Monday, 31 December 2012

Merlin Magic by Mark Barret

                                                          Merlin’s magic
          Well beings as it’s the time of year of goodwill to all men I hope that you will forgive me if I wander slightly off the pike topic from time to time within this, well from a pike point of view at least as this story covers a five year period of my life when I had some of the best fishing that I have ever had, especially for pike, but also, and with all respect to my human fishing companions, the best angling partner I have ever had. So sit back, grab a glass of something good and enjoy.
As long as I can remember I have always loved dogs. I was brought up with them around; though never in my direct family my Nan and Granddad had a succession of dogs, from a sausage dog called Rory, the first I can remember to their last a King Charles spaniel. My uncle also had a gundog and as I got increasingly more interested in shooting as a sport so I wanted a gundog too, but for some reason I had my heart set on a Springer Spaniel. After much convincing of my parents who I lived with at the time I managed to convince them that I was responsible enough to own my own dog and after visiting a specialist breeder I walked away a few weeks later with a liver and white ball of fluff that was to become Merlin.
Though my primary reason for getting him was of course as a gundog, if he was to be my dog then he also was going to spend a lot of time by the waterside. So it was that at just 8 weeks old we embarked upon our very first fishing trip together, along with my best mate Richard to the Great Ouse with zander as the target.

A large zander, bait caught.
 As it was a summer’s night I dispensed with my bedchair and was going to spend a night on my chair. This I did but very quickly I ended up with a puppy asleep on my stomach, curled up underneath my coat! Sometime in the middle of the night one of my rods roared off and as it was quite difficult to get up with a dog on me Richard grabbed merlin and put him on his own bedchair before I could warn him not to as the first thing that a puppy does when it wakes up? It pisses and left Richard a lovely puddle in the middle of his bedchair that he had to spend the remainder of the night sleeping on!
However after a fairly shaky start, merlin soon got used to this strange activity and over the course of the next few months got accustomed to fishing just in time for the start of the pike season.
My main venue at the time was a series of gravel pits not far from home which enabled me to get down to the lake as often as possible. It also meant that merlin got extremely accustomed to that route and had developed the habit of bouncing up and down as we got near to the turn off for that lake, my Carp Lake or workplace as he went to them all and all were right hand turns off the same road. On the rare occasion that we didn’t turn at either he used to look at me from the passenger seat as if to say “what’s going on, you have missed the turn”!
My main target had been the largest lake on the complex for a while but it had been pretty hard going with just a few doubles amongst a succession of jacks. However from time to time a big girl would reveal herself by either grabbing a jack as it was being played, or by being caught. I well remember looking on as a gorgeous 24lber was caught one Sunday afternoon by a young lad with just the merest sniff of envy as not only was it a great fish, but fin and scale perfect, the perfect pike in every way.
However there came a fly in the ointment in that the previously private trout lake opened for all this year and was there to offer a new exciting challenge. Initially though I stuck with the main pit and after several years of trying I finally got one of the big girls from the lake, oddly at exactly smack on twenty pounds. With that monkey off my back and the possibility of something new on the other lake I decided that I would give the big lake a miss and give the trout lake a go. It was a decision that I shall be eternally grateful for as on the first trip there I had a pike of 25lbs 6ozs and my mate Richard caught the same fish a while later and added a 19.14 to nearly get a brace of twenties when in fact the 25lber was his first ever twenty.
I could wax lyrical about the rest of my time on the lake, but in reality I have done that before in PAC30, but we had some of the best piking we ever experienced including my still personal best of 27.10. for the first two seasons it was also still pretty quiet especially in the week and often I would turn up after a shift at work and have the lake to myself. This would lead to me getting the rods out and then curling up in the back of my van to get some kip, whilst merlin would either be out chasing the rabbits or assuming the role of spaniel hot water bottle, curled up by my feet! He had also developed a little trick by this point that used to amaze those that hadn’t seen it before and that was that if I had my rods slightly spread out should one beep then he would run and sit behind the rod that had sounded. He never got the wrong rod and would sit there and look at me until I either did something about the rod or called him back!
One trick that he did pick up that was less enamouring was to get the dead rabbits that had passed on by myxamitosis and rolling in them coating himself in rotten rabbit. So it was that on one occasion I spied merlin coming back to our little base behind the Christmas trees with a dead rabbit in his mouth. Not fancying a journey home with stinking dog I jumped up and hid behind the car ready to grab the rabbit from him before he knew what was going on. Stage one of the plan worked perfectly and as he came sauntering round the car I leapt up and grabbed the rabbits legs to pull it free, but here the plan went well awry as merlin reacted as quickly and clamped down on his prize which proceeded to let out the most horrendous squealing! I must have jumped ten feet into the air and Richard who was fishing just up from me ended up with a cup of tea in his lap!
If the winter was good then the following summer was idyllic. I had taken on the lease on a lovely little pit in Cambridgeshire called Pingles and along with my mates we spent every moment that we had at the lake. Summer days seemed to pass by in a blur of sunny days, beautiful carp and tench and a mad spaniel either digging holes everywhere, swimming out alongside me in the syndicate boat, running heedlessly round the field or at night curled up in a ball at the bottom of my bedchair. It really was a great summer often spent in my favourite swim at the far end of the lake with not a care in the world.
After such a great summer I was really fired up for the winter to come and with a few waters on the agenda it looked like a really good season could be had, and that turned out to be the case, but that it was also to prove to be the last I spent with merlin made it all the more bitter sweet. Wherever I cast a line that winter I could do no wrong. It should also be said that the fire was burning very bright that year, probably to an extent that will never be repeated as the advancing years just quell the flames a touch. By the end of the winter I had managed to land eight pike over twenty pounds from five different venues but it was the last pike of the winter that was to prove the most special.
I hadn’t had any intention of going fishing that day. I had spent the night at work and was due in again that evening but my mate Olly rang up early telling me he had copped a sickie from work and he would pick me up in half an hour to go. Despite my protestations he wasn’t taking no for an answer so I grabbed my gear together, hooked the last few baits that I had in my tank which were barely good enough for perch, let alone pike and piled the lot, plus merlin into Olly’s van. Our venue for the day was the Old West River, which is actually just the old course of the Great Ouse, but more importantly to me is the fact that it was the river that I grew up on. Every summer holiday we would spend days on its banks, strapping rods to our bikes and being gone from dawn to dusk trying to catch whatever came along. One area of the river produces some great fishing in the winter months and it’s close to home so it didn’t take us long to get there and despite my initial reservations it really was a cracking day to be out, sunny with just a gentle warm breeze hinting of spring which wasn’t too far away and a temperature in the low teens.
We wandered down the bank about 200 yards and started putting the rods together. My first rod went out towards the back of a moored boat at the entrance to the boat turning bay that we were fishing. The bait was one of the tiny livebaits and I remember thinking that I might have an outside chance of a decent zander when the rod that I had just cast in sounded that something had grabbed a hold of the tiny bait. Merlin was already stationed behind the rod and I swept the rod back into a heavy weight that wasn’t much for moving. Eventually it did start to come back across the river but I had my doubts as to whether or not it was actually a fish such was the rather dour fight, but as it got nearer so it woke up and was obviously a very good pike, especially for this river which has no track record for big pike at all.
After a few runs back and forth in front of me Olly did the honours with the net and upon lifting it to the net we could see a really beautifully marked lump of a pike as fat as butter and obviously not too far from spawning. Noting this we handled her with kid gloves and soon had her on the scales where she went round to 26lbs on the nose a record still for the river I believe and quite a shock to say the least and my ninth twenty of my best ever season.

