How to lose lures and not influence fish
It was nearing half past one in the morning in the rusty old van. We were reflecting on yet another mad gig, this time in Hinckley. Playing in a thrash band can be a dangerous thing, and we’d caused another near riot in an ill-prepared pub. Still, the miserable landlady had handed over a wad of tenners, something that always surprises me, and booked us for a few months later. Banter was the usual, ‘God, I broke another string,’ type stuff, ‘good gig...mad crowd...kebab...blah...’
‘I’m going fishing in the morning.’
‘What do you mean?’ quizzed our bass player. The others fell silent.
‘Well, erm...fishing, you know...catching fish,’ I replied naively. Conversation carried on as if somebody had just farted, so I said no more.
In bed, with self-induced tinnitus driving me mad, all I could think about was fishing. I knew nothing of lures and pike so I drifted off with long lost recollections of my match fishing glory days. The words ‘second’ and ‘childhood’ drifted through my quickly numbing head as the handful of maggots tossed upstream behind a stick float.
‘...you gotta get with my friends!’ Arrgghh! What the ..! Seven a.m. on a Sunday is no time for the Spice Girls. I flailed about and smashed the radio alarm clock to bits. My wife moaned and rolled over like a lazy summer carp among the lilies (I’ll probably get a slap for that simile). I lay there trembling, ears whistling and questioning my sanity. It had been a long time since I had seen a Sunday morning. I waited as the phone rang three times.
‘Paul,’ I whispered, ‘are you up?’
‘Of course I’m up, this is me talking!’
‘Right, I’ll see you in about five minutes.’
Ten minutes later we were wandering bleary-eyed round a corner shop, thinking of tasty things to buy solely to acquire change. A ham and cheese roll and bottle of pop served to transform my fiver into the required three golden fishing tokens. Food, unusually, was far from my mind.
A short drive later and there we were! The yellow barriers of the post-holocaust caravan park stood between the fish and me. I carefully inserted six golden fishing tokens into an antique vending machine and out came two tickets. The barrier raised magically as Medusa peered at us from her caravan. We were not to be trusted, she’d seen our type before!
We parked by the thick tree growth that surrounds the gravel pit and frantically began to tackle up. I carefully removed my new rod from its bag, secured my fixed spool reel in the screw fastening, flipped back the bail arm and began threading the floppy braid through the rings. In spite of the time lapse, my knot tying was well up to scratch as I attached a wire trace to the reel line for the first time in my life. Paul was mumbling about fishy stuff, but I was momentarily deaf as I clipped a small perch-coloured Rapala floating diver to the link swivel. My choice of lure was not scientific. It was simply the only plug I owned, having found it four years earlier in France whilst walking my dog. I also had two Abu Reflex spinners bought the previous day on Paul’s insistence. It was all fairly pointless to me, I had never even seen a fish caught on an artificial, what difference could there be between lures? Paul had told me the Rapala was worth a few bob anyway, so it must be better.
Our first swim was a gravel bar which stretched out some twenty yards into the pit and was covered in bottle green goose turd. We started casting into the bays on either side. Plop went the plug. I wound it in. Plop went the plug. I wound it in. I even tried hesitant, jerking retrieves, it looked fishy and seemed to dart in the manner of a hooked tiddler. ‘This is bigger than some of the fish I used to catch,’ I mumbled, longing for a maggot, as you do.
I decided to observe Paul. Plop, sink, jerk, slow retrieve, twitch, retrieve