Monday 30 November 2015


I shall call this place “Strangeways” for reasons that will probably never become apparent.  I scouted the place a few weeks ago and decided though although this pit is smaller than I’d usually like to fish, it was just about big enough as long as it wasn’t busy.  I thought ‘what the hell?’ and here I was pulling the car up in the dark.  I chose to fish an area on the western side as it gave me plenty of water to cover but was also sheltered from the gales that were forecast for later in the day.  As I tackled up I was pleased to see bait fish topping in front of me, definitely good news.
 As it was my first visit I kept active, fishing two deadbaits which were recast regularly, starting in the margins and working outwards.  I also used a lure rod with a mixture of lures which had one thing in common, they were all sinkers.  This was so I could count them down and get a rough picture of depths and contours.  This method of ‘plumbing’ sometimes gets a bonus fish and this was the case today, after half an hour a Replicant was engulfed by a hungry jack.  The lure was well inside the gob but that didn’t stop the fish chucking it out just as I bent down to chin it. 

After an hour or so of searching and dodging showers I’d found a steep margins and a gradual slope from left to right.  I was settled fishing a float ledgered Bluey just beyond some weed on the slope and a ledgered Smelt in the deeper water.  I bought an Oval brolly in January but because I like to travel light I’d only actually used it twice in all this time.  With a rough forecast I couldn’t leave it behind this time, in fact I had to put it to good use and was impressed at how stable it was in even the strongest gusts of wind.  I’ve worked out that if I’m careful (!) I can leave the poles attached, roll it all up and stuff it in my quiver.  That way I can leave the bag and the bloody groundsheet (I can’t ever envisage using) at home.

By 1100 I was restless so wound in the deadbaits and went searching with a lure rod.  Within fifteen minutes I’d moved my whole kit a bit further down the bank and was fishing a different area.  The bluey was cast beside a nice looking overhanging tree and the smelt lowered into a deep margin then once again I set about plumbing/fishing with the lure rod.
So Strangeways, it’s definitely not the prettiest place but I’ve fished a lot worse.  There wasn’t the array of birdlife that I’m used to but I did see a Sparrowhawk zipping around, there were plenty of Pigeons and Moorhens, a noisy Blackbird, a Wren and a friendly Robin who shared my roll.  Strange there were absolutely no ducks?  By early afternoon the forecast gales had arrived and I’d had enough. I enjoyed the fishing today, it was all new and interesting as I learnt my way around.  I’m sure I’ll return with a better idea of how to approach the place, a few ideas have already sprung to mind.  I’d prefer a larger water but today I had the place to myself (apart from two walkers who said hello, one of which may have been a couple of cans short of a six pack) and had room to spread out.  So far so good but if the place gets busy and the Pike are scarce it could see a quick end to my enthusiasm. 

The latest Pikelines magazine arrived this week and it’s the best for some time with articles for Pikers of all experience as well as a couple of absolute cracking reads that are as good as it gets.  Worth the club membership alone.  Pikelines has been around since the formation of PAC in 1977 and this is the 150th issue.  This must be the longest running Pike fishing publication in the UK and I doubt there is an older ‘Pike fishing’ magazine anywhere in the world?  Unlike most contemporary fishing magazines Pikelines is mostly free from blatant product placements and advertorials.  Mostly.

Saturday 21 November 2015

There are no Pike left in Norfolk

There are no Pike left in Norfolk…  Yes Broadland anglers have been laying that double bluff down for years but unfortunately there is an uncomfortable element of truth in it now.  Yes the ‘Special place’ has always had low stocks of Pike and has always been renowned for being a tough fishery but now its way beyond ‘tough’.

I had my best season in 2011-12 when almost every visit saw big Pike coming to the boat.  It was around this time that a dramatic, unnatural increase in Otter numbers seemed to occur.  From seeing Otters a couple of times per season I was suddenly seeing them almost every time I went out.  That spring saw a Prymnesium Parva outbreak on Hickling and there seemed to be a dramatic decline in Pike stocks immediately after.  One season we were catching consistently, the next we were struggling, yes we caught fish but it had got a lot harder.  There then followed a couple of years of gradual improvement and towards the end of last season there was real cause for optimism.  Then came the devastating Prymnesium outbreak this spring

I resolved to keep on fishing anyway.  I just love being there; to me there is no place in the Pike fishing world like it.  After ten years of fishing the special place I like to think I know my way around, (in fact I’m proud that I didn’t blank for two years) but even so this year has been tougher than tough.  Seven full days have produced just four Pike.  It’s hard to stay positive when you cannot be sure there are even any Pike left in your vicinity.  In the past we always knew we were in with a chance at least.  While I think about it I haven’t seen a Bittern this year and can’t even recall hearing one.  

Is there any cause for optimism?  Well there are a few Pike left; even the Jacks are cherished more than ever, these are the future. There is still plenty of Roach and skimmers so the surviving Pike will not be short of food.  Recovery will come in time but how much time?

