A few weeks ago I was invited, by Allan Stone – of the ‘Stoney and Friends’ charity for Macmillan nurses – to spend the weekend, bivvied up at RMC Angling’s Wraysbury 2 lake, in Berkshire. ‘It’s a pike-in, Rosie,’ said Allan. ‘I know it’s not what you’re used to but pike anglers are a decent crew and it’s for a good cause, so why not come along anyway?’
On the Saturday before the big ‘do’, an hour and ten minutes after leaving home, the Chief Angler and I arrived in Wraysbury 2’s car-park to meet up with Stoney and his Fred Elliott sound-alike helpmate, Dave Green. After sliding into my Derriboots and stretching my legs among those already gathered, I set out to suss the venue. I soon realised that it was going to take me rather longer than 20 minutes to suss Wraysbury 2. It’s a massive lake, around 140 acres roughly split into two by a sort of promontory and a couple of islands. I needed a rest, anyway, after all that driving so sat down for a chat.
My chosen group of ‘proper’ anglers told me that stock-wise, things were pretty impressive. The lake holds pike to 33 pounds, eels to 5 pounds, perch to 4 pounds and all manner of carp, tench roach and bream, which is presumably why the predators are doing so well. See? I’m learning this non-carp fishing thing already.
I had imagined Wraysbury 2 to offer limitless mud, possible sub-zero temperatures and, due to the lack of a loo, severe frostbite to places I normally keep strictly lagged during wintertime. ‘You’ll be all right,’ Stoney assured me, in the manner of those with conveniently pointable plumbing facilities. ‘Besides, if you can’t find a quiet patch without nettles, there’s a pub handy. You can always pop in there and use their loo.’ This seemed like a good idea about mid-day but you can’t enter a pub and just head for the ablutions – it’s only polite to buy a drink first. Give it an hour and I’d need to go to the pub again. I decided that I’d give up on that one and besides, my mate, Joanne, had reconnoitred and found an ivy-covered bathroom for us, deep in darkest Wraysbury shrubbery – a far more sensible option.
As it turned out, the weather was comparatively mild for February and we managed to miss a forecast monsoon by a few hours, so I was warm and cosy in my brand new Titan bivvy and Frostbite sleeping-bag. If anything I was too warm. I have to sleep with the bivvy flap half way open, too – I get claustrophobic otherwise – but, with Kevin Nash as my temporary landlord, I spent the night in comfort.
Cooking breakfast in the dark – a dozen rib-eye steaks, wild boar and tarragon sausages donated by Ron the Fish (Surrey’s finest fishmonger, I’m reliably informed) and a punnet of mushrooms - was a novel experience. I really must get one of those miner’s head-light thingys before I do that again - it’s vital, if you cook in the dark, to make darned sure that your hungry horde eat in the dark, too. It looks like hell on the plates.
Rosie Barham - phwoarr! This is as close to a 'real' shot of Rosie Barham as decency will allow me to publish!
Ron also sent along a selection of prime deadbaits – mainly mackerel, a ton of sprats and ‘a few small squid’, as requested. Unfortunately, Ron’s idea of ‘small squid’ seemed to be more along the lines of the specimens that Captain Nemo was forced to wrestle on a regular basis. The anglers in my little group reckoned that, unless RMC Angling’s stocking policy included a healthy head of sperm whales, wobbling one of Ron’s mega-squid around the margins was a non-starter so they settled for mackerel tails and variations on a sprat theme.
Just before daybreak on Sunday morning, cars began to stream into the car-park decanting about seventy anglers who waited for their names to be pulled from a hat and a gentlemanly walk-off to begin. Once they were settled in their swims, I mingled with the pikers within my walking range and observed their actions.
It’s amazing how much you can learn by just looking and asking a few questions. Of course, the answers to most of my enquiries made hardly any sense at all – I’ve been around carp anglers for decades and have had little to do with pike fishermen, apart from witnessing certain strange urges suffered by my youngest as 1st October looms, each year. However, from the little knowledge that I could absorb in such a limited time, I gathered that pike angling is nothing like carping at all. I realise that all of you know that already, but bear with me, pike anglers – I’m fascinated by the whole thing. I found that I was keen to find out more. To discover how the species differ in behaviour etc. I will, too. This is not the last pike session I’ll be involved in, believe me.
I was told that hair-rigging dead baits is definitely catching on. I can tie a carp-type hair rig and have photographic evidence to support that claim. A confident question seemed appropriate - I was on familiar ground here. ‘Is that the same technique as hair-rigs for carp?’ I asked one pike enthusiast. ‘More or less,’ he said. ‘Your bait is lassoed round the tail root with a mono noose affair which presents a single treble a quarter of an inch off the deadbait’s tail.’
‘Er……..right. O.K. Thanks for that.’ I hadn’t got a clue what he meant but one day soon I will and I bet all of you that I’ll be able to put it into practise. All the anglers were really sweet, tolerating me hovering in the background so I continued to make a nuisance of myself with a clear-ish conscience.
