Somewhere out on the East Kent marshes is a small drain, only 1200m long and, at its’ widest point, just 10m across; that I’d heard was rumoured to contained pike, into double figures? In early November 2011, I made the effort to visit, finding myself confronted by an overgrown and neglected scene. Crystal clear water allowed me to make out the remnants of decaying lily-beds and the bank side vegetation was thick and lush, so obviously the venue wasn’t getting much pressure. Immediately, I made arrangements to join the controlling club and so began a quest that developed into a rather enjoyable “learning experience”Let me quickly explain that I’d not done any serious angling since returning from a trip to Madeira, in 1993, when my experiences with the mighty Atlantic Blue Marlin made such an impact that I couldn’t find any enthusiasm for the coarse fishing that I’d enjoyed for the previous two decades. I moved to Kent, with my job, and other interests took president. It wasn’t until my son, Benno, arranged a trip back to Loch Awe, in May 2011, I even thought about picking up the rods again. Suffice to say; a week of hard fighting Scottish pike did the trick and my desire to go fishing returned with a passion.
So to my quest; this drain reminded me, very much, of the Counter Drain, near Welches Dam, that I fished in the 1980’s, my experiences of fishing such intimate venues steering my basic approach. I had found that pike in these narrow drains were unwilling to tolerate any level of bank side noise/disturbance and were readily spooked. I’m sure that guy’s who regularly lure fish will argue against this, but my limited experience with this method meant I wouldn’t be confident of getting the best from the venue and confidence is a major factor in my approach to any angling situation. Club rules meant that live baits were not an option, their use being banned; so deadlies it would be – not that this caused me any problems. I was/am happy to use dead baits so didn’t feel disadvantaged.
My initial session took place on 6th Nov 2011 and resulted in the capture of my first English pike since March 1993. So at least I confirmed the rumours that this venue did, indeed, contain pike and, at 9lbs 14oz, doubles weren’t an unrealistic claim. So it was a very encouraging start; the fish fighting with a tenacity that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Scottish loch.Just four days later I returned for another, pre-shift, session. The sun shone brightly from a cloudless sky and no hint of a breeze (very unusual on the East Kent marshes) meant that the surface of the drain was as smooth as glass. Odd Coots and Little Grebes were making ripples, as they went about their daily routine whilst I was quietly sat back from the rods, awaiting events. At 08.00hrs the tranquillity of this late-autumn morning was shattered by the piercing sound of one of my 95 decibel back-biter alarms. Creeping up to the rod, I was surprised to see that no line was being taken from the spool, although I could see it twitching on the waters’ surface just beyond my rod tip. I picked up the rod and tightened into a fish that quite simply left me speechless! The power and speed of this pike was unlike anything I could remember; it would be pointless trying to guesstimate how long it took to get the fish to the net, but it was a truly awesome battle and, as befits such an encounter, the pike was a magnificent specimen of 18lbs 8oz and immaculate in every detail. Surely there had to be the chance of a decent twenty being present?
I continued to fish the drain, at least twice a week, until the end of the month, however, I began to notice worrying signs of other pike angling activity; large areas of bank side vegetation trampled and damaged along with unsightly, and unwanted, litter! This was mainly empty drinks containers and commercial dead bait packaging so easy enough to collect up and remove, yet not a particularly good advert for these pike anglers? I caught a few more fish that included a very sorry looking 10lbs 6oz specimen which exhibited signs of a recent trip to the bank and some rather brutal unhooking techniques. Competition wasn’t something I had counted on, but spurred me to try harder, so not a bad thing. My dead baits are purchased directly from the fish counter in our local Tesco’s, but knowing that anyone could also go there and get bait I decided that it was time to up the ante and introduce colour and flavour to the mix. Searching through the contents of my tackle boxes, in the loft, I came across two tubs of powdered dye (from my carp fishing days) and a very old bottle of Tuna Oil (from my time on Wilstone Res.) By mixing the dye with a small amount of oil, it was possible to paint my baits prior to placing them into the freezer, individually packed in polythene bags. My dead baits being Sardine, Herring and Mackerel, which were always flavoured and dyed from then on, I reckoned that these anglers, who couldn’t be bothered to take their litter home, wouldn’t go to the trouble of enhancing their baits!
My first trip of December was to provide some evidence that my plan was working as I landed three fish during a session, for the first time, weighing in at 5lbs+, 12lbs 9oz and 19lbs 2oz (which was the same pike as the 18lbs 8oz). By mid-December it became clear that the dyed/flavoured baits were very successful, but it was also obvious that I was recapturing fish. Quite how few fish were involved became clear when I started to go through my photos. I had taken thirteen pike from the fishery and, with the exception of a couple of small jacks, recaptured all the fish at least once. I knew of a 14lbs+ fish, which I witnessed being taken by a mate of mine, so was able to conclude that the water held just four double figure fish with two, or three others in the 7 – 9lbs class. The “apex predator” being the 19lbs 2oz fish; I didn’t take much persuading to take a break from the venue and look for a challenge elsewhere. Talking with other pike anglers at the Canterbury & Thanet PAC meetings, it was felt that it would be worth having another bash during February when, hopefully, the big one might go 20lb+ if she was carrying spawn.
