Sunday, 16 October 2011

Catching Some ZZZ's
Jason Skilton

Zander (Sander lucioperca) are a species of fish that I have never encountered in my neck of the woods. Even with my trips on the Broads system and the rumours of zander being present there I have not been fortunate enough to come across this strange looking fish. So it was with great delight that I accepted an invitation to fish for them with Mark Philips. I’d hooked up with Mark via the Pike Pit. The plan was to be a trip to the Fens.

We had arranged to fish an afternoon/evening session on a river, as we felt this period of the day would offer us the best opportunity of finding one of these night time hunters. And would hopefully mean less chance of being pestered by the jack pike that are prolific in the river. I was advised to bring along fresh bait, so I had a quantity of fresh roach, rudd and skimmer bream in the cooler box; along with some lamprey.

I packed my tackle into the car and began the hour and a half journey to the fens. It was interesting to see the change from wheeled tractors to caterpillar tracked tractors working on the fields next to the road as I entered the Fenland area.

Mark and I had arranged to meet at a local pub, so as I had arrived early, (I drove a bit quick) I sneaked a quick half pint to settle the nervous excitement of the pending adventure. Whilst sipping the beer and looking over the river I was soon joined by a gent who enquired about my intended quarry. We engaged in a conversation and it soon became apparent that as a keen boater he had spied a couple of anglers landing a small zander only a couple of hour before. He didn’t know it was a zander at the time, but did describe it as a weird looking perch.

Mark turned up on cue and after a chat and a look along the stretch of the river near the pub, I followed him to his chosen swims. We parked up and walked up the steep bank leading to the river, after we have negotiated the newly installed sheep proof barbed wire fence. The river was running slow and was clear, not the best zander conditions I’m led to believe, so Mark was hopeful that any boating traffic might churn up the bottom and muddy the water. I was kindly given the prime swim on the inside of the bend and was soon setting up my two rods. My two rigs were standard pike rigs, but with smaller hooks size 8 on the AFW trace wire which is softer than the normal trace material I use for pike. The first rod was a running leger, baited with lamprey, and fished against the far bank and the second set up with a paternoster and baited with a 5 inch roach on the near bank marginal shelf -where the cabbage was dying off. Despite being fished close in the river was still a good 12ft deep, so the bait was present 5ft off the bottom.

In the crystal clear water vast shoals of year class roach and bream could be seen seeking shelter in the marginal reeds away from the open water predators. A single great crested grebe was diving frequently in the open water and its bow wave could be seen as it was chasing the fry just below the surface. It reminded me of pike chasing surface lures. The grebe came up more often than not with a small fish in its bill, so there were obviously plenty of bait fish in the water in front of us. Mark positioned both of his baits in the centre channel of the river where there was a good depth.

As the evening drew in and darkness surrounded us the sunset gave way to a clear sky and brought about a star studded night. Not being an astronomer I could not tell you which stars were which, but I can say that apart form in the Egyptian desert I have never seen as many stars so clearly as I did that night.

At 7:30pm, just when I was considering freshening up the baits, the rod baited with the roach was away and the BBB alarm was sounding. I tightened up and felt the 3oz lead lift off the bottom and I felt a fish on the end. Not a big fish, but a fish. It soon became apparent that it was not our chosen quarry, but a small jack that had snaffled the bait. This was soon netted, unhooked and returned back to chase the fry in the margins. It has to be noted that even though I was on top of the rods and was into the fish in seconds it had snaffled the bait and it was hooked in the bottom of its mouth. A fresh bait was mounted on the hooks, this time I went for a larger 6” roach and it was swung back out into the margins.

Luckily the night was not too cold and all we needed were hoodies and fleeces to keep out the night time chill. I had been pre warned that nights on the river can get cold, so additional layers were on hand, but tonight it was still and pleasantly warm for late September.
At 9pm, with discussion in full steam about all manner of topics, the lamprey rod’s alarm sounded although the spool in bait runner mode was not spinning. Mark suggested I feel for the fish. This I did and I could feel the lead in the mud, but with a bit of pressure it soon dislodged. There was no fish attached. The drop off was re-attached and the alarm armed again. We both then grabbed a hot drink and settled back resuming our conversation. During this chatter it became apparent that both of us were fishing Abberton in the early 90’s and we discussed our experiences and captures from the dam wall of this vast water.

We had agreed to say until 11pm as both of us had an hour plus dive to our respective homes and partners. The wind had started to pick up and river now carried an inviting surface ripple. The air temperature was dropping too, and the warmth had gone from the night. My hands were starting to feel chilled so yet another hot drink was consumed

.At 11:15pm, just as my hopes of any further activity were waning, the second rod’s alarm screamed out. I turned on my head torch on and silenced the alarm. Again the spool remained stationary and there was no sound from the baitrunner. For a split second I felt that a fish had dropped the bait but then the baitrunner gave a tantalising single audible click, followed closely by a second and third. In what felt like a life time the bait runner began to sound and the spool picked up pace. I tightened into a definite fish. The beauty of my paternoster rigs is that you connect to the fish and the lead is left free running. So I could instantly feel the fish moving off into the centre of the river. A short fight ensued with the fish staying deep and Mark asked me if it felt like a zander. God knows I thought, I’ve never caught one before!

Soon, my head torch beam cut through the clear water and caught the gleaming pearly coloured eye of a zander. With my heart pounding and the fish thrashing angrily in the margins Mark netted her for me and we shone our torches onto my first zander. I must confess to just gazing on this magical fish and running my hand on her flank to feel the texture of skin in sheer admiration. She raised her spiky dorsal for a moment in a last ditch show of defiance and I could see that those spines could cause serious pain if mishandled. Mark showed me the strength of the jaws and I could clearly see how this type of predator caught its prey by disabling it with repeated attacks rather than engulfing its victim. She had a number of battle scars along each flank and had clearly been attacked on more than one occasion, but had survived the attacks and healed well. The hooks had fallen out in the net, and as she was clearly not a double figure fish. I asked Mark to estimated her weight rather than put her in a weigh sling. He estimated her at between seven and eight pounds
Mark quickly got his camera setup to take some shots of her before we slipped her back into the river.

We stayed well beyond our finish time of 11pm in an effort to bag a second zander, but nothing was forthcoming. We then said our goodbyes and I thanked Mark for his time, his generosity and the benefit of his knowledge of this river system. I’m hoping we can fish together again in the future, because Mark is certainly good company to be in. Cheers Mark. You did me proud!

Give The Pike A Pasting
Chris Hammond

Like many other pikers I’ve been experimenting with flavoured baits, on and off, for some time now. The majority of the flavourings I’ve used in the past have been, unsurprisingly, typically oil-based. I have to confess to harbouring a degree of scepticism though regarding the principle of oil-based flavourings. I’m sure the various fishy scents carried in these products will have an appeal to pike, what concerns me however is the effectiveness of these oil ‘hosts’ in carrying that scent, or taste, through the water to the pike.

