Wednesday 16 November 2016

Forty Years

Last Wednesday I went pike fishing with my son, Rob. I think this was the second time in about 15 years that the nation's pike have been troubled by my attentions. I doubt they worried too much though - I am no expert in their pursuit. In a few hours we covered about a mile or so of water, thrashing it to a foam with plugs, spinners and twitched sprats. Just one fish was daft enough to fall for this unsubtle approach. Thankfully it fell to me...
14lb 8oz of freshwater shark, with a liking for sprats

This venture comprised the first step in our Exeter Canal campaign. Next week we're planning another go, on a different stretch. Eventually we'll settle on somewhere and give it a protracted effort with assorted deadbaits, and see what happens.

By the way, if you're a birder reading this, please excuse the slightly arcane terminology. I realise that plugs, spinners, twitched sprats and deadbaits have no place in the birder's lexicon. In case the context didn't give it away, they're just things you chuck in the water to tempt pike to come and join you on the bank.

Pike have serious teeth and are truly impressive creatures. As we watched the fish swim majestically away it was difficult to appreciate that this fearsome predator is actually quite vulnerable to careless handling and needs treating very gently on the bank. In my youth it is probably fair to say that the majority of coarse anglers viewed pike with contempt and it was not unusual to come across the occasional dead one, callously killed by some ignorant idiot. I'm glad to say I never felt anything but respect for pike, and though I didn't often target them specifically I was always up for an opportunist dabble if one appeared in my roach swim, say. Like this fella...

It's the summer of '76 and the earliest photo I can find of me with a pike. The fact that it was taken 40 years ago is very sobering. A lot has happened in that time. On a personal level, my specs have gone from cool and optional to quite the opposite; my hat, from silly red.

And what about the bigger picture? Well, on a normal workday I will often listen to Radio 4 as I toil away, so I was mighty glad to be fishing last Wednesday because Radio 4 would have been wall-to-wall US presidential election that day. Trump, Clinton, up-to-the-minute news and analysis...I'd have been bored rigid. In the summer of 1976 Gerald Ford was the incumbent. Ford had fallen into the presidency when Richard Nixon resigned following the 1974 Watergate scandal (which is, incidentally, younger readers, where we get all our 'xxxxx-gate' event-of-infamy terms from) but lost it to Jimmy Carter in the November '76 election. After Carter the US populace decided they would like a retired Hollywood actor to lead the free world for eight years...

I think I caught a few pike during that period also.


  1. You can't beat a good camo hat, and personally I prefer your latest one to the forty year old version.

    1. Also brilliant for birding. In fact most wildlife is not startled by it...presumably they all assume it cannot possibly be a human sporting that red thing.

  2. That's a beautifully marked pike - is the canal generally clear water. The weed that you mentioned in the previous post suggests this to be the case and almost certainly a factor in the vivid colouration of that magnificent "esox". The Royal Military is quite murky for the most part, and the fish we encounter can be quite anemic at times - all the best with your quest and tight lines - Dyl

    1. Yes, the water is crystal clear. The weed growth is extensive but had died back a bit since our last visit, making lures and twitched deadbaits a viable option. You're right though, that pike is a cracker - gorgeous colours and really nicely marked. Hopefully they're all like that! Cheers Dyl.

  3. Agree with Dyl on the great markings on the 14 pounder.
    As for the other fish. My diary says that was 12th August 1976. If that was the fish I think it is, we were on Springwell Lake. You also caught another smaller pike and Roach of 10oz (3) and one of 13oz.
    Five years later I think those were the huge Roach I saw jumping. Shame I didn't know how to catch them.

    1. Blimey Ric! I do regret how slack I've been with record-keeping over the years. I used to have detailed fishing diaries going back to the early '70s, sadly now long gone. Likewise birding notebooks. Nowadays I have to rely on what's in my memory. A bit risky really! I'm glad I got the year right though, and I do remember those roach. On tares? I think the pike found roach in a keepnet quite irresistible! Good memories...the formative years of an angling apprenticeship.

  4. Yes Gav, A keepnet attacker was as good as caught. I also remember we had a bit of race to get tackled up to catch that Pike. I lost. I think I wasted time with niceties such as trimming off loose ends.
    Tares, yes. They were the going bait.
    My diaries are mainly just a jotted note or line.
    1976 was the first year I wrote things down. Even the bite-less blank outings were recorded, so that one day I could enjoy reading all about catching nothing. I was keen.