Saturday, 31 December 2011

Pool-View talks to John Costello

Pool-view - Hi John, thanks for taking time out to chat to the “Pool”. We know you have been out there quietly catching big fish for a good number of years. Predators aside for a moment, where did fishing start for you and what have been some of the highlights ?
John – I started in the 60’s as a lad fishing a small stream near my parent’s house in Warwickshire.  I think it was probably two years before I caught my first fish as I had no one to show me where i was going wrong.  The first time i used ground bait i couldn’t understand why it blew back in my face!  But it was the long summer vacations of the mid 70’s, when i was at university that i really started to get into fishing, initially fishing for chub on the river Teme and then when i had passed my driving test, barbel fishing on the middle Severn. So it was rivers and streams at first.  By now I was living near Tewkesbury and the banks of the lower Severn.  But at that time I had no interest in fishing there, to be honest it was too big and rather intimidated me.  I eventually spread my wings onto various local stillwaters, carp fishing at Eastnor near Ledbury and tench fishing on the gravel pits of the Cotswold water park.  However it was reading Rickards and Webb’s book Fishing for big Pike that started my interest in pike fishing.  I was very lucky living ten minutes drive away from the Severn.  By this time I had actually fished it a few times in previous winters for the roach when I was home from university and had even helped weigh a seventeen pound pike for a pike angler.  Yet despite seeing this fish and even giving the contents of my keepnet to a piker it was not until I read that book that I got the bug.  I still smile about my early efforts now.  Keen as mustard I would be on the water before first light, but it must have taken four or five trips before I caught one.  The Severn at that time was an out and out livebait water, and whilst I persevered with deadbaits on one rod for most of that season, it wasn’t until i had organised catching and keeping livebaits that I started to catch the odd fish. 

 I had turned up on the water a season or two after it had been discovered by the likes of John Sidley and Mick Brown, and I later discovered how they had wondered who was this Billy-no-mates who kept on turning up every weekend and who was usually on the water before them.  I was too shy to approach any of them and whilst there would be a nod or grunt of acknowledgement this was the late 70’s and super secret ultra cult etc. It was Mick Brown who helped to unhook one of my first pike and he and a bloke called Roy Greenwood, who was to become a good friend and my fishing parner for most of the 80’s, later photographed my first double.  But that first season I was on my own and learning as I went.  Barrie and Ray mentioned pre-baiting for pike so I tried going down at lunchtimes in the week and baiting up with chopped sprats etc.  On one such occasion John Sidley was fishing and having asked if it would be okay I baited up a nearby swim and returned to work.  It was the following season that John mentioned that half an hour after I had baited up, the tide came in and washed my pre-bait up to the other end of the dead arm, much to his amusement. 

So that was how I started out as a pike angler.  But in the summer it was barbel that filled my dreams.  I was by now catching bags of three and four pound barbel from the middle Severn and the occasional five pounder, but dreaming of seven pounders.  Remember in those days a double figure barbel was virtually unheard of outside of such rivers as the Hampshire Avon and Dorset Stour, and a seven pounder was about the biggest you could possibly hope for from the middle Severn.  As I  drove up the Severn valley from Tewkesbury to the middle Severn, I started to wonder if I could find barbel nearer home and how many barbel was I driving past. There were rumours of barbel in the lower river, but to most people there were too few to consider fishing for. Match angler Barrie Brookes, had a weekly column in Angling Times, and despite his view that barbel had ruined the middle Severn as a match venue and that it had become a lottery as to who drew the barbel pegs who framed, he mentioned in one article that Severn Stoke was producing some good barbel.  So the next summer, (1980) I started fishing Severn Stoke, maybe once a week, in between my regular trips to the middle Severn.  In about ten or twelve trips I caught one four ounce barbel, but I did see a couple of barbel roll so I knew that the rumours were true and I started to dream of catching big barbel.  It was not until the following autumn that I caught my first lower Severn barbel, all 5lb 7oz, from Uckinghall, below Upton.  How we found that first barbel swim was more by luck than skill.  Roy had taken his nephew David fishing on the Severn and David had somehow ended up hooking five barbel landing three whilst float fishing maggots for whatever came along.  The biggest was an eight pounder, bigger than either of us had caught and it was a stunned Roy who phoned me with the news that evening.   David was to come back and haunt me nearly twenty years later with a massive zander but more of that later. Over the following two or three seasons we explored that part of the river and slowly started to catch barbel of a size we had only dreamed of, seven eight and one or two nine pounders.  Not just one or two hard won fish either, sometimes bags of fish,  Roy one day literally lost count of how many he had but it was somewhere between twenty-five and thirty barbel to over eight pounds. I am not sure if we were the only anglers targeting the lower Severn barbel at that time but we were certainly amongst the first.  I can remember talking to  Des Taylor about the lower Severn barbel around 1985, when we were piking the same gravel pit and, and Des saying that Stef Horak was going to take him on the Dorset Stour for some big barbel. 
 I even had a couple of articles about lower Severn barbel published in Coarse Angler around the mid 80’s, so whilst I have always considered myself as an aspiring allrounder the lower Severn barbel have been a near constant in my fishing over the last thirty years.

Pool-view- You have been associated with the Barbel Catchers Club for many years. You will in that time have seen the popularity of barbel fishing explode over the last decade or more , what has been the good and bad in your opinion ?
John –One of the reasons i joined the Barbel Catchers Club in the mid 90’s was to meet more barbel anglers because although i had been fishing for barbel for over fifteen years the number of specialist barbel anglers i knew could probably be counted on one hand. I think barbel fishing began to really take off in popularity around 1990, prior to then it was rare to see ‘specialist’ barbel anglers on rivers outside  the Wessex heartland.  Up until the mid 90’s I had always switched from barbel to pike around the end of October but with the responsibility of a family and running a business it  became difficult to commit full days to pike fishing and it was easier to slip out for a few hours in the evening so predator fishing took a back seat for the next ten years or so.  I hadn’t so much fallen out with piking, just that the pike fishing that inspired me was not available locally and I had lost interest in soaking deadbaits in gravel pits.

I am sure it is coincidence but the rise in popularity of barbel fishing has been mirrored by the decline of pleasure anglers and match anglers fishing rivers.  Obviously the proliferation of carp puddles has accentuated this as well.  I think it is great that there are more people fishing for barbel and who hopefully are committed to ensuring clean, healthy rivers.  But I do find it sad that there are so few anglers fishing for roach, chub, dace on rivers now.  Back in the 70’s and 80’s it was frustrating having so many club stretches closed for matches at weekends but float fishing running water requires a lot more skill than feeder fishing and so many pleasure and match anglers have totally given up rivers for the  overstocked stillwaters.  I cant remember the last time I saw someone fishing hemp and tares for summer roach which is sad.