Without meaning to state the blindingly obvious, it goes without saying that oil floats on water. Any oil leaving a submerged dead-bait should, and indeed does, float fairly quickly to the surface. Now I’m willing to concede that in a small number of situations, probably in deep-water in particular, this could be beneficial. On a flowing river I have to say this scenario does little to inspire my confidence.

I sometimes wonder if, in the majority of situations, injecting our baits with oils does little more than make it easier to remember where the bait landed! Having said that though I have to confess to using them still occasionally on the basis that, at the very worst, they don’t put the pike off. Perhaps some element of the inherent fish scent is separated from the rising oil and carried through the water to the predators Certainly I know other anglers that swear by oils.

There's one of those age old myths in pike fishing that states that pike won't feed in heavily coloured water. I say 'myth' because that's what I firmly believe the idea to be. When I first began to target pike seriously I had read little about the species, and in all honesty I just never realised that we 'couldn't' catch pike in coloured water. When my local rivers suffered a deluge of rain and turned the colour of cocoa, or the local drains were pumping, I simply carried on fishing in blind ignorance. That proved to be a lucky break for me because, being an angler that most often found himself using dead-baits, I kept on catching. The old adage, ' A little knowledge is dangerous' springs to mind. as is often the case it pays to find things out for yourself.

Flavoured baits of course really come into their own in turbid water conditions. In these conditions, particularly on a flooded or fining down river, I’m expecting the pike, generally, to be on, or close to the bottom. If the rivers been in flood or coloured up for a day or two they’ll often be lying ‘doggo’, usually carrying a few lice on their bellies as proof.

Feeding pike can initially be difficult to find in the first day or so of a major change in colour, but once they've become accustomed to the conditions they will begin to feed. They aren’t always that keen to move around in search of food in heavily coloured water, so it is easy to form the impression that they aren't feeding, but on flooded rivers pike can actually be easier to locate, once you have a background knowledge of the holding areas. There are often only so many suitable places for the pike to hold up when the river is in spate, so you can be pretty confident that they’re ‘in front of you’. It may, however, require that a bait to be literally ‘dropped on their heads’ to invoke some action.

In situations like these the pike are more likely to be intent on trapping rather than actively hunting their prey. The low visibility in coloured water limits the pike’s ability to hunt by sight to some degree. So a more viable proposition in these conditions, from their point of view, is probably to find a secure spot or shelter in which to lie in wait for their unsuspecting targets to swim past.

That of course is where the flavoured bait has its uses. Though they might not fancy a fruitless search for prey fish in low visibility, the pike can still be prepared to utilise their highly tuned sense of smell to pick up and follow the scent of carrion; a.k.a our dead-baits. Boosting this scent trail with an added flavour or extra scent increases the likelihood of a fish finding your bait.

With little faith in the efficiency of oil based flavours the obvious course of action is to use actual particles of bait as an attractant. And several anglers I know have had success with minced fish introduced via a feeder.
Swim-feeders do have their limitations though, they’re usually too small for a start and they lack the ability to carry ‘one off’ large quantities of attractant. There’s also the problem of imbalance with terminal tackle, I.e they lighten as they empty, and this can have an implication on bite detection at range, if the feeder is used as your lead.

Another way of getting a good dollop of minced fish out there close to your bait is the well documented, ‘fish lollipop’. Freezing baited traces into a lollipop mould full of minced fish creates an effective casting missile and ensures the attractant is bang on the bait. However it’s a messy tactic and again has obvious limitations. You need a reliable thermal control system of some kind for a start, and it’s really only a method for the coldest days. . It’s also difficult to do with anything other than very small baits.

A few years ago I began to experiment with using a paste as an attractant. Initial results were extremely promising and several years later the tactic still works brilliantly for me. And there aren't many of my ‘world beater’ ideas that have stood the test of time quite so impressively.

Basically I wanted to create a sticky, attractive fish paste, that would dissipate widely through the water. The paste I came up with works a treat. It is sticky enough both to enable casting, and to ensure that its release from the bait is reasonably slow, in order to keep the trail of attractant at work for longer periods. And it creates a lovely cloudy scent trail of tiny fish particles and blood.

An added attraction is that there is no possibility of feeding the pike off as with free offerings. I remember the great Eddie Turner once stating that he never threw discarded baits into the water while he was still fishing on the premise that any bait taken by a pike might be the only time that fish feeds on that day. I could see the logic of that line of reasoning, and still do. I'd rather not take the chance.

So to make the attractant:
To a couple of pounds or so of any baitfish, I add about three-quarters of a pound of liver and a tube of Anchovy paste. Obviously you can conjure up your own version and ingredients, however I can assure you this recipe works. It’s important to mince the ingredients in a blender to the finest paste possible. It pays to snip the tail and fins off the fish before mincing. I like to leave the bloody head end intact though and then check through the paste for any lumps of sinew or gristle etc afterwards.

A consistency like toothpaste is perfect. Firstly, and most importantly, this ensures the paste spreads throughout the water to its maximum capacity but it also it makes sure that not a single fragment of sinew or bone can mask a hook point The homogenised liver not only adds a bloody element to the flavour trail, but also helps to create the sticky, glutinous properties of the paste and slows down the rate at which the paste dissipates through the water.

Once blended to a fine consistency, the paste can be ‘trowelled’ over the bait with a flat blade or spatula. There’s a bit of a knack to it, but once you get the hang of it you can encase the whole bait in a reasonably even layer of the sticky attractant. For close range work the paste is durable enough to withstand the cast and nothing more needs to be done. For longer casts, or in particularly fast flowing water, I use another trick to ensure there isn’t too much paste washed off on splash down.

To make sure that all of the attractant stays intact with the bait until it has settled in the slowest, bottom layer of the water. A can of plumbers freezing spray is used and the pasted bait is given a quick blast before casting. This creates a lightly frozen crust on the surface of the paste and stabilises the whole thing nicely.

I’ve primarily used the method in river and drain fishing situations, however I have also used it on suspended, float fished baits over deep water on a few occasions; and had a few nice fish. The paste dislodges slowly and showers the water below with a fine cloudy mist of fishy particles. A twitch of the bait here and there will keep the dissolving process on the go in really still water.
It is possible with the plumbers spray ( or a rack you can hang baits on for a short period in your freezer) to paste and seal baits in cling film and then freeze them too. Use a little flavoured oil if you like to pre-grease the cling film prior to wrapping to prevent it getting too caught up in the paste.

If you want an edge this coming winter, particularly when the rains come, try the paste. I'm sure you won't be disappointed.

