Starting a fishing enterprise sounds easy: Dig a hole, fill it with water and plop in some fish. But talk to those who rely on a fishing lake to earn an income and you soon realise that the business needs to be properly planned to ensure its long-term success.
It costs about 10,000/acre to set up a fishing lake.
And while the seemingly low level of upkeep of this type of venture has a big appeal to farmers looking at diversification, those who fail to tackle the business professionally from the outset end up with little more than a hole full of muddy water that clearly has no appeal to fishermen.
Your first phone call should be to a specialist consultant, though there are not many of them.
For about 350-500 a day, they will provide you with an on-site assessment and produce a report on the viability of the project and how it should be developed.
The location of the lake – not just in relation to its attraction to customers, but, more importantly, in terms of its ability to hold water and provide a sustained fishing business – is crucial.
And do not assume that trout are the only fish that pull in the anglers.
In fact, trout fishing is fast being overtaken by demand for carp, which offers a wide range of marketing options.
Fishery consultant Andrew Ellis, based at Moreton-in-Marsh, Glos, says any money spent on trying to create a fishing lake without seeking expert advice will be wasted.
“Siting a fishing lake correctly is vital.
There can be huge costs involved if the lake has to be lined with plastic or clay, so location is important,” he says.
And if you get the right advice you might not need to create a new lake at all.
Instead, an existing pond or a string of ponds can often be turned into a fishery business with professional help.
Where do I start?
Don’t start digging a hole and then look for advice on what to do with it.
There has been a big increase in on-farm fishing lakes, so you need to assess the competition, look closely at your location and try to find something that will set your business apart.
The location of the lake is also very important in terms of access and also to ensure water levels will be maintained (clay soil is best).
If water extraction is needed from a nearby source you need to contact the Environment Agency.
Get a fishery consultant on board from the outset to advise on the viability of creating a lake on the farm and also its management.
Do I need planning permission?
Check with the planners at the outset to avoid a nasty surprise.
Can I get a grant?
Not for digging a lake, but there may be business development grants for the entire project.
Some green cash might be accessible, too, if there are environmental advantages associated with the business.
Some farms have created fishing businesses by stocking a string of existing ponds, but a 1.2ha (3-acre) lake is considered the minimum size for a new venture.
Where do I get advice?
There is no official fishery consultancy organisation, but there are quite a few individuals who provide guidance. Check your local yellow pages and ask around.
How do I learn how to manage the lake and the fish?
Consultants also act as advisers and can provide back-up on fish management and water quality issues for new ventures.
But most farmers who embark on this type of business say it is not difficult to master good management once you have had some guidance in the early stages.
Daily management is needed in varying degrees depending on the time of year.
The biggest labour demand, once the venture is up and running, is being on hand to deal with visiting fishermen if you are operating a day-ticket business.
Where do I buy fish?
Fishery consultants will advise on where to buy fish stock; there is no shortage of suppliers of trout and a range of coarse (ie non-edible) fish.
How to maintain a good stock of fish must be planned with your consultant but coarse fish will breed in well-managed water.
Advisers can help new starters harvest young fish and set up a system where small coarse fish can be grown on to restock the main lake.
How much competition is there?
There has been a boom in fishing lakes in recent years, particularly trout lakes.
There are still good opportunities to set up coarse fisheries, but you need to take advice and try to offer something different.
Fishing for large carp is a growth market and you could create a lake and let it to a syndicate.
The members pay you an annual fee and have sole use of the lake.
How much will it cost and what sort of profit can I make?
It is possible to start fishing from a lake within the first year of its creation.
To create a lake costs about 10,000/acre.
Stocking a 3-acre lake costs about 1900 for trout and 5000 for a mix of coarse species.
Income depends on how the fishing is marketed.
Day ticket prices for coarse fishing range from 5-10, with trout fishermen paying 20-25 a day to take up to five fish.
Income from a syndicate will vary, but a three-acre lake could generate about 10,000-20,000 a year or more, but it takes time to develop the reputation of a lake.
Will it stand alone as a diversification venture?
Yes, and some thrive because they offer purely fishing.
Others combine lakes with campsites and tea-rooms to generate further income and provide more facilities.
But this adds to the set-up costs and increases the labour needs.
Do I need insurance?
Check out your insurance liabilities.
Effective warning signage is essential when dealing with publicly-accessible areas of water.
A field that traditionally flooded and an interest in fishing spawned the idea of Farltonview Fishery.
And now, three years after opening at Wath Sutton Farm, Crooklands, near Milnthorpe, in Cumbria, the business is thriving.
With the M6 motorway running alongside the farm – which has sold its dairy cows to concentrate on sheep and a range of diversification projects – and its proximity to the Lake District, setting up a fishery always looked a good proposition for the Robinson family.
The fishery provides all-year-round fishing either on a catch-and-release basis or via a one- or two-fish “take home” ticket.
Tickets cost 2/hr for catch-and-release.