Barbel fishing has become a lot more popular and some waters do get a lot of round-the-clock attention, but you can still get away from the crowds.  There are miles of both the Severn and Wye which hardly ever get fished.  Likewise you do get a few nobs fishing for barbel, but that is true of all fishing.  At least barbel are relatively hardy compared to pike and can take the pressure.  What does seem to have happened in the last ten years is that we’re all fishing pellets and/or boilies and it has become a bit of a one-method discipline.  Hopefully the fish are wising up and we’ll have to start thinking about how to catch them again.  Again watch a good angler trundling and you can appreciate the relative skill compared to waiting for a fish to hook itself.  Mind you I am crap at trundling and still love the sight of a rod going round as a fish hooks itself.  So maybe I am finding modern barbel fishing a bit of a one-method game but I still love fishing for them, but not all the time.  Summing up I would say barbel are my favourite fish because I enjoy every fish I catch but pike/predator fishing is my favourite type of fishing simply because you can fish for them in so many different ways.  Not every pike I catch gives me pleasure, but there are so many different methods to master and so many different sorts of water to understand.

Pool-view – You slipped a 40lb+ pike into Neville’s great book “ Mammoth Pike” and under the radar of the pike angling world, then a decade later quietly drop an article into Pike and Predators magazine holding a 20lb+ Zander. That is a fantastic angling achievement in anyone’s book. Could you recap and tell us Pool-siders a little detail about these two fish.
John - It was Jaimie Kemp who was responsible for us eventually getting permission to fish that ‘west country water’.  Initially we were allowed on it for two months from mid January to mid March.  The first day we were allowed out the lake was very coloured and partially frozen so it was no surprise that we all blanked but over the next few days it started to clear and Jaimie had a couple of jacks on a mid-week trip. By the following Saturday the water colour had changed from brown to green which as anyone who fishes for pike in rivers knows is probably the best conditions. A couple of hours later I was paddling ashore with an enormous pike in the landing net, something which I thought would be my fish of a lifetime.  The sight of that fish powering under the boat will live with me for ever.  She weighed 37lb 3ounces and was more than ten pounds bigger than my best. The jungle drums were beating that night between the four of us.  Dave May then had  a 32 pounder a few days later and the following Saturday Jaimie and I shared a boat full of expectation.  Naturally enough nothing much happened, we had a couple of jacks and a couple of dropped runs, but I was out again the following morning.  It was a day of early morning rain clearing and a freshening south Westerly with intermittent sunshine and big puffy clouds, perfect fishing conditions.  Nothing happened most of the morning, I was drifting and float trolling a couple of livebaits over one end of the lake whilst Dave May was at the other end covering the water in a similar fashion.  With lunchtime approaching I set off downwind to say goodbye and float trolled a couple of baits behind.  Within a couple of hundred yards the baitrunner starting screaming, picking the rod up I wasn’t sure if it was weed or a take and as I was being blown downwind I wound down and felt a solid thump as the fish realised something was up.

The fight was nothing like the 37, which had fought well and within a couple of minutes I had her in the net.  With the bright late morning sunshine in my face and a fair chop on the water it was difficult to estimate her size but my initial guess was a high twenty, maybe thirty but smaller than the 37. I unhooked her in the landing net as the boat drifted towards the shore and when she beached I took her ashore to weigh her.  With the weigh sling zeroed I placed her in the weigh sling and watching the dial on the Avons spin around I started to lift.  As I took the strain I carefully counted each revolution until the weigh sling was clear.  That cant be right, the scales have gone around four times, so I lowered her back onto the mat and repeated the procedure.  Again the scales went round four times.  Voices in my head kept saying this cant be right, I might have lifted a third time to make sure, I cant remember but securing her in a sack I walked out on a point and managed to get Dave’s attention.  When he came over I asked him to check the weight on his scales, I didn’t say how big I thought it was, simply that I thought my scales might be playing up.  On his Happy Hooker scales he read out a weight of 41 pounds 12 ounces, which was what my scales had been saying.  We photographed the fish and most of the time I didn’t even lift her up as i was conscious of the her enormous bulk unsupported by water.  We returned her and she seemed to go off alright but sadly in the close season four very big pike were found dead by the owner.  There was one day in early March when we saw a very big pike swimming with difficulty on the surface and there was a sudden cold snap at the end of the month which might have also stressed the fish. Whether us catching those fish was too much for them or whether they were near the end of their lives I don’t know. But what an amazing water, in one season it produced a 41, two different 37’s, a 36 and a 32.  I fished it the following season and had a mid-twenty but I dropped out after that.  Four friends continued to fish it for a number of years afterwards and although a number of high twenties and three or four thirties came out it did not, to my knowledge, produce anything over 34.  So maybe it was just lucky being in the right place at the right time.

I think it was around 1985 that Mick Brown and Bob Jackson did a talk on zander at the NASA conference.  They finished their talk about fenland zander with a picture of a small zander which one of them had caught from the Severn and ended by saying that in their view the Severn was going to be the zander venue of the future.   How right they were. But you cant do everything and with fishing time at a premium I was always being dragged in different directions so for much of the last twenty years zander remained an unfulfilled ambition. A few days boat fishing the Severn in the mid-90’s gave me a starting point to work from,  a couple of areas were found that zander frequented and bank fishing one of those areas gave me my first double.   A season or so later I fished the other area I had found, accompanied by David, the lad who had unwittingly found our first lower Severn barbel swim nearly twenty years earlier.  It was probably the first time he had been fishing in a number of years and it had to happen of course, that the first zander he ever caught was a monster of 16lb 7oz.  You just have to view such things as part of the attraction of fishing. I find it difficult to comprehend now, but even that fish never really sparked me into an all-out campaign and over the next ten years or so my zander campaigns probably comprised four or five trips a season when the conditions for barbel were rubbish.  By 2009 I had realised that, with the time I had available, I would have to forget barbel and concentrate on zander if i was going to get anywhere with them.  There is a lot of common ground between Severn barbel and Severn zander, in terms of what water and weather conditions they favour, and even what sort of swims they prefer.  Definite progress was made that year and come September 2010 Dave May and myself were chomping at the bit.  Tactically we had decided on semi-mobile deadbait fishing from the bank and float trolling live/deadbaits when out in the boat to locate fish, occasionally anchoring up and fishing static baits in specific swims.  Third trip of the season, the river was up a couple of foot, perfect conditions and having fished one area a mile or so downstream, I anchored up in a swim which had produced a fourteen to me the previous season and less than a hundred yards away from where David had had his sixteen nine years earlier.  Twenty minutes later the float bobbed and moved across the river. I can still remember the furious head shaking when I lent into her.  She seemed to rise right up in the water and I was half-expecting her to surface in the twelve foot deep swim.  So I was certain  that it was a zander, but as I played the fish i could not believe how heavy she felt.  I was using standard pike rods and 15lb line and you know how much bend you have to put in a rod to lift a fish.  It just didn’t seem right, but i made myself be patient, to pull out of this fish without seeing it would be horrible. I cannot say the fight was spectacular, typical zander, mind you i would say the average zander fights as hard as the average gravel pit pike. In the net i could see it was a big as i could possibly imagine!. Unhooked and into the weigh sling, lift the scales, watch the dial do one complete revolution and then another. Those are the moments that stay with you forever. She was a fantastic looking fish, big shouldered with a huge head, not as full as late season zander often are. It was just a privilege to see and hold for a few minutes,then gone,maybe never to be seen again. That is one of the attrations of the Severn for both zander and barbel as you can't target individual fish. I was just lucky to be in the right place at the right time.

