Picture this scene, 6am in early January, there is a light frost which crunches underfoot. It’s cold but bearable, the chilly air however still bites at any exposed part that you’re brave enough to let show.
By the light of the moon that gazes down you can just make out the dark silhouettes of some distant farm buildings. Most of this part of the world is still asleep; it is (in my opinion) the best part of the day.
Then you see her, wild, powerful and yet strangely alluring, in contrast almost gentle and inviting as she passes under the bridge. The river, a strange and veiled world that is constantly changing and moving that only a few special and very privileged people ever get to really know.
Today she is a little higher than usual due to recent rain, but the water is running reasonably clear now with just a slight tinge of colour, conditions then are almost perfect.
As you climb the rusty old five bar gate the sense of anticipation grows, the excitement builds and the adrenaline levels begin to rise, because down there where the river cuts through the disused and forgotten water meadows, just three fields away lives the “battleship”.
For those of you who don’t know I’ll share this secret with you.
The “battleship” is an old, wily mid – upper twenty pound wild river pike, which owns approximately a 100m stretch of this Southern UK River. All the creatures that inhabit this part of the world know of her existence. Otters know better than to try their luck here, herons avoid this stretch like the plague and the cormorants don’t dare to come within half a mile.
The “battleship” as I affectionately named her has earned her fearsome reputation and twice has eluded capture by yours truly, both times have left me shattered, almost suicidal and close to tears.
Now although my pride hates to admit it, it’s true twice she has bested me, but it’s not just pride that insists she gets her comeuppance. The fighting qualities of this river pike are second to none, I’ve had thirty pound pike roll over when caught and have reeled them in practically deadweight. This awesome “battleship” is a warrior of the highest order, clever, calculating and a fish that is in a league of her own. A question I ask myself often is would I swap this wild fantastic river fish for a trout fed 35lb reservoir fish and hand on heart I can honestly answer no. To a find a fish like this in a neglected and over looked spot is part of the whole adventure and experience. Pride yes, but I consider it more of my duty to bring such a worthy adversary to submission.
What follows is a detailed and accurate account of my third encounter with “battleship” for such a battle is worthy of a tale recorded in its own right and one that will stay in my mind for the rest of my days….
Leaving home a few hours before dawn I headed up river about a mile to a Pool that I knew contained Dace and Roach in the winter. After an hour of trotting maggots down into the Pool I had managed to obtain 3 large Dace and 2 Roach of a decent bait size. By this time I was already frozen and the steady drip that appears every winter at the end of your nose had once again begun to drip. It was however a beautiful starlit night with a dark blue velvet sky and far off in the East I could see the first stirrings of dawn. The mile walk with the bucket got my blood pumping again and I was warm as I arrived back at the car, I put my livey rod in and withdrew my weapon of choice my trusty old favourite pike rod.
Only the day before I had spent an hour in preparation cleaning and greasing the reel, meticulously checking the braid and I’d attached a new trace and razor sharp size 4 treble, all for this very morning.
So I was now armed, prepared and as I arrived at the aforementioned rusty five bar gate I gazed down river & had a good feeling about the chances of finally taming the “Battleship”.
I headed down through the disused water meadows, all the time the sense of anticipation was growing and by the time I reached the boundary of “Battleships” territory I was intent, focused, confidant and had completely forgotten about the cold.
The area of river I was about to fish was a shallow stretch of a Southern Chalk river that was probably no deeper than 4ft-5ft in any area, the area that I knew this fish favoured was the margins. There was a tree with its lower branches extended into the river causing a natural obstruction and for about 20m from the tree down there was calm slack water and a good straight margin that appeared to be hollowed out underneath the bankside vegetation for about half a metre. It was here that I had hooked this fish twice before and both times she had evaded capture and had left me feeling frustrated and demoralised.
With extreme caution I softly crept towards the tree and crouched down in the grass, the sun was just appearing on the horizon and it was now first light. I removed my bag checked the drag on my reel and selected a large Dace live bait. This i attached to the hook through the mouth and I then slowly and with as much stealth as I could manage crept towards the bank trying not to make any noise or cause any vibrations.
I dropped the bait in with a resounding clunk & I didn’t have to wait long, in fact in what must have only been a few seconds and by the time the Dace had righted itself a bow wave had emerged from the margin about 10m down river. Something was coming, something very big, as I watched mesmerised a huge head appeared, the mouth flared open and engulfed the Dace in one. For a split second I was in shock and awe, I hesitated as reality slowly hit me, then I came to my senses wound down the little slack there was and I struck hard. For an instant time stood still, then all bloody hell broke loose. The “battleship” on feeling the hook and strike instantly broke the surface with a somersault twist-head shaking manoeuvre that nearly won her freedom again. This time though I was ready I instantly pointed the rod tip towards the river and braced myself. The huge river pike hit the water with a large splash that soaked me and instantly she switched tactics. Getting her head down and she set off on a surging powerful run towards the tree and Oh my God what a fish it was a clever move I hadn’t expected.
Within a blink of an eye she reached it and I had to stop her from going in deeper to what was literally snag city. Placing my hand on the reel to counter the drag I locked it up, it was make or break time. As any Pike Angler who reads this will understand there’s an awful sinking feeling you get when you feel the braid being rubbed against underwater snags, it’s like a jarring, vibrating sensation and I was positive that this wily clever “battleship” was doing it on purpose. Applying side strain I felt a few more knocks then everything went solid. Anglers know what that means and my heart began to sink whilst my mind was berating me for allowing her to reach the tree.
As I applied more pressure my heart fell further as nothing was giving, I could still feel her shaking and I had a vision in my mind of her rubbing that braid furiously on the sharpest root or branch down there. Then suddenly there was a strong “twang” that vibrated up the braid and I feared the worst as the line went slack. However miraculously she was out and still on and I noticed part of a broken branch surface under the tree and silently thanked the Fish Gods that I hadn’t lost her. As she moved out from the tree she bolted for the middle of the river, the power of this angry wild Pike was phenomenal, she paused in the middle of the river and I could just see and feel her head shaking as she fought to shake the hook. I started to bring her in towards the bank twice she resisted and took back every inch of line I gained. At times my reel screeched but eventually she began to tire and slowly I gained line and finally managed to get her head up to the surface before getting her over the net. Yes; at last I had her defeated, I lack the vocabulary to describe that feeling of elation that you get after such a battle, my adrenaline was pumping as I gazed down at my prize.
The “battleship” weighed in at 26lb 9oz which I was surprised at as I thought she was more near a thirty. However disappointed I was not and then I spent a good 5 minutes with her in the net allowing her to recover whilst I marvelled in the beauty of this magnificent wild creature that had really earnt my respect.
At last I released her back from whence she came and with a flick of her huge tail she swam off towards the tree and disappeared from my sight, to sulk and fight another day.
The joy of fishing for pike for me is an amazing experience and I’ve been truly blessed to have many experiences like this one. Catching Pike like this is special and I feel truly honoured to have many memories of adventures just like this one. “Pike thrive on neglect” so go where is neglected and find your own “battleships” and I hope you have as much fun in doing so as I have and continue to do.