Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Full Circle

Quite why I came top of the poll to write the 100th post for The Pike Pool is a bit of a mystery as I don't do anywhere near as much piking as most Pikers Pit members do these days. Which is as good a reason to make it a bit of a look back over the ups and downs of 30 odd years of piking. Hopefully without the rose tinted spectacles!

In some respects my attitude to piking is exactly the same now as it was when I started piking in earnest back in 1982. I just want to catch pike, first and foremost, and if I can manage to land a few doubles each season I'm a happy chappy. I've never had any ambitions to catch more or bigger pike than anyone else (which is just as well given the piking partners I've had over the years...). In the early days I obviously wanted to increase my personal best pike, but the thought of catching a thirty was nowhere in my head. Such fish were very thin on the ground and unheard of from local waters. Even a twenty was extremely unlikely from anywhere within ten miles of home.

That's not to say that pictures of thirty pound pike weren't motivating. Photos of Peter Hancock's record and Clive Loveland's 39 are still iconic in my eyes. Perhaps even more motivating, because a more recent capture (and in colour in the Abu Tight Lines catalogue) was the fish Slim Baxter caught from Lomond. There was another photo that graced the cover of Coarse Angler stuck in my mind, not least because I actually knew the angler in question - Rob Forshaw's Lomond 31.

Even so a thirty was beyond most local piker's dreams because catching one involved a lot of travelling to even be in with a chance of fishing a water containing them. Twenties weren't much more of a hope. All the local pikers I knew who had caught a twenty had them from either Scotland or the Fens. For a bloke with just a push bike and occasional lifts to go fishing the best I could hope for was to catch the biggest pike in the waters I had access to. The drains hadn't produced a 20 in recent years, and by all accounts doubles were hard to come by on the canal.

Despite the low ceiling weights for pike on these waters a pike is a pike and I managed to learn a fair bit that I have put to use on 'better' waters since. One thing that you do learn is to work for your fish. If you start piking (or fishing for any species for that matter) on a prolific water with a high average size of fish you can become complacent and imagine that all you have to do anywhere is rock up and chuck the baits out. It's one reason travelling anglers can outfish the locals when a water gets known about. They are used to trying a little bit harder.

It didn't take long before I started travelling for my piking when I teamed up with Pete Hesketh. He'd' fished a loch on the off chance when he was on holiday and caught doubles without really trying. As an example of the quality of our local fishing Pete fished an entire season (June to March) for something like ninety pike, ten of them being doubles. That included early sessions before work as well as weekends. It's grim up north.

When you start fishing further afield you begin to bump into pikers from other parts of the country. Sometimes you hit it off with them and they give you tip-offs about waters they fish or have fished. After having a few red letter days, by our standards, in Scotland catching more than one double in a day, and me catching my first twenty - which wasn't what we were targeting - we moved on to one of those waters we'd been told about for the winter. The fishing was slower, but we kept on catching doubles. This time Pete got a twenty. We were becoming accustomed to this sort of fishing as the new norm for us. Instead of hoping for a double every time we fished we were expecting them. Our hopes were now of twenties.

More waters came to our attention and we found ourselves on that grapevine we'd heard so much about. So began the years of travelling. Early starts, long drives, weekend sessions and longer bivvying up or sleeping in cars and vans. Doubles were reasonably relatively plentiful, but twenties were still the exception. I never was lucky. In the years Pete and I fished together we both caught the same number of pike over nineteen pounds. Pete caught twice as many twenties as me though. The netting skills I learned in those years came in handy when I started fishing with a certain Yorkshire Pudding.

When Esthwaite got widely known about it was pretty much out of my league as far as price went. I had to listen to my mates talking about all the twenties they were catching. That is the biggest downside to trout water piking. The expense limits who can have a crack at the fish. Just as anywhere, the more time you put in the more you will catch and, therefore, the better your chances of a monster. Esthwaite was the first water I knew of, that was reasonably local, to produce numbers of thirties.

Despite being able to afford only an occasional session I still fished Essy hoping for a twenty. My PB was slowly creeping upwards, literally by the ounce, after catching my Scottish 22 pounder. I managed enough high doubles to keep me satisfied. If you're catching fifteen-plussers on a regular basis where a twenty is a big fish you're doing all it takes to catch twenties. All I needed was a bit of luck. That bit of luck came along when Geoff Parkinson anchored up where I wanted to troll my livebaits forcing me out from the bank and the right hand float sank from sight.

Catching what was at the time one of the top fifty pike of all time (although that was the year the List Master General didn't publish the top 50 list...) was a strange thing to happen. I never thought I'd catch a 30. I never really hoped to catch one. But I had. For some reason after that fish twenties started to fall to my rods more frequently than nineteens. I wonder if the weight of the big one stretched the spring in my scales?

A scattering of memories
Once more chance encounters lead to a change of fishing partner and pastures new. Nige Grassby invited me to fish with him and a whole new experience was had. Numbers of doubles in a day, and all falling for lures. That sort of fishing can spoil you for the kind of piking to be had back home. As this lure fishing coincided with making more contacts and starting to travel to more southerly trout waters so the fishing, and expectations, changed. When the 'lure boom' hit the trout waters the fishing was remarkable.

Previous trout water sessions with deadbaits and 'old school' lures had been more like playing the lottery than fishing. You hoped something would be stupid enough to take your bait or lure, but didn't really believe anything would. The expectation was to blank, although Llandegfedd herrings made a difference for some. Unfortunately my herrings were the other sort. Now I felt like I was fishing for twenties. I caught a few too. I even managed one on a mackerel! This was when my netting skills proved invaluable and in one season I slipped the net under four thirties for Mr Grassby. It was almost like we were expecting to catch thirties.

Nothing lasts for ever in the piking world and it didn't take long before the edge some of us had with the lures and techniques we were using wore off. Victims of our own success, I suppose, as lure tactics got publicised and the lures became widely available. It was as much a case of getting on the spots before anyone else if you wanted to keep the catch rates up. Menteith was a bit different. You still needed to be on the spots, but the pike would take deadbaits. Unusual for trout water pike. After all those years of chucking lures all day sitting watching a couple of floats and expecting to catch made a pleasant change.

Nonetheless, around 2004 I was starting to get tired of all the travelling. Trout water fishing was getting more competitive as more and more people knew where 'the spots' were and had the means to make the most of them. Other waters I was fishing were going off the boil. Angling pressure had taken its toll on some, as had aquatic predators and possibly humans with a taste for fish. After all those years I couldn't face fishing locally on waters where you either had to face a lengthy run of blanks before a fish turned up (either a jack or a twenty on one water), or the prospect was a load of jacks with an occasional double. That was when I turned to barbel after the tench had spawned. It's odd, but when I fish for other species I always set out with a target in mind, but with pike I never did. Once my PBs had been upped to a level where they were going to be harder to beat I started to think of pike again.

In the Autumn of 2011 I headed back to the local drains. Something had changed. When I first fished them deadbaits were a waste of time. If you wanted consistent sport you needed livebaits. So that was how I started out - with two lives and a dead. Strangely the deadbait produced more pike and a better stamp too. The majority of modern pikers use deads as their first choice. and I have a feeling that the intervening years the pike had become more accustomed to finding discarded deadbaits

Back where I started
However, something else had changed. My approach. I always used to find that sitting it out in one spot and waiting for the pike to move past worked best. After becoming mobile in my barbel fishing I started moving about when piking. Now it was paying off. Sometimes I'd leapfrog, sometimes I'd pack up and move hundreds of yards. Often a move would result in a pike. I was also fishing short sessions rather than dawn to dusk jobs, and still catching enough to keep me interested.

My next move was to a return to a stillwater that never used to produce much over ten pounds. I knew the pike would take deads on there so that was easy. I was surprised to find that the pike had got bigger. The average jack was bigger, and there were twenties to be caught. Not by me, but a couple of mid doubles were nice enough.This was sit and wait all-day stuff though. Something I find increasingly tedious when not much action occurs.

