How to catch a 20lb pike and still be disappointed! (pike article)

What! Yes, I can almost imagine the reaction that the title of this week’s angling journal invokes. Still, let me explain and I’m sure you’ll understand.

Although I am very much focused in my angling, I still believe that variety is the spice of life, hence since autumn I’ve been fishing for chub and barbel with the odd pike session thrown in for good measure. And it was the latter species that I fancied fishing for as I contemplated my next trip.

I decided to fish a small river where I have fished for chub in recent years. It does hold pike and I actually had one session on there a few seasons ago, catching a small double in the process. Because it’s a small river I took just the one rod, intending to work my way along the bank, casting into each ‘pikey’ looking swim along the way.

Setting up a mackerel’s head on the trace, I gently lobbed the bait down the side, up against a dense clump of now dead and decaying reeds. As it is a fairly shallow river, I kept as low as possible, and sat just behind the rod but making sure that the skyline was not broken in any way.

Within half an hour my indicator alerted me to the fact that something was taking an interest in the fishy body part as it lay on the sandy river bottom. Striking at the appropriate time, I instantly knew I was into a very good fish. Not just the bend in the rod but the sheer weight of the fish at the end of the line told me I had hooked something special.

The water was slightly coloured, and because the pike took off downstream, it was a minute or so before I actually caught sight of her. As she came into netting range I could see that there was a very good chance a ‘20’ was about to make my day. However, the sight of the net and the angler gave the fish another burst of energy, and off it went again. This happened several times, and although I was enjoying the fight as such, if I’m honest, I just wanted it all to be over and the fish safely in the net.

When I finally did slip the net under the fish I was truly amazed at how big a fish could inhabit so small a river. But apart from that, I was convinced that I had caught my first river ‘20’. With the fish in the shallows, and safe in the mesh of the net, I turned to get the unhooking mat and forceps. As I did so, the fish produced an almighty thrash that saw it break free from the net and slip back into the river.

I was horrified and as I lifted the rod to once more do battle with the giant, my greatest fear was that I would not net it a second time. However, what happened next literally left me standing there, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. As I lifted the rod I felt nothing. Instead of a hefty pike at the end, the empty treble hooks tamely danced around in the air.

I couldn’t believe it. As the pike had thrashed its way to freedom from the net, it had also shaken the hooks in the process. I was devastated! Although I fished on, as I had planned to do, until dark, I couldn’t get what had happened from my mind. If only…if only…if only. But the reality was that the fish had gone and that was that. It wasn’t so much the lost photograph that bothered me, but the fact I never got to weigh the specimen. Earlier in the autumn I had a similar thing happen where I lost a double figure barbel from the lower Severn, but I had actually weighed the fish so I wasn’t that bothered.

Still, the only consolation on this occasion was that I had actually caught the fish and so needed to decide what weight I was going to register it as. I distanced myself from my emotions and whilst the episode was still fresh in my mind, I objectively looked at the situation. Being very conservative, and preferring to under-estimate rather than exaggerate, I eventually settled for 18lb.

From the river it came from, that is still an excellent fish. I know that specimen anglers have a ‘thing’ about recaptures, but from the moment I lost that fish, I sensed that a desire bordering on obsession was about to take over me. Like the shark hunters in the movie Jaws, I felt that I was entering into a battle that was about to become very personal indeed…

And so it was, for my final session of 2003 I headed once more to the river to do battle with ‘my’ fish! Since the previous visit, the wind direction had changed and we were encountering a bitterly cold spell, as winds from the north bore down upon the country. The water temperature was rock bottom, fluctuating between three and four degrees, and ice fringed the banks.

It wasn’t ideal and so it came as no surprise to report that I blanked. I fished from mid-day until a couple of hours into dark – fishing two rods with half a chub on each trace -but my indicators remained motionless. But even though it was icy cold, I was driven on by the thought of getting that fish once more into my net. And believe me, it won’t be getting away a second time!

I want to conclude this week’s journal entry with an ornithological note. I’ve always been interested in birds and for a while I’ve been saying to my wife that I need to get a pair of binoculars to take with me when I go fishing. And that’s what she bought me for Christmas!

Hence this coming year I want to combine my angling with a spot of bird watching. Certainly, the style of fishing that I do means I often have long periods of time between fish and so, when convenient, I shall get the binoculars out and have a scan round to see what the local bird life is like. And to make it interesting I have set myself a target of recording one hundred different species for 2004, all logged while angling.

It’s a challenge, but I’m hopeful. After all, my angling is all year round and at least a couple of times a week. Plus I fish in a variety of environments so get a pretty wide scope to see a good number of individual species.


 (Article 25, originally published January 2004)