Chris Hammond

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Pussy Galore
Pete Webster

Travelling abroad as an angler has never been easier with a multitude of options available from long haul flights to Canada, fishing for the giant sturgeon, to the old style Ireland trips that seem to be making a comeback at the moment. It was a mid range European trip that I and a friend Tony Balfour (Pie Eater) embarked upon in early May of last year. The destination was to be Spain and its mighty Rio Ebro system. An assault on the catfish and carp stocks was our plan of action with a week long fully guided trip to look forward to.

A short flight later from the excellent local Robin Hood airport and I met Tony outside terminal 2 at Barcelona at 10pm. Tony, a Wigan lad, had the hire car all sorted having landed half an hour earlier flying in from Liverpool. Without further ado the sat nav was set for Mequinenza and away we went.

The journey down was easy and a couple of hours later only 15 euros lighter from the various road tolls we met Gareth Edwards, our guide for the week. Gareth showed us to our digs a cracking little apartment as close to the Rio Ebro as you could wish to get. After a quick cuppa it was lights out and off to bed for an early start in the morning.

Bright and early next morning we were enjoying a brew when Gareth turned up and after a bit of light hearted banter regarding rugby union and him having put a bit of weight on since his playing days we were away. We followed his 4WD, and trailer full of tackle, for about half a mile crossing the river and settling in to a peg on the Rio Segre about five hundred yards below where the mighty Rio Ebro and Rio Segre meet. A distinct change in water colour marking the spot as the Ebro is clear and the Segre a mucky sandy colour.

This proved to be a washout, with massive clumps of floating weed constantly wiping out the rods. The poor conditions had been caused by a couple of days of rain, and it was still falling. The wet stuff had raised the water levels too high so after only an hour we were on the move to the Ebro on what is referred to as the Top Lake, a wider slower stretch about 40km upstream. It was here where the plan all came together.

We were soon helping Gareth unload the boat and a mass of tackle from the trailer, and within half an hour he was ready to boat the baits out the 2oo yards to a drop off that he had found using a depth finder. The process went like this: Gareth rowed out to the mark towing the baited rigs from two of the rods with 1lb leads and running rigs baited with squid or a string of 22mm halibut pellets These were dropped on the mark and spaced a few yards apart, and over the top of them a few kilos of loose feed pellets were scattered.

This was repeated with the other rods. A single carp rod was cast conventionally and baited again with pellet. More loose offerings were scattered around the hook-bait with a throwing stick. Now the traps were set all we needed was for a few fish to feed. Gareth tossed a coin to see who would hit the first run and I was the lucky one on this occasion, not that it would matter ultimately, as there proved to be more than enough fish for the two of us anyhow.

Soon enough a bite was indicated on one of the rods and I can only describe it as being like a barbel bite on the Trent although you can multiply the ferocity and speed of the take by ten! The 6lb tc rod took on an alarming bend. I tightened up the clutch, smacked it one and found myself playing my first ever catfish. Almost immediately the line went slack,

“Lost it!”

I hissed to Gareth.

“Reel like mad!“

he replied.

“She is swimming towards you.“

I soon caught up with the fish which then proceeded to pull like a train for the next ten minutes or so. When she was wallowing close in Gareth slipped on his pit glove (the older readers will remember these, bright yellow with a rubber coating) and wading out grabbed the cat by the bottom lip and steered her on to the unhooking mat where she was weighed. At 58lb she was twice the size of my previous biggest ever fish. To say I was buzzing would be an understatement and there Is a big smile on my face in the photographs taken to mark the occasion.

Tony was next up and it wasn’t long before he was battling his first fish. At 54lb it matched his biggest fish ever, that being a tope caught off Blackpool from his own boat the year before. By the end of that first day we had added another cat each of similar sizes.

We decided to bivvy up for the night to make sure we could keep the peg as Gareth was receiving texts and calls from fellow guides saying the fishing had been rock hard elsewhere. So despite the rain, which was still falling, we settled under cover. And after a delicious chinese takeaway we reeled in the rods and retired for the night.

The second day was the best for the numbers of fish caught and they were getting bigger, with 14 cats caught between 30lb and 114lb The 114lb fish was one of two over the ton for me and yet another new pb. Added to this the carp rod was throwing up fish too, although they were mostly low doubles with only one going past 20 at 24lb, a lovely mint conditioned common.

After another night spent under the stars the third day dawned with a lovely clear blue sky and as the weather improved so did the size of the fish. Tony had a massive fish of 150lb which I kid you not almost dragged him in! It almost stripped the remaining braid from the spool on the first run, leaving only a couple of turns on the reel. Gareth was ready in the boat in case Tony had to chase the fish to get the line back however with constant heavy pressure applied she turned and he was able to play her in. After a lengthy battle she was duly landed, weighed and photographed. Gareth produced a bottle of champagne and the first 150lb fish was christened by the three of us, all laughing like children who had just opened their Christmas present and realised they had got just what they wanted from Santa!

I had another nice fish at 104lb but the best was to come in the shape of a magnificent fish which was actually landed by my mate (Thanks Tony.) because Gareth was at the shop purchasing more supplies for the catfish base camp that our peg had become. The fight from this fish was truly awesome with it taking line at will from my Penn multiplier, despite the clutch being set very tightly. Seeing the fish on the top thirty yards out, attempting every trick in the book to rid itself of my hook, was a thrilling sight. Due mainly to the balanced tackle that Gareth supplies, and a lot of hard work, she was gradually worn down ready for Tony with the pit glove, and he made no mistake. Taking a firm grip on her lower jaw he heaved her huge bulk onto the mat. We did the necessaries and she was slid into the sling and heaved up, the dial whizzing round to an amazing 162lb. Another pb for me and one I may well never manage to beat in my angling career.

The rest of the week was slow for the cats but with a total of 27 under our belts a decision was made to fish an extra rod for the carp and this resulted in some excellent fish to us both. In one day we had two at 28lb+ a 29+ a 33lb fish and a magnificent 41lb common carp, along with plenty of double figure fish which certainly kept the fires burning after a hard weeks fishing. Incidentally anybody seriously targeting the carp could have some massive catches out there with numerous fish in the 50lb bracket coming out every year.

As well as the excellent fishing on the river Ebro the wildlife and scenery are breathtaking! Giant Griffon Vultures soar on the thermals overhead. Black Kites also were an every day sight, and we even saw a beautiful Golden Oriel a real splash of colour in the almost desert coloured environment we were fishing in.

We did spend one evening at an excellent restaurant, where we bumped into none other than the great John Wilson who was on his own holiday at the time. So if you want some home comforts they are there for the taking you don’t have to rough it as we did.