This water involved a bit of a drive and by now I was really fed up of early starts - which this place needed to make sure of getting a decent swim, so it was a lucky meeting that saw me joining a water where the pike, much to my surprise, feed late in the day. In all my time I had never found many pike waters where the evening feeding spell could be relied on. One or two fish would get caught at last knockings but not enough of them to make afternoon sessions worthwhile. Only the canal and one drain ever did me any pikey favours after lunch in the winter.You can't beat fishing between lunch and tea during the winter without the need to make any pack-up and just a small flask of tea to keep the cold out. Keeping moving can see two or three fish banked in that time. It's great fun.

That's where my piking is again. I get the rods out when I feel like a piking fix, fishing locally, expecting to catch something every time I fish, hoping for a double or two and not worrying about twenties. If I get fed up I go home rather than stick at it until the death. I'm enjoying piking in a simple way just like when I started out. No targets beyond saving a blank, no pressure, no lists. Fishing is supposed to be fun, and I'm enjoying it.

I think my spring balance has rusted up though. It's sticking at nineteen pounds again. But these days I couldn't care less!

Dave Lumb

Monday, 30 March 2015

My Uncles Forty

Many stories litter the annuals of pike fishing history that assist in dispelling the myth that lightening does not strike twice in the same place! This is another such story, which exhibits such elements of luck and coincidence as to make it almost unbelievable for some!  

You may recall, back in February 2014, I was the fortunate captor of the current Chew Valley record pike. An incredible fish, weighing 44lb 6oz. The sort of fish that even seems frankly unrealistic when one allows their mind to explore their piking dreams; that 99.99% of pike anglers never have the privilege to see in their angling lifetime.

But, how about two of these beasts of myth and legend? According to Neville Fickling’s notable pike anglers list, only Eddie Turner and Nige Williams have actually caught two 40lb+ pike themselves, but how many angling duos have shared each other’s captures of 40lb+ pike?

My uncle, Mike Heyes and I have been fishing together since I was eight years old (I’m now twenty six). Mike had only previously dabbled with angling, tagging along on the odd trip with his elder brother, Phil Heyes, who was quite a successful match angler throughout the 80s, even by national standards, but Mike had never really taken to the sport. It is fair to say that even now, Mike doesn’t take his fishing too seriously. He isn’t motivated by catching big fish and is at his happiest fishing a simple waggler setup on a local commercial carp pool. Unfortunately for Mike, I do the driving and the car generally finds its way to waters where there is a chance of something special or where the surroundings and the environment make it a pleasure just to be there! Mike has always been happy to just go with the flow and in his advancing years (he will be sixty in February) he has realised there is more to fishing than simply catching fish and his desire to experience more waters throughout our small island has increased tenfold.

I started fishing at Chew Valley in 2013 with a friend of mine, Kristian Schofield. Kristian is a very motivated and dedicated piker and it was him who suggested we give Chew a try and endured the constant engaged tone for hours that first year. He managed to get some tickets and very kindly invited me along. I spent 8 days pike fishing on Chew Valley with Kristian that year and was rewarded with my first twenty and a few jacks. It’s fair to say, Chew hasn’t been kind to Kristian, but the less said about that the better, eh pal! This was enough for Mike to show an interest in fishing Chew and it was decided that we would both try for tickets in 2014 with Mike and I fishing together and Kristian fishing with another of his friends.

On the first of our days for the 2014 trials, I caught my 40lb+ pike and Mike was there to do the netting and assist with the weighing and photography. This was an incredible experience and it was clear from the conversations that followed, that it had inspired Mike and stirred the suppressed piker within! No longer the laid back take it or leave it attitude. The laissez fare “I’m just here for the experience” comments had disappeared and it was clearly evident that he wanted one for himself! I reassured Mike that what had happened that day, would never happen again. We had had our full quota of Chew Valley fortune and to even contemplate a re-occurrence was so wholly unrealistic as to be almost laughable to even suggest! Did he not know anything about piking history, had he not read the books, the list, listened to the stories and appreciated the rarity and significance of such fish! We needn’t bother upgrading our 40lb Avon Scales, so confident was I that a fish in excess of those proportions would never find its way into our landing net again.

Recounting this I am reminded of how dismissive I was of Mike’s new found enthusiasm and ambition, given my “greater experience” and knowledge. I usually don’t like being proven wrong, but I could not think of a better way to be put in my place!

Our next session on Chew was 22nd and 23d October 2014. It had been a long wait, given the level of excitement we were experiencing about returning to the scene of our greatest angling achievement. Not much had changed, our fishing plans were the same as before, but there was a distinct air of confidence and a very relaxed feeling in the car that night as we travelled down the M6. We hadn’t bothered to attempt to find out about any recent captures of big fish or any “going areas”, we didn’t care what others were doing. Doing our own thing and using our initiative had served us well previously and we were going to stick with it. There were no conversations required, except to express our anticipation for the days ahead and to prevent me from re-arranging the central reservation, so it was a quick and quiet journey. The weather was unseasonably warm and we wanted to head to an area that gave access to both shallow and deeper water so that we could cover our bases and one that was unlikely to result in a battle for a swim or competing for the fish in that area with others. I had a couple of areas in mind, so when we arrived in the car park for Wick Green Point at 04:30 to find (inevitably some might say) 3 vehicles already parked up, it was off to our other chosen spot at Nunnery Point.

We turned off the road at 04:45 and drove down to the first lay by to have a look around the area in Herons Green Bay. The water level was way down, which although not a complete surprise did change things slightly as this meant that the spit on the end of Nunnery point might be exposed providing a nice beach like swim with access to the deeper water out towards Wick and also the shallower water to the left of the swim over towards Denny Island. Back in the car to the car park at the end of the road and a quick walk to the end of Nunnery Point revealed this to be the case and with no other anglers around, it was an easy decision to make this our home for the day.

A short but very warm and sweaty walk (the thermometer in the car was showing a temperature of 14 Celsius at 05:00!) with only the necessary equipment and we were setting up. The usual double act ensued, with Mike setting up the shelter and chairs and I went about putting the rests in and the rods together. I offered Mike the choice of rods and he selected the right hand side of the swim. Such a simple question and one which doesn’t ever quite register as being particularly significant, but significant it proved to be. All four rods were rigged up with a simple running ledger rig, 4oz lead and a pair of size 2 trebles, standard fair when fishing for big pike with relatively large dead baits on big waters. The first rod was baited with a mackerel tail and was lobbed out about 40yrds towards Wick Green Point in what we believed to be around 10’ of water. The other three rods followed suit spread from right to left into open water and we sat back to take in the very pleasant morning. Just on first light a trout angler waded around onto the end of the point to our left but out of view. The kettle went on and an early breakfast of porridge was washed down with a nice cup of tea. What a morning, an absolute pleasure to be outside, warm and still, with the sun rising like the anticipation within us. A cacophony of bird life interspersed by the metronomic whoosh of fly line providing the backing track to another wonderful day by the water and with a tangible sense of something to come, there was nowhere else to be at that moment.

A single boat hurriedly passed through into Herons Green Bay at just on 08:30 and no sooner had they been obscured from our view by the stones jutting out into the water the right hand alarm burst into life!

Calmness remained. We’ve been here before. Just as I set off towards the rod the realisation that this was not my moment, struck me and I stopped dead. Calling Mike forward with line still peeling from the spool and the alarm seemingly responding to the bird life, he arose from his chair and approached the rod with confidence. I have an irritating inability to stifle the control freak in me and irrespective of my relative youth, I began to coach Mike through the process. Mike has only caught a handful of pike and fishing with open bail arms and rear drop offs is relatively alien to him, so it was well received.

He picked the rod from the rests and under instruction, flicked over the bail arm, wound down tight and lifted steadily into the fish. Line was taken under little tension and the word was given to tighten that drag down and bend into the fish to avoid the hooks slipping. Very quickly a better indication of what was attached was given as the 2.75lb TC rod took on a much more alarming battle curve and line was still taken from the reel. The fish kitted left towards the other lines and Mike responded by lowering the rod to the right and applying equal side strain. I reacted quickly and dropped the middle rods onto the ground with slack lines and urged Mike to keep the line under tension and the rod up high. The fish then broke the surface around 20yrds out and a stalemate was reached.

