Back to Basics
On the evening of March 16th 1999, I was enjoying a cold glass of Irish black stuff with my friend Paul. I’d known Paul for a couple of years, having been brought together by our mutual love of loud music and electric guitars. Talk, as ever, centred around the usual subjects; music, beer, women, curry…when, for some odd reason I mentioned that I had once been an angler.
I, like many others, had been a very keen angler as a boy. I had perhaps been keener than most having been an active match angler as part of the Northern Anglers junior team, with which I was fortunate enough to win the NJAA national in ‘86 and ’87. By the age of sixteen, however, I had discovered other pass-times…and fishing lost it's appeal. For around ten years the only fishing I had done had been for bass while visiting my wife’s parents who live near a secluded and beautiful estuary in Brittany. Catching the schoolies on light coarse tackle must be experienced to be believed! The thought of returning to the cut and thrust jealousies of who’s got the best bloodworm and joker didn’t even occur to me. No, I was definitely no longer an angler!
Paul, smiled and said, ‘That’s another thing we have in common then.’ Fishing? Paul’s got tattoos and a pierced nipple, surely he’s not a closet angler? ‘Yeah, I used to do quite a bit of piking with me dad…’
‘Pike!’ I could hardly believe it, ‘I’ve always dreamed of catching a pike, even a small one.’ This was true, I’d spent years perfecting my short pole/bloodworm scratching technique to the point where I’d rarely caught any thing larger than 12ozs! Even the 2lb schoolies I would catch on holiday seemed like crazed monsters. Paul dumbfounded me with tales of double figure pike and the odd 20 pounder, but what grabbed my imagination more than the size of the fish was the method he’d used…spinning.
‘Paul, you’ve got to help me catch a pike,’ I begged quite pitifully. He must have thought I’d gone completely mad, a twenty-something biker getting dewy eyed about fish! But he didn’t. What he did do was look glumly into his beer as we almost simultaneously realised what the date was…the season had been closed for under 24 hours! It was too late, I was hooked again.
Hooked, indeed! But what were we supposed to do for three months? Paul lent me a couple of books including Barrie Rickards and Ken Whitehead’s excellent plug fishing and spinning book. The reading, and photos, did nothing to quench my thirst for some rod-bending action, they only threw fuel on the fire. I had to go fishing, but where?
As well as being a total lure/predator fishing novice, I also knew nothing of my local waters. We have lived in Leicestershire for about three years and I had never been fishing in the county in my life. After spending about a week annoying my wife she dragged me down to a local tackle dealer with whom I spoke like child on Christmas Eve for over an hour. I left the shop with a few pages of notes, a disfigured road atlas and a bored wife.
‘Okay, Paul, I’ve got some info on pikey waters, but the problem is they all seem to be closed until June.’ This was becoming very frustrating. I knew there were lots of fish out there. The waters oozed fishyness. Long walks along rivers and round lakes, drooling over photographs and half-tortured every time Paul began to say, ‘…and there was this time…a few jacks…twenty pounder…nearly snapped my rod..’ I had gone mad.
My salvation came unusually from the Internet. Having found the Pike Angling Club’s website, I got the number of the local branch and duly called. Although the person I spoke to had been inactive in the PAC for five years, he gave me some great information about local waters and what to expect from lure fishing. I was told with great enthusiasm that the rivers held lots of good-sized pike, which took plugs and spinners, giving some great sport through the summer, not to mention a good head of plump chub and greedy perch. This was all well and good but there were still well over ten weeks to June 16th!
‘There is one open day-ticket water you could try.’ He didn’t sound very keen.
The following Saturday, Paul and I approached a shambolic caravan site that had one been the East-Midlands’ answer to Disneyland Paris®! As we approached the barriers a nervous looking lady of advanced years quizzed us about our motives for entering the caravan equivalent of a leper colony.
'What do you want?', she snapped.
'Er, well we’d been told of a day-ticket fishery here…'
'Yes, there is, but you can’t go in there, she eyed us up and down in the manner a prospective father-in-law.
‘Well how do you expect us to decide if we want to go fishing if we can’t have a look round first?’ I said, in my usual the-customer-is-always-right way.
She screwed up her eyes, nodded and we walked on, ‘if you’re not back in half-an-hour I’ll come looking for you, we’ve had a few break-ins.’
I looked at Paul, and he at me. What on Earth was she thinking? We were just two ordinary unshaven blokes in biker jackets and combat boots.
It took little more than a cursory glance to realise that the many reedy, tree-lined bays of the old gravel quarry made it a perfect haunt for wily predators. An abundance of large lily pads, dead trees and islands made each swim a likely starting point for some pike action. Equally it appeared unattractive for the new breed of angler who likes his/her day-ticket waters to be sanitised affairs with comfortable access, purpose-built pegs and hot and cold running boilies. True to her word, Medusa of the caravan park turned up on her bike within thirty minutes to check we hadn’t stolen all the nettles. ‘There are Kingfishers nesting on one of the islands and otters sometimes visit from the river. Bye for now.’ and she scuttled off dragging a weary looking brown thing behind her, a dog, Paul thought.
On the way back to the exit we caught sight of an angler lobbing out a large dead fish and setting a bite alarm. Pike! A nice chap who’d been fishing the same peg on the pit for thirty years and the captor of many a twenty pound and over pike he informed us with the anglers’ characteristic lack of exaggeration.
‘It’s no use lure fishing though,’ he warned, ‘too weedy and shallow by far.’ He’d forgotten to mention the trees.
‘There’s pike in there Paul, just waiting for us!’ Within an hour I was sixty quid worse off having bought a lovely carbon Abu Garcia spinning rod in a half-price sale along with trace making kit, some 15lbs test braided line and a couple of Paul’s all-time favourite spinners… the deadly, copper spooned Abu Reflex! A quick trip to a local sub-post office and we were legally entitled to fish, which also came with the added bonus of being asked whether we were juniors or seniors by the dear old post mistress, bless her. The following day, Sunday, was to be my first day as a predator hunter, lure angler and, to my surprise, tree surgeon.