All too soon it was Sunday and time to say our goodbyes to Gareth and set off on the journey home and with the news that the ash cloud from the Icelandic volcano was still causing problems with Spanish air travel we set of with some trepidation. On arrival at the airport our fears were proven not to be unfounded. Lots of flights were indeed cancelled. However after six hours I managed to get my flight back to Robin Hood airport in Doncaster. Unfortunately poor Tony was not so lucky and spent the next thirty hours dossing down in the airport lounge until he could get his flight back to blighty (lol) Even this though has not put him off a return to the mecca of fishing, the mighty Rio Ebro.

This article would not be worth its salt if I failed to give a big mention to our guide Gareth Edwards who was absolutely tremendous the whole week we were with him. We had decided to really throw ourselves into the fishing from the off and spent the first four nights under the canvas even though we had an apartment at our disposal and Gareth minded not a jot, keeping us fed and watered with regular trips to the local shops and takeaways, and also keeping the fish coming when all around us were struggling. I know for a fact that out of twelve anglers fishing with one of the bigger guiding services they had managed only seven fish between them all week.

Gareth works for himself now after guiding for both the big British catfish companies on the Ebro and can be contacted via his website at . He offers a range of services, from tackle only unguided trips, to fully guided catfish or carp fishing trips and weekend only short stays. Or you can stay out there for as long as you wish. Gareth is a top guy who I shall be seeing again, hopefully for a repeat performance. That is as soon as I can find where the wife has hidden my credit card.

Pete Webster

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Ask the right question
by Dave Lumb

Every so often people appear in print or on forums claiming to have an explanation for why they fail to catch on some days and do well on others. Over on The Pikers Pit recently Al Rawlings has been expounding on his theories about pike 'feeding scales' and how they are influenced by the weather and other forces of nature.

Waiting for something to change
Now I am not for one minute disputing that such forces play a part in pike behaviour. It's plain that they can do. A sudden influx of cold water can stop pike being caught, just as a rise in water temperature will see barbel being caught in winter. Fish are far more in tune with the element they live in, water, than we land based animals are. They detect changes in their environment long before we become aware of them. Pike will start feeding when a drain that has been still starts pumping –even though we might get our first take before we see the water begin to move.

More obvious to us are the ways light levels can affect our catch rates. Contrarily this can be a switch either from dull to bright or bright to dull! Many things can affect pike behaviour. This is not in dispute. What I do dispute is our 'need to know'.

There are supporters of theories concerning the moon's influence on angling results. Although I am sceptical I remain open minded. Eels are certainly reported to migrate under the moon's influence, and other watery creatures spawn or mate when the moon is in certain phases. There could well be a correlation between the moon and pike behaviour. I have yet to see evidence I can trust, but that's another issue.

But how useful is it, to the average angler, to know if the moon or certain weather patterns have a positive or negative effect on their catches? Given that most anglers can fish when they can fish and don't have the luxury of being able to pick and choose their days in order to fish when conditions are optimal, I would say it is no use. In fact I think 'knowing' you are fishing on a 'bad' day might lead you to fulfil the prophecy by not trying hard enough. It's a bad day so why put in any effort as it's doomed to failure. A rather negative logic. Albeit with a built in excuse. Not that anglers need help finding excuses for blanking!

The question everyone asks is: “Why aren't I catching?” Some phrase this as: “What conditions are causing me to have a bad day”, when the right question to ask (ifyou want to catch fish) is: “What can I do to make this bad day better?” You can't influence the weather or the moon - ever, but you can make better decisions about where and how you fish - always.

When I am not feeling lazy and just accepting my lot on a bad day I try to think like a match angler. Match anglers are lumbered with fishing when the match organiser tells them, and even worse they have no say in which peg they fish. If there are fish in the swim they draw then it's their fault if they fail to catch them. They can't blame the man in the moon or the weather girls on TV. It's down to them. They might first off start fishing for bites. Maybe searching the swim to find the fish, maybe feeding a particular spot to attract them. Then if the bites materialise but they aren't being converted to hooked fish they alter how the bait is presented until they convert bites into fish in the net. In the limited confines of one swim they are doing for a few hours what a pike angler can take all day to do over a wider area.

While pike fishing demands a different approach to, say, pole fishing this attitude is something a lot of pike anglers fail to take on board. It's a lot easier to say that your rigs/baits/lures worked last time so the reason you blanked is down to conditions than to admit you fished like an idiot. Sharing a boat with a better angler than you is a great way to learn that failure is down to how you fish. Two anglers in a boat fishing the same area are faced with the same conditions and the same pike. If one catches more than the other it's all because of how he fishes. The difference can be as subtle as bait size, or as obvious as casting to a particular place. Given the number of variables open to the pike angler there's a good chance that there'll be a way to catch something on most days.

I think it quite likely that there is a difference between a pike's willingness to feed and its susceptibility to being caught. Certainly when fishing with lures many pike are caught that aren't feeding.

Trying to make something happen
I see no reason why the same couldn't be the case with live or dead baits. I don't want to ascribe human traits to fish, but something akin to curiosity could be at play, or aggression, or any number of impulses that have nothing to do with feeding. All that matters is that they are sometimes willing to take our baits and lures into their mouths. That is all we are after. How we get them do do it is what fishing is all about. And for the most part it is down to location and presentation.

If you subscribe to the view that on somedays pike don't move far to feed/take baits then there is little point casting out at dawn and waiting for the pike to find your herring. On the other hand if you keep moving that herring around(recasting, twitching, leapfrogging) you've a chance of putting it close enough to a pike to get a pick-up. Get the location right and you are almost there. Pick the right presentation and you're on a winner. That is all there is to successful fishing, be it for pike or any other species.

Just like the match angler it's up to you to find the presentation that works on the day – with the added advantage that you can also go find the fish. Irrespective of the conditions, if you have the right mental attitude you will be trying to work out what that presentation is instead of worrying about why conditions are stopping the pike getting caught. Getting follows? Change the lure. Getting dropped runs? Refine your bite indication or end tackle, maybe change your bait. Sitting around waiting the fish's mood to change is poor angling. It wouldn't win a match angler much money. You have to make it happen.

Do I always follow my own advice? Of course not – I'm lazy! If I'm fishing to chill out I usually accept what comes my way for as little effort as possible, but when I'm really up for catching fish I do. If I blank on those days I only blame myself.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

by Chris Hammond

Following a mass exodus from the Pike and Predators forum to the all new singing and dancing forum that our deity Ben Aspinall has created it became apparent that the management had little regard for at least a proportion of their readership.

Whether that disregard carries over to the monthly magazine is a subjective matter I suppose, but for me personally the magazine has gone from strength to weakness since James Holgate sadly departed this world. Some of us felt there was a need for some diversity and freshness in the world of pike, and indeed general angling writing. Hence the birth of this online mag/blog, ‘The Pike Pool’.

This new venture is not going to be a place for recriminations, so I’m going to draw a line under any connection we might have with the ‘old world’ here and now. I want this facility to be the birthing pool for new and genuine writers. Hopefully with no reward but that of seeing your writing published online, and the chance to pass on interesting and informative angling knowledge and anecdotes, the quality may even eventually surpass what we have become accustomed to in the angling media.

