I've written a few posts, similar to this one, about my evolution as a Pike angler during the "Of Esox" blogging years. It was last Friday, however, whilst I was sitting under the "Groundhog" brolly, sheltering from the sheeting rain; driven across the featureless expanse of Romney Marsh by a fierce S/SW gale, when I started to think about what I now regard as success and how the passage of time has impacted upon my thought processes. If nothing else - it's an excuse to recall some good times and re-use old photos?
|November 1981 - my first twenty taken from Water End fishery, a Kodak club venue.|
The formative years (1970 - 1981)
Still at school, Halsey SM, Hemel Hempstead, when I caught my first Pike from the, gin clear, water of Pixie's Mere, Bourne End. Famed for the Tench it held, I caught my first six pounder here, whilst revising for my geography "A" level! The Pike that shared the fishery were always there, as a side show, during this period. What needs to be remembered is that Pike tackle was barbaric at this point. Ready made "snap tackle" hook rigs were hideously oversized, Fishing Gazette bungs were more suited to marking Lobster Pot location than bite indication, whilst the use of gaffs and gags was the accepted norm for this period. Fortunately, for any Pike which crossed my path, I never resorted to the gaff landing technique, choosing instead to employ a (knotted) landing net, but everything else was part of my repertoire. I seem to recall that my rod was a yellow, 6ft, solid fibreglass, model of considerable test curve, the reel almost certainly an "Intrepid" Black Prince (or Prince Regent) loaded with cheap, high breaking strain, mono-filament, nylon purchased from the local Woolworth's. The only other thing worthy of mention is that the standard technique was the use of free roaming livebait - a complete recipe for deep hooked/dead Pike. There was no instant strike mentality at this point. The general advice being let them have a first run, turn the bait, only then do you set the hooks! Which isn't that surprising as the "match anglers" were the dominant force in the angling press, of the period. Despite the existence of The Pike Society, which was to evolve into the Pike Anglers Club of GB (1977), the press happily promoted the theory of "the only good Pike is a dead one!" Big fish angling was still very much a minority pursuit, the consensus being that luck, not skill, played the major role in any specimen fish being landed. However there was a ground swell of interest in the deliberate pursuit of big fish and with Dick Walker as a shining beacon the number of Specimen Groups became such that "The National Association of Specimen Groups" came into existence, quickly to morph into the National Association of Specialist Anglers. As I'm writing about my Pike adventure, I must now turn back the clock to 1963 and the ecological insanity of a decision, by the Great Ouse River Authority, to introduce Zander into the Relief Channel. Once established, this species absolutely decimated the silver fish, which were the bread & butter of the match fishing fraternity and, all of a sudden, Pike were seen as the good guys. All the anti-predator venom was directed towards this, newly, introduced alien species. The PAC were able to use this as a vehicle to promote the catch & release message and, as such, Pike became a valued cog in the ecosystem of a healthy fishery.
Obsessive pursuit (1981 - 1993)
The reservoir complex, at Tring, is where this next phase of my journey began. Because of my syndicate membership I'd started to interact with so many, far more experienced, "big fish" anglers, thus it is easy to see why my approach to catching Pike evolved so rapidly. A live bait suspended beneath a "Pike bung" was never going to cut the mustard with these characters. Although Pike fishing was now well established as a mainstream part of the UK freshwater angling scene, therefore tackle and techniques had evolved an awful long way from the Alfred Jardine era. The crude tackle, I eluded to during my formative period, was still readily available in tackle shops across the UK. The Pike Anglers Club had a mighty task on their hands if things were to change irreversibly?
During this phase of my angling development I was like a sponge. Absorbing information from an incredible array of "A-list" specimen hunters of the period. My Pike angling would quickly evolve as, first, Lester Strudwick (RIP), then Andy Windmill (Luton region PAC) generously offered whatever advice I sought. The first trip to Scotland was in 1982 and Pike became central to all annual cycles from that time onward. Membership of the Pike Anglers Club was instrumental in me obtaining the knowledge, and confidence, to handle these magnificent fish on the bank. Learning how to unhook a Pike is a basic part of the skill-set required to be a "good" angler. Despite their ferocious looks, they are a fragile creature when out of the water and very careful handling is required to ensure their safe return.
My involvement with NASA, both as the Chiltern Regional Organiser and member of The National Executive Committee, meant that Neville Fickling and Dr Barry Rickards came into my world and were there whenever I had a specific issue which needed overcoming. I have to say that both were incredibly generous with their knowledge and, as such, am very grateful for that time in my lunatic past. However, the stand out contributors to my Pike fishing adventure are the original "ET" guys. Eddie Turner (obviously) Bill Hancock and Vic Gibson. They were fishing Startops End, pioneering the Vane Float technique, whilst I was up on Wilstone. We first crossed paths (swords?) at a NASA Conference at Reading University. We hit it off immediately and remained good mates all the way through this period. Eddie was, arguably still is, the most innovative, hard working, thinking, Pike angler I've ever been privileged to meet. If Eddie didn't have an answer? There wasn't one!
|Eddie with a Wilstone "double"circa 1986?|
- everyone has to start somewhere!