Pool-view – Are you looking at catching a huge perch to complete the “ Mammoth” UK predator set of fish ?. Or perhaps you’ve already done it and are keeping it under the radar !
John - I have got several friends who are quite keen on perch and perch fishing but I have never set my stall out for them.  Maybe one day, maybe try a bit of drop-shotting on Chew off the Woodford bank when the pike are not playing, or maybe something else.  I have always aspired to being an all-rounder so if not perch, maybe something else, ferox, catfish, but definitely not eels.  Too many dark hours of nothing would not be good for my sanity......or my marriage!

Pool-view – You have been spotted occasionally on Chew Valley Reservoir over the years John !. How have you got on and what are your thoughts on the venue ?
John – Noddy comes to Toytown?  I have had a couple of days on Chew most years since it opened in 2001.  In fact in some years that has been the only pike fishing I have done.  In the early years, up until about 2007, getting tickets was never really a problem, it was more a question of how many you were prepared to buy, and I regret not making more of it at that time.  Lures seemed to work over a longer period of time than they do now when it seems after the first few days they lose their effectiveness.  The trouble was that initially we spent too much time trying to make float trolling work, when either static deads or lures would have been better.  Both Dave and Jaimie had done well on Deggy float trolling big deads and they each had a 30 and several big 20’s so it was difficult to understand why it didn’t work on Chew.  One difference of course was that you could use coarse fish deadbaits on Deggy which might explain why it worked there but not on Chew.  Between us we have had fish to around 18 on trolled deads but to be honest we would have done better sitting on static deads.  I personally find sitting in a boat watching a couple of floats very boring but if that is the method then I suppose you have to do it.  I have had some very enjoyable days lure fishing on Chew taking large numbers of fish but my biggest on a lure is 21 and latterly I have sat watching static floats and my biggest has been 23.  But the biggest problem in recent years for both Dave and myself has been getting tickets, in 2010 I had three boat days and two bank days and in 2011 I only got one boat day.  So if any one at Chew is reading this my application is the one in the pink envelope with green ink!!  Seriously I love fishing it, sure you have the competitiveness that occurs at such times but that is part of the fun, if you don’t like binoculars and mobile phones going off then don’t fish it.  Chew seems to be a unique pike water insofar as the fishing has yet to show any signs of deteriorating, provided the water company don’t extend the season or numbers of boats I see no reason why it cannot keep on producing.

Pool-view –Do you have any little “edges” of differences to your approach to catching big fish John. If so do tell !
John -I suppose nearly all of us envy anyone who can fish more often than ourselves but having too much time can make you lazy and you stop thinking about how to maximize your limited opportunities. In my own case I have to be realistic about what I can do in the time available so weekends in Norfolk  or weeks on the Western loughs are out.  However what I  try to do is to maximise my efforts at those times when my chances of success are greatest, and to try and be on the water reaping the rewards before anyone else.  Most of my fishing is within fifty miles of here so I can keep an eye on local weather and water conditions and make the most of any opportunities that present themselves.  So if we have a cold snap which is broken by a spell of warm rain I know that the barbel will be feeding, and, depending on when I can go I could choose between three or four local rivers.  Temperatures on the Bristol Avon will rise much quicker than the Severn and slightly quicker than the Warwickshire Avon so if the only day I could  go was tomorrow I would go on the Bristol Avon but if it was three or four days later I would head for the Severn. If I was committed to barbel fishing on the day of a frost I would fish the Severn because I know it will hold its temperature better than a smaller river.  If the pits had been frozen and I was piking I would make every effort to be the first on the water.  The last gravel pit twenty I had came from a water I had never fished before. When I turned up on Saturday it was still frozen so I went home and returned the following morning, fished for a couple of hours, had a 21 and 17 and went home happy. As much as anything I try to identify those times when the fish I am seeking are not feeding and then make a big effort to be out when conditions change and they are hopefully active and feeding.  It was very noticeable when we got onto that ‘west country water’ that three of the four biggest pike came out in the first  week as a prolonged cold snap was replaced by a period of mild weather.

Pool-view – Any pet hates in angling today ?
John –Not really, life’s too short and fishing isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things.  Obviously people who spoil other people’s sport, people who are intolerant of other’s views or methods, people who take themselves too seriously, people who place unnecessary restrictions on others, people who pollute, people who kill pike or zander, cormorants and fish-chasers but there’s a lot more good guys than bad ones in fishing.

Pool-view – Outside of fishing what else floats your boat ?
John – Well if I had the time and money I lots of things. I enjoy shooting and sailing but don’t get much time to go other than by not fishing.  I do enjoy writing and have really enjoyed doing this. I just hope people enjoy reading it.

Pool-view – Many thanks John for this interview, Pool siders very much appreciate your contribution and time. Have a great winter !

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Pool-View talks to Neville Fickling

Pool-View - Hi Neville, thanks for taking time out to chat to Pool-Siders. Let’s get in the deep end and talk about your pike fishing and all things pike. How has your winter started and what are you up to?
Neville - Things have got off to a much better start than usual with 6 twenties to 28-04. It is weird that life feels a lot better having caught a few daft pike, but if that is the only mental problem I am ever going to have I’ll settle for that !. As usual I’m fishing a few new waters, none of which have produced a thing. Chew was not brilliant for me, but that’s Chew for you. Not everyone catches big fish every year. Netting a couple of 30’s at least meant I was close to catching one !

Pool-View - You have pike fished all over the UK and Ireland and tackled most water types for many years. Where have you been happiest catching big pike and why?
Neville - I am happiest catching pike without lots of competition from other anglers. I usually do poorly in competition though I am quite willing to get to the right swims before others if that is required. I still enjoy Ireland even though the fishing is not easy. Being out alone on the Shannon with only the ducks for company reminds me of the Thurne before it got busy.

Pool-view - If you could turn back the clock and rectify a missed opportunity or have done something differently in your pikeing life, what would it have been?
Neville - If I could turn back the clock I would have had another try at catching a 30lb pike from the South Holland and I’d have not got myself banned for life from the club owning the drain. I was fishing into dark and night fishing is not allowed. I would have stuck with the area on Corrib that I had found and fished it in February like the Welsh lads did. I might have tried a bit harder on Ladybower, but things worked out OK there anyway.

Pool-view - If you could change one thing in pike angling today, what would it be and why?
Neville – Sadly I think we as pike anglers have to be more restrained on some waters. Sanctuary areas for pike like those on the Thurne ought to be left in peace because those areas are the ones where pike can grow big without being disturbed. That’s good coming from someone who fished both Martham North and South Broad when he shouldn’t have done !. The desire to catch big pike can over rule the need to give them some form of a sanctuary. This is wrong, but I did not realise this until quite recently.

Pool-view - In February 1985 when you returned home after catching the new record pike. What did you say to your wife/family and what was the reaction to the news?
Neville - I had no children at that point. I think I was a bit numb about the whole thing. I remember going to a call box to tell her and I can remember how excited I was. I’m sure she would have been very pleased for me, but 26 years on my memory does not run to fine detail.