I went back to the drain for a short session on 8th Jan 2012, purely to give my confidence a boost due to the poor results at my other venues, and took two doubles, weighing 11lbs 2oz and 14lbs 10oz (the double that had so far eluded me). What I didn’t realise, at the time, was that this was a pivotal moment, the last time I registered a take using my back-biter alarms! Back a fortnight later, I landed the same 11lbs 2oz fish and another of 8lbs 14oz using Optonic alarms and pike monkeys as bite detection. Sadly this wasn’t a stroke of genius, instead, it being a direct consequence of a loose wire in one of my back-biters! Both takes were finicky affairs and registered just a short lift of the pike monkey up the needle and a few bleeps from the alarm. Because of the way I have my rods set up, if these same type of bites occurred using a back-biter, I wouldn’t notice as I’m unable to watch the line tighten from my position well away from the water’s edge. The pike in this drain were obviously quick learners and the line clips of the drop-offs were enough resistance to cause my baits to be dropped; I increased the length of my traces to 30 inches and reduced the hook size from 6’s to 8’s. Two more January sessions resulted in a small jack and the 8lbs 6oz fish visiting my landing net. Something else had happened with my bait presentation. I had discovered a tub of Richworth “sweetened” green dye in amongst my angling debris and used this in conjunction with mixed fish oil flavouring. I had applied this to both Mackerel and Sardines (Tesco’s hadn’t got any Herrings at that time!) with spectacular looking results. I was slightly worried by the use of a sweeten dye, but the pike seemed to like it as I took another 8lb+ fish on a green sardine before the big freeze descended and made the drain unfishable by placing a 6inch thick sheet of ice on the surface!
So it was 18th Feb 2012 before I could get back to the fishery, I had spent a lot of time studying an aerial map (how did we cope before Google Earth?) and plotted the distribution of my captures against the various swims. It became noticeable that these fish frequently moved the entire length of the drain yet one particular area was more productive than any other. In my own mind it isn’t a “hot-spot” more a classic holding area, a slight deviation in the direction of the drain and an increase in depth from 4 to 6 feet. Setting up and going through my usual routine of sitting well away from my rods, I had two bites, both on green sardines, which resulted in an 11lbs 10oz (third time in 2012) and the 8lbs 6oz (second time in three visits) – I became convinced that I was wasting my time, in the back of my mind was the nagging doubt that the big fish had been “stitched up” or, even worse, killed by one of the idiot brigade and that I was chasing shadows. I went to bed on that Saturday night not caring whether I went fishing on Sunday, or not!
I can offer no logical explanation as to why I awoke at 05.15hrs on the Sunday morning. What I will say is that I had an overwhelming feeling that I had to get back to the drain! I even knew which swim; it being about 100m north of the swim I’d fished the previous day. So powerful was this feeling that I couldn’t ignore it so, grabbing a quick coffee, I loaded my gear into the car and drove the few miles to the drain. A spectacular dawn was tempered by the heavy frost, but such was the intensity of the emotion, I just knew that I was going to get a fish! As I sat on my bed-chair, I could hear the sounds of geese flighting over the adjacent marshland and the piping call of a Kingfisher ensured a fleeting glimpse as flashed past. It was a good to be alive sort of day. At 08.00hrs an Optonic burst into life and the pike monkey rose smoothly up the needle before dropping clear and allowing the fish to take line directly from an open spool.
Onto the rod within a few seconds, over went the bale arm and I allowed the line to tighten before setting the hooks into a powerful and determined fish. Initially, my 1 ¾ lb T.C. Duncan Kay carp rod made little impression, the fish hugged the bottom of the drain refusing to yield an inch. The line singing in the breeze, I gently increased the pressure and gradually up she came. As she rolled on the surface, I instantly recognised her as the big one by a signature mark on her left flank. Two attempts were required before she was engulfed within the folds of my landing net and the prize was mine! Looking immaculate, she suffered the indignity of a visit to the weigh sling and the relegation to a statistic. 19lbs 5oz!
I had very mixed emotions as I returned her to the water and watched as she slowly disappeared into the depths. No, she hadn’t provided me with a “twenty”, yet how could anyone be disappointed by a fish like that? The fact that she was still alive and healthy, thus dispelling my earlier concerns, was so very pleasing. My premonition had borne fruit, and so I came to the end of this particular saga. I wouldn’t be so arrogant as to suggest that an individual pike couldn’t have avoided my efforts yet, under no circumstances, could I justify continuing to subject this small population of pike to further capture, just in case I’d missed one? Having nothing more to gain, this was to be my final session at the fishery. I’d had a fantastic time pitting my wits against these wild pike and discovered a great deal about myself in the process. The lessons learned, and fun to be had, from such intimate waters far outweighs, for me, any desire to chase yesterday’s news or face up to the challenges of the massive inland seas that are the modern trout fisheries. Maybe I’ve just mellowed? The need to post lengthy lists of doubles/twenties and/or thirties by way of defining a “good season” has long since become a thing of my past; today it’s all about enjoyment!