You could call him the codfather of Heath Pond. After all, Richard Welch certainly made Petersfield Town Council an offer it couldn’t refuse after answering a call to police the beauty spot.
“I got back into angling after about 16 years out last June and I didn’t know anything about how the pond was being managed,” said Mr Welch on how he became the pond’s senior bailiff.
“The Heath Pond Association had overseen angling here for the last 11 years but they walked away in June. I got in touch with the council, had a meeting with five committee members and ended up doing the job.”
If you’ve gone fishing in the placid waters of the pond during the past ten months, the chances are you’ve met or seen Mr Welch. His enthusiasm for angling and the pond is boundless so it’s no surprise the council was also taken in hook, line and sinker following his expression of interest.
The 53-year-old and his team of volunteers have overseen a big clampdown in poaching and illegal fishing as they patrol the area several times a day.
He also manages online ticket sales, played a major part in updating the pond’s rule book and is involved in monitoring and improving fishing stock.
He does all this on top of a full-time job but a rise in daily and season ticket income proves the effort has been worth it.
“We’ve got approval for a disabled-user swing to be put up near Sussex Road and we’re also looking at putting in predatory species like perch and pike because that will maintain balance,” said Mr Welch about plans for the near future.
“I’m learning as I go as I’ve got no formal training but we’re doing things now at a fair old pace. This year we’re offering night tickets and there has been a lot of interest in that. It’s a leap of faith, though.”
The council raised just over £5,000 in angling income in 2022 but last year’s total should be even higher because of its new management, with all income going back into the upkeep of the Heath and Pond.
No-one is really sure how many fish call the pond their home but there’s plenty of carp, ranging in size from 2oz to 30lb, along with stocks of roach, rudd and eel.
Catches can’t be kept, but people often try and Mr Welch has had to explain to confused Ukrainians that its fish are definitely not for eating.
He said: “Recently I removed a telescoping rod which was all baited and we’ve also removed several fixed lines with bait on them.
“As for the rule book, we didn’t really make any major changes but have structured it to make it easy to follow. The Angling Trust stipulates unless you’ve got clear rules you can’t really enforce anything.”
He added: “The majority of people are law abiding and it’s almost self-policing.
“I remember coming here with my grandparents and that’s what you want. We want people to come down here for a day’s fishing and to bring their family with them.”