‘You Couldn’t Make it Up: A Pike-Fishing Adventure From the Sarkar Archive…’
The myriad of extreme emotions an angler can experience within just a few seconds never ceases to astonish me – from euphoria to devastation in one nano-second flat. Sometimes such experiences are indelibly imprinted on our memories – and such is the case with a particular pike I caught back in February 1983. All these years later I remember that incident clearly – as I will now relate.
A piece of heaven: the ‘secret pit’ during the winter of 1982/3.
At that time I was only twenty-one but had been seriously pike-fishing for over five years. A friend of mine, Steve Cooper, was a bit of an all-rounder, although inclined towards specimen hunting, and in 1978 mentioned a particular Cotswold trout lake where pike had been pinching trout off his hooks when fly fishing. That winter we started fishing it, but with food so abundant it was hard going. After a few decent doubles and a lot of hours, I was lucky enough to catch my first twenty-pounder (23.04) there on 3 January 1981. Used to fishing rivers, this was a completely different creature: short and fat, more like a carp than the long, lean and fit river pike that we were used to catching. Barrie Rickards did some scale readings for me, confirming an annual growth rate of over three-and-a-half pounds. That being so, we knew that there was clearly potential for an even bigger fish. A month or so later, Steve had a 25.02, so we knew that we were on the right track.
3 January 1981: 23.04 – fat and trout-fed
The following season, however, for some reason we didn’t fish the place much. The autumn of 1982, though, saw me back there with another friend, Alan Gwillam. It appeared that the owner had stopped stocking trout and was considering leasing the venue to a coarse angling club. There were some big carp present too, but not a huge head of silver fish – the pike, we reckoned, would be hungry – and so it proved. We also found what was undoubtedly the ‘hot’ area; results soared, with lots of pike, including several more good twenties, coming to our nets. On 2 January 1983, Alan and I had a twenty apiece, mine being 25.06 and a personal best at that time. We were, to be fair and as they say these days, a couple of young lads ‘having a blast’!
2 January 1983. Alan Gwillam with his first twenty: another trout-fed pike of 20.04.
|2 January 1983: 25.06 – this is probably the 25.08 that caused the author such consternation a few weeks later!|
Following a freeze, one Saturday in late February saw Steve and I in the hotspot. Steve soon had a 23+ in the net. As I was unhooking it, the indicator dropped off my sunk-float paternostered livebait. I had just re-spooled my Mitchell 300s with new monofilament – Maxima in 10lbs breaking strain being de-rigour at the time. Back then, of course, the innumerable specialist lines available today – with high breaking strains combined with low diameter - had yet to be created, so choice was limited. Sylcast was a popular line, indeed it was said that oil rigs were towed out on the stuff, but I found it a bit too ‘springy’ – and Maxima had never let me down. As I approached the rod, line was peeling off at a rate of knots. The rod in question was a hollow glass fibre Fibatube F132. Now these things were fast taper and as stiff as pokers – fine for blasting out deadbaits but totally inappropriate, really, for close to medium range work. Anyway, like Maxima, the F132s had nonetheless never let me down. I wound down, struck – and the line – inexplicably - parted. It was brand new, unused and in perfect condition. I was utterly and absolutely gutted – mainly because I had consequently left a trace in what was potentially another big pike. A very dark shadow, therefore, was cast upon my day.
Later that morning my float appeared in the middle of the pit – clearly with a pike very much attached. Taking a third rod from my holdall, I rapidly tackled up with a two-ounce lead and tied on a bunch of trebles – intending to cast over and snag the lost rig. As the cast was shorter from the far bank I reeled in my rods, left Steve to it, and made my way there. The pike continued to cruise about but always – perhaps inevitably – just beyond casting range. Try as I might, I was unable to get the extra few yards required. After an hour I decided the exercise futile, and began walking back to the pitch, intending to make another attempt shuld the fish come in closer. When about sixty or seventy yards from where I had been casting, I turned around, just in case the fish had moved. Incredibly the lost float was now only about thirty yards from my bank and making its way, slowly, parallel to it. I immediately turned about. As I hurried back, the fish came even closer – just five yards out! Crawling quietly on all fours, I carefully cast out over the line trailing behind the float and gently eased it towards me. Leaning out across the water I managed to grab the loose end and wrap it around my left hand – as the pike began moving off! I then bit the line off my rod and, knowing full-well from the pressure being exerted on my left hand that this was another big pike, somehow managed, with trembling fingers, to tie the two lines together. I was back in! By the time Steve arrived with the net, the fish was beaten, at long last, and safely landed. I can honestly say that I was absolutely drained of all nervous energy! On the scales this wonderful fish was a PB by two ounces: 25.08, probably being, I suspected, the 25.06 I had caught previously.
It was a really beautiful day: sunny with a blue sky and prefect for photography. In those pre-digital days I used a 35 mm Olympus Trip. The film had run out, so I loaded a new roll. Pictures taken – what a result! On the Monday morning I wound on the remaining blank film and took the canister to a photography shop in Worcester for developing. Wednesday lunchtime I was straight out of the office and off to collect my photographs. Would you believe it – when the film was processed there was nothing on it! Apparently in my haste and somewhat excited state, when loading the film I failed to engage the sprocket which winds the film on. Not one picture of this fish had, therefore, been recorded. Gutted again, but I remember walking back to the office shaking my head in disbelief, reflecting upon the entire incident – it was as if that fish was absolutely determined not to be caught!
A few days later I received notification of the date I was to become a constable in the West Mercia Constabulary – 7 March 1983. My season was, therefore, cut short, although I managed one more trip to the pit before joining the boys in blue. On that final session I was lucky enough to take a brace of twenties, 23.12 and 26.02. It had been quite a season. One thing I have learned is that everything in life changes, for good or bad. Joining the police, in which I served for over twenty-two years, changed my life forever. Steve was a fishing tackle agent and made the mistake of telling a customer who was a ‘circuit’ specimen hunter about our little bit of heaven. So it was that the scene descended upon the pit, which we had enjoyed to ourselves until that point – so that was never the same again either; rule of thumb: if ever you find quality pike-fishing, never tell a living soul. The following season a coarse angling club did indeed take over the fishing, so access became open to all. I did go back, and had a couple more twenties to 23.08, but these were no longer the short, fat, fish of a few years before. It was obvious that the moment had passed. Had the trout gone in for another year before the angling club took the water on, there is no doubt that the venue would have done a thirty. Unfortunately that was not to be – but we certainly had some brilliant piking, in peace and quiet, whilst it lasted.
16 October 1983: Dilip returns a 23.06, but by then the ‘scene’ had descended on the pit, trout were no longer being stocked and already the fish were longer and leaner.
Because that winter was my last as a care-free youngster, before having to grow up rapidly and become a professional police officer, the memory of it will always remain with me – not least because we enjoyed such great fishing. Of all the memories, though, the farce of eventually landing that 25.08 will always be vivid. The following season, in fact, I had a day on the pit, for old time’s sake, and bumped into Des Taylor and Nige Williams. Recounting the tale to Des, I inquired as to whether he thought the fish ‘counted’. “Ar, too bloody right it does, keed!” said the big Brummie, which was good enough for me. Indeed, as I said to Des that day, “You couldn’t make it up – could you?!”
© Dilip Sarkar MBE.