This book was published in 2011 and to be honest I never thought I’d end up getting a copy. I’ve never been interested in angling history any further back than the 1950’s and I’m much more interested in more contemporary angling history, so figured this one wasn’t for me. Since the book was published I’ve heard nothing but good things about it from people whose opinions I respect. Thinking about it, this is a history of the sport I love I really ought to learn about it. So when the book’s publisher Stephen Harper gave a very enjoyable talk for Suffolk PAC it was a good opportunity to get a copy.
Chapter one covers not just the history of Pike fishing but the origins of all angling from the time anglers began to write about the sport. Some of the earliest known writing was found from right here in Suffolk at Helmingham hall.
The early nineteenth is the subject of the second chapter and the Pike is emerging as a renowned sporting fish. Methods and customs of the day seem barbaric to us; the ‘dead gorge’ method where Pike were given five to ten minutes to swallow the bait meant almost all Pike were killed. Instant strikes were only popular in March when Pike were more likely to mess about with the bait. Up to this point I’d found the book hard going in places but on the whole interesting and probably more enjoyable than I’d expected.
Graham Booth has identified the period from 1865 to 1914 as the ‘Golden age of Pike fishing’ and this forms the subject of the next four chapters. I found this part of the book really interesting, particularly the parallels that can be drawn with modern Pike fishing. Although most large Pike were still killed for trophies the Victorians were practicing some conservation with many smaller Pike returned to grow. Just like today many larger Pike were caught from private waters with restricted access and exactly like today the locations were very often closely guarded secrets. Yes secrecy is almost as old as Pike fishing.
Methods came on a long way with livebaiting becoming more popular, particularly the Paternoster rig. Alfred Jardine developed the ‘snap tackle’ which most Pike anglers still use today, but I don’t! There was a reference to Jardine fishing a water I have an acquaintance with which too. There was also a fair amount of rivalry and a little bit of bitching between the leading ‘Pikeists’ of the day. Pike guides were also around in the ‘golden era’, known simply as ‘fishermen’, though comparatively little is known about them. This is a shame as it was these men who often put Jardine & co onto the Pike they caught. For the most part I really enjoyed this part of the book but could have done without the chapter on angling exhibitions. Pike were highly regarded during the golden age, at least the equal of Salmon and Trout, if anything they were more popular and were fished for by the upper classes.
The final chapter described the ‘dark age’ between 1915 and 1950 when Pike fishing was less popular with the elite and consequently there was far less written on the subject. There were no real developments in our sport at this time and if anything methods went backwards. There were a few enlightened souls including Jim Vincent who fished the Broadland waters I know today. I was surprised that the Broads hadn’t featured earlier in the history of Pike fishing I wonder why the earlier Pikeists didn’t venture out east?
The further I got into this book the more I enjoyed it and I’m really glad I read it. Produced by Stephen Harper it is colourful and laid out beautifully, we expect nothing less from Mr Harper and he never disappoints. I’ve sometimes found Graham Booth’s writing style a bit over the top in some of his articles but that is not the case here. The research he has done to compile this history must have taken years and Pike anglers owe him a debt for recording our sport for us. I’ll definitely be getting hold of volume two as not only does it deal with the period I’m interested in but also waters and in some cases people I know.
Pike fishing history, 1982