Monday 5 February 2024

Respect the classics man

It might be hard to believe for some younger anglers but for many of us the only way we could indulge in our daft pastime at home was through words and pictures, magazines and books.  The only worthwhile filmed fishing was John Wilson, there were very few videos, no Discovery channel and certainly no Youtube.  So most of us scratched the itch by reading and found information and inspiration whilst turning pages.  As a teenage Piker Fred Buller’s ‘Domesday book of Mammoth Pike’ provided an ultimate goal, a target weight that if achieved would be our equivalent to a gold medal.  I learnt the basics of Pike fishing on the bank, from other anglers but when Neville Fickling’s ‘Pike Fishing in the 80’s’ was published I was given one for Christmas and it was the book that filled in the gaps.  A few years later the next inspirational read was ‘Pike – The Predator becomes the prey’ by Bailey and Page from which I also learnt a lot.  However the book that many anglers regard as the first classic of the late twentieth century was ‘Fishing for Big Pike’ by Ray Webb and Barrie Rickards and I never actually read it, until last week.

I’ve been aware of this book forever, its reputation amongst Pikers certainly preceded it and I have always revered Barrie Rickards’ writing.  It had been on my mind to get hold of a copy, something for the next time I make it to the PAC convention maybe, so when I won one in the raffle at a Suffolk PAC meeting it was perfect and I couldn’t wait to read it.

Published in 1971 the book is over fifty years old but very much of what the authors wrote, (the fundamental principles if you will) still hold good a lifetime later.  Obviously tackle, bait and lures have improved a great deal and have become much easier to get hold of. Also Pikers are more efficient these days, we convert more takes to fish in the net but with the important stuff, I don’t think Piking theory has changed too much.  Even in the nineteen sixties Pike anglers had learned that too much angling pressure is a bad thing and guarding your waters was essential, something that some, otherwise sensible anglers can’t get their heads around even now.  It was interesting that the authors recommended trolling for Irish Pike in the manner of George Higgins and friends while most writers a decade later advocated camping on the spawning grounds.  The chapter on Pike location was spot on, very little has changed on that score and the effect of different weather conditions was pretty sound.  BR was a consistent advocate of following barometric pressure and it all makes sense although I think it may be largely negated by the mostly shallow waters I fish, where temperature is the key.  Most modern pikers are aware of feeding patterns, in particular busy spells at various times of the day although the mobile angler will like to think he can create his own by dropping onto fish.  At the time Rickards and Webb’s hotspot theories were ground breaking and I dare say accurate.  It is hard for me to be sure because I don’t think hotspots as defined by these authors actually exist anymore, I think angling pressure makes this impossible.  In over forty years of Piking I have only found one classic hotspot and this was on a pit which at that time was unfished.  When I revisited it a few years later it the old hotspot was nowhere near as productive, other areas were now much better.


Overall I really enjoyed reading Fishing for big Pike, the writing is excellent, witty and informative without being boring, where the authors present theories they are able to back it up with evidence.  Where the book is dated it is still interesting as a document recording the realities of Pike fishing in that period, the anglers were every bit as clever and innovative as modern Pikers, probably more so.  They were keener and tougher too.

A mild day in February, there’s only one place I want to be but the weather intervened, it’s just not fun when there’s a gale blowing and I’m not as daft as I once was.  So instead I got up early and pointed the car in a different direction braving the whacky races on the A road.  By 0715 I was fishing three deadbaits on the Drain, two float legered and the other a simple running leger.  I was tucked behind a bramble bush which was a perfect shelter.  The sky was clear but the day mild and the strong westerly would make sure any cloud soon passed over.

I was barely settled before the first rod was away, half a bluey under armed along to the left was slowly being pulled into mid stream.  I was on it quickly and with a short line soon had a Pike of about five pounds in the net.  The bait was intact so I swung it back into the same position and my arse had hardly touched the chair before it was off again.  Another quick strike saw a similar sized fish netted, unhooked and returned.  This time the bait was gone so the other half of bluey was hooked on and swung out.

I’d just poured water onto a tea bag when the leger rod started bouncing, this time a smelt cast to the far side had been picked up.  Another fish hooked and with more line out this one had chance to plod about a bit, making it feel more promising.  A bit bigger this one but it wasn’t out of the water long and I soon chucked another smelt across the drain.  The next take was my third on the bluey down the edge and another nice fish netted then a few minutes later the smelt was travelling again, my fifth fish of the spell was probably the biggest but still didn’t require scales.  I looked at my watch it was only 0825.  I’d obviously dropped onto a few fish…

A quiet period allowed me to chill for a bit, soaking up the east Anglian flat lands and watching the bird life including the friendly Robin back on the scrounge.  The Pike were feeding and I was sure they would be doing the same in Norfolk but another roaring gust reminded me why I wasn’t there.  At 0915 the leger rod signalled another take but this time there was no weight on the end and I wound in to find my bait had been nicked.  That had been my last smelt but rummaging in the bag I found a lamprey tail which had been soaked for a few hours on a previous trip.  Normally any bait that goes in the water doesn’t go back in the freezer bag but the price of lamprey these days…  The Pike didn’t mind as the line pulled out of the clip on that rod and another Pike was hooked.  This one pulled back a bit but the formalities were soon over and I netted a nice plump fish, would that be a double?  Only one way to find out for sure, the scales told me it wasn’t quite.  I had a quiet half an hour then around 1000 I had two takes in ten minutes, the first was another fish on the lamprey cast to the far side.  I’ve noticed before that when the day is bright more fish seem to come from the shaded bank so recast a sardine to the far side.  A few minutes later the float on this rod jabbed and a coil peeled off the bait runner but nothing else happened.  I gave it five minutes then I wound in to find the bait had been literally bitten in half.

After that I sat inactive for ninety minutes or so, had the second feeding spell finished or had I simply caught all the fish that were in front of me?  It’s that question again pondered on by Webb and Rickards half a century ago.  Today part of me was convinced I should stay put, surely more fish would drift into the spot and pick up a bait?  It might be interesting to test this theory but I can’t sit still for long so by 1145 I’d set up again a bit further downstream in a spot more exposed to the gale.  The move didn’t bring another flurry of takes and despite recasting regularly and moving baits around I didn’t tempt anything more.  Around 1330 I was contemplating hitting the road when a sardine cast to mid stream started plodding off.  My eighth fish of the day was soon scooped up and with this I decided to allow myself to be battered by the wind for another half hour.  Nothing occurred in this period but ten takes is plenty for anyone, it had been an enjoyable morning’s fishing and I was content.  This water has always been prolific but the bigger fish of a few years ago seem to be ghosts now.  But then again I fish other places where I know the big fish are there but for long periods they can be equally elusive.

It’s February already so five, maybe six more trips before the season ends and in the frame of mind I have now it’s going to be Pike all the way.

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