On my last visit to Norfolk I passed the dredger which is tied up and ready to commence work once again when the temperature falls.  Yes the genius minds at the Broads Authority still refuse to acknowledge the connection between a disturbance in the water column and the Prymnesium blooms.  They’re not suction dredging either it’s the good old clam shell bucket, an environmental disaster waiting to happen.  The trouble is the BA has the “right” to dredge.  There is a school of thought saying they might as well get it over and done with now while there is little or nothing to lose.  On the other hand it’s more than hypocritical for an organisation that calls itself a ‘National Park’ (even though it fails to meet the criteria for such a title) to do something that is potentially environmental suicide.  As we’ve said before, whether or not there is life below the water makes no difference to the weekend admirals, all they need is a sheet of water.  The wealthy sailing fraternity is the tail wagging a mangy old mutt called the BA.

Sunday 15 November 2015

More history

If you had nothing better to do in March you may have seen a review of Graham Booth’s “History of Pike Fishing Volume 1”, which I thoroughly enjoyed so it was only a matter of time before I picked up a copy of volume 2.

As might be expected, volume 2 picks up right where the first book left off, the chapters begin at number eight to reflect this.  The first period covered is between 1951 and 1971 with characters like Bill Giles and Dennis Pye featuring strongly.  The heyday of Norfolk Broads features, peaking with Hancock’s forty followed by the Prymnesium disaster of 1969.  Something all modern visitors to Broadland are only too aware of.  The figure of Dick Walker also looms large as although not truly a Piker his influence on “specimen hunting” in general is massive.  It was in this period that Pike angling ceased to be a purely mobile, active approach and one of patience with multiple rods, mostly sat in one spot became more popular.

The chapters that follow deal with the period from 1971 to the present day.  They begin with the characters that set us on the course of ‘modern’ piking.  Fred Wagstaffe and Bob Reynolds were anglers I was aware of but I didn’t realise how influential and ahead of their time these two were, particularly with their use of lures.  I was well aware of Ray Webb and the great Barrie Rickards.  These two men were masters of all piking methods and produced probably the most influential Pike fishing book ever.  I can’t explain why but somehow I have avoided acquiring a copy of “Fishing for Big Pike”.  Another famous Piker of this time was Fred Buller who is probably more influential as an author than a Piker.  His “Domesday book…” certainly had a massive effect on me.

From here on in the book is covering ground familiar to me, modern Piking history from my own lifetime.  I remember much of what is covered although in most cases I can remember bugger all else away from fishing through those years.  Graham Booth takes us through the birth of the ‘Pike Society’ and its eventual transformation into the PAC.  It is impossible to understate how much these organisations changed attitudes towards Pike.  Without PAC in particular, Pikers in the modern era would not have been able to enjoy the quality of Pike fishing that have been privileged with. 

The rise and fall of British Pike waters is charted; The Fens, The Broads, Gravel pits and Trout waters.  All of the famous captures, faces and places are given due recognition.  There are chapters dedicated to Scottish and Irish piking too.  Inspired by the likes of Wagstaffe and Buller English Pikers ventured to these places and over the years the locals developed a love for Pike fishing too. 

 Pike fishing in the eighties, That would have made a good book title?
The rise, fall and rise again of Lure fishing forms the subject of chapter 15.  We Brits have been slow to recognise the worth of lures but eventually caught on.  In the final chapter Booth asks whether Pike is once more considered a “Game fish”, particularly following the rise of fly fishing in the UK.  In my opinion Pike aren’t game fish, they are better than that.  Few species can be fished for with such a wide variety of methods in such diverse waters.

Although the history is now complete, happily the book itself isn’t.  We are taken back in time to the golden age and its “Champion Pike fisher” Alfred Jardine.  Graham Booth’s extensive research has exonerated Jardine and put his 35lbs ‘Maidstone Pike’ back where it belongs as the first English “Mammoth” and first record Pike in our sport’s wonderful history.  It occurred to me that although I had enjoyed the whole history of Pike fishing it is this golden age that has intrigued me the most.  This is the exact opposite to what I had expected before I began reading.

A History of Pike Fishing is published by Harper Fine Angling and it goes without saying that the book is of the highest standard and beautiful to behold.  As I said in March, Graham Booth has done anglers a service in documenting our sport, not just Pikers, all anglers owe him a debt of thanks.  Pike fishing has a great history and these are two great books.

Sunday 8 November 2015

Dirty deeds done dirt cheap

I've mentioned the local GAPS fishing club on here a few times over the years, unfortunately I've had more bad things to say than good.  The club underwent a big change just over two years ago, as mentioned here;
It seemed for some time this would be a change for the better but sadly it began to wobble and the wheels have now definitely come off.  Reading back what I blogged at the time now leaves a feeling of sick irony.