I took the net and waded out as far as my wellies would allow and asked Mike to walk slowly backwards with the spool clamped. “It looks a good double”, “Take it easy, nearly there”, “Bloody Hell it’s definitely a thirty!” as she slides into the waiting net without concern. It was a one way conversation, speech wasn’t possible at this stage for Mike as he focused all of his attention on ensuring that fish made it safely into the net, no doubt with memories of the issues he had netting my fish earlier in the year very prominent in his mind!

I stood with the fish in the net in the margin while Mike removed the rod and returned the other rods to their rests. I knelt down and unclipped the lead and trace, revealing the true frame of the fish for the first time. It was another mammoth clearly and I was fully aware at this stage of what had happened, but I wanted to retain the composure that surrounded us and simply asked Mike to prepare the mat, scales and camera up near the trees at the back of the swim and kneel down behind it. I removed the arms of the net from the spreader block and rolled them up in the mesh. I hoisted the fish from the water and carried it quickly over to the mat, at which time I noticed that the hooks had transferred themselves into the mesh of the net and were no longer in the fish. The scales had already been adjusted for the wet net, so she was weighed immediately with no need for unhooking.

A large slice of humble pie was served up to me at this stage as the needle on the Avon scales went round once, twice, three times, four…. Oops!

The needle swung past the 40lb mark and absent mindedly I stated that the fish had bottomed the scales when it reached 40lb 04oz, as had happened with my fish in February. The disappointment and frustration on Mike’s face was as clear as the joy had been seconds earlier. This was obviously a very big fish, but we were faced with the possibility of never knowing just how big. The fish was returned to the water in the net and a quick discussion was had regarding our options. There were none. There were no other anglers about and the best option for the fish was to take a few quick snaps and slip her back. Mike was adamant that any thought of retaining the fish while waiting for adequate scales was dismissed and he was right of course, the fish’s welfare was the priority and we would have to live with the “what might have been”.

Mike slipped on his Musky Armour gloves in preparation for holding the fish for the camera. Mike doesn’t wear gloves for handling pike due to a lack of confidence or a fear of the fish, but in order to protect an injury incurred as a result of a lawn mower accident, that actually caused the loss of the tip of his middle finger on his right hand.

A few very quick snaps were taken and Mike insisted that the fish were returned to the water irrespective of the quality of the photos taken. He had difficulty, due to the sheer size of the fish, holding and presenting it well for the camera, but that didn’t matter. He had caught it, shared a few precious moments in its presence, admiring its mighty spotted flank and feeling her bulk in his arms. The experience was enough.

The fish was returned to the water in the mat and Mike fired off a few release shots. As I cradled her in the margin I held onto that thickset tail wrist and with an effortless flick she filled my right boot with water and cruised away like a U-boat leaving port.

I turned to Mike and let out a “yeehah” and offered him my sincere congratulations, trying to cement that moment in both of our memories for eternity. Not much was said in reply, Mike was in awe of his achievement and I left him to breathe it all in sat in his chair, while I tidied the swim and readied the rod to be re-cast.

As I sat back down, I couldn’t shake the guilt that had enveloped me due to the unknown true weight. I put myself in that position, thinking about how I would have felt in February had Dave and Warren not stepped in to assist. We didn’t even have measurements of the fish to estimate the weight. It was a huge fish with an enormous girth and I started to mentally compare it to the images of my fish in my mind. Was it the same fish? No, it was definitely shorter but with a much bigger girth! I recounted the Avon scales when my fish was placed on them and recalled vividly the needle swinging much further past the 40lb mark and an audible indication when the spring had hit the bottom of the case, which was conspicuous by its absence on this occasion. I picked up the Avon's and started to pull and sure enough I pulled the needle past 44lbs before it wouldn’t go any further. Had the needle actually settled on 40lb 4oz? Mike was satisfied with my little demonstration and with the doubt visibly lifted, accepted the reading as the true weight of the fish.

I had decided that I would not make the same mistake again and only the most trusted of my angling friends would be informed of the day’s events, until after we had returned home, to ensure that we could fish for the remainder of the two day session unmolested.

The rest of the session passed by without event, save for a jack at last knockings and a rainbow trout to me on the second day.

We had another session booked the following Thursday/Friday and then another at the end of November. We ended the 2014 trials, having fished 8 days, catching fish weighing 44lb 06oz 40lb 04oz, 21lb 04oz 17lb 12oz and 17lb 10oz plus a jack, one 5lb Rainbow Trout and one 5lb Brown Trout. What a year it had been and dare I say it, one never to be repeated!

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Fear & Loathing, Co Cavan

This could be a true story of two angling rogues who went on holiday, got into a little mischief but never hurt anyone, or alternatively it could be a load of nonsense, an urban myth if you like.  I like to think it’s a combination of the two but who cares?  I heard the tale at a drunken gathering of Pike fanatics, AKA the PAC convention Saturday night after show party and it made me laugh so I thought I’d share it.

Mr Green and Mr Red are lifelong friends who have shared a passion for Piking spanning four decades.  They’ve shared many memorable sessions both with rods on the bank and beers in the bar, many of their adventures have started with the former and finished with the latter.  This particular tale occurred in the mid-nineties when many European Pikers were making an annual pilgrimage to the great western loughs of Ireland.  Our colourful duo was typically slow off the mark and late on the scene.  They began their Irish adventures in the Midlands and gradually made their way west over the next few years.  Sadly by the time they felt ready to tackle the mighty western loughs the gill nets were in place.  This combined with the increasingly demanding females back home meant they never quite made it that far.

Living in the south east meant possibly the longest possible journey to Holyhead and with a weeks’ worth of fishing gear and a couple of spare sets of underwear crammed into a Peugeot 206 it was a potential grueller.  To pass the time Mr Red had acquired an ounce of high quality hashish, most of this was cunningly secreted around the car but there was just enough spare to pass the journey in a happy haze with Bob Marley’s “Songs of Freedom” the perfect accompaniment.  Not only were the two friends fond of a glass of beer or six they were also confirmed stoners.  The poor old Peugeot resembled Cheech & Chong’s van by the time Mr Green pulled into a lay by for a much needed slash.  It is not our place to judge the rights or wrongs of such actions; we merely recount the tale as it was told and repeat no person or pike was ever hurt.

And so, after the overnight ferry crossing and the normal routine of getting lost in Dublin the Peugeot eventually found its way out of the city in a Northerly direction and a couple of hours later arrived at its destination.  The Town was familiar to both Mr Green and Mr Red as they had explored the lakes and pubs in this area on a previous visit and found both agreeable.  After parting with some cash to secure the digs they opted to chill out and snooze beside a lake with bite alarms turned up loud!  The afternoon passed amidst a chorus of snoring and no Pike happened along to disturb their slumber.  The evening was spent in a pub of course, supping Irish Guinness, the finest beer in the world.  Acquaintances made on a previous holiday were renewed but the night didn’t get too messy.

The following morning was spent at another lake, this one a bit further down the valley, one where the two Pikers had caught a few fish on a previous visit.  Mr Green opened his account for the week with a couple of jacks but Mr Red failed to find any fish.  With limited bank access and unspectacular results they decided on a move to another water, stopping in town on the way for supplies.  The menu included fresh sausages from the local butchers.  Now every Irishman knows of a special lake full of big Pike and the butcher was no exception.  Mr Green was all for following the lead but grumpy Mr Red who was still blanking would have none of it.

So the two visited another lake where they had enjoyed previous success but again the fishing was poor.  For a while the two were entertained by the antics of a herd of cows in the field on the far side of the lake.  The cattle were repeatedly stampeding from one side of the field to the other and making a suitable racket as they did so.  This hardly made the afternoon a peaceful one but neither angler was disturbed by any Pike that afternoon so a restless Mr Green left the drowsy Mr Red in charge of the rods while he went for a wander.  Sometime later Mr Red opened his eyes to find the indicators still firmly in place and no sign of Mr Green so he did what he always did at times of confusion and rolled a joint.