The fishery offers a 2ha (5-acre) lake and another of about 0.6ha (1.5 acres), both stocked with rainbow, brown, blue and gold trout.
“Once the lakes are up and running, the day-to-day maintenance is not too demanding.
We have obviously got to keep the banks tidy and make sure the facilities are right for the fishermen.
“Maintaining water quality is not difficult when you own the land around the lakes and can limit the risks of anything untoward getting in, such as too much nitrogen.
The biggest nightmare is prolonged dry and sunny weather,” says Simon Robinson, who is responsible for the day-to-day running of the business.
Although the lakes are not dredged routinely, warm summer weather leads to excessive weed growth.
“We do remove a certain amount of water weed, but it is a difficult balancing act knowing just how much to take out.
“Weed is a very good oxygenator and you need to leave enough in to keep the environment correct, but also take enough out to make the fishing good.”
All the brown trout must be returned to the lake, but Simon Robinson does not believe that fish become hook shy.
“We only permit the use of de-barbed hooks, but fishermen have to be far more wily in their efforts to catch brown trout that have been hooked before.
They need to fish with great skill and use small flies, but it is not something that makes fishermen reluctant to come and fish here.
In fact they relish the challenge.”
The lakes are stocked at about 120 fish/acre of water.
The fish are not fed, but on this lowland site plenty of fly life is blown off the land.
“We are on limestone here, which produces good, clean water with a high alkalinity and that is ideal for insect life.
Fishing lakes on higher land tend to be acidic and that means less insect life for the fish to feed on,” says Mr Robinson.
There is no inflow or outflow from the lakes at Farltonview.
Excess rain simply flows out and dissipates on to surrounding land.
Neil and Bill Black
Pay for advice to help get you started and do not be tempted to buy cheap fish to stock your lake – they could be dodgy and cost you dear if they carry disease.
That is the advice of Essex arable farming brothers Neil and Bill Black, who set up a fishery business four years ago at Rockinghams Farm, Layer Marney, near Colchester.
“Get help from the beginning and don’t be reluctant to retain the services of a consultant.
You have got to act quickly if you get problems.
By the time you see the first fish floating on the surface the clock is ticking,” says Neil Black.
The brothers saw the development of their four fishing lakes as a useful addition to their other leisure-based businesses, which include a DIY livery yard and holiday cottages.
“We are only eight miles from Colchester, so we are close to a good population of potential fishermen.
We don’t rely on advertising, more word of mouth and through recommendation from local fishing tackle shops.
If you can provide the right environment and the right fish, word soon gets round.”
Maintaining ongoing input from a consultant is an important part of the fishery business, but Neil Black says day-to-day management is not difficult.
The lakes – covering about 2.4ha (6 acres) – are stocked with a range of coarse fish including bream, tench and mirror carp and are fished on a day ticket basis costing 7.
“There is always someone around to deal with fishermen, so although it is a bit of a hassle it is not too demanding.
But we’re considering switching to a syndicate.
It would reduce the income from the lakes, but there would be less work for us to do.”
And the Blacks’ best bit of advice for newcomers to the fishery business?
“Look after your fish and feed them properly, but don’t overstock the water or they just won’t grow.
And make sure you get an experienced operator to dig your lakes.
“If the lakes are not excavated properly and with care it can create long-term problems, so use someone who has experience of creating lakes and not just of using a digger.”
Wanting to get the paying public on your farm?
If you are thinking of setting up a farm-based attraction, or want to expand an existing tourism or leisure enterprise, the annual National Farm Attractions Network conference could be a valuable source of advice and inspiration.
9 am Registration and coffee
9.30 am Welcome, NFAN chairman
9.35 am Keynote speaker. James Paice MP, shadow minister for agriculture and rural affairs
9.55 am How to succeed with your restaurant and shop. Sally Jackson, Pink Pig organic farm shop and restaurant.
10.15 am Educational visits: The countryside as a classroom. Gary Richardson, Countryside Foundation for Education
10.35 am Quality assurance – crucial for success. Christopher Howard, Visitor Attraction Quality Assurance Service
11.25 am Leisure and tourism: A growth industry for farming? David Cousins, Farmers Weekly
11.45 am Securing a competitve edge in the attractions industry. Johnnie Arkwright, Hutton County World.
12.05 pm Attractions: Expand and develop. Phil Barker, Lloyds TSB
12.45 pm Lunch
2 pm What makes a winner? Peter Thompson, Sacrewell Farm and Country Centre, Peterborough
2.20 pm Signs – secure the right directions to your attraction. David Pope, Department for Transport
2.40 pm Add a play barn: add value. David Taylor (equipment manufacturer) and Brian Anderson (Dairyland FarmWorld, Cornwall)
3.00 pm Open forum
3.40 pm Tea and disperse
Date: Wednesday, 8 February, 2006
Venue: Kelmarsh Hall, Kettering, Northants NN6 9LY
Cost: 50 for NFAN members, 60 for non-members
To book tickets: 01536 513 397 or firstname.lastname@example.org