Pool-view - Pick three pike anglers past or present you have not fished with to have a day in a boat pike fishing, who would they be and why?
Neville - God that’s a hard one !. Alfred Jardine would be interesting. Dennis Pye so I could get a first hand impression of the man rather than that supplied by Derrick Amies.It would have been nice to have sat in a boat next to Tommy Morgan to see what really happened!

Pool-view - It’s interesting to note that you have picked on the deceased !. Lets push you a bit further and ask you the pick three pike anglers who are alive today and why !
Neville - Are you asking why they are alive or wanting me to chose three!. I suspect the latter. I have probably fished with most of the well known pikers. Gord was the worst while Derrick Amies and Derek MacDonald were good company and interesting to talk to. The modern pikers I’d like to fish with are the ones I do not know much about. Dennis Smith from Peterborough is one of the keenest pikers I have ever known. A day with him would be fascinating and I might find out a bit more about his pike catches! Also Phil Pearson from Wales would be another good one. I have been on Corrib and Mask when he was about but only ever spoke to him a couple of times. Carl Garret would be a good one as well because I suspect he has some tales to tell.

Pool-view - Do you think we will see another Mammoth Pike book from you?
Neville - I’m keeping it updated all the time and I will do an update at some point. It all depends on the production costs of a short print production run.I sold 2500 of the original, but would not expect to be able to repeat that.

Pool-view - Could your New Years resolution be a return to visiting the Pikers Pit forum? If not what will it be?
Neville – I’ll not be returning anywhere I’ve not actually been to !. I do not have a New Year’s resolution because when I have I’ve not kept to them !

Pool-view - Merry Christmas and a healthy New Year to you Neville from us all on the Pool.
Neville - Bah humbug! Seriously all the best.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Second Time Around

Russel Fitzpatric 

It was a mild day way back in 2004, I was fishing a small urban river somewhere deep in North Londinium! 

The day had been quiet, various swim changes had yielded no pike and I was getting a tad impatient! On to the final swim move of the day, a nice long shallow stretch dropping off from the 2-3ft shallows into around 5ft of water. At the tail end of this deeper water there the remains of a lily bed that I could clearly see, as the visibility was good,I pretty much could see the whole lot, including a buried half oil drum resting on the bottom.

A good hour had passed with no interest in the static morsels I was offering, so I rummaged around the cool bag and found I had little bait left, finding a small smelt I decided to try wobbling for the last hour or so of daylight.. 5 or 6 cast’s in a long dark sleek shape appeared from nowhere and followed the smelt,  but she didn’t take!

I had her twisting and turning showing a lot of interest in the wobbly smelt…almost like she was dancing in front of me, figure of eighting so to speak….alas she would not engulf my bait!

Mega frustration set in! 

I came up with a plan, I decided to leger and pop up a 6oz bream deadbait and I had it sitting perfectly mid water. It almost looked alive as it swayed in the flow. After around five mins of casting the bream out, the sleek long predator appeared again. She swam straight up to the bream and took it !. I watched from my position behind a cluster of bushes, as she did this, an awesome sight which I was to better later. As I reached for the rod however, she dropped it !.Had I spooked her? Maybe she wasn’t in the mood today day I wondered? 

I packed up there and then and vowed to come back the following week…

So a week later it’s just gone dawn and I’m back!.Armed with one rod, the same rig as the previous week and a bag of fresh oily sardines.

Approaching the same swim in complete stealth mode. Remembering the previous week I stayed low and kept well off the skyline. The swim itself was quite open with only small cluster of bushes for me hide behind.I crept into the swim staying behind the bushes and out of sight. Donning my polarised specs I had a look in the swim. I could see everything in the swim but no pike, I was thinking and hoping she would still be there?

 I quietly and carefully dropped a legered popped up sardine into the swim, again I had the popped up bait set perfectly mid water gently swaying in the flow like a real live bait  holding station.Looking into the swim again I could see my rig, bait and popper….crystal clear!

I caught sight of something emerging out of the old lilly bed…is that what I think it is?...sure enough it was the same fish, without any hesitation she swam towards the bait, locked on like an Exocet missle!. She appeard side on to my bait, then she suddenly turned and engulfed it, an amazing sight to watch!

Winding down I hadn’t spooked her and she was sitting on the bottom with my bait across her mouth as I struck and ALL HELL BROKE LOOSE!. I have never before had a pike go off like it on hooking up, she charged around the shallow run above the lilly’s like a maniac! Round and round and up and down, I managed to turn her as she made for the lily’s and netted her at the third attempt. As she came towards the net the second time, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing as alongside her was another fish, a bit smaller but a double no doubt.Wow!…I had never seen that before! . I hadn’t seen this other pike the previous week! On the bank she was one pristine Queen…dark green in colour with vivid yellow spots and awesome striped markings along her back, just like a tiger, she had also fought like one!

 One of the best looking pike I have ever caught…and an Urban queen too boot! She weighed 19lb 4oz and I was pleased as punch! 

I got her, one week after discovering her, I had caught her, mission accomplished…jobs’a good’un! 

To some a 19+ is not a great deal, to me it was a fish I did well to catch and inside London a 19 is a beast! 

Long Live The Urban Esox Queen’s!

Friday, 16 December 2011

" I Do Like Mondays "

Martin Unwin
“ I don’t like Mondays “ , unlike a young Mr Geldof and his Boomtown Rats I absolutely loved the last two Mondays of a season a while back.
After months of my river breaking it’s banks, dropping out, up and down and looking messy it finally took some balance, I had fished off the bank and sneaked out a few good fish along the way but it was tough. With the river finally looking good, I persuaded my fishing buddy Steve to get his boat out for a session on what was to be the second last Monday of the river season. What a trip I was about to enjoy!
Arriving at the river we found it’s condition to be spot on. Eighteen inches above normal level with that lovely “fill your boots” green tinge to it. With great anticipation we set sail into the early morning darkness on a journey never to be forgotten!

 The cold morning started slowly with just a single dropped run to Steve. However after a move to a new spot the change of scenery was met with the sun starting to break through and brightening up the morning. A roach trotted at 12ft depth close to some bushes resulted in my first take of the day, with a cracking looking and beautifully marked pike of 22.06. Twenty minutes later from the same spot my float stopped in the current, lay flat and the bait broke the surface followed by a giant set of jaws!. I could not believe what I was witnessing, the take was brutal !!   


With the rod bend double in my hands, everything went solid with the fish snagged into something. Panic set in with Steve frantically pulling up the anchor for us to move the boat to get another angle on the fish to hopefully remove it from the snag. Luckily before the anchor reached the side of the boat the fish freed itself and after a great scrap she was safely in the net and weighed 23.06. Wow !, two fab looking 20lb river pike in half an hour and my first brace to boot !. Looking over at my buddie Steve at the other end of the boat  the water was not the only thing looking green !

