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!