We already have a number of good articles in the locker and will hopefully soon be attracting even more from the wealth of talent and angling experience that our brilliant new forum offers.

I have been a little indulgent in the first offering to go up on the Pike Pool. It is an old story of mine that once appeared in Pikelines (The Pike Angler’s Club’s quarterly members magazine.) Several members will probably have already read it, however I needed experience of the online publishing process and it sort of defines my outlook on, and love of, our mutual pastime. I hope those of you who haven’t read it will enjoy it, and those that have will bear with me and hang around for the next article to go up.

If all goes to plan the next piece up will be from the much respected pike fishing grandee Dave Lumb in a week or so. How’s that for a coup? I’m aiming initially to put articles up at the rate of about one new piece per week. That will give plenty of people a chance to read them and offer any feedback they might like to share before that article slips down the list. Of course they will be archived thereafter, but less likely to be read than whilst holding the frontline position.

That’s about it for this introduction. It only remains to say that I hope you will enjoy the new online reading experience and take part yourselves. After all the whole concept depends on as many people as possible contributing. I firmly believe that each and every one of us has something to offer. I mean when you think about it we wouldn’t be posting on the forum if we didn’t have something to say or were incapable of writing would we? I should also point out that we are not going to be limited to pike and predator writing either. There will, not surprisingly be a bias towards predator related stuff, but I will be publishing articles on any aspect of angling. So get writing!

Happy reading!

Chris Hammond

The old man strained his eyes to see the glossy orange tip of an old pike-bung in the milky half-light of dawn. The float sat motionless on the misty surface of the pool. Across from him a lone coot swam sheepishly from the cover of a dense reed bed, navigating the smouldering surface of the water cautiously, its suspicious eyes darting this way and that. He waited for the ripples from the furtive bird to reach his float, and still his heartbeat fluttered momentarily at the expected bobbing of the orange tip.

The pool was coming to life sluggishly on the cold December morning and he could hear mallards beginning to squabble amongst themselves behind trailing curtains of willow that overhung the margins. Excited still, with the prospect of the recently made first cast of the day, he breathed heavily feeling the clean sting of morning air in his nostrils. An hour quickly passed with no action. He alternated his attention between the float and the mob of argumentative Mallard that harangued one another, endlessly, up and down the pool.

At one point he heard another angler arrive and start setting up in the next swim, thankfully screened from him by a thick jungle of Alder and Hawthorn. The old man was glad of the privacy the shrubbery afforded him. He ‘d hoped to have the pool to himself today. Ordinarily he would have been glad of the company, most likely would have walked around the shrubbery for a chat. Today was different and he only wanted his own company and memories. Today was special.

The blue flash of a Kingfisher shot across his field of view and landed on an Alder branch. His eye’s, weakening with the passage of time, barely having time to focus on the flashing and winking of the majestic bird’s regal plumage before it was away. It stirred him and his mind drifted back to a time long ago. A mist welled up in the wrinkled old eyes as the bittersweet memories flooded back.

Jimmy and he had been inseparable all through their lives. They had lived next door to one another and much of the time during their early years had been spent hunting for bullheads, stone loaches and sticklebacks in the village millstream. There, in the gravel of the shallows they learned how to trap the prized little fish between two jam-jars, slowly manoeuvred into position until one of the wary fish would bolt, in panic, into one of the jars. The technique required consummate patience but the two boys never tired of it and would hold the jam jar aloft in triumph when a successful catch was made. The old man closed his moistening eyes and saw vividly those wonderful creatures, the sultry pug face of the millers thumb and the rainbow hues of the cock sticklebacks, in full breeding finery, gulping nervously behind the curved glass.

The boys had spent all of their spare time together, started at the old village school together, and eventually started work together on the same farm. But most of all they had fished together, gradually, as teenagers, swapping the jam-jars for fine, polished cane rods and robust, mahogany centrepin reels. The stream fish were left behind and the more noble Pike became the main quarry. With only the two rods between them they would take turns, one fishing for roach or dace from the local canal with one rod, while the other fished livebaits for pike on the second rod. Many a jack pike accepted their offerings and the boys quickly learned how to unhook the fish carefully and return them unharmed to the muddy canal.

They’d discovered the pool, as teenagers by sheer luck one sunny may day whilst searching for bird's nests. Jimmy had been adamant that a thick wood lying at the base of a steep valley was certain to be home to a sparrowhawk. An hour spent picking their way cautiously through a dense jungle of blackthorn, sometimes on hand’s and knee’s and they had been unexpectedly rewarded with the wondrous sight of a hidden pool.

The thorn thicket opened out into a narrow glade that bordered the tree-lined water. They could smell the pool long before they could see it. Meadowsweet grew thickly around the banks and its scent hung all around in a thick carpet of honied air. The old man closed his eye’s again letting his mind bathe in the warmth of that memory. He could smell the heady perfume of the wildflowers and grasses across the passage of time.

Soldier straight plumes of willow herb were dotted about, their mauve lanterns tilting away shyly from the warm May sunshine. Here and there disorganised bands of Poppies splashed vermilion over lush green carpets of Sedge and Comfrey. He remembered it had been a beautiful early summer’s day, overhead the cloudless, liquid blue sky had been broken only by the acrobatic swooping and diving of swallows and martins.

The two boys were dumbstruck. In all their explorations they had never found such a place before. The pool was surrounded by the virtually impenetrable moat of vicious Blackthorn and it was plain to see, from the untamed wildness of the banks, that it seldom saw any human visitors.

‘ Come on,’

Jimmy had urged, almost whispering for fear of breaking the spell that held them. They waded through the clinging, waist high meadow plants toward an opening between two tall poplars. Their first glimpse of the pool was breathtaking.

The water was a deep, vivid green in colour. In the still May sunlight it had the texture of velvet. Huge white Lillies, unfurled and billowing on succulent jade saucers dotted the margins, at the southern end they threatened to cover the surface completely. Tall poplars and scrubby alders jockeyed for position around the edge. In many places victims of the autumn winds had fallen, trailing branches into the water. All around the pool the air was alive with the chirring of insects and the maternal chattering and gossiping of reed warblers. Occasionally the chattering became more urgent and accusatory as the neurotic little birds spotted a parasitic cuckoo ghosting slyly into the cover of an elder.

Spellbound, the boys sat in the shade of the poplar watching the natural dramas unfold.

‘Do you think there are fish in here?’

the question echoed the thought on both boys’ minds.

‘Must be,’

Jimmy had answered.

As if to reinforce the point, at that very moment, a shower of young roach had leapt from the shady shelter of a fallen tree, skipping in short bursts through the surface layers of the pool, like a school of miniature porpoises and the water below the fallen tree heaved and boiled as some unseen predator dropped back into the safety of its underwater lair.