A while later with only a couple of hours of light left we decided to move again and change tactics as it would be coming up to prime time for Zander. Roach baits and running ledgers were cast around the boat.
It was not long before Steve’s natural colour returned to his face as he netted a cracking looking zander of 12.06. The next couple of hours were madness with fifteen good fish between us with my biggest Zed going 11.11!. We fished on well into darkness until the takes stopped. Upping anchor we headed back to base, reminiscing on a truly special day that had seen 2 x 20lb pike and a brace of double figure zander on the boat with a good stamp of back up fish too !
A midweek phone call to Steve agreed a return the following Monday, the last Monday of the season. As we launched the boat in the dark I thought two Red Letter Days on the bounce might be a bit much to ask for. We arrived at the same spot we had ended in the previous Monday just as it was getting light. My trusted trotted roach was the first bait in the water and the float disappeared instantly followed with braid tearing off the spool. Pike I thought. Stop , strike ,fight ,land and Wow! An enormous looking zander lay in the net and a new pb for me at 15.06.

“ Might as well pack up now! “ Steve joked. That day we did not move once and enjoyed at least 25 runs with three double figure zander landed and some good pike too !. The next  winter with cold and crazy low water conditions it became tough for us. But Hey Ho ! it will come good again and there are plenty of Mondays remaining. Sorry Sir Bob.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Early Memories

James Bullock

Inspired by a recent forum topic on guerrilla piking, my own mind started to wonder and I thought about the times when I too had been a “guerrilla piker” and some of the catches that stick in my memory.

All anglers like swapping fishing tales and stories, and pike anglers are certainly no exception to that rule. I think we have all heard about “the one that got away” and the
“ You should have seen it…it was this big ”!.

But what about the not so significant fish captures that stick in our minds? Most anglers remember the first fish they have ever caught, but what about the second, or the third or fourth fish you have caught? Here is a little tale I’d like to share about one such capture, one of my early lure caught pike, but by no means my last.

My fishing partner at the time and I had been eyeing up a small still water that we had been looking to do some “guesting” on for some time. We made numerous visits over the summer and explorations with a rod and Reuben Heaton depth gauge had proved invaluable. The water was not huge, around three to four acres in size, a sort of elongated `S` shape, with depths ranging from a few inches in the margins to about 10 feet at its deepest. Nearly all the water was accessible from the bank, but our biggest problems were that there was very little in the way of bank side cover, only the odd Hawthorne bush and small tree dotted about with the water as clear as diamonds. Not good if you are trying to hide from prying eyes, both those of Esox Lucius and human origin!

We would have to be careful fishing here in daylight with not much in the way of reed beds around the fringes of the water, but our saving grace was the fact that it had some good patches of dense weed and lilly growth in certain areas and one end of the water was surrounded by tall mature fir trees and spruce providing a nice shady area. We had spotted fry leaping and jumping a few times being harassed by something predatory, this boosted our confidence of success. There were also six or seven grebes working small areas, another good sign. Now this particular little water had some pike angling folklore associated with it with stories of big fish being caught in years past. So, after roughly half a dozen visits and reccies without any fishing tackle through September and October, combined with the weed growth starting to die back and the weather cooling we both set a date for the first trip with our lures and rods. Work commitments at the time limited my fishing like most of us to weekends and maybe the odd week night, so my fishing partner and I decided that an early Sunday morning at the beginning of November would be the first trip.

The squawking of my alarm buzzer rudely interrupted my sleep when the fateful Sunday arrived and I sat on the edge of the bed trying to shake the slumber from my head. I looked at the clock in disgust when I realized it was still only four thirty in the morning!. At times like this I wondered why I go fishing, but spurred on by the prospect of the mornings escapade I proceeded to get ready. After some breakfast,a very strong coffee and half an hour to unglue my eyes properly, I started to double check my kit that Id had prepared the night before. After a quick visit to the tackle stash for some extra traces and a flask full of hot coffee from the kitchen, I was ready to go. It was then I opened the door to go to the car and the cold air hit me like a train!. The mild south westerly wind that had been blowing for the previous few days had gone, only to be replaced by a biting, bitter, north easterly with not a cloud in the sky as the very first small rays of dawn confirmed.

With a dubious frame of mind I loaded the car and set of for my mates, hoping that he would be ready and waiting at the designated meeting spot. Timing was essential on this trip, with the plan being to start fishing just as the sun was rising, and then leaving, whatever the result, around eight thirty that morning, obviously not wanting to push our welcome as friendly “guests” too far. People do say that the perfect guest knows when he has outstayed his welcome. We planned to be the perfect guests by leaving no footprints of our short visit. Sure enough as I rounded the corner I saw my mate standing under the orange glow of the street lamp, rod and lure box in hand. After the obligatory pleasantries, i.e. did you get drunk/laid/mugged/puked on last night, he loaded his kit into the car, and we set off to our hallowed water. We discussed the change in weather conditions on the short journey and both agreed it had turned for the worse. Bright unbroken sunlight and bitter northerly winds are not synonymous with good lure angling, but we decided to stick to the plan as it may turn out to be the only chance we would have to fish the place that winter even though conditions seemed far from ideal.

With the roads quiet, we arrived in good time, unloaded the kit, and started the short walk along the footpath that led to the water. We scanned the area as we walked and we were both delighted to find the place deserted as we had hoped, just like previous visits during the summer when we only encountered the occasional dog walker. I asked my fishing partner where he fancied starting, and after a quick scan of the water and conditions, we looked at the end of the lake that was lacking in shade, steadily moving towards the shaded end as light levels started to rise.

We both approached our respective swims in the cold early morning half light as stealthily as possible, not wanting to spook any fish that may be lying in the margins, and choosing opposite sides of the lake. I settled into my chosen area keeping low and clipped on a large red and white Abu hi/lo, set the vane, and cast out. I immediately found weed and got snagged on the first cast, so a quick retrieve, clearing weed off the lure I re-adjusted and cast out again. Better cast this time, the rod tip letting me know that the lure was working well with rhythmic pulses being felt. After fifteen minutes of no action and covering a fair amount of water, a move was on the cards to a likely looking little bay about twenty yards down the bank, towards the shaded end of the lake.

I quietly closed the lure box, picked up my rod, net and unhooking mat, and started to skulk off along the waters edge. It was at this point my mate, who was in a swim opposite me had what I call a “paranoid moment”!. Looking across the water at him i saw him holed up and crouched down next to a small Hawthorne bush that was just inside the perimeter fence obviously trying to evade detection.“ We`ve been rumbled ” I thought, but no, an early morning jogger had gone past on the road that ran alongside the lake. The jogger had not even noticed my mate, oblivious to the world around him, with earphones blasting music no doubt. That said, it was enough for my mate to scuttle round to my side of the water at great speed, fearful of being seen by any other passers by and served as a wake up call for both of us to be a little more inconspicuous.

We now looked for somewhere that would accommodate us both, and more importantly provide a little more cover. We decided on a little miniature bay behind a big Hawthorne bush, with a shallow beach in front of it that we had seen on a previous exploration and made a bee line for it. We settled into the swim quickly and both cast out with our respective lures attached, me still opting for the Abu hi/lo and my buddy going for a big silver spoon. Another fifteen or so minutes of nothing and our spirits were beginning to ebb. Where were the fabled pike of this water that the old timers used to talk about?