I'm on a mission, size was everything. I fished big venues, for big Pike, and have to say that I did okay. I certainly didn't set the world ablaze, yet caught more than my fair share of "twenties" although if "nineteens" had been the target I'd probably have been World Champion? Two observations I'd like to make at this point. One: if I can be bothered to hook it, then I am certainly happy to weigh it. Guesstimation plays no part in my own angling. I have records of every double figure fish, be that Pike, Carp, Catfish, Bream or Barbel, since I started my angling career. Secondly, and this will resonate with many others, I'm sure? How many times have you entered into a conversation about angling where the other party will quote a capture, which far exceeds your best, yet claim that it was a one off? Never caught another before or since! Didn't own a set of scales, or a camera, would be my guess. The Fenland public houses were full of these characters. A pinch of salt and another beer is the best course of action under these circumstances.
|The best "nineteen" I've ever been lucky enough to catch?|
My pursuit of these Pike was ridiculous. Obviously Tring Reservoirs played a massive part in the story, but my travels took me from The Royalty, on the Hampshire Avon, to the Scottish Lochs. It didn't matter if I was on a Bedfordshire brick pit, a Northamptonshire park lake, the Cambridgeshire Fenland or the mighty Thames, my goal was constant. I wanted to catch big Pike! I wasn't chasing rumours - I was chasing dreams! Fortunately, from this perspective, I was to achieve my goal on multiple occasions. Life was good.
|They don't get any better? A proper wild pike!|
Forty-seven & a half inches from snout to tail fork!
Walking away from the "big fish" scene was, however, made very easy. August 1993, out on Madeira. Aboard Roddy Hayes boats, "Anguila" & "Margueretta" I caught, tag and release, Atlantic Blue Marlin to well in excess of 5.5 metres and nothing swimming around in a UK freshwater venue is ever going to compete with that! I was also about to relocate, with my job (massive thanks to Unilever), from Hertfordshire to Kent and, as a result, embarked upon an eighteen year sabbatical - bird watching. (Just as obsessive - but a tale for another post, perhaps?)
Return and rediscovery (April 2011 - onwards & upwards)
It can be traced back to the fateful date of July 15th 2010. My brother Simon celebrated his 50th birthday with a family gathering in his garden in the delightful village of Aston Clinton, Buckinghamshire. As with all Wrathall family events, it got a bit messy, as the alcohol took its' toll. What I need to mention at this point is the fact that I was now a decade into my relationship with Bev, we'd married in December 2003, and she had absolutely no idea of my angling background. I was a birder and that's all she'd ever known. As the day passed, Benno decided that he'd a plan which warranted discussion? His proposal, to both Simon and myself, was that "we should go back to Loch Awe for one last session"
|Benno on a charm mission - "Scotland just one more time with my Dad and Uncle"|
Simon is by now a committed Barbel angler whilst I hadn't picked up a rod in eighteen years. Simon warmed to the idea, I wasn't all that bothered; "I'm a birder". At this point Bev got involved and gave the idea her approval. What had she done? If she could have foreseen the result I'm sure she'd have kept her thoughts to herself.
|Benno cradles a Loch Awe Pike circa 1992 - powerful memories of a great period.|
And so it came to pass that we returned to the peat stained magnificence of Kilchurn Bay at the top of Loch Awe. We all enjoyed a fantastic week, catching plenty of, hard fighting, Scottish Pike and, unsurprisingly, the spark had ignited the flame. I caught my first "doubles" since 1993 whilst Benno landed the first Scottish twenty I'd ever set eyes upon. Little wonder that my desire to get back fishing returned with a passion. The Pike season of 2011/12 was to prove to be a wonderful project as I began the quest for my first "twenty" since January 16th 1990. It was a campaign which kept giving, my first bite was 9 lbs 14 oz, the second weighed in at 18 lbs 8 oz, my first English double since March 1993. I never did get my twenty from that venue, indeed, it wasn't until February 2013 when I achieved that landmark capture. What I had done, however, was to become a much better Pike angler. My approach to the challenges I face is to catch as many fish as I can, not simply target the biggest. It seems mad that I've only managed to catch three twenties since my return. I used to do this over the course of a single winter back in the day. What I have done, however, is to catch many more doubles, well in excess of one hundred and fifty, over the same period. I think this is a fair reflection upon my preferred venue choices as opposed to methodology. I no longer feel the desire to compete with my peers, being perfectly content to do it my way and savour the journey.
My angling, in general, is now all about enjoyment. It doesn't matter which species I'm targeting, the overriding factor must be fun. Having an ability to get pleasure from the surroundings, the wildlife and even random conversations with complete strangers has meant that angling is now more rewarding than it's ever been during my crazy past. Please don't think that I've stopped chasing "big fish" as it is not the case but, now being able to appreciate the capture of any fish, by design, has taken the enjoyment to another level. Or could it be that I'm just getting old?
|Cheers Benno, without whom I might still be birding?|