At every given opportunity, for the remainder of that summer, the boys visited the pool. Jimmy managed to sneak a billhook and small bow saw out from his father’s shed and they carefully cut and hacked three or four swims out around the banks. They didn’t attempt to fish the pool during the warmer months, happy just to sit in the fragrant clearings peering into the bottle green water. Or lounge on an overhanging tree branch trailing their fingertips in the cool water.

On many occasions they were privy to some spectacular aerial shows from the shoals of silvery roach. A pike would corner them against some unseen underwater barrier and send them scurrying skyward in an effort to avoid it’s merciless teeth. Apart from these sightings neither boy had actually seen a pike in the pool, its perpetually dark surface giving little away, nether the less they had little doubt that it held some real monsters. They planned to begin fishing it in October when the thick bands of lilies would have begun to die back a bit.

When they weren’t at the pool they would talk endlessly about it and the possible size of the pike it held and how they might bring about the downfall of one of them. All their other favourite spots were forgotten and neither boy could think of fishing anywhere else. It soon became an obsession with them and he remembered how Jimmy had ended up convincing both of them that the pool must hold a thirty-pound fish. Such a fish was almost unheard of those days even amongst the older pike anglers that they knew.

The first of October saw them returning to the pool armed with their assortment of tackle, fired up with excitement and ready to do battle with the monster pike. It seemed to take an age to cycle there that day the old man remembered. He had hardly been able to keep pace with Jimmy as they rocketed down the final slope. They reached the bottom and quickly and unceremoniously stashed their bicycles in the Blackthorn thicket.

The swim they had discovered originally was chosen and before long two orange bungs were bobbing in unison on the gently rippled surface of the pool. Not many minutes had passed when Jimmy’s bung, positioned close to the fallen Alder, jinked once then slid swiftly down out of sight. He paused briefly, then, aware of the tangled knot of snags and not wanting to lose his precious tackle, he struck into the fish with gusto. For a fleeting moment there was no movement from below as the pike hung in the water bemused. Jimmy piped, in a shrill voice,

‘He’s on!’

A short tussle ensued as he plied sidestrain in an effort to encourage the pike away from the treacherous snags. The pike, having woken up, shook its head violently trying to throw the nuisance fish from its mouth. Jimmy could feel the fish’s every movement pulsing through the living cane and was quick to allow the beast line when the pike, unable to throw the sharp hooks, turned and torpedoed out of the tree snags. It headed determindedly for a cluster of die-hard Lillies and the trembling lad kept his cool thumbing the drum of the whirring reel, making the fish work for every inch of freedom. Two yards from the Lillies the pike gave up that ploy and, for a short pause allowed Jimmy to make some line as it wondered what to do next. Out in the open water he was soon able to ‘dog walk the fish into submission and the net was made ready. Both boys gasped in wonder as the mottled giant slid easily into the net.

Jimmy had been shaking too much to be able to deal with the monster. He had stepped in for his pal and moved the net and its contents to a soft patch of thick grass. The net was peeled back gingerly to reveal their biggest pike ever. At sixteen pounds the beautifully marked predator looked enormous to the two boys. It had been scale perfect, with creamy coloured blotches daubed on a deep tan body and flecks of gold on its dark green back. Nothing they had caught before had been so magnificent.

For the next three years they fished the pool, never seeing another angler. Except for a fish that he’d hooked which had thrown the hooks at the net and Jimmy in his typical big hearted fashion had assured him was bigger than the sixteen pounder, they never managed to land a bigger one. Both boys though had remained thoroughly convinced that the pool held some real monsters.

The old man resurfaced from the sea of his memories. He shivered a little feeling the cold and cursing to himself the slow blood of old age. He thought he could hear the hiss of line and plop of a bait from the unseen angler next door. He waited for the subsequent ripples but nothing appeared to ruffle the ‘grave’ still surface of the pool. Damn these old eyes! He strained to listen but all was quiet now next door. Four o’clock already he told himself, his eye’s straining to see the dial of his old hunter timepiece. Only a couple of hours of decent daylight left and not so much as a sniff of a run so far.

Another hour passed by and still the bung lay undisturbed. The temperature was dropping rapidly and the effort to stave off the cold made his ancient body feel tired. Nothing, though, was going to make him leave early. He knew that this was probably going to be his last session ever at the pool. His daughter and her family were moving away from the area and without their help he would be unable to fish. The frailty of his great age had long since rendered him incapable of either the drive to the pool or the tiresome lugging of tackle to the bankside. He knew that secretly his daughter was glad, not that she minded taking him or helping cart his tatty old rods and creel across the field, it was just that she worried so much about him sitting in the cold all day on his own. Especially since, ‘ poor old mum had passed away.’

She was right of course, he acknowledged to himself reluctantly. The last few sessions had been a real struggle, regular casting alone was enough to enrage his arthritic old limbs and a tussle with a decent pike would leave him breathless and dizzy. His time was slowly coming to an end. The thought held no fear for him; he’d had a good life all in all and had lived close to nature, he knew that death was just a natural part of life.

He attempted to break the rather morose train of thought by busying himself pouring a cup of tea from his flask. He settled down on his basket, sipping the hot sweet tea and squinting his eyes to look out over the pool. The pale, watery sunshine was thinning in the sharpening December air and winter’s cold breath was rising from the gloomy green surface of the pool. A late gang of Long-tail-tits bustled about in the branches of a willow, their ‘tink-tink’ call’s reminiscent of wind chimes. He watched them work methodically round the pool’s edge toward him, eventually coming close enough for him to admire their neat pink and black tailoring and marvel at their incessant energy.

Suddenly the kingfisher shot from his left and, not noticing the still figure of the old man alighted on his rod. He held his breath and remained absolutely motionless. Very slowly he turned only his eyes to look at the bird. The kingfisher paused, its head cocked slightly in an effort to make one last check for danger, then, deciding all was well, began to preoccupy itself with preening its magnificent plumage. He watched, transfixed while it meticulously combed the electric blue feathers of its upper body, painstakingly working each quill through the serrated edges of its mandibles, leaving them coated with an oily polish. After this it teased and coaxed the buff feathers of its chest until it had a tidy apron of reddy-brown down. Satisfied with its ablutions the bird held its perch tightly and gave its wings a good beating loosing a couple of spent feathers.

The old man was stiffening with the effort of holding his body still but was determined to enjoy the privileged sight for as long as possible. And then as suddenly as it had arrived the kingfisher was gone. Once again his eyes welled up. He inadvertently reached to the inside pocket of his jacket taking out a small medallion. He turned the trinket, gingerly, in his hand. On one side, beautifully painted in bright enamel paint, was a kingfisher.