Another doze and another joint later Mr Green finally reappeared beaming from ear to ear and holding a bulging carrier bag.  Mr Red yawned and stretched, looking at his friend quizzically he asked “What the fuck you got there then?”  The grin on Mr Green’s face broadened and with a sparkle in his eye he replied “Fungi”.  “What the fuck?” said Mr Red.  “Very special fungi…magic even” laughed Mr Green.  At this point the penny finally dropped and Mr Red joined in the laughter.  Things were about to get a little strange on this holiday.  The carrier bag was literally full of thousands of tiny thin stemmed fungi… which possibly explained the mad cows.
Back at the cottage Mr Red was beginning to have his doubts.  He wouldn’t know a Liberty cap from the liberty bell so wasn’t completely sure about the lumpy, foul smelling mushroom soup his friend had cooked up.  Mr Green necked his with no hesitation so Mr Red thought ‘in for a penny...’ and did the same.  Half an hour later while shaving, Mr Red noticed he’d managed to cut himself in several places and it was at this point he realised that he was feeling very, very strange.  He returned to the living room to see a wild eyed Mr Green laughing manically.
 “What’s up?” asked Mr Red  “I’m watching the cartoons in the curtains” replied Mr Green.
So Red found himself a comfortable chair, skinned up and settled back to enjoy the cartoons, caught Green’s eye and joined in the laughter.  Sure enough the curtains were alive with Tom & Jerry, Micky Mouse and just about every other cartoon character remembered from their youth.  Everything in the room looked completely different; there were waves in the carpet, the table was hovering and the walls were wobbling.

After a while the cartoons needed a soundtrack so Mr Green, acting as DJ decided that some loud dance music was the order of the day.  Traversing the room to reach the stereo was much more difficult than it had any right to be and removing the CD from its case then getting it to play was ridiculous.  The effort was worthwhile as the music coming from the stereo (“Leftism” by Leftfield) not only hit the spot but was clearly visible oozing from the speakers in the form of millions of microscopic, multi-coloured particles and even the lamp was dancing.  These two characters were experienced trippers but this was something else!  To this day both are adamant that night was their best trip, with the possible exception of…

The terrible twosome would have been happy to spend a chilled out evening of blissful madness tripping in the cottage but things were about to take another unexpected turn.  Mr Green, being slightly less wrecked than Mr Red decided to make a brew and staggered towards the kitchen.  Just as he stood filling the kettle at the sink he was startled out of his socks by a loud bang on the kitchen window.  Mr Green screamed, Mr Red got a fit of the giggles and the kitchen door opened.  There stood John, the owner of the cottage who insisted on taking the pair for a drink at one of the many local pubs.  Now John was a very likeable bloke but was not a man who would ever get a job as a male model; thick curly hair, milk bottle glasses and bad acne.  John’s appearance did not prejudice the duo in the slightest but in their mind altered state he looked very, very funny.  Despite their protests, John would not take no for an answer and the two tripping Pikers found themselves staggering into shoes and wandering down the pub.
Mr Red and Mr Green could probably have just about handled a quiet drink in a near empty pub but instead found themselves crammed into “Flaherty’s” which had some kind of quiz night going on and was absolutely heaving.  Mr Red managed to squeeze through to the bar where he was only slightly surprised to find the row of bottles morphing and merging into one.  He could hardly utter any legible words so it was a relief when John hailed the barman and ordered three black pints.  Mr Green stood grinning and every time he caught the eye of his friend the two had a struggle to suppress a fit of the giggles.  They were never sure just how strange their behaviour was that evening or whether they were really receiving lots of strange looks or was it paranoia?  They blamed their obviously odd behaviour on fatigue and alcohol.  When safely back at the cottage, Mr Red skinned up again and asked “D’ya think we got away with it?”  He met the gaze of Mr Green and both collapsed once more under the weight of laughter.

For some reason these two dedicated Pikers were not at the lakeside to watch the sun rise the following morning.  Instead the sun was well up and shining too brightly for this bewildered pair.  Mr Green was determined they should follow the butcher’s tip and head for the lake in the hills.  Mr Red was positive this would be another wild goose chase but was too wrecked to come up with any reasonable objection so Mr Green held sway.  Mr Red sulked.
They eventually parked on a verge beside a gate and viewed the lake below them, approximately 60 acres with two large bays connected by a slightly narrower channel.  The water was mostly fringed with reeds with the odd bush and a few places where grass grew down to the water’s edge, probably kept clear by cattle needing a drink.  The two were lucky that one of these clear patches lay before them, not only that it was in a pretty good position on the edge of the narrow area.  The only trouble was the steep hill between the road and the water’s edge.  This would cause little problem on the way down but would be a grueller on the return.  A few minutes later the two, puffing and sweating, arrived at the water and began to tackle up.  Mr Red decided to cast a plumb rod around and was unhappy to find a maximum depth of a paltry three feet which did nothing to improve his mood.  “Bloody butcher” he said before slinging a couple of bait out and sitting down with a frown to commence the creation of yet another spliff.  Mr Green was more optimistic and put the kettle on with a smile.

Neither angler managed to complete their task before an alarm sounded, Mr Red had a fast take on a Herring whacked as far as possible.  He connected and started heaving a Pike towards the bank.  “Feels like a jack “; he said and almost smiled before the fish shook the hooks loose.  Mr Red’s bout of swearing was quite restrained under the circumstances.  The Herring was whacked out again and both returned to their chairs.  Mr Red had just skilfully inserted the roach when the same alarm sounded again.  Once again he wound down and set the hooks and had the rod slammed down as a good fish took line straight away, then launched itself airborne.  Mr Red kept in touch but the Pike leapt for a second time, shaking its head and throwing the hooks.  This time his swearing was fully unrestrained.

Once he’d calmed down a little Mr Red said “That was a good un, big double…”
“Maybe a twenty” said Mr Green
“That helps, thanks” replied Mr Red in a pained voice.  After a long silence Mr Green said “Best you light that Joint”.

From that point the day got much better, Mr Red finally managed to bank a fish, a small one but the monkey was off his back.  Mr Green joined in the action too and takes came regularly throughout the day.  Most action came to rods cast as far as possible into slightly deeper water but the occasional fish picked up baits placed close to the numerous weed beds closer to their bank.  There were no monsters but several good doubles graced their nets and both were in good heart.  By the time they staggered coughing and wheezing back up the hill their tally was fifteen Pike but both were sure the leaping Pike that Mr Red had lost was a few pounds heavier than any they’d managed to land.
This gave the pair of Pikers a confidence boost and from that point on their fishing luck improved.  They sensibly resisted the lure of that massive bag of mushrooms and even more sensibly decided to rest the lake in the hills for a day or two.  An hour’s drive to the mighty Lough Allen saw a nice fish for Mr Red then a day in a boat on another lake saw both catching plenty on lures and trolled baits.  Both successful days were toasted with lots of Guinness in Flaherty’s where by now the regulars had forgotten their earlier oddness and welcomed them warmly.  To not flirt with the barmaid was considered the height of rudeness by Mr Red who tried to be polite as possible, to barmaids at least.  Back at the cottage the hash block took a hammering.
With one full day left Mr Red took no persuading to follow Mr Green’s suggestion that they spend it at the lake in the hills.  Being a superstitious soul Mr Green also suggested they repeat a winning formula and neck a load more mushrooms the night before and once again Mr Red eagerly agreed.  This trip did not reach the heights of the first but they giggled a lot, the music still oozed and they definitely didn’t go to the pub!  They even managed to crawl out of bed and get to the lake at first light the following day.

Once again the pair had a busy day with frequent takes but things were not as hectic as before.  As on the first day most takes came to long range baits, both managed double figure fish and both were thoroughly stoned.  A beautiful sunset was toasted with a final cup of tea then the pair reluctantly began packing up.  Green set about the task quickly but Red hates this job and is always very slow.  So with most of his gear packed Mr Green stood holding his last rod while he waited for his friend to catch up.  “All I need is for the tip to tap and the line pull out of my fingers…” he said.
Mr Red’s sarcastic reply had barely died when Green exclaimed “Fucking hell...I’ve got a fucking take!”