For over a year there has been talk of making one of the clubs waters (known as the Small lake) into an easy, overstocked fishery.  I have no problem with this in principle but there are individuals who find it impossible to believe this is possible while there are Pike in the water...  Yes that old chestnut, in 2015!  (This was also attempted around ten years ago when Pike were removed from the water on the quiet and killed.  The very fact it has reared up again proves the policy is doomed to failure.)  Needless to say there has been a great deal of heated debate but it seemed that it had died down and sanity restored.  Sadly not so.

The club issues news letters every now and then and the most recent caused me much food for thought.  I had been aware that there was a policy to move Bream and Tench from one pit (known as the large lake) into the proposed 'small lake' easy water.  I have always been uncomfortable with this.  Firstly I prefer natural fishing, I don't want to catch fish that have grown to a decent size in one water then transferred to another.  To me that's artificial, meaningless, plastic fishing.  Secondly I don't believe it does a fish that has grown to a 'specimen' size any good at all to be moved into another, far smaller water.  One of the justifications for this policy was a supposed 'oxygen problem' on the larger water.  As far as I know there has been one occasion when there may have been a dip in dissolved oxygen.  This has given an excuse for the real motivation for this policy, it will allow the carp to grow bigger.  No one seems concerned about any oxygen problems caused by overstocking in the 'small lake'.  I should state here that both lakes were once one larger water before being reworked, therefore as far as I know, EA permission is not required to move fish.

Reading down a bit further I noticed the decision had been taken to stock the 'small lake' with carp and straight away the alarm bells rang.  As soon as I read that I knew that moving Pike would be on the agenda again.  I challenged the club secretary and was invited to attend the club's monthly meeting, which I did on Monday, the first occasion I was able.  It was my intention to voice my opinions then walk away and not renew my membership.

I initially challenged the moving fish policy and was told by one attendee that if I was against moving fish I must therefore be against stocking fish, as it was the same thing.  As far as I am concerned the two things are absolutely not the same and I really couldn't believe my ears.  I was told the 'small lake' "didn't fish very well this year".  Well click on my blog entries for May to July 2015 and you will see evidence to the contrary.  I caught Carp, Tench, Bream, loads of Rudd and hundreds of Perch.  I actually tried to avoid catching these latter species so I could keep my bait on the bottom for long enough to attract a Tench!  There are plenty of fish in the lake, just the wrong species for some.

The subject of Pike was brought up by someone else in the room and I took the opportunity to challenge the committee.  This went pretty much as I expected but what was disappointing was people who claimed to be Pike anglers actually support the decision. (To me there is a world of difference between a Pukka Piker and someone who chucks out a deadbait in the winter when the carp have become hard to catch.) Some even claimed this was a Pike welfare issue as a large Pike was being hammered in this tiny lake.  I countered the Pike would get no less hammered if moved to the larger (but still small) lake as intended.  Also I stated they would never be able to remove all the Pike so it made sense to leave the apex predator where it was for reasons that are obvious to most.  Maybe I should have kept quiet because the committee began discussing electrofishing the place!  You couldn't make it up...

Finally I asked why the committee hadn't announced it's decision to move Pike.  I was told that actually they had.  Well I double checked and they bloody well didn't.  The decision was made weeks ago and it was deliberately hidden for as long as possible.  I didn't notice at the time but there was a certain person in the room who was unusually quiet, others had obviously been primed to do the talking for him.

Following the open meeting and after I had been asked to leave, two lads had been summoned before the committee in a closed room to hear disciplinary charges.  Their reputed crime was parking their cars in the wrong place.  Now every time I walk around these lakes I see rules being broken.  It could be argued that carp anglers wandering away from their rods is no big deal but that wouldn't stop an EA bailiff issuing a ticket.  This is just one example, other rules are ignored by the very people who should be enforcing them.  That aside it has become apparent that the inner circle of the GAPS club can do whatever they want with impunity.  These lads admitted they had parked in the wrong place because they didn't know any different.  The real reasons they were brought before the committee were; 1)  They've been catching quite a few carp from a challenging water. 2)  They are not part of the clique.

In the days that have followed I've had many conversations and it has become apparent that I'm one of many people who is angry at this state of affairs.  Discussions in this period have revealed a much wider dissatisfaction and it isn't just Pike anglers that are annoyed.  Many long standing, loyal members of the club have simply resigned and walked away.  Other things have come to light this week that I cannot mention at this stage.  One of which, If proven, is potentially disastrous and would make my grievance about Pike removal seem trivial.

I should make it clear that although I have been referring to "The committee", not all of its members are involved in dirty deeds.  There are a couple of top blokes involved, others are genuine people with whom I have a difference of opinion.  Sadly other committee members are playing politics and feathering their own nests.

 From the high hopes and optimism of a couple of years ago we are back to the situation we had a decade ago, where the GAPS club only represents one section of anglers and feels it is acceptable to treat Pike and Pike anglers as a nuisance not an asset. The whole situation is reminiscent of the end of Orwell's "Animal Farm" where a few years after the revolution it's impossible to tell the difference between the Bolsheviks and the Romanov's.  Or to put it another way, a bit like the feeling we had a few years after voting for Blair.  Never trust a politician.