Bless! Lewis looking a 'bit' pleased with his fish!
Two youngsters, who hadn’t fished for pike on such a daunting venue before were parked side by side in a swim – under strict instruction but largely ignoring advice and doing their own thing. Lewis Baker, 12, tempted the second take - from a muscular eighteen pounder - with a mini shoal of popped-up sprats on two size eight trebles. The look on the boy’s face as he tried to pose for the photo, control the struggling pike and smile at the same time was a joy to behold, and the fish was magnificent.
Now, I haven’t been near too many pike but the ones I’ve seen, caught from a local river, were a kind of darkish greeny brown. The colours on this specimen, however, were glorious shades of green and light brown, variegated with silver streaks and yellow blobs. Is that because the water at Wraysbury is so clear that you can see the lake bed? Does the clarity of the water affect their appearance? I’d seriously like to know if this is so.
I dare say there are those among you who are thinking –‘What the hell is this woman writing about pike fishing for, when she clearly knows very little abou
t it.’ Well, I’ll tell you why. Watching the behaviour of the youngsters involved, their interaction with other anglers and the delight as they achieved a goal, whether it was tying on a bait, making up a rig - whatever they were trying to do - anyone could see that they were completely taken over by the sport. The kids love it because of the freedom of activity allowed. They can wander up and down their swims as they cast, observing, trawling their dead-baits and lures. Not that other kinds of angling aren’t just as good – carping, for example, when they must keep quiet and still, teaches them patience, perseverance and self-discipline – but pike fishing, as far as I could see, is far more dynamic and appealing to a young mind. As we all know, these youngsters hold the future of angling in the same hands that can just as easily hold a Gameboy. I know what I’d rather they did.
Pike, I was reliably informed, are misunderstood. A popular misconception is that they are ferocious, primeval, irascible. (I’d be irascible if, having just taken a mouthful of lunch, some strange bloke whipped me away from it and hauled me up a bank to be photographed before I’d had a chance to swallow.) In reality, the sensitivity of these impressive creatures is legendary, they tell me, and that’s understandable – being born with a jaw jutting so far that you could balance a coffee cup on it would be enough to make anyone feel a tad vulnerable. They should be treated with respect, spoken to kindly, replaced into their habitat with a gentle hand and put under as little stress as possible. Lewis had ‘Respect’ written on the front of his T shirt - and all over his face as he posed with his wonderful fish.
Stephen Doe cradles many a fisherman's dream...no, not Rosie Barham, but a 20lb pike!
Twenty minutes earlier, Lewis’s cousin, Stephen Doe, 11, had leapt onto his rod as the bite alarm signalled a screaming take. He had wanted to try a mackerel tail, but he’d tied on a set of size 10, barbless trebles, for a single sprat set-up, hoping to tempt a jack. He was advised to change to size 8’s but he couldn’t wait and cast out the mackerel anyway. Even I could see that the fish was no jack. The rod was plunging toward the lake surface each time the unseen fish dived for the sanctuary of the depths. Ten arm-aching, nerve shattering (especially for Stephen’s dad, Terry Doe, who was manning the net) minutes later, a splendid pike slid into the net, was carried up the bank to an unhooking mat, and weighed-in at 20lb 6oz. Stephen was beside himself and immediately fell in love with his capture. The photograph shows his adoration. Who could blame the boy? Those Wraysbury fish are superb.
We had a marvellous weekend. Allan Stone modestly asked me not to put the fund-raising success for the Macmillan Nurses down to him alone –‘I don’t want to take any credit for it, Rosie,’ he told me. ‘I have a great deal of help. That’s why the charity is called Stoney and Friends.’ This is true. There are many dedicated friends who do all they can but, without Allan, the charity would not have been started in the first place, so he should stand up and be counted, don’t you think? They’ve raised thousands so that cancer sufferers and their families can receive counselling and care. The Wraysbury pike-in, alone, raised £1,069
Oh, yes. And some of the grown-ups caught pike, too. Carp ace Terry Hearn’s dad, Barry, took five pike from Wraysbury – all up to twelve pounds – and there were a number of fish taken on the opposite side to where I was reporting (typical) up to 19 lbs.
Leon, Wraysbury 2 is that big bluey green thing in front of you, old boy!
At the end of an enjoyable day, a raffle was conducted in the car-park. Prizes were donated by many more of ‘Stoney’s Friends’ – including a couple of rods from Walton Tackle Exchange offered just for the juniors who took part in the event and a bargain carp/pike rod from Decathlon on the Surrey Quays, London, which had the 'serious' anglers rubbing their heads in amazement when they were told just how inexpensive it was.
Young Stephen Doe, who apart from catching the biggest pike of the weekend, also won one of these rods. He reckons it was the best weekend of his life. I saw enough of pike fishing to give me the desire to do some of it for myself and I’ve decided that catching my first pike can only be a matter of time. How much time that will actually turn out to be, is anyone’s guess, but I’m going to be out there trying, no doubt about it.