Pike – First Contact
Christian Barker reflects upon his first capture of a species which literally terrified him.
For as long as I can remember the pike has held a special place of affection in my heart; looking back to my earliest fishing adventures it has both commanded fear and respect in equal measure.
My brother and I grew up with a fishing utopia in the form of an old mill pool where a constant ribbon of flow would cascade though a mill race carving a surge of oxygenated water into the deepest, darkest most mysterious part of this captivating pool. This special place was once an old paper mill which, at some point in its life, transformed the river’s life force into the turning of gears, cogs and milling stones. Its sole purpose now served to harness a deep and powerful passion in two young fisher boys.
From the high brick walls, my brother and I could visibly make out our quarry in the form of dark-backed roach holding station either side of the oxygen rich water and where the brick walls of the mill met the water, small perch could be seen dancing in the shadows. The sunken lily pads would draw our attention deeper because we knew if we were really lucky, we might catch sight of monsters!
As fate would have it this was not the place where I first made contact with a monstrous pike. My first experience of piking took place further downstream. This was a part of the river where a road bridge and footpath crossed, which I suspect had a similar effect on other fisher boys as the mill did on our existence. On reflection I used to avoid actually fishing there as occasionally older boys would ‘borrow’ your rod and line to sample their own piscatorial pleasure at your expense, or they snatched your prize captures to be used as live baits!
It was heavily fished in summer and easily accessible being that it was free fishing. It was also a place where anglers would congregate and tell tales recounting lost fish and impart wisdom to one another. I would occasionally visit as I was hungry for knowledge and would happily sit near anyone angling, perhaps in hope of catching a glimpse of something magical as much as picking up tips. But it was here where I first discovered that anglers actually sought to capture and come face to face with the pike!
The bait of choice was usually a sardine or sprat crucified beneath a giant Gazette-style float on snap tackle (probably because ‘livelies’ were hard to come by).
“But what happens if the float goes under?”...
“You have to leave it for at least ‘alf an hour – don’t strike or it will drop it”...
I refer back to another prime example of information freely given; “Don’t strike right away boy – you’ll miss the fish! Wait for the second run.” As my only other source of reference was Mr Crabtree I now thank the fish gods I had not knocked up an impromptu gaff as a metal work project at school (Bruce Lee throwing stars were easier to manufacture)!
On reflection I am glad I never got into predator fishing in the blossom of my youth as it would now weigh heavily on my conscience. The problem was that in those days the pike was much maligned and the quality of information very poor. Some of the old match boys literally despised pike and, sadly, this rubbed off on the general angling community. In fact it was not uncommon for poor old Esox to be dispatched and thrown into a hedge; you could almost imagine you were doing the river a favour - after all it was a cold blooded killer of precious roach and ruined your chances in a match if it turned up unannounced in a carefully fed swim.
I can recall most of the details of my first pike capture in vivid detail and, on sharing this tale, I freely admit carrying a little shame regarding the nature of its capture in light of current fish care advice and better understanding.
Earlier that week I had purchased a Gazette float, a packet of treble hooks and a pack of frozen sprats. I descended on the river at first light, on what would have been a Saturday morning, and cast out into the known holding spot where giant pike always lurked – the freshwater wolf’s lair if you like!
I seem to remember that it was a pretty instant affair... Gripped with anticipation I noticed concentric circles - the first signs of interest emanating from the yellow bobbing sentinel – A BITE!
The float briefly towed before plunging beneath the surface; my heart rate accelerated in an instant and my face flushed as adrenaline coursed through my veins – this was it! It was actually going to happen!!
I could never grow tired of watching a pike bung. In my mind I still consider the scene in Jaws where, harpooned and tethered, the creature draws the barrels drawn beneath the surface – Oh, and the ensuing carnage that followed! But on this day I was Brody without the guidance of that old seadog, Quint. However, unlike Peter Benchley’s Jaws, I was thankfully not on a boat – but it had dawned on me that, in time, I would be coming face to face with my very own monster and hadn’t even considered what would happen next.
I thought quickly – the time, what time is it? Leave it half an hour, at least – let it run!!!! This allowed time to both compose myself and eagerly await the arrival of the company of other young anglers from the village; I could quite possibly be admired and revered for apprehending such a fearful creature...but none came. So there I was, on my own, preparing to strike - which I must have duly done.
I don’t remember the fight but I do recall the pike played out in the margins; it was monstrous and quite possibly the biggest fish I had ever laid eyes upon. We were both helpless - me because I had no net or experience of handling pike; the poor creature because it was deeply hooked and tethered tightly against the bank.
We stared at each other and I am sure I would have congratulated myself on such a fine capture, but with that it started to thrash and flail, upon which the badly scored line parted and this monster of the deep disappeared. There it was, my first pike!
It was sometime before I fished for them again; it just seemed unwise – I was terrified!
By the Same Author
- Chub Fishing - Early Season Observations
- Chub Fishing – The Back End
- Pike – First Contact
- Fishing in a Winter Wonderland
- Winter Chubbing
- Bass Fishing for the Coarse Angler
- Summer Chub Fishing
- Review - Andrew Field Floats
- The rebirth of Adonis and the curse of Apollo’s second rod.
- My Story: The River of Life