It was sixty years ago to the day. The 24th December, Christmas eve 1940. He and Jimmy had a last day of leave from their barracks, where the two young men were completing the last of their basic training before being shipped overseas to fight for King and country. This was going to be the last chance for them to indulge their mutual passion. Both men, having completed a hurried basic training, had received notification that they were to be shipped out on the 26th December. With postings to different areas of France it was unlikely that they would see each other for some time. Beyond that notion neither of them wanted to contemplate. Lying in your bunk in the lonely dormitory at night was the place to face those horrors.

They had arrived at the pool, feverish with anticipation and armed with some roach and dace deadbaits fished out of the canal during a snatched hour earlier in the week. They’d assembled their tackle at breakneck speed and with a rod each in the water sat back in anticipation. He had desperately wanted them to catch something really special that day. Jimmy had become obsessed with the idea of landing a thirty-pound pike from the pool. At times it seemed as though nothing else mattered. He remembered the frustration and tension in his friend; it was almost as though if they didn’t do it that day the chance would be gone forever.

It had been a strange, silent day he remembered neither young man had much to say. Both in truth were acutely aware that they were very much going to miss one another and the thought that they would not be able to visit their secret pool, together, weighed heavily. Not unusually, the pike had been oblivious to any idea of occasion and neither bait had been touched throughout the day. Long after they should have left Jimmy was sitting sullenly watching his motionless float, unwilling to admit defeat. It had seemed an unfitting ending to their time at the pool, facing a complete blank. He’d dearly wanted him to catch something. He realised just how important it was to his friend.

He had been on the verge of breaking the uncomfortable silence and reminding Jimmy of the time, when the other had hissed urgently through gritted teeth,

‘ Here we go!’

He’d looked over his friend’s shoulder and sure enough the previously stationary float had began bobbing on the darkening surface of the pool. He’d quietly made ready the landing net all the while watching Jimmy’s float intently and praying silently. The last wink of orange disappeared as the bung was pulled, confidently, below the surface. Jimmy, his face alight with excitement, had wooshed the rod over his shoulder, striking hard into the fish. A very satisfactory bend had been formed in the cane rod and line was taken rapidly from the churning centrepin. He had worked the big fish expertly paying and mending line as needed. Several times they had held their breath as the orange bung reappeared from the gloom only to disappear again as the pike regained the initiative. Ten minutes passed quickly as the tussle ensued. All thoughts of returning to their barracks had been pushed from their minds. At last the bung reappeared close in and this time, as her energy waned, he was able to hold the fish steady underneath them.

They gasped as an enormous pike rose silently from the depths of the murky water, flaring her gills in an effort to replenish vital oxygen. The fish was over four feet in length, marked like a tiger and looked truly awesome in the water. He’d dipped the net slowly under the surface and waited for Jimmy to make his move. He clearly remembered wondering how they were going to fit the massive beast into their humble little net. Jimmy drew the giant pike slowly toward the net. She’d come quietly across the surface until her chin had brushed the cord of the net when suddenly she’d found one last surge of energy, shaking her head savagely and snagging a loose hook-point on the mesh of the net. There had been a sickening moment as the pike now free from Jimmy’s hooks had hung in the water, bemused, almost within touching distance of them, then, slowly, and cruelly, their dream sank from sight.

He’d been unable to look his pal in the face nor find any words of consolation. Never in his wildest dreams had he imagined any pike could grow to such proportions. Minutes had passed and Jimmy had remained facing the pool, not speaking a word. He’d grown worried; he knew just what this fish had meant to him. It had seemed so unfair, their last chance to crack the pool and capture a monster and to come so very close! He remained in silence waiting for his friend to speak.

He smiled to himself. I might have known him better he told himself, remembering Jimmy’s expression when he had finally turned to face him. His face lit with a huge grin,

‘Told you there was a thirty in here,’

he’d said cheerfully. Not having known how his pal was going to react, he’d laughed with relief,

‘you were dead right. Wasn’t she something? You must be choked?’

‘We’ll catch another just as big as her one day.’

Jimmy had said, wistfully. They chattered excitedly for a few more minutes. Then realising the time they agreed they’d better make a move, they were already in danger of being put on a charge.

‘One more look at the old place.’

Jimmy had begged.

They stood at the waters edge in silent respect looking over the darkening pool. He remembered thinking how much he was going to miss his best friend and the great times they’d had together, especially here. He would have liked to say something to him but was not a great one for words and it wasn’t the done thing for young men to show their feelings. Eventually Jimmy, who had evidently been thinking along the same lines, reached into his pocket and produced a shiny medal.

‘ I want you to keep this till we meet up again.’

He’d said offering the treasured object to his friend.

‘It’ll bring you luck.’

he’d mumbled somewhat awkwardly.

The old man had been deeply moved by his friend’s gesture, he knew the medal, with it’s delicately hand painted Kingfisher, to be one of Jimmy's most cherished possessions. It had been left to him by his late grandfather and had been in his family for some time.

‘You can give it back to me next time we’re here.’

Jimmy had said, trying to cover his friend’s embarrassment.

‘And we’ll celebrate capturing a ‘thirty’ at the same time.'

he added with a lopsided smile.

The old man had thought frantically for a moment then, reaching into his tackle box he took out a small gold spinner. It actually was plated with real gold and was engraved on the inside of the spoon with some wording. It had been a present from his father for his sixteenth birthday and though it was a properly fashioned lure complete with a sharp treble, it was really more of a presentation piece and rather too valuable to fish with. The inscription read, ‘To my dear son Harry on his sixteenth birthday. With love from your father.’

‘We can swap them when we get back’

he’d said, handing the spinner to Jimmy, who had grinned nodding his agreement and offering his hand to seal the deal.

On his return from France, four years later, he had been told of Jimmy’s death. ‘Killed in action. The telegram had said. Gave his life bravely, to save a group of his fellow soldiers.’ That had been over fifty years ago and not a day had passed since without him thinking of his dear pal. For many years he hadn’t been able to bring himself to fish. Even when he’d begun to fish again, he had avoided the old pool {now a popular day ticket water.} He was always conscious of a feeling of unfinished business though and had eventually convinced himself that he must return there. He had felt an urge growing inside him to catch the fabled thirty-pound pike in his friend’s memory. The obsession had grown to become his last ambition in life and the last few seasons had seen him fish the pool as often as possible.

‘Its been a race against time and times run out.’ The old man thought grimly, looking out over the pool. He could barely see his float now in the failing light. Reaching into his pocket he held the medal tightly. ‘It looks like I’m going to let you down old friend.’ He felt a heavy weariness wash over him. The truth was he had got old and tired he admitted to himself. In all honesty the medal and his dream of fulfilling Jimmy’s pledge to catch a monster had become a burden on him. The last few months in particular had taxed his fading old body; the winter had been an unusually harsh one. He reeled in with painfully stiff fingers and packed his gear away slowly. He threw the couple of unused deadbaits that remained in his bait bag out into the pool and poured the last cup of tepid tea from his flask and sat on his basket to await his daughter’s arrival.