26lb on the nose, fin perfect pike.

Sadly they say that in life for every pleasure there has to be a little pain, however my pay off was to be just a little too much to bear.
The spring was back to Pingles but there was something very wrong with merlin who on the first session that we had down the lake had developed a hacking cough, but more unusually didn’t leave the bivvy all weekend and didn’t come out at all when I was in the boat. To cut a long story short after a series of tests at the vets they discovered that he had a tumour in his chest that was preventing his lungs from inflating properly, hence the cough. If that wasn’t bad enough they also discovered that there were more tumours coming up in his stomach, basically the prognosis was that there was no chance and there really was only one option, though the vets did think that with some pills they could make him more comfortable for a while and we went away for the weekend to think it over.
That weekend was enough to make the decision for me as my mate that used to tear around everywhere and wouldn’t sit still wouldn’t do much else and he really wasn’t the same dog and obviously in some pain.
So on the Monday morning I made the call to the vets and we took our last drive together. I can honestly say that I felt like a rat making that journey knowing what was about to happen, knowing it was for the best but still hating myself for it. The vets though were brilliant and came out to the car rather than make me come through a crowded reception room.  Anyone who has ever had to have a pet will know what happens next and it’s something I will never forget or hope to repeat.  There was only one thing left to do and that was to find somewhere to bury him, but I had already decided upon that. There could only be one place and that was in our favourite swim at Pingles. Changes to the lease meant that because of overhead power lines that swim could no longer be used and so it would be undisturbed and a fitting place to lay my best fishing mate to rest. As I pulled down the track to the lake on the radio came the song “zoom” by Fat Larry’s band and it just seemed so appropriate as one line in the chorus was “zoom, you chased the day away”, pretty much what merlin had done every day of his five year life and even now if I hear that song it takes me right back to that day, but also reminds me of the fun and disasters that I had in the five years that I had him and the days together on the bank which were some of the best I had.
The swim from where upon Merlin fittingly lies buried.
I have never bought a dog to replace merlin; in truth no dog ever replaces your first. As a passage in a gundog book that I read when I was trying to train him said “When your first dog dies it will leave a hole in your heart that all the others just fall through”. I think that sums it up perfectly.
Hope you all had  happy Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous new year to all.


  1. omg talk about a lump in the throat, great article.

  2. Dogs just dont live long enough. Even healthy ones mate. Nice photos!

  3. great blog
    love to visit it
    caught my first pike yesterday ;)
    on popped up sardine
    lost one zander before it and thrown chewed sardine back and in half an hour came this beauty

  4. cracking meories Mark, brought back many memories of my first dog, our trials tribulations and gut wrenching heart ache whilst taking take last journey