“Fuck off!” laughed Red but his friend was serious and wound into a final Pike.
When we heard this tale both Green and Red had slightly different memories/versions of the various events but one of the things they were unanimous about; This Pike fought like hell.  It stripped yards of line off Green’s reel and threatened to dive into the thick reeds on numerous occasions.  At times it seemed impossible to land this fish but eventually it succumbed, Red made no mistake with the net and Green had a whacker!  She was unhooked by torchlight, weighed and photographed then returned where she swam away strongly.  The holiday was complete, it couldn’t get any better or could it?
That night Green and Red made a final trip to Flaherty’s where they received another warm welcome, particularly Red’s favourite barmaid.  During the course of the evening it became apparent she was more than friendly.  To use the words of Mr Red “She was dripping like a fucked fridge”.  In fact she was more than willing to accommodate both of the hairy arsed Pikers.  It may be because he had a girl back home or it may have been the thought of a sweaty Mr Red grinning like a loon.  Either way and to his credit Mr Green did not take the good lady up on her offer.  Mr Red is not so chivalrous…

Twenty four hours later Mr Red was still grinning and Mr Green had a broad smile too, not even the misery of the M6 could dampen their spirits.  Green drove, Red skinned up and both laughed regularly as they reminisced on the past week..  “What did you do with the Mushies?” Red asked.  “In the cool box..” said Green “…it’s the first time we’ve ever gone on holiday and come back with more drugs than we left with!”


Thursday, 15 January 2015

The God of Striped Fish (Part 2)

Out near the centre the big fish sulks. It is seemingly collecting it’s thoughts after taking him in all directions because of the light-action Abu’s lack of grunt. On land, he cautiously leans back on the rod and feels gradual movement towards him, like the times he’s hooked a log or similar and attempted to slowly drag it close enough to free whichever lure it’s tried to claim.  Then the fish starts to move left again but not with the purpose of before.  Is it tiring?  It’s put in enough effort over the last five solid minutes to need a rest.  How old must it be?  He hadn’t considered that until now.  He has no concept of how many summers and winters the epic fish has seen. It obviously can’t be young any more.  And perhaps, like an aging heavyweight who can still start the first few rounds strongly, it’s there for the taking by the seventh.  Then another thought concerns him; what if it’s too tired after fighting too long to be able to swim away afterwards?  Bloody hell, if it died that would be worse than losing it.  He would rather the fish threw the lure and lived due to his lack of skilful playing of it than stayed hooked but couldn’t recover because he’d played it carefully.   So he decides to go against all his learned angling behaviour and horse the fish to shore as quickly as he dares.  And if it escapes because of that......well.....he’ll lose sleep for years, but so be it.

He tightens the drag on the Citica and leans the rod back, much harder than before.  This already feels completely wrong but he’s chosen it as the way forward and resists the urge to steady up again.  The line starts to travel slowly right and he pitches the rod leftwards to side strain in the opposite direction.  He feels the fish turn and for the first time since he hooked it he feels progress in his favour.  As he draws the fish towards him he winds the gained line onto the reel and now anticipates no threat of it being taken back from him.  The sheer weight of the perch still feels for the entire world like a snag but the gradual movement, as he draws to what feels like breaking point while winding line onto the spool, tells him it’s all fish.  And it’s getting nearer.  A vast swirling boil in the water just ahead of the line’s entry point jolts him as the reality of potentially physically holding this fish sinks in.  The blood is pounding in his ears again and he can feel his heart beating in his throat.  This is scarier now because he’s so close. Injury time. The final lap. The short span of minutes when losing hurts way, way more than back at the start of the match or the race.  The eternal knowledge that it was right there and won’t be again.  Another almighty swirl of water, closer now, and he physically sees the vast back of the perch, clear of the surface and not far in front of him, with it’s mast-like dorsal dominant.  The fish is almost stationary and he barely knows how to proceed because the spectacle of the scene is causing a lack of brain function like never before. He stands with the line just tight and the perch like a dog, static on the end of a barely adequate lead.  The fish has no more fight.  He can clearly see that.  But he’s fumbling his thoughts.  Draw it nearer?  It’s too shallow now; the fish is in the last of the deeper water that his net would need.  Go in for it, then?  The lake bed looks more stony here and he would risk walking on it. He takes his first steps to the edge and, as slowly as he can, his first steps into the pond.  He feels the slight chill of the autumnal water going in through his boots and all the time he’s braced to nervous breaking point for the fish surging away again from in front of him.  It holds, mercifully, in situ. 

Burned out by it’s efforts it can only suspend with swaying tail and fins as he edges nearer, heart pounding and his mouth drier than New Mexico.  As he shuffles closer he slowly turns the handle on the reel to take up what line gradually becomes available.  And then he’s there.  It’s right in front of him and, ready as he thought he was for seeing the fish close up, he realises nothing could have prepared him for this.  Nothing before or since.  He sees all the colour and detail and vastness that he could never imagine. Now trembling, he reaches behind his back with his left hand and feels the handle of his net that is, somehow, still clipped to his waistcoat.  He hoists the handle upwards and feels the net pop free of the metal ring that holds it there.  He prays for an uneventful gentle flick-open of the net and gets it; none of the inverted mesh or hinge hook-ups of the past.  Oh God, this is so close. He starts to reach the net towards the mighty perch before him. He’s going tail first to give it the best chance of fitting within the frame.  The fish’s head starts to sway and it’s body with it.  Recharged in part, it contemplates departure.  He sees these signs and goes for broke.  The net is in the water and the frame is passing over the huge tail at pace.  The mesh is flowing behind as the frame reaches the hand-like spiked dorsal.  Now the fish feels the mesh at it’s tail end and decides to leave.  In a desperate move he drags the net onwards, up the fish, then tries to lift.  The massive perch erupts with a final pent-up, saved-up burst for freedom and again hurls it’s head left and right like a pitbull as it tries to shed the lure and net in equal measure.  He throws the rod.  He needs both hands for the net.  He grasps the frame and hoists it clear of the water with his now free right hand while still gripping the net’s handle with his left.  The big perch has just-and-no-more slid down into the mesh which is bulging ridiculously under the strain of it’s bulk.  The rod and reel are lying in a foot of water beside him with the line leading up into the net and, beyond that, to the plastic cray wedged in the cavernous mouth of the huge fish.  He holds the Y of the net frame with his right hand and reaches in with his left to free the lure. The Castaic is set firmly inside the epic jaw and it takes a couple of downward pushes to ping the hook free and liberate the crayfish.  He drops that, also, down into the water to join the rod and reel that cast it then staggers to the bank, gazing down all the time into the straining net he’s carrying, at the gigantic perch bulging within it and all the while saying out loud to nobody in particular
this-can-not-be-real...... this-can-not-be-real......
in a voice that sounds like it has stage fright at a school play.


He’s up onto a thick bank of leaves deposited over weeks by the prevailing wind.  In the absence of the mat (that he decided he would never need at a perch pond) this will be the landing pad for the massive striped visitor during it’s short stay away from it’s natural element.  He wants all this done as quickly as possible.  Weigh it in the net, photograph (next to the net for scale) then back in the lake. The net is resting down on the leaves and he can barely take his eyes from the vast area the mesh clad fish is covering in front of his feet.  He’s dug the little Salter scale from a pocket and is hooking it onto the net frame it’s zeroed for.  It’s black metal hook rattles as his hand trembles all through the procedure.  Then it’s the time.  He starts to raise the scale upwards and feels it strain against the net it’s trying to lift.  The tiny white marker sails down the line of numbers, past three pounds, four pounds then five pounds. Bloody hell. The net and it’s spiked captive are still firmly grounded.  The marker passes six pounds and he feels what is almost anxiety course through him.  Six pounds and the fish still hasn’t left the leafy ground it seems rooted to.  His hands and the scale are wobbling with a mixture of effort and adrenalin.  The familiar pulsing in his neck has returned.  The marker is down to seven pounds. Seven. Pounds. It can’t go any further.  (Literally it can’t,  because the scale has bottomed out at that figure.)  Seven pounds.  Whatever it weighs beyond this will never be known because that’s as far as it goes, end of the road.  Seven pounds.  He really may well be sick at any second. The tackle shop owner’s voice is in his head;
catch a perch that bottoms these out and you’ll be famous
The marker is wedged down at seven.  The fish is raised but still resting on leaves.  He lifts further and, with slightly more effort, he feels the net and perch gently swing clear of the ground.  How much more was that?  He’s frantically trying to guess....four more ounces?  Five?  No way to ever know and no way he ever will.  But one thing is doubtless.....the fish went seven pounds and, in the knowledge of that, he needs to kneel down before he keels over from the light-headed daze surrounding him.

