I will apologize, in advance, for the number of recycled images used in this post. However, if I am to recount the role that pike have played in my development as an angler, then I have no other options! It now seems rather strange that the vast majority of publicity during that insane period, 1981-93, revolved around my successes with Tench (at Tring Res - Wilstone in particular), Catfish (the Leighton Buzzard & District AC venues) and the madcap behaviour of my associates - Snide Rumours & Dirty Lies! Apart from one, front page, headline, in The Angling Times (Oct '87) "Pike Trio top the ton!" - I don't think any of my pike fishing exploits got much exposure. I can only recall one other occasion, a 23 lbs 5 oz fish, from Lynch Hill, Oxfordshire, that was witnessed and photographed by Pete Stone & Bernard Cribbins, which made the papers. All other pike captures, and those of my mates, went unreported/publicised, our photos appearing periodically on the group board at NASA conferences or used for my illustrated lectures (if you believe that, you'll believe anything!) Pissed up, rambling, anecdotes of encounters with big fish and riotous behaviour, but accompanied with some fancy slides being far closer to the truth.
I was aware of the existence of Pike from very early on. They were a species which, at that time (late 60's - early 70's) had been vilified by the match anglers for declining weights in many of the major waterways. It wasn't until Zander took centre stage, starting in the Great Ouse catchment, that Pike became accepted as part of the natural eco-system within a healthy fishery. Pike, with their unblinking stare and massive jaws, armed with rows of razor sharp teeth, were the creatures of legend. Angling's version of dragons: freshwater sharks! I lapped it up, being still a very silly kid. When, on that fateful day, I did finally capture my first pike - all two pounds of it! - nothing I experienced detracted from the myth. I'd captured a monster. I was around fifteen years old and the seeds were set, Pike were a species to which I was drawn; they inhabited the local ponds, canal and rivers; so were there awaiting my attention. I made bloody hard work of it! I'd already caught 7 lbs Tench and 2 lbs Roach before I landed my first double figure Pike. Absolute madness, my first double (Dec 1981) was a "twenty" from the Kodak fishery at Water End, Herts; this Pike fishing lark was going to be a piece of cake!
In May 1982, along with Paul Elbourn and my brother Sye, we ventured off to The Isle of Bute, in search of the legendary "Esox lucius
" of the Scottish lochs. We were as green as grass - naive would be a compliment. We ended up at Loch Ascog and the learning process kicked in; a week's holiday was to see us catch a lot of fish. I had my third, ever, double at 15 lbs 5 oz, which, sadly, succumbed as a result of my over zealous requirement for photos and poor un-hooking skills. It is now in a glass case on the wall of my study - a constant reminder of how not to do it! Pike fishing became very much a part of the annual cycle, winters on the local reservoirs and gravel pits, spring meant a week away in Scotland - Loch Ascog, Erich, Lomond and Awe, they've all been graced by our presence over the years.
The one positive to come out of that Scottish pike fatality was I joined The Pike Angler's Club of Great Britain; the best thing I did and something which I wholeheartedly encourage any other angler, with aspirations to go pike fishing, to do. It was through this association that I learned the basic skills of bait presentation, rig mechanics, the safest way to handle the species and the most effective unhooking techniques which ensure a healthy fish is returned to the fishery from whence it came. My membership has long since lapsed, but I am in no doubt as to the debt of gratitude owed this organisation.
Between 1982 & 1993, a merry (read - lagered up!) band of brothers ventured far and wide in search of our quarry. Obviously the Tring Reservoir complex saw the bulk of our attention as it was on our doorstep, but The Fenland Drains of the Cambridgeshire/Norfolk border, Emberton Park in Northamptonshire and The Rivers Avon & Thames also provided us with some fantastic angling and opportunities to broaden our experience of these magnificent fish. Wherever we went, we caught pike, some of them very big pike, but despite these results I don't ever remember getting involved in any long term projects. We just turned up and went fishing, it was very simplistic, yet effective, approach. Between us we landed thousands of pike, hundreds of doubles, dozens of twenties and Paul Elbourn put the cherry on the top with a 38 lbs 10 oz specimen from Llandegfedd Res, the second year it opened for pike fishing (1987?) And that is how it was right up until that trip to Madeira and my encounters with the awesome Atlantic Blue Marlin! We'd pick a venue, turn up and catch pike - nothing more complicated than that.
|The 23 lbs 5 oz pike from Lynch Hill Fishery - witnessed by Pete Stone & Bernard Cribbins|
|"Cuddles" with our heaviest fish from the Sixteen Foot Drain|
|A Wilstone pike of 22 lbs plus|
|A Colney Heath upper double|
|Anarchy at Emberton - on the piss whilst playing an 18 lbs 10 oz pike|
|My best, so far, but still a long way short of Paul Elbourn's 38 lbs 10 oz fish|
Angling, as I knew it, was all brought to an abrupt halt, post Madeira, in August 1993: things could never be the same again. It also coincided with the move, of my family, from Hertfordshire to Kent. Unilever, my then employer, footing the bill for this relocation as part of my job move and I started an eighteen year long sabbatical - birding! Fishing was but a distant memory; a phase that I'd passed through en route to the delights of bird watching and the discovery of moths, butterflies, dragonflies and, even, bumble-bees. My first marriage was a casualty of this obsession, birding in Kent was (still is?) superb and my desire to see everything was a major factor in the breakdown of the relationship! Let's not get all dewy eyed - shit happens, move on! Bev arrives in my life, she's aware of my obsessive birdwatching habit, but knew nothing of my angling background. July 15th 2010 and we're at a family gathering, celebrating Simon's 50th birthday. Benno's had a few and starts on about going back to Scotland for one last pike fishing trip! Bev will rue that day for the rest of her life? "Yeah, you should go for it, it'll be nice getting away with your son"
May, 2011, and we're back at Loch Awe, pike fishing. A week of adrenaline fueled (or it might possibly have been Stella Artois?) fun and my desire to get back fishing returned in an overwhelming wave of enthusiasm. Birding was becoming very samey, so a change was a good move for me. I once again had something exciting to do. Back in Kent, I was to discover the thrills of the commercial carp puddles, before I became, once again, bitten by the Pike angling bug. A small drain, out on the East Kent marshes, provided an angling challenge which re-ignited the flame within me. This time round, however, it was to be about angling fitting into my life, not my life fitting into fishing!
|The realisation of Benno's idea - back up in Scotland doing our thing|
It's been six years since I returned to the hobby (I'm reluctant to call it sport?) and I've enjoyed every minute. I have been able to share some amazing experiences with my son, brother and friends. We're still chasing those fabled monsters, which so inspired me in the 1970's, but are happily accepting the fact that big, wild, pike are a rare commodity and our chosen venues unlikely to produce fish of this stamp with any regularity. My personal slant is very biased towards enjoyment of the moment and the use of ancient tackle. Being there, just becoming part of the landscape, is worth more than any other aspect of the angling experience. The birds, bugs and assorted creatures which are encountered just add to the dimension into which my angling has now morphed. I can easily catch nothing, yet have a fantastic day on the bank. No pressure, just pleasure - I'm able to go pike fishing without the need to impress anyone, I now do it for me!
|The pike that Scotland owed me. 33 years after my first visit and I|
finally capture my "twenty"
|If I manage a fish, or two, like this each season, I'll be a very happy man.|