Friday 14 February 2020

Box ticked.

Two days off work, one is pretty much written off by a horrendous weather forecast which leaves today and I’m busy this afternoon.  I’ve set myself a target to catch a Pike from my local river and with a couple of spare hours in the morning it seemed an ideal opportunity to walk the river with a lure rod and try to tick the box.  The rod I chose was a light one that had been wasting away in the shed without a tip ring for a couple of years.  I’ve had the replacement ready to glue on for quite a while and had only recently got round to fixing it.  My destination was the old millpond where I’d caught my first ever Pike in 1979, a stretch I ‘ve hardly fished at all in the last quarter of a century.

I arrived in bright sunshine and mild conditions, the river looked idyllic and with the recent deluges it actually had a decent flow and a tinge of colour.  There was an old man float fishing in the pool, his beard reminded me that I hadn’t listened to Seasick Steve for a while.  I was loathe to disturb him but stopped and asked how he was getting on out of politeness.  Ten minutes later he was still talking and had hardly paused for breath; it seemed he didn’t see me as too much of a disturbance.  I eventually extracted myself and made my way a little further downstream where I tackled up with a 5” Shad and began to cast.  The river looked good and it didn’t seem too different from when I fished this stretch regularly as a kid but come summer I expect the reeds and undergrowth will have made it virtually unapproachable.  The far bank has changed though, thankfully there is enough vegetation to hide the houses that have been built.

I slowly made my way downstream running the shad through the deeper gullies and catching nothing but strands of weed.  All too soon I’d reached the railway bridge which is the limit to where I can fish these days.  I was still without my Pike and thinking the old man was sitting in the spot where I’d have the best chance.  I was alerted by a disturbance back upstream, the Mallards had scattered and there was some kind of bird repeatedly swooping and skimming the river surface.  When my eyes adjusted I realised it was a Sparrowhawk trying to catch a Kingfisher which was flying back and forth in panic.  After a few seconds the Kingfisher escaped and the hawk flew grumpily away.

Back to the fishing.  The swims by the bridge are a little deeper and were often a good bet for a Pike when I was younger but I was running out of options.  Then a cast flicked downstream suddenly went solid and yes I’d hooked a Pike.  The fish was small (but I hadn’t expected anything else) and was soon thrashing around on the surface, waiting for me to scoop it out with the net which looked massive in comparison.  I’d done it, a Pike from my local river.  One that would be eaten in a second by the fish I usually target but one that made me very happy nonetheless.  With that I swapped lures to a fat little crankbait and made my way back upstream.  Great tits chirped in the far bank trees, nothing else interrupted my lure and I was soon back at the pool.

I couldn’t avoid being trapped in another conversation with the old man and as the words flowed it became apparent that much of the fishing talk was fictional.  I may not fish this area much these days but I know there aren’t twenty five pound Pike or five pound Perch present, which is a shame.  It also gives me good reason to doubt the big Roach and Chub he’d told me about earlier.  Still he was a pleasant enough fella and said he didn’t mind me flicking my lure across the pool a couple of times.  This I did but with no result, shame, a huge river Pike would have gone down a treat!

In the end I spent a little less than an hour by the river but came away with a sense of accomplishment and a desire to return to other old haunts.  In the summer I have Gudgeon to catch but if I get the chance before the season ends another little Pike would be nice.

Saturday 8 February 2020


I’d been looking forward to getting out fishing all week but when the alarm sounded it was an effort to haul myself out of bed.  I felt tired after a night of broken sleep and weird dreams.  In one I had been given the role of Jose Mourinho’s official digger driver and was tasked with digging up the pitch while he had an argument with Phil Thompson.  What the fuck is that all about?  Apart from following my home town team I don’t even particularly like football.  Getting up is always the hardest bit and once this was achieved I was soon putting the gear in the car and scraping ice off the screen.

My kids say I swear a lot and they’re totally fucking correct but with the standard of driving these days it’s hard to retain a pious vocabulary, especially when some wanker tries to overtake me on the roundabout.  After that my journey was uneventful and I managed to arrive at the lake unscathed with enough light to get the boat loaded without a torch.  No engines allowed here so I rowed across to an out of bounds area, secured the mudweights and commenced setting up.  As usual I used a couple of float leger rigs, one baited with half herring was cast towards a snaggy area but not too close as this one could be terminal if it goes wrong.  The second was a joey mackerel positioned on a nice drop off with no known underwater hazards.  On my third rod I used a paternoster rig which is still the best way to fish a suspended bait but has fallen out of favour because the tackle companies can’t sell you any fancy lumps of foam or balsa if you use it.  On this I mounted a smelt which I hurled as far as possible with the intention of twitching it back towards me.  With all this accomplished I sat back with a brew.

I wasn’t even half way down the mug when I noticed a tremor on the float cast towards the snag.  Usually when a Pike picks up a float legered bait there’s no doubt but on this occasion I wasn’t sure, however as I was close to a monster snag I wound down anyway.  There was nothing attached, like I said, usually with a float there’s no doubt.