Time was marching on and it was not long before we saw the first of the Sunday morning dog walking brigade. So I sat on my mat and poured a coffee to contemplate our next move. It was at this point my mates rod “ bumped ” twice and he struck instantly. This turned out to be a missed fish, as the pike shook out the lure. I asked if he thought it was a decent fish, to which I got the reply “not sure….wasn`t on long enough to tell”. So, with things starting to turn for the better, and with renewed enthusiasm I quickly put down my drink, and opened my lure box to look for a likely looking spoon to cast out to try and tempt the fish.

As I rifled through my box an old spoon caught my eye, one given to me by a friend of my fathers some years before hand. An old kidney shaped spoon that was battered and beaten, and had seen its fair share of action over the years. In fact just a few weeks before I had tied some scarlet wool to the shank of a new number four treble hook and replaced the old, and frankly oversized original treble to try and breath new life into an old lure. I just had to try it. So I swapped the Abu hi/lo for the spoon and cast out. First cast produced nothing. Second cast produced nothing. I knew there must be fish in the area, and while retrieving my third cast I finally saw my quarry in the gin clear water !. A small jack of around 4 pounds had followed my home repaired spoon, homing in on the vibrations and action and was stalking along behind it, tracking its speed and direction. A sight to behold and one that never ceases to fascinate and amaze me, even when I see it today. I slowed my retrieve a little and the pike did the same. In fact the pike followed the spoon right into the little shallow beach in front of us and was now sitting motionless looking at my lure, that itself was sitting motionless on the gravel lake bed in plain sight in only eighteen inches of water.

We both dared to move forward slowly, still in our crouched position, to get a better look. Inching forward carefully, still perplexed by what we were seeing. I whispered to my mate that I had run out of retrieve and maybe just a quick lift and drop of the rod tip, like a jigging action in miniature, might induce a strike. He agreed, so I lifted the rod tip a few inches and watched the scarlet wool around the treble come together and expose the hooks as the water flowed over the red strands. I then paused and let it fall, the wool now bellowing out around the treble like a great scarlet skirt around the waist of the silvery spoon. It was at this very moment the pike decided to strike. In a blink of an eye it surged forward and snapped at the spoon, engulfing the scarlet woollen strands and the treble hook in the process. I struck instantly upwards to set the hook. The pike now realizing it had been hooked began an energetic series of lunges and runs, so I had to work quickly to bring it under control and stop it kiting off to a dense patch of weed. After a short but strong tussle we had the fish in the net and then to the mat. The hooks were removed, and it was returned and swam away healthily, if a little miffed at being disturbed so early on a Sunday morning.

We continued to fish that morning right through until ten a.m. even seeing a guy as we were leaving who asked “morning lads…did you catch anything”? We replied that we had not, thinking he may be something to do with the lake and we might have some explaining to do. But it turned out he was just out for a morning stroll, and we parted company with him saying “ahh well….better luck next time”. Phew!. All in all we had five pike between us that day, not one of them going above seven pounds in weight, but its that particular pike and that particular “guerrilla piking” trip that sticks in my mind for some reason.
There have been other similar trips since and I have been back to that particular water sporadically since then too, but i never have been able to catch the fabled doubles that folklore had suggested. But that little jack will be an early memory I will never forget. And I will certainly be returning to the little water at some point in the future.

Who knows, the next visit may produce the dream fish that we would all love to catch, but even if it does not I will still cherish every minute on that virtually untouched little pike venue.

Tight lines

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Targeting Big Perch

Pete Webster

I would bet that before the advent of commercial fisheries one of the first fish most anglers ever caught on rod and line was the humble Perch, these accommodating fish were always so willing to take our baits thus making a small child’s day on the bank a memorable one. There are not many fish that look better than a big Perch and when caught from a clear water rather than a muddy puddle they are beautiful to behold.

The good news is that putting a Perch of specimen proportions on the bank is to a certain extent just as easy especially if they are not being targeted by other like minded anglers.

When Perch are in the mood to feed they can be caught very easily and even 3lb+ fish still have there suicidal moments as I am sure many a Pike angler would testify after catching them on absurdly large lures or live baits when targeting the larger of our fresh water predators.

There are times however when like any other fish of specimen proportions they can be very hard to catch and it is then that a balanced and well thought out approach can pay dividends.

The hard part of finding large Perch is much easier in this day and age with all kinds of waters readily throwing up Perch over 3lb in weight which in my eyes qualifies as a “Specimen”, Rivers, Gravel Pits, Canals, and even the dreaded Commercials are venues that regularly feature in the weeklies reporting large Perch captures and you can take your pick as to which one will produce the next record Perch, which I might add “will probably fall in the next year“ .

Once you have found your big Perch there are a few ways to target them and the easiest, “especially on uncaught fish” is in my experience “Fishing the Lobby”, you just cant beat the humble Lobworm in these situations although they can become very hard to tempt on them as has happened on one of my waters which has received a great deal of pressure over the last couple of years.

Lobworms can be fished down the edge on a float or on the feeder or bomb incorporating alarms, (in my case Delkims) fished with light bobbins on a long drop, the latter is my preferred method if the area is close enough to feed by hand or catapult, if the fish are further out then a small maggot or ground bait feeder is the way to go.

Lobworms can be picked of the lawn or any short grass field at night especially after rainfall, all that is required is a head torch a bait tub a bit of stealth and a steady touch when extracting the worm from its hole although even if I break them they still go in the tub as I collect and use them when needed and don’t store them for any length of time, if you are planning on saving them for a longer period make sure you only keep the whole worms as any dead ones will soon spoil and kill the good ones.

In times of dry weather or frosts when collecting them becomes a problem I buy in my Lobworms but they are expensive at around £15 per hundred worms, there are a few companies providing a mail order service just google Lobworms and all will be revealed. Even though they are expensive the worms wont do you any good if they are still in the tub at the end of the session so don’t be afraid to cut some up and get them in the swim the smell and juices will attract Perch from afar.

One option that should be considered is Pole Fishing, any one who has seen Catching The Impossible will have seen the monster Perch caught by Martin Bowler proving the versatility of the pole. When the going gets tough and the bait needs to be kept in a tight area you cant beat the presentation a pole gives you especially when combined with a bait dropper, a change to a Dendrobaena worm and Caster and smaller hooks fished with a pole can mean all the difference when conditions are harsh and the Lobby is not working. Any of the Carp type poles are suitable for specimen fishing of this type when coupled with a suitable strength elastic.

Another benefit arises from using Lobworms and that is in the form of BONUS fish which can be caught on this fantastic bait, I have caught specimen Chub, Carp, Bream and Roach like this one at 2lb4oz from a local canal on the Lobby, incidentally caught while using the pole, the only other bite resulting in a Perch at 2lb15oz, fish I am sure I would not have caught using normal ledger gear.

As I said earlier my preferred method is the Bomb and I use the flat disc leads in as small a size as I can get away with, I know large leads are said to provide a more sensitive set up but I have caught quite a few large Perch on this rig and my motto is “if it aint broke don’t fix it” so I will continue to use it with confidence.