Photograph.  He goes to the chest pocket he slid the camera into.  Not there.  Oh shit, no.  The jetty.  The camera dug into his ribs and he placed it on the jetty.  He looks back along the shore.  Jagged wooden legs jut from the water to show where the jetty (and his camera) used to be.  That. Cannot. Have. Happened......
But it has.  So....phone camera.  Which is on his phone.  Which had no signal.  So stayed in the car to make more room for the actual camera.  Which is at the bottom of the lake.  You. Are. Kidding.

You know what?  Balls to it.  He wants the huge fish back in the water now and staggers to his feet then heaves the net and fish off the leaves and up. He reverses the journey with the net, grasping the frame with both hands again, back to the water’s edge.  He sets off slowly into the lake once more and sees his rod and reel lying on the bottom ahead of him.  He passes them and stops when he’s knee deep in the pond.  Then he lowers the net slowly down to the surface and beyond and sees the fish stir as the water immerses it’s hefty body.  After a minute of letting it acclimatise he tilts the net down and back while reaching in and supporting the fish from below.  He realises this is the first time he has physically touched the almighty creature.  Then he slides the net away and drops the handle to let it fall back to join the already submerged rod behind him and he’s left cradling a perch so immense that it renders him speechless by it’s might.  He sways it gently back and forth in the water.  The fish puffs it’s gills and lake debris discharges from it’s giant mouth, collected when it inhaled the Castaic crayfish currently lying on the lakebed near his feet.  He raises the fish’s vast spiked dorsal and gazes in disbelief at how it does indeed match his hand for size.  A seven pound perch.  That’s what he’s holding.  That’s what he’s rocking to and fro in the cool water and that is what is now starting to show signs of recovery.  The big body has a fresh tenseness, as though muscles have renewed strength.  The amber fins are rippling and the dorsal is raised unaided.  He continues to sway it and the water makes a subtle flowing sound as he does so.  He feels the first flex from the fish but keeps hold.  He wants a couple more of those before he releases it’s huge frame from his hands.  He knows it’s leaving soon and he strokes it’s vast thuggish head because he also knows he’s going to make a point of never seeing it again.  The perch flexes once more, now with renewed strength, and he suddenly feels how it was able to power away from him with such ease when he hooked it.  He slowly removes his hands from the fish’s flanks and instead holds only the thick wrist of it’s tail.  The perch stays perfectly upright in the water and begins to sway itself against the gentle restraint he’s using to make sure it’s energy is restored.  It flexes powerfully now, it’s bearings regained, and he opens his fingers to release the tail he’s been holding. He feels that tail flow from his hand.  Then he stands fully upright to watch it’s progress, willing to wade in (hell, swim in) if he has to in order to help it further if need be.  But that won’t be necessary, because it glides away like a ship moving off after getting launched on the Clyde.  He strains to see it for as long as he can below the gentle bow-wave it cannot fail to cause.  Then it’s lost to him, blending in to the deeps as the wave peters out.  No trace exists.  No sign to even show that the startling event he has just experienced ever took place. His brain is absorbing a barrage of mixed emotions; jubilation, despair, anxiety and disbelief.  Then after standing and staring at the surface of the lake for longer than he’ll ever realise he turns, reaches down to retrieve rod, reel, lure and net and swishes his feet towards shore where he badly needs to sit down. 


He watches water drip from the Citica and vaguely accepts he’ll need to take it apart to clean. He’s got most of his gear packed and is readying himself for the thorny struggle back to the car. He looks again to where the jetty once stood and briefly contemplates an attempt at retrieving his camera from the lake but disregards the idea. It shall forever remain an offering to The God Of Striped Fish.  He pledges a media blackout.  None of the angling comics will hear about this.  In fact, nobody will.  The circus will not descend.  There’s no photographs, so no catch.  A blank, in fact.  Bloody crayfish everywhere, he’ll say.....ruined the place.

Then one last shake of the watery reel and the Citica is back in his largest pocket.  So, where does he go from here?  What will motivate him after that fish?  Will he really head out, on a wet day, to the muddy canal with it’s dog-crap riddled towpath, to jig for perch that weigh ounces and can be swung to hand and held between finger and thumb?  Oh, this is going to be difficult.  This does not bode well at all for what has been his primary focus (and enjoyment) for decades.  He briefly remembers a history lesson at school and the ancient words from a book about Alexander the Great that he was forced to plough through;

And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.
No more worlds to conquer.  The elation from today’s event is caving in to hard reality. The slump after the peak.  What does he aim for now?  An eight pounder?
At the moment, getting back through the savage undergrowth, as uninjured as possible....that can be the start and he’ll take the future from there.  He manages a last look at the surface of the lake. The silence and calm seem to bizarrely contradict the events of the day. He takes one final moment to pat a waistcoat pocket, checking a particular small lure box is securely packed there.  It is. This small lure box is the one thing he must NOT forget to safely take home. Because it contains a now much treasured item.....the Castaic crayfish that never got to ride a fast boat on Lake Tahoe, never got to hang out in Chad’s tackle den and, for that matter, never managed to sneak a peek at Kaylee-Marie’s poolside ass. But did manage, with the whole world unaware, to become the most famous crayfish to leave the Castaic lure factory.  Ever.

Then he turns again to face the mass of branches, briars and brambles ahead of him.  It’s a long trek back to the car and he knows Mother Nature has every intention of tearing him to pieces.

Jake Hamilton

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

The God of Striped Fish (Part 1)

In a time to come he would begin to question if the day had been a dream.  Like a lot of dreams the details are vivid then blurred, easy to recall then more difficult to reach.  And, like a lot of dreams, moments actually forgotten suddenly re-emerge for seemingly no reason.
But maybe it was Rust Cohle who made the most pertinent of those observations;

         “And, like a lot of dreams..........there’s a monster at the end of it.” 


This had better be worth the effort.  He’s been on the move for only five minutes and he’s already torn up by the undergrowth.  He was told it was inaccessible and the landlord wasn’t joking.  The pond being barely visible on Google Earth was the first indication he’d had that this huge area of vegetation was going to be a natural barrier par excellence.  He’s stuffed his folding net down the front of his top to shield the mesh after being wrenched to and fro as it snagged left and right.  He’s ditched all luxuries at the car after seeing the fortress of brambles and blackthorn ahead of him...the bag with food and drink, the waders and waterproofs all deemed worth the risk of abandonment in the vehicle’s boot to travel as lightly as possible.  Even his mobile phone has been shut back in the glove box due to a zero signal, thus freeing up a pocket for his good camera.  He’s a walking jangling rattle of small tackle boxes, all contained about his person in every pocket his waistcoat sports. In the most spacious of these is his Shimano Citica reel and tight to his chest is the cloth-sleeved two piece Abu baitcast rod that he’s glad is no bigger.  He wishes he’d remembered a cap as his scalp is again raked by thorns but he’s grateful for the Polaroids that are keeping him from being blinded by grasping barbed limbs. 

No paths, the landlord had told him. His only instruction was he had to look for the least dense parts and press on regardless
So, at the risk of being the victim of a wind-up so cruel he would never forget it, he did indeed ‘press on’.  Regardless.

You’ll be the only one there.....the only one who’s been there for years, probably.
Needless to say that had inspired him.  A lack of competition is always welcome.  No pike, and an invasion of crayfish that could only have worsened in the span of time since the landlord had managed his last visit meant it drew little or no interest, even from those who had made the ragged journey in the past.  Hey, maybe it’s gone.  Maybe time and geology have slowly drained it into the earth.  He’s going to find out pretty soon though because, through the myriad of clawing vines ahead he can see clear daylight.  And now he sees water.  He realises he’s going to be able to put the landlord’s assertion to the test, the claim that has brought him here through a literal jungle of hurt, armed with rod, reel and packs of soft plastic crayfish patterned with a variety of colours they don’t even exist in;
There’s only perch.....but everywhere I looked, bloody hell, there were hundreds of them.


