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


  1. A smashing little tale, beautifully written. If that's your first piece of writing James you really should be considering your next! Excellent!

  2. certainly is my first attempt hammy....and perhaps another article on the cards after xmas.
    cheers for the positive comment.

  3. thanks for positive words mr.h !! perhaps another in the pipeline soon.