The lead is fished on a short six inch sliding paternoster and to keep every thing light the other end is attached to a small plastic bead with a large hole where it slides on the 6lb main line. The hook length is either 4lb or 5lb flouro carbon and about 18 inches to 24 inches long with a size 6 Drennan super specialist hook at one end and one of the Korum quick change beads at the other, again being plastic they keep the weight down nicely and are great for changing hook lengths if the need arises.

Another reason I like using small leads is because I like to periodically twitch the worm along the bottom in the hope the movement will provoke the Perch to attack the escaping worm, this I do by winding my bobbin up to the rod and then pulling it back down thereby dragging the bait toward the rod, this little tip will certainly put more fish on the bank.

I usually use two or three rods and my preferred tools are my John Wilson Avon quivers at 1.25 tc they are ideal for close to middle distance fishing and allow the Perch to put up a terrific fight, matched with 5000 size Shimano reels loaded with 6lb sensor they provide a nicely balanced set up. Two of the rods are fished over the top of a bed of red maggots and halved lobworms and the other rod I will fish to one side or the other of the baited spot as I have found some fish will hang back unwilling to come right to on the bait, this rod quite often throws up fish even when the rods on the bait remain redundant. The reason I only half my free offering is that I don’t want small fish to be taking them, they can eat the maggots and hopefully attract the big Perch which will still have something to occupy them and feed them in the swim.

Perch are shoal fish and hang around in groups containing fish of a similar size so if you catch one get your rod back in as soon as possible as there will probably be more in the swim willing to feed, I also employ a keep net when fishing for large Perch as I believe that to return one in to the swim will certainly curtail any further action for a while.

Bites on this set up are generally confident with the bobbin rising steadily to the rod and short staccato bites are usually caused by smaller Perch or Eels etc in my opinion. Bobbins/Hangers need to be light as Perch can be very sensitive to resistance, with this in mind I made my own from a clip and fox pop up ball normally used for popping up dead baits but light hangers can be purchased from most well supplied tackle shops although I would change the cord for a longer length to enable them to be fished on a longer drop.

If the Perch go off the Lobworms my back up method is to fish with live baits and I will use any type of fish with my favourites being Gudgeon, Rudd or Roach in that order. I like to use baits in the two to three ounce stamp (any size Gudgeon will suffice) as any smaller and you may end up catching small Perch all day and that’s not the idea.

If I am fishing close to a feature I will use a float paternoster rig with a single size 8 treble nicked in the baits back with a bait saver over the hook point to keep the bait on the hook, to the eye of the treble I tie a length of weaker line and to the other end I tie on a small bomb just heavy enough to pin the bait next to the feature being tried, this method negates the use of an up trace as the fish cant swim upwards (only applicable if Pike are present )the float which is usually a chubber fished top and bottom with float rubbers can be fished sub surface or on the top which ever you prefer.

If there are Pike in the water you are fishing always use a light wire trace to prevent bite offs, if no Pike are present I like to use a flouro carbon hook length of about 12 inches as the stiffness of this line can prevent tangles if the bait is a lively one.

The other method I employ when live baiting is the “free rover” this is fished using a small chubber or bung type float depending on the size of bait I am using and the distance I am fishing at, I have taken quite a few nice fish on a free roving bait from swims where a tethered bait on a paternoster has remained unmolested for hours so it is always worth trying different methods in the same swim, with my paternoster rig all you need to do to convert it to a free roving rig is remove the bomb link tied to the eye of the treble and maybe add a couple of AA shot to the trace, although this is not always necessary as Perch will take lives off the top with a slurp akin to a Carp taking floaters off the top.

I use the same rod and reel set up for live baiting as I do for fishing the Lobworms but I use 8lb main line so if I do hook a Pike I can put a bit more pressure on to land it quicker. The only other difference from the paternoster rig is the use of a single hook instead of a treble and the bait is lip hooked.

If it’s a barbless hook water I keep the bait on the hook by employing a red rubber maggot as a bait saver. One vital point I should make is the need to strike as soon as possible when fishing lives as Big Perch can inhale a bait in the blink of an eye, (and contrary to popular opinion this could just as easily be tail rather than head first ) and a deep hooked Perch is usually a dead one pretty soon after in my opinion.

Another tip when live baiting is to use a bigger landing net just in case you hook a decent Pike, you can land a big Perch in a big net but you cant land a Pike in a small one, I found this out the hard day after losing a Pike I estimated at 25lb+ after a long fight and to say I was gutted is putting it lightly.

Perch like cover so most Perch swims are obvious to a half decent angler with a bit of water craft “BUT” and it’s a big but do not ignore apparently barren featureless swims as these can be the best of all as I found out when I landed my PB fish of 4lb 6oz from just such a swim on a local canal, that said the usual features on canals such as locks, bridges and structures will always hold a few fish.

Another tip when after Perch is don’t be afraid to fish real close in, “and I mean close” just feet from the bank is where I have had some nice fish including a 3lb13oz fish that took a Rudd live bait that had dragged the float right up to a reed bed, the float being no more than 12 inches from the bank when it buried. 

So there you have it its not rocket science and all I can say is if big Perch are in your target water they might not be that hard to catch “give it a go why don’t you”

Thursday, 1 December 2011

The Correct Use Of Soap With Lizards And Folk
Rob Shalcroft

Ready for a tale ?. Long winded tale ?. Hit the X and flip back into somewhere else hyper- space if you don’t !