The water is clearer than he expected.  You wouldn’t drink it but neither is it the murky green he anticipated.  He can see the bottom of the pond even some way out, aided by what looks like sand as a bed.  Clay?  He’s creeping nearer with that as-yet-unknown new venue curiosity that no-one tires of.  At first, the world below the surface seems devoid of life but then the first flicker of movement catches his eye.  His brain registers a crayfish sidling across the pale base of the lake.  Slightly further out, another of similar size is static.  Then, reassuringly beyond words, three perch become visible as they pass in front of him with the seemingly clear intention of going somewhere, before merging with the darker water and being lost to his vision.   His enthusiasm soars.  He turns his attention to the surroundings. The whole pond is enclosed by an arena of trees that stretch out over the water like a circle of friends putting their arms forward to try and touch fingers in the centre.  Bank space is tight all round but he can see what almost passes for a beach further along from where he’s standing and, beyond that, somewhat quirkily, a small wooden jetty juts into the water.  Blimey, was there ever a boat?  The thought of this place being visited by others almost intrigues him.  Then his mind gets back to the moment and the Abu is drawn from it’s cover and connected.  The Citica is fastened to the reel seat and line is passed from guide to guide.  From a pocket he slides one of the crayfish tackle boxes then sits himself back against a gnarled tree trunk to decide on his weapon of choice.  It can’t be said there’s a shortage of options; he’s brought enough soft plastic to build Katie Price a spare bust.  In the compartments of the container are crayfish of all colours, some natural and some...well...unnatural and most are just a couple of inches in size to fit his favourite Ecogear jigheads. Only in the larger single section of the box does the ‘odd lure out’ reside.  It’s a hefty Castaic crayfish that dwarfs it’s comrades and has been brought out of curiosity rather than tactical intent.  And perhaps a touch of guilt..... 

Because the Castaic has languished unused in a drawer since it travelled home in his luggage from a Las Vegas holiday nearly ten years before. He’s only too aware that rather than it being him that put it into a BassPro cart that day a decade earlier it should really have been a purchaser who was going to actually use it.  Maybe some angler called Chad who would have taken the crayfish to Lake Tahoe and given it the time of it’s plastic life, belting along at high speed in the bass boat to the largemouth hotspots and hooking into some lunkers. Then gunning home across the water, back to Chad’s place and his tackle den, ready for the next adventure while Chad strolls to his fridge for an after-bass-trip cold one, pausing only to slap the bikini clad butt of Kaylee-Marie as she walks in from the pool.  But none of that.....just a journey in a suitcase to a cold country, then years of deprivation in a drawer.  So, it’s finally with him because up to now he hasn’t even seen it in the water and it’s a good a chance as any to at least get a look at this critter as nature (or the guys at the Castaic factory) intended.

But that’s for the end of the day; the last few casts when, traditionally, lures that are brought only to be assessed get a swim / crawl / twitch in some quiet snag-free corner before home. Right now, a small Strike King crayfish is being slid onto the jighead and clipped to the snap link.  Then looking at the watermelon green and orange cray dangling from the hook with plastic pincers swaying he remembers his dad’s standby line for any lure that looked like it could never fail; if the fish don’t want that I’ll eat it myself.

He’s popped the thumb bar on the Citica as he approaches the water and the first cast fizzes the spool with a punch of his wrist.  The crayfish makes splashdown about twenty yards away and he raises the rod tip slightly as the ‘V’ of the line cuts it’s way across the surface towards him.  When did a lure last land in this lake?  Before now, has one ever landed in it?  All is still and he flicks the rod gently upwards as he slowly turns the reel handle to bounce the little lure homeward bound. The next rod flick is met with an equal bump in the opposite direction and he strikes into immediate resistance.  About fifteen yards in front of him he sees the line jagging in several directions and feels the plunging fight of a hooked perch.   

The fish isn’t small and it takes a minor battle to draw it closer to shore where it heavily breaks surface in a swirl of black-barred gold and green, with amber pectorals catching his eye.  It veers away to his left as he snaps open his net with one hand while steering the fish back towards him with the other.  Then the frame and mesh are welcoming the scrapping predator and lift it clear of it’s natural environment.  He kneels down to view his trophy.  It glows in the net, pristine and uncaught until today.  He slides the barbless jighead from the side of it’s mouth and lays his rod on the ground.  Then, still kneeling and holding the netted fish with one hand he delves into one of his many pockets for the little Salter scale that will reveal all. 

This is the scale that, when purchased, the tackle store owner was at pains to point out would only weigh up to seven pounds.  He’d reassured the shopkeeper that the scale was only for perch and he needed nothing more.  And he recalls the store owner’s reply being along the lines of the scale being perfect for perch and if he ever catches one that bottoms it out he’ll be famous for life.  So with the little Salter adjusted to disregard the weight of the net he hooks it onto the frame and raises it slowly.  Two pounds and two ounces.  For him, that’s a belter.  He lifts the fish from the net and holds it carefully close to the ground for a photograph.  He’s delighted when the spiked dorsal holds fully upright for the picture then he lowers the fish slowly back into the lake and sways it back and forth.  The perch regains it’s bearings in moments and flows away from his hand, back to the deeper water.  Then he exhales and sits back for a moment.  That was a perfect fish.  If that is all he catches today he’ll be happy.  Two pounds two.  It looked huge.  The biggest from the UK is almost exactly three times as heavy and that fact as ever astounds him, given that the one he’s just returned has taken his breath away at only a third of the size.  

He looks around for a new casting point.  That jetty has been drawing his attention since he arrived.  He’s going to check it out.  He collects and pockets camera and scale, then clips his net back onto his waistcoat and quietly makes his way along the bramble-tangled shore to get to the little wooden feature.  It seems decades old and not entirely trustworthy.  Years of passing seasons have left the timber looking very much the worse for wear.  He takes his first step onto it and instantly sees, submerged to his left where the lake bed shelves, the upturned remains of a rowing boat, it’s broken boards protruding like the exposed ribs on the carcass of some decomposed sea creature.  Then, while he’s taking that in, the jetty suddenly creaks like the Addams Family’s front door and instinctively he hastily lowers himself to his knees.  Common sense tells him to shuffle back and get off it.  But the somehow-surviving boyhood drive that got him soaked to the skin on almost every stickleback expedition from thirty years before is telling him to wait.  Imagine how interesting the view off the end would be.  Surely crawling along will be safe as houses, what with the low centre of gravity and all?  Bollocks to it....he’s on his way.  The wood is bleached white with exposure. He’s halfway along it on his hands and knees with the rod crossways between his teeth like some carnival tightrope walker.  Twice the jetty moves slightly and twice he freezes before cautiously proceeding. This is a near-death experience waiting to happen; while it’s shallow nearer to shore he can see the bottom shelving deeper further out.  Finally he’s at the end of it.  He lowers himself flat onto his front and lays the rod next to himself.  The camera in his chest pocket is digging right into his ribs so he draws it free and places it next to his rod on the jetty beside him.  Then he slides slightly forward and peers down over the final plank into the water below. 


Crayville.  There’s almost a carpet of them around the base of the wooden legs that support the little pier.  Most are just shuffling slowly around directly underneath him.  None are particularly big and he watches as a pair spar on the pale lake bed. He drags himself further forward and bends his head down to look back under the jetty itself.  More crayfish but also several perch congregating in the shade of the boards.  He’s pleased to note none are bigger than his recent capture and he watches for longer than he realises as the striped brethren mill around calmly in the faintly sun-streaked water.  And as the light does indeed brighten for the first time that day he then switches his gaze to straight out beyond the jetty end and into the lake in front of and around his prone figure.  He can see far more now that the cloud has briefly broken up; the clay base of the pond seems almost backlit.  He adjusts his Polaroids on the bridge of his nose as he tries to establish what it is that he’s noticed scattered over the lake bed in all directions.  Crayfish debris.  Smashed crays litter the bottom for as far as his vision allows.  Broken claws and body casings make the area resemble a crash site.  That, he thinks, is bizarre.  He strains to see into the deeper shelving on both sides.  Nothing much to his right but on his left there’s a submerged tree trunk and next to that, just where the darker water starts to take objects from view, is the faint outline of a suspending carp.  That surprises him, despite it being perfectly feasible.  He’s suddenly tempted to flick the little Strike King there and see if it shows interest or not.  He won’t try to hook it but he’s keen to see if it goes for a look.  He’s carefully reaching to his side for the rod when he realises the fish is going to make life easier for him by coming nearer.  It’s not aware of his presence and is drifting forward into the clearer water.  And then his buttocks clench right up as if a doctor has suddenly appeared with an endoscope, and his mind flashes a nonsensical joke through his head as he watches the fish slowly cruise starkly before him in all it’s multi-pound glory....When is a carp not a carp?
When it’s a perch.  


