well worth waiting for!

As work on the new fishery is well underway, Dave will be calling in to check the progress over the coming months and reporting on all the trials, tribulations, setbacks and successes along the way... right up to the time everyone’s looking forward to... OPENING DAY!