Thursday, 20 December 2012

Big river pike - opportunity knocks

With the rivers yet again bursting their banks and me struggling to think of anywhere I fancy fishing my thoughts turned to this time a couple of years back, the weather couldn't have been more different...

December the 21st 2010

 My plans for the winter of 2010/11 centred around having a crack for perch and chub on a local river with the ultimate goal being a personal best of either, or indeed both. By early December we were well and truly in the deep freeze and as a self employed gardener work was virtually non existent which though far from ideal in wallet filling terms did give me the opportunity to spend some extra time on the bank all be it in the worst conditions i'd ever fished in. One day saw a temperature of minus 10.5 centigrade taken at 10am and it would have been impossible to fish without a good coating of glycerin on the rod rings on most days. Mashed bread was freezing in its bucket on every outing and the bare skin of my hand stuck to icy metal work on more than one occasion. Nevertheless the chub were obliging on most days and particularly from one swim that I had earmarked as my banker and where I would often end the day.

December the 20th had been tough. I started fishing at around 9am and covered several swims without any indication before dropping into the dead cert around early afternoon, an hour later I started to wonder if anything was going to happen at all when the tip flickered and dropped back as the lump of flake was picked up. This particular swim features a nearside bush right next to where I was sitting and I was in the habit of walking downstream for ten feet or so as soon as I hooked a fish in order to keep it out of the snag rather than drawing it towards the tangle of woodwork. The method was paying off this time as the chub was heading straight for cover and I would not have stood a chance of stopping it had I of stayed put. I locked the spool with my finger and gave it full side strain, seeing the line turn away from the tree right at the point of no return. Just as the fish turned there was an almighty swirl that certainly wasn't caused by any chub! There could only be one culprit and I kept the pressure on to haul the chub away from what was obviously a pike intent on lunch. At that point my carefully laid plan went to pot as I managed to snag the line around a small twig protruding from the bank right next to where my seat was positioned leaving the chub wallowing just below the surface on a short line. I quickly shoved the net under the fish and leant the rod on my chair while I made my way to the front of the swim to free it. Crouching at the waters edge while untangling the line I happened to glance to the side and there lying about three feet away from me lay a seriously impressve pike looking rather disgruntled that I had got my catch and he had lost his. The line was soon free from the twig and I weighed the chub at four and a quarter pounds before walking it well downstream out of harms way. The marginal shelf was clear and only eighteen inches deep allowing me to get a very good look at the pike which was still present on my return, a white mark on ithe lower jaw was clearly visible so there would be no mistake should be lucky enough to come across her again. I'm no great judge of pike in the water but surely that was close to twenty pounds.

Now I'm not one to miss an opportunity when it arises and I was almost tempted to go and fetch some pike tackle there and then but realistically by the time I had made the return trip the day would be nearly over. Tomorrow, however, I would without a doubt be back. That evening was spent in a mental state that only an angler could possibly comprehend, part excitement at what might be, partly anxiety at what might not. The swim was not an unpopular one and there was always the possibility that I wouldn't be the first on the bank, the reality was that i'd hardly seen another angler since the big freeze started but did that stop me worrying? Did it hell as like. The freezer held a few decent sized roach that I'd stocked up with for yet another pike campaign that didn't happen but that was twelve months previous, they were not exactly bursting with freshness and my confidence was dented further when I discussed the state of the bait with my mate Steve who shared my doubts. The general consensus on my poor old roach was not good and I had to cover all eventualities and so made a trip to the supermarket to stock up on some other bait options. The next job was a overhaul of my rarely used pike kit. The reels were re-spooled, traces made, and chub gear replaced by pike in the rucksack. By the time I'd finished that lot I was just about as hyped up as it was possible to be, it's a situation I've been in many times and it tends not to be all that enjoyable to be honest. By the time I've finished it's normally time for bed and my entire night has been absorbed in nothing but angling thoughts, quite often resulting in grief from the wife too!

A prior comitment dictated that I couldn't make the dawn start that I longed for and prolonged the anticipation even further. It was 10am before I reached the end of the long and at that time extremely treacherous, lane which was thankfully free of the cars of other anglers. I started to carefully pick my way across the arctic landscape but it wasn't until I got with ten yards of the swim that I could safely say that it wasn't occupied and a weight was lifted from my shoulders. Two rods were rigged up ready to go with my standard river rig of a simple float which is set either free drifting or overdepth by simply adjusting a stop knot, in this case I wanted the bait to rest in the lee of the near bank bush and so both were set to fish static. I dropped the first bait five yards or so downstream of the feature and on the near side of the crease with a nice fresh sardine attached, the other rod was to be the banker and was going right next to the bush, surely the pikes lair I thought. I started to pull another sardine from the bag and then changed my mind, twelve months old or not those roach did look prime pike fodder and had to be worth a go for a while at least. I plopped the rig out into 3 feet of water leaving the float a foot or two from the branches,doing a little bobbling dance as the current hit it. Right then, now what? I was almost immediately becoming impatient, pacing the bank behind the rods and wondering if I was wasting my time with that roach, especially as I'd put it in the prime spot. I considered if the pike had just been travelling through on the previous day and was now elsewhere, surely if I'd got it right and it was there then the take would come quickly? Or perhaps it had been succesful in snaring another chub since attacking mine and had no need to eat for some time.

Thirty minutes after positioning the baits I got my answer. The float next to the bush slowly sank under the surface by a few inches, it was still clearly in sight and no other movement was seen for a few seconds but I had the rod in hand ready as it then trundled off downstream steadily tightening the line to the rod tip as it went. When it had tightened almost fully I cranked a couple of turns of the reel and hauled the rod back hard only to have it pulled straight back down as the fish shot out into the current with an incredible burst of power that made the clutch howl. A minute or so of battle out in the fast water knocked a great deal of the fight out of the fish and I soon had it under the rod in the slack. The fight gave the impression of a big fish but I still hadn't seen it until it suddenly popped up almost under my feet and I at once spotted the small white mark on its jaw, "thats the one" I thought and the old ticker started doing overtime. The net was out ready and waiting and without too much more trouble I had her lying prone and eased her towards me only for the net to rise in the flow just as her head reached the drawstring, snagging the mesh on an exposed treble point. That was almost too much to bear, to lose it within such easy reach would have been unthinkable yet there was no way I could get her into the net as it was. I took my chance and gave the handle a quick flick and with great relief saw the mesh fall away from her jaw, luck really was on my side and I wasn't going to mess up twice, in she went.

I pulled out one of my banksticks and rammed it into the bank between net and spreader block to hold the fish safely in the water while I got myself organised, the camera was definately coming out for this lady, a couple of minutes resting time would have done her a favour too. When all was ready I lifted her out and knew that my estimate was correct, well over twenty pounds. The Avons spun around to 22lb 2oz's making it a personal best and I really couldn't have wished to have done it in more satisfying circumstances. In essence a very easy capture with little effort on my part but as Hannibal always said, I love it when a plan comes together.

There's another twist to this tale. A couple of months later Steve was fishing several hundred yards away and had a hooked chub attacked by a pike. Three days later he went back to fish for it. I was driving up the M1 on the way to the river when I got the phone call, twenty minutes later I was photographing the fish for him and yes you guessed it! That pike has an appetite for chub!