When it’s a perch.  He can barely comprehend that fact, as the huge bristling frame fills the foreground.  The destroyer of crayfish is holding station several yards beyond him and looks like nothing reality could produce.  Years before, he’d been working at a fishery when a crowd gathered round a perch angler who had just landed a five pounder. That fish had looked like a physical impossibility and was the only chance many of the observers that day would ever get to view one of five pounds in the existence we call ‘real life’. So, as he plainly sees that the fish before him at this moment is bigger by some margin than the one celebrated at the fishery years earlier, he can do nothing more than say to no-one in particular
Oh. My. God.
while his heart beats in his throat and he subconsciously slides himself a short way back along the jetty.

His thoughts regroup. He’s pushing his chin down on the pier boarding while gazing at the almighty predator dominating the lake space in front of him and, to his mild  embarrassment, he realises he feels almost intimidated by it’s presence; the enormity of the thought of even casting a lure to this thing seems overwhelming. But cast a lure to it he’s going to.  Then, as he reaches to his side for his rod, he realises the pissy little two inch Strike King cray is barely going to be noticed by a fish that could swallow an eight inch trout swimbait without it touching the sides. So he wants the biggest bait he has with him and after a brief mental size calculation he’s lying on his side, unclipping the tiny jig and getting ready to swap it for the most patient lure he’s ever owned, the Castaic crayfish, formerly of the BassPro Store, Dean Martin Drive, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA.  What’s ten years between friends? If you wait in a drawer for long enough, your day will come.

He’s constantly watching the huge fish while he’s fastening the Castaic.  He briefly wraps the line round his forearm then pulls strongly on the lure to test it’s connection.  All holds firm with no slips or pings.  Still lying sideways and now in great discomfort he plots how to go about this.  He needs to cast the big cray well beyond the perch then bring it back slowly into the happy hunting ground.  Pitching directly to the fish would risk spooking it and losing the present advantage of the fish being at ease.  He needs to be up on his knees for this, though, so again slides on his stomach back along the jetty, reaching halfway, and now knowing he wouldn’t be plainly in view if he slowly knelt up.  So he slowly does.  His net is awkwardly clipped to the back of his waistcoat but he ignores the hindrance.  He lifts his head an inch at a time until he sees the top of the fish, now slightly over to the left again.  He raises the rod and the crayfish slowly rotates on the end of the line like a circus performer as he clicks down the Citica thumb bar and draws the rod round to his side.  Then he swings the tip to his front and sees the heavy Castaic sail into the middle distance and meet the water a safe yardage beyond the jetty end. He keeps the rod tip as high as is discreetly possible to lift the line clear from needlessly dragging on the surface of the lake. And now he just lets everything settle and nervously re-fixes his attention on the biggest perch he’s ever seen in fact or fiction.  The fish seems unperturbed by the distant impact of plastic on water and continues it’s almost sentry-like patrol of the immediate area.  Keeping the rod tip up he slowly turns the reel handle and, out on the lakebed, the Castaic cray, equally slowly, begins to waddle home. 


He’s got his breathing settled but the blood is pounding in his ears.  The urge to bring the crayfish back quicker is overwhelming but he’s determined to not stuff this up.  The Citica handle is turned gently and all the time his eyes are fixed on the fish.  The steeper angle of the line is telling him the lure is close now and as he makes more effort to see it he suddenly realises that he can; the dark plastic critter’s shape is just in view now.  And at that same moment the boss of all perch flicks it’s broad tail and faces the approaching crayfish.  This is nerve-shredding. The fish, too, has seen the American intruder and is visibly more alert.  He dares to creep the lure closer while locking his gaze on the fish’s reaction.  Another foot of crawl.  The fish looks wired now.  For Christ’s sake, please. He dares to put a slight twitch into the retrieve; the fish moves slowly towards the lure and he genuinely fears he’s going to puke.  The sight of the stand-off is too much to bear and, just when he thinks the vivid imagery is more than he can cope with, the huge fish raises it’s spiny dorsal like a sail and he almost feels light-headed as he sees that the spiked fin is as big as his open hand.  Then, almost in an involuntary reaction to that, he twitches the rod again and the crayfish does all he could dream of: it digs into the lakebed, puffs up a tiny cloud of silt and rears up with it’s pincers waving straight at the approaching thug as if daring it into a fight.  With that, the fish gives in to every predatory instinct it has been attempting to suppress and lunges forward in an attack as violent as it is breathtaking.  The Castaic cray is engulfed in a swirling montage of green, black and amber with the vast white interior of the open jaws as the centrepiece and the plastic lure being crunched within them. 

Up on the jetty he almost cries out in shock as he fires the rod tip skywards and the line zips up off the surface of the water and locks solidly into the fish.  He sees the head of the perch jolt round towards him then can barely watch when the fish hurls itself into the most mind-blowing flared-gills headshake he’s ever seen as it attempts to throw a crayfish that seems to be fighting back like no other has before.  He’s trying to get to his feet but a seeming eternity of lying flat then kneeling has made his legs, initially, unpredictable at best.  As he finally stands, holding the rod high and back, the huge perch bores away to the right, bow-waving parallel to the shore.  He hears the spool of the Citica hiss as the clutch gives line and his head spins with it.

He needs to stay in better contact with the fish than this and he needs to be off the jetty and onto the shore as quickly as he can travel.  He’s more than a touch disorientated but he’s keeping a tight line somehow as he sets off along the wooden boarding towards the bank.  Then at almost the moment he is set to depart the jetty for firm ground he feels the world move beneath him and the sound of rotted, breaking wood that goes with the realisation the ancient little pier is sliding away beneath him with a splintering farewell.  With a falling leap he feels the jetty go from under him and as he hits solid earth he stumbles, tripping forward then sideways then righting himself like Georgie Best getting hacked by defenders but somehow staying on his feet.  Behind him he hears the swirling of water as the pier is claimed by the lake for all time, but he can’t turn to look because he’s still fixed on the bend in the rod above his head, the line being kept thankfully tight by the still-travelling fish at god knows what range now.  He’s able to use the reel again and makes a few turns of the handle to re-establish full contact. 

How is it still on? Only the fact that he forgot to crush the barb on the Castaic’s hook has, thus far, prevented him losing the fish in the midst of his comedic routine. But now he’s better placed for a fight.  He can see the line entering the water some way out and travelling solidly to the left.  The fish is going back the way it came and suddenly he’s filled with dread because he realises there is now a sunken pier to go with the sunken boat and the sunken tree in the part of the lake that surely must now deserve the title Sunken Corner, a district of Snag City.  If the fish gets into any of those obstacles then all is lost.  As much as he dares he draws the rod firmly to the right to oppose the progress of the huge perch but makes almost no impression on it. He’s aware of himself begin to resign to fate but suddenly feels the fish turn towards shore and he cranks the Citica handle, gratefully gaining every unexpected foot of line that he can.  Then he sees the vast shape of the perch emerge from the darker water and veer right again, sees it clearly enough to glimpse the brown body of the Castaic crayfish sticking out from it’s jaws like a Cuban cigar in the mouth of a tycoon.  The spade-like tail pushes the fish past him and, again, the Citica hisses line as he loses all the yards he managed to recapture moments before.  Christ Almighty, he isn’t used to this.  He catches little perch.  The earlier two pounder was almost the biggest he’s ever hooked.  Until now. This doesn’t even feel like reality because he can’t equate the thousands of perch he’s ‘fought’ during thirty plus years to the immovable object that is currently cruising away from him towards the middle of the lake.

To be continued.....

Jake Hamilton