Back a few years, I was tearing about trying to catch river Queens and hit on a stretch along with my pal Lyn . Something special was happening on this stretch as between us we caught six different 19lb+ fish. This stretch could explode as these fish were young looking and were all only going one way , 20lb+.
 We felt we could be looking at a 2 mile stretch of river with 6 or more 20lbers in the coming winters with possible “travellers” mixed in. One incident stood out, I caught a lizard shaped pike with a huge head and a very distinctive mark under its jaw. When unhooking her I noticed a thick trace down her gut with only a couple of inches of wire in view, no swivel, probably the trace was cut short by another angler. It was freezing cold and I made the decision to try and get the trace out, to do this I needed another long set of forceps to try and grip the bit of wire in view and get a decent pull to lift the stomach out of the pike while I could use the forceps I was carrying to do the honours. I tubed the fish up and took the walk back to the car to get another set of long forceps.
It was a hell of a game to get the hooks out and I must have had the fish out of the water for 5-6 mins while I pushed and pulled and twisted the ironmongery out of this fish. I held her in the water for an age , blood exploding from her gills before she slowly swam away. The matt was covered in her small scales, this was a fish on its way out. I wondered if I’d done the right thing.The stretch was getting very little attention so I was surprised to catch a fish in such a “two and eight” , maybe she had “travelled” in from elsewhere?.
Lyn packed in fishing sadly due to tragedy in his life and I do very much still miss his extreme dedication to the river. On the plus side I had it all near enough to myself with just the odd pikey visitor catching next to nothing as they didn’t return. Logistically easier the conventional sexy looking pike spots were at the top end of the stretch but me and Lyn found the bottom end and it’s underwater structure was the place to be for starters. The Lizard fish turned up again for me the following season looking just fine and dandy at 22lb, she was unlike the other fish on the stretch, shorter but with a bigger frame.
Steve Bown and I became close mates travelling around together but separately chasing pike all over the place, Steve knew I was having a few out from somewhere as I had this banker stretch to make up for the endless and fruitless hours chasing The Lydia Fish ( PAC30  ). I took Steve down and he had a 20 and a 19 on his first two drop-ins, big smiles and hugs from one of pikings true gents and a proper piker to boot. Over the following three winters the stretch took off big style. I knew the stretch really well and had an idea where the pikes sitting positions might be along the length in different water conditions. At its rare and very best I caught 3 x 20’s on short two hour mid-week trips on five separate occasions. With the fish in front of me, combined with perfect conditions it could be three drop-ins and three Clampdowns and three 20’s, incredible fishing. This was the pikeing of my lifetime as there were at least 12 different resident 20’s about at that time with always a pop up “traveller ” passing through. Dream pike fishing like this is just so, so precious and I was extremely lucky to find it and have it near enough to myself.
 The Lizard fish was a little different and very much a “loner” I only once caught her as part of a brace or trifector as she moved around a lot, she was the one I felt might go 30lb+ as at the back end of the previous season as I had caught her at 27.12, unlike others she very much had the frame to do it.
I obviously reflected after three seasons  as recaptures were part of the deal, especially the Lizard fish as I’d now caught her on four different occasions, Billy and the Doc caught her too and to my complete astonishment the Doc caught her a second time 4 miles away. Careful experienced handling on difficult banks from us all was paramount at all times.

I had a plan, a very final season plan. Barbeling twice a week through the next September I decided to prebait a little spot no one else would be barking mad enough to fish!. Twice a week in the dark I piled it in, 10lb of chopped fish at a time, a mountain of pre- bait. First trip at the beginning of Oct, first chuck with a soggy sardine I had a 20 followed by a couple of Jacks and then came a big surprise. A completely new fish turned up, a stunner and with my first winter trip pike goggles on I thought she was a 30, on the scales a 28.02. Wow !, I was blown away. Billy looked at the photos and with his eye for detail noticed this was The Lampard fish we’d all been trying to track down, in and out miles away. "Long and lean,had not scoffed my prebait, right fish wrong time of year" read my diary entry !. There were now likely two possible back end 30’s around with attending 20’s on the stretch and perhaps a “traveller” or two. This was all a bit mind blowing to be honest and something I have not come across before or since during my thirteen winters pretty hard at it.This was at the time the best river pikeing two miles in the UK. 
Then the nightmare happened, it was always going to happen at some point. Whist netting the Lizard fish and clambering up the bank with her, the big ugly, pea brained bearded earwig mug of a bailiff came out of no- where, his eyes popped out of his head as I weighed her at 29.14 and photographed the fish. He noticed a pike tube in the water and accused me of having live baits in it. I had two choices , I could quietly stab my long nosed forceps through his eye sockets, twisting and turning stainless steel until his wailing and gagging stopped, carry the mug to the car and bury him in the forest or get the pike tube out of the water. I was in two minds but opted for the later!. I pulled out the tube to reveal a pike of 26.12.The previous two seasons when bumping into this mug I always told him I had caught the odd jack. The place then started to get attention as the “word” was out.
The following few weeks saw  pikers in the easy comfortable  swims and by the looks of it inexperienced ones too. The Doc then caught the bearded mug of a bailiff and his weasel faced partner  pikeing with 8lb mono main line, they’d probably never caught a pike in their life. The area was always snaggy and baits attached to traces were going to be left in the water. My brain was scrambling and the madness took over. My irritability was alive and kicking , these were my fish , I’d followed them for four years, in and out, thick and thin. I loved them all. I could go round stabbing people with forceps, slashing car tyres, tipping paint strippers over bonnets and getting really evil but it’s not in my nature. My mind got “ back to nature”.
 I went to the pound shop and purchased 100 bars of soap and littered the bottom of the swims hoping to move any pike from an area by making the water a little uncomfortable. I went to other stretches as I had other plans. I dropped in now and again, just to have a look more than anything, the place was getting hammered, pikeing litter started to dominate the floor. The 100 bar soap trick didn’t work, pike were caught !. In retrospect this was a wrong thing to do, I was stupid. The Lizard fish took a battering after a capture I was told, she was getting old and as can be the case with some big fish in the last year or three of their life they trip up a lot and get caught.
The winter was harsh fortunately and baits had to be really on the button of a pikes snout to get a fish or two, I was fishing elsewhere and doing my own thing dropping in very occasionally if I’d blanked elsewhere just to have a nosey more than anything else. As the snows came I became obsessed with trying to catch pike elsewhere in the snow and getting the pics and back drops, luckily with a 4x4 I could get out and about. The snow backdrops were stunning and saw me out and about two or three times a week with not a soul in site. Fan-bloody-tastic although the fishing was very, very tough and physically demanding as the banks were frighteningly difficult to fish, I was enjoying it all big time !. After a un-fruitful afternoon in snow drifts I dropped in on the stretch for the last hour, it was bitterly cold with ice across some of the river. Minus 13 temperatures were being recorded in the valley.
Dropping down bait size is important in these conditions, I clipped on a four inch roach and plopped her out under very little weight and my smallest home made float. The bait tore around and became agitated in one spot, steering the bait towards the spot again the bait didn’t like it in one little area. I put on a fresh bait for a fresh tear around to be met with the same agitation. Little break, coffee and a little run around to keep warm. The plan now is to fish until dark and second hand daylight to try and get the bait to actually swim into the pike, a combination of really fresh baits and balanced presentation and careful hook positioning is needed to actually get a bait to tear around the swim. I’m a great believer in the “tear up” principle. In the back to nature world, often if an animal is going mental in front of other animals they will kill it to put an end the madness they see and feel before them . Pike I believe are no different, they will kill madness very close to them, even if they are not switched on to go on the munch. The “tear up” is difficult to describe, but is most certainly not the steady live bait plod and gentle nod and dip of a float after a cast or two , the bait needs a drop in. Another fresh bait and a little more depth set to trip bottom, although you can’t see what’s going on in eight foot water I just knew there was a pike there and could be my only chance of the day.
Drop-in, just upstream of the spot and the tear around begins. This time Clampdown !, the float bangs under  but moves no more than a few inches, always a good sign of a big pike.
Count one lizard, count two lizard, count three lizard and whack, hooks set. Big head shake down below and then up to the surface. The Lizard fish. Two head shakes and in the net. It was so cold I couldn’t weigh her properly with my whole body shaking from cold and the adrenalin buzz, my hands were stinging. The scales bounced and shook between 28-30lb in the fading light viewed through my steamed up reading glasses. I settled on “what-ever” . I packed up and ran back to the car as the Dream Girl phoned me to inform the roads home were being closed due to snow and ice drifts.
And then came the Otters but that’s another article with photos and carnage.
Thank-you for reading to the end.
E Hamilton