A moment or two passed before he heard a movement from the swim next door. He had started to gather up his tackle, thinking she’d come to help him to the car with his tackle, when an angler appeared in the entrance to his swim.


he said to the stranger.

The other angler nodded and mumbled hello. The old man could not see his features in the dusky light. Not sure if he knew the fellow and not wanting to seem rude he continued to chat though in truth he was cold and tired and didn’t have the heart for conversation.

‘Caught anything?’

he asked. The other angler replied,

‘Not for a very long time.’

The old man struggled to hear the quiet voice. It sounded vaguely familiar but he couldn’t quite place it.


The stranger asked.

‘Not today,’

he answered.

The stranger moved over to his side and knelt beside him. The old man still couldn’t recognise him in the blackening twilight. There was an awkward silence, the other angler seemed happy to kneel there quietly just looking over the water alongside the old man.

He wished his daughter would hurry up. He was really feeling the cold now and a strange heavy weariness seemed to have taken hold of him. He’d wanted to spend his last few minutes at the pool on his own, with his memories, not with some unspeaking stranger.
Suddenly only feet away from the two men the water erupted and a shower of water from the disappearing tail of a huge pike soaked them both.

‘Bloody hell!’ ‘Did you see that?’

the old man gasped.

‘It was a bloody monster!’

The other angler nodded in agreement.

‘I’ve thrown my blasted bait in as well!’

he groaned miserably.

It was almost more than the old man could bear. It was the first sign of a fish he’d seen all day and something inside him told him it might be the fish he and Jimmy had dreamed of. He sat feeling the great weight of his years. He felt totally wretched and had the other man not been there he might have broken down and cried.

From the corner of his eye he caught sight of something glittering. The stranger was dangling a spinner out in front of him,

‘Try this.’

The stranger's voice was barely audible with the blood hammering in the old man’s ears. He was feeling increasingly unwell. He gazed blankly for a moment not sure what to do. His daughter would be here any moment and he hated putting her out in any way, she had a busy day in front of her tomorrow. He heard Jimmy’s voice whispering across the pool, ‘One day we will have a thirty out of here.’ In his emotionally charged state he could have sworn the voice was real. He was losing his grip he told himself. Still the stranger held out the glittering lure. The darkness was almost total now he could hardly see the man any longer, just the inviting twirling of the spinner. Again he clearly heard Jimmy’s whisper, ‘You can do it Harry.’ This is crazy he told himself I’m hallucinating.


he said at last.

‘Lets give it a go.'

He took the bright spinner from the strangers outstretched hand. and quickly tackled up a rod and trace by the light of a small torch. He attached the spinner and groped his way forward to the waters edge. He didn’t need any light to flick the twinkling lure, expertly; a couple of yards past where they’d seen the big fish strike. He felt sick with tension, his old heart was hammering dangerously fast and he was aware of a growing cold throughout his limbs. He thought of his pal and their pledge and summoned strength to his leaden arms. He could feel the positive gyrations of the spinning metal through the rod. He bought the lure back a yard then paused it for a provocative half-second then reeled again.

The lure was hit solidly before it had travelled another foot. He bent firmly into the fish and immediately felt the colossal weight of an extremely big pike.

‘Got it!’

he exclaimed to the stranger urgently.

‘Can you get the net ready?’

The stranger said nothing but readied the net. The fight was short but torrid; the old man in agony with the pressure put on his wasted, cold, old muscles. Within ten minutes the fish was ready to net.

‘Please be careful,’

he pleaded, his breathing was laboured now.

‘You don’t know what this fish means to me.’

He said weakly.

‘Oh I do,’

was all the stranger said.

Then he stepped forward and slid the net expertly under the subdued giant.

On the bank the monstrous pike was spectacular in the light of the torch. The old man weighed her but he didn’t really need to, he knew she was over thirty pounds. In fact she was thirty-one pounds exactly. He was exhausted and only the thrill of the magnificent pike was keeping him going. After savouring the sight of her for a short while he gently lowered her into the water and held her respectfully until she was able to swim off strongly.

He sat back on his basket and tried to take it all in. His chest was hurting from his exertions. He closed his eyes and tried to catch his breath, feeling inside his jacket for the Kingfisher medallion. Gripping the little talisman tightly. ‘Well old friend you were right all along.’ He murmured. His body racked with pain now, as the chill night air seeped into his old bones. For a few moments his mind drifted as he sat trying to rest. The sounds of his own teeth chattering with the merciless cold bought him back to his senses.

He’d all but forgotten the stranger, who all along had kept silent. Realising he was still sitting there the old man turned with an effort and thanked him for his help. Realising that he’d not yet returned the fellow’s spinner, he fought to steady his shaking hands and unclipped it from his trace. He held it out to the stranger, hardly able to see his outline now. The stranger shook his head

‘ Its yours.’

He said.

Again the voice seemed vaguely familiar but the old man still couldn’t place it. He was touched by the stranger's generosity.

‘Well thanks’

he stammered, not knowing what else to say.

The stranger said nothing. They sat again in silence the old man could feel himself slipping into a whirling void he wanted to close his eyes but he was frightened that if he did he might never open them again. Something niggled at him to stay awake. He was aware that there was something he needed to do before he could sleep in peace, but his thoughts were becoming jumbled and he didn’t know what it was. He fought to stay conscious. Suddenly he remembered the stranger again he thought for a while then, his mind made up, felt in his pocket for Jimmy’s medallion.

‘I want you to have this,’

he said.

His voice was slurred and he struggled to get the words out. He was vaguely aware of the man nodding and taking the medallion. When he looked again the stranger had gone. He thought he heard a car door in the distance. He sat looking out at the pool numbly, holding the spinner in his hand. It felt warm and familiar as his fingers caressed the polished metal of the spoon. He felt the coldness and the pain ebbing from him. He was slipping peacefully into sleep. All he was aware of now was the familiar metal between his fingers. Suddenly his dulling eyes opened wide in surprise for a moment; then a smile began to form on his face.

The police officer at the desk repeated gently to the tearful lady,

‘Yes Madam, the bailiff has confirmed there was no one else fishing the pool that day, I’m afraid you have to rely on the doctors report to ascertain the time of your father’s death.’

The young woman nodded numbly. She’d been in a state of shock since finding her father dead at the pool two days ago. The only small consolation had been the beaming smile that was fixed on his face in death. She left the police station and walked towards her car. In her hand was a small gold spinner that they’d found her dad clutching in his hand. She turned the golden blade over and read the inscription again, ‘ To my dear son Harry on his sixteenth birthday. With love from your father.’