The morning was cool and bright with a cloudless sky.  The wind was a fresh south easterly which had me huddled in the boat with my hood pulled over my cap.  A kingfisher zipped past, followed seconds later by another.  I’ve never managed a decent photo of one of these birds, fair play to those who do.  On the other hand the Kestrel stays in one place long enough for even the likes of me to shoot a few pictures, never professional quality but pleasing enough for me.

Just when I was thinking of a move the float cast towards the snag started  moving, definitely, and I sprang to my feet like the natural athlete I’m not but still quick enough to set the hooks and heave it out of harm’s way.  I soon had a small fish alongside the boat where I grabbed hold of the trace causing the Pike to thrash one more time and helpfully unhook itself.  The herring was still attached which was equally helpful so I sent it back out into the lake.  Twenty minutes later, shortly after twitching the paternoster, I heard a baitrunner clickety click and looked up to not see my float where it should be.  As I struggled out of my seat the clicking sound started again and kept going.  This time the rod took on a better curve and this fish pulled back a bit.  It looked a nice fish in the clear water so I decided to be sensible and use the net, once enmeshed the Pike shrunk a little but it was still the right decision.  Big enough to net but not big enough to require scales so I unhooked it in the net, there was no need to bring it aboard.

With two quick takes it looked like I may have dropped onto some fish but forty five minutes later nothing more had happened so I had a move.  An hour after that, still nothing had happened so I had another.  I was using the same methods, keeping the baits on the move and covering water but the Pike were not playing.  There still wasn’t a cloud in the pleasant blue sky but I was beginning to wish there was.  Were the fish spooky in the bright conditions and tap clear water?  With this in mind I had a third move, this time dropping into a reedy bay that looked like broadland.  Would the Pike be holed up in the reedbeds, out of the light?  If they were then they weren’t coming out for a deadbait.  What I was doing wasn’t working, I needed a change.

So I tidied the boat up but left one rod assembled and with a bit of a tweak it was set up to troll a deadbait.  I thought I’d have an hour exploring the shallow side of the lake, wondering if fish had moved into that area ahead of spawning, which with the recent day time temperatures can’t be far away?  I took to the oars with a smelt set about two feet down and headed off to rarely fished waters.  The float sank twice and both times I succeeded in winding in sizable branches without losing my bait.  As I entered a bay at the far end a small Pike hurled itself airborne in an attempt to eat my float and managed to not notice the bait.  I rowed a tight circle round the bay and as I exited this time the fish managed to nail my bait.  It was the smallest Pike of the day but welcome all the same.  I trolled on but with every stroke of the oars I was running out of unfished water.

By now it was early afternoon, I was in danger of becoming bored and honestly I just couldn’t be arsed any more.  Once upon a time I’d have fished on and would have been wracking my brains trying to come up with a solution but maybe I’ve learned that some days it just isn’t going to happen?  Or maybe today I just felt lazy?  I’d enjoyed myself but when it stops being fun it’s time to go home.   I know if I’d been afloat in Norfolk I’d definitely have toughed it out, come what may but I’m realising that the other places I fish just don’t motivate me in the same way.

It’s February already and the days are noticeably longer, I’m looking at the calendar plotting and planning where to spend the last few weeks of the season.  I know this time will fly by, it always does and at some point I’ll decide I’ve caught enough Pike for one year.  I hope it isn’t for a while yet though.

Saturday 1 February 2020

Milder than it could have been.

I lost a Pike the other day, it was only on for a second or two but it felt a good un.  What's more it was my fault, I fucked up, it shouldn't have happened.  Afterwards I was calm.  I didn't smash any tackle, or curse, I got a fresh bait back as quickly as possible.  Twenty four hours passed and it was still a niggle in my mind, it's going to stick in the memory, one that got away.  We all have such stories, I have a few, some that I've written about on here, time eases the angst and I can look back on many with a smile.  I can still see a big Norfolk twenty slowly sinking into the soup after the hooks came out a split second from the net.  What was that five years ago?  Probably more.  If anything these images are more vivid than the actual successful moments when there so many things to do and I'm too busy just dealing with the mechanics.

Two well published Pikers have had the Pikebook community chuntering recently.  The first from oop north has reveled in questionable Piking ettiquette over the years and was filmed last month demonstrating some dodgy handling techniques.  He didn't bother to use basic equipment that almost all anglers employ without a moments thought and generally set a piss poor example for someone who has managed to get two books on Piking published.  I haven't turned a page of either book but I have read his articles in which he demonstrates it's possible to get great enjoyment from Pike fishing without actually catching a great deal.  That's absolutely fine because compared to some that's what I do.

The other angler is Piking royalty and wrote what is unarguably one of the best books on our sport.  He's recently caught an enormous, fabulous Pike.  Nobody would begrudge him this, over the years he's been inspirational and informative, he will cherish this fish and appreciate it as he should; fair play, well done that man.  But if chapter two of this story is true he's also been guilty of staggering hypocrisy.

January taught me that although I love all forms of Pike fishing, even prolific fishing with lots of action doesn't give me the same sense of fulfillment as a tough day in Norfolk.  I may be insane but I still use a net, a cradle and a sling.