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