Monday 26 October 2015

Wherever next?

For several years I haven’t really had to think about where to fish for Pike but since the natural disaster of this spring I’ve had no choice.  As much as I love the Broads it’s getting to the stage where it will become no longer viable.  The trouble I now have is finding somewhere that meets my strict criteria and it will not be easy.

When I began Pike fishing in the early eighties I was lucky to have excellent fisheries on my door step.  For fifteen years or so I didn’t need to spend more than twenty minutes in the car to reach a good Pike water.  We took it for granted thinking this would always be the way but as we all now know, good Pike fishing doesn’t last.  For most of the last twenty years I have travelled for at least an hour in any direction for my Pike fishing, the waters I grew up fishing have been largely overlooked.  This autumn I’ve been having a little look at old haunts, as you’d expect they’ve changed a lot but can I see myself fishing them?

I literally grew up on the banks of ‘The Pits’, it was here I learnt to fish and became addicted to Pike fishing.  I witnessed other anglers catching big Pike and decided I wanted a bit of that for myself.  Most of my early Pike fishing milestones occurred during this time and it was here I was taught how to set up a float paternoster rig and yes a Pike really would pick up a dead fish from the bottom.  A walk around the place sees me passing swims that hold many memories despite looking very different to when I spent my time here.  The trees have grown tall and thick making it a much prettier place nowadays compared to the bleak new gravel pit I remember.  In places banks have eroded forming new features whereas in others siltation has made areas much shallower than I remember.  The spot where I caught my first twenty back in 1983 is now unsafe to fish due to fallen trees. The nature of the fish stocks have changed too, predation from Cormorants has depleted the silver fish shoals and Otters have seen off the Tench.  The pit can no longer sustain the same head of Pike that I remember from way back when.  These missing fish have been replaced by the species of choice of this era, carp. 

Once upon a time most of the anglers fishing here would be casting wagglers and sitting on blue Shakespeare boxes, nowadays its bivvies, bedchairs and buzzers.  I have no problem with whatever people choose to fish for but it seems that many of the best areas for Pike are also good for carp.  If the place is busy I may not be able to get in a decent spot.  A while back a few of us tried to get a livebait ban overturned here, we didn’t expect to succeed and so it proved.  The carp anglers were worried that us scruffy Pikers would bring disease ridden baits to the lake and infect their precious carp.  As we know, this just never happens and it’s ironic because the original stock of carp here died after illegal introductions of… more carp.  There are some very good anglers fishing for the carp these days, however there are far more brainwashed sheep who follow the Korda manual and catch very little.  These people then shout loudly and call for more carp to be stocked.  Can I really get motivated to fish here?
From 'The Pits'

 There is another water close by which also holds special memories for me.  If I was schooled at the pits then the ‘Big one’ would have been my college.  It took a year or so to come to terms with this place which aside from being very big was also four times as deep as what I had become used to.  My friends and I worked hard, fished hard and began to enjoy consistent success.  We were used to fishing gravel pits where almost everything was ‘within range’ now we were faced with a big sheet of water. 

Our first thoughts were to try and propel our baits as far out as we could.  The late Nigel Forrest of Breakaway Tackle had just designed a rig which streamlined everything and allowed us to cast great distances.  Nigel’s rig wasn’t quite perfect but it was very good but didn’t catch on.  We used it to catch many fish including some big ones.   In mid-winter depth, range and location were crucial and our streamlined rigs definitely caught us a few bonus fish.  Bait-boats were rare in the late eighties so we often had to resort to using party balloons to drift our livebaits to where we wanted them.  Anyone who is old enough to have used this method will remember just how inefficient it could be but with a bit of luck and the wind from the right direction, it did actually produce a few fish. Over time we became more familiar with the ‘big one’ and realised long range casting wasn’t always necessary.  In fact most of the time it was possible to catch fish quite close in.  If I could be bothered to check I’m sure I’d find I caught many more Pike close in than I ever did to the big chucks.

The 'Big one'

 The ‘big one’ was simply beautiful and the size of the place meant we almost always fished in space, peace and quiet.  I fished this water regularly for six or seven years and became spoilt; I grew so used to uncrowded quiet fishing now nothing else will do.  My dislike of busy waters must have been mentioned on here a hundred times, it all stems from my time at the ‘big one’.  The water’s heyday was nearly twenty five years ago, its two decades since I fished the place regularly and ten years since I’ve fished it at all.  In the early nineties the fish stocks collapsed, Cormorants and herbicides were blamed but no one knows the reason for sure.  All I do know for sure is the Pike became very skinny before they all but died off. 

A walk with the lure rod revealed this water had also changed greatly.  For a start the bankside trees have spread and thickened so much that you just can’t get to the water in many of the places I used to fish.  The water has also been developed for uses other than angling making it anything but peaceful once the sun is out on a pleasant day.  Apparently the water is still quite popular with Pikers even now, making the few accessible areas potentially busy.  Can I really be arsed to fish this one?
From the 'Big one'

I’m getting the feeling that going back to these places will be a mistake; I should really be moving on and looking for somewhere new. I should be feeling enthused by this prospect but there is the fear that the best places and the best days have been and gone.

Thursday 8 October 2015

The Riverflow

The PAC annual Convention took place a couple of weeks ago and as usual it was a cracking day and night.  I spent most of the day helping Mark and Gary on the PAC products stand which was a bloody good laugh as always.  I didn’t manage to see any of the talks but I rarely do.  From what I heard all three went down very well.  In between talks the trade hall was buzzing and all the traders seemed happy.  The bar was also very busy but you wouldn’t expect anything else.  After the convention all involved have a chance to let their hair down with a glass of beer or six and this opportunity was gleefully embraced.  A pub full of Pikers is a great place to spend an evening and all left suitably refreshed.

I’d planned to pick up a shiny new fishing book at the convention and due to surprise circumstances I ended up walking away with two.  I remember reading articles by Dilip Sarkar in some of the earliest ‘Pikelines’ magazine but the name seemed to drop out of the Piking scene.  A few years ago Dilip and the Sarkar family reappeared with a bang and his love for fishing running water was obvious.  Having written almost forty books on Second World War history it was almost inevitable we would see a book called River Pike by Dilip Sarkar. 
No angler, no matter how dedicated could possibly write with experience about all of the various types of river we have in this country.  So while Dilip himself writes about his own local rivers he has sensibly recruited several other river Pikers from around the country to share their experiences.  Each writer brings a different approach, not just to the fishing but also the format of the chapter. 
However the first half of the book is mainly written by Dilip and focuses on the Midlands Rivers, Severn, Wye and Avon.  There are overviews of the rivers, a bit of history which tells each reader how the rivers characteristics came to be.  Then follow insights on how best to tackle them and several anecdotal pieces sprinkled in too.  As ever, a method that works on one piece of water may not be as effective on another.  Other writers help out here too with good contributions from Chris Leibbrandt who covers the Tidal Severn, Martin Mumby with a great tale of a Wye monster and Steve Bown on his beloved Avon to name a few.  An angler who has never tackled these waters would definitely get a good insight into how to go about it and sensibly attention is not drawn to any particular areas.

From a beginning in the Midlands the book then ventures mostly south and eastwards.  The Fens and Broads already have recent books dedicated to them so these areas are only really covered in brief but in Denis Moules, Paul Belsten and Stephen Harper you couldn’t pick any three people better qualified to do so.  Almost all of my river Piking has been done in this area and it’s nice to see some familiar waters featured, some famous and others not so.
Small river big Pike
 Phil Wakeford describes his fishing on the Thames, a river I’ve fished just the once but enjoyed a good days piking.  I particularly liked Bill Rushmer’s description of his one-time Thames record Pike, what a fish!  In the introduction Neville Fickling is described as “the Godfather of modern Pike fishing” and he writes about his experiences fishing the Trent.  Nev bears no resemblance to Marlon Brando but his chapter is excellent.  I was a little disappointed that the Wessex rivers weren’t given greater coverage but the two anecdotal stories by Terry Theobald and Jerry Lloyd are both very good.  The book only travels northwards on one occasion but ‘Dangerous’ Dave Greenwood’s chapter on the Yorkshire Ouse is my favourite piece in the book.  Not only were Dave and friends pioneering a water new to them, they did so trolling lures.  A method that at the time was new to them too.  I followed a similar path on some fenland rivers several years ago but without Dave’s spectacular success.  Pat Henry tackles his adopted River Shannon and gives a great account of how tough it is to tackle Ireland’s greatest river.  With perseverance and dedication there are still unknown monsters out there. 

A theme running through this book is just how demanding river Piking can be.  It is a world away from sitting in comfort behind alarms on a stillwater.  Yes this approach can work on rivers but consistency requires a much greater physical and mental effort; you need to get up off your backside and get moving, a lesson it took me too long to learn.  My own favourite venue is a river system but I don’t really consider myself a river Piker?  The effort required is at least the equal and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Challenging fishing = interesting fishing.  Over the years I’ve caught Pike from fifteen different rivers including many that feature in the book so I share the buzz and passion of these Piking writers.

River Pike is published by Harper Fine Angling books so is laid out by the master Stephen Harper himself.  Stephen has a reputation for producing books that are not only great reads but are beautiful to look at too.  Straight away it is obvious this book has Mr Harper’s magic touch, it is full colour throughout and has countless great photos of fantastic Pike and fabulous scenery.  This book was not originally on my radar when I went to the convention but is a very good read and sits well amongst the favourites on my book shelf.

More details here;

My Pike season has well and truly started and so far has gone pretty much as expected; it’s tough and challenging, more so now than ever. I expect to take far more photos of scenery and wildlife than I do Pike this season but I’m up for it.  So far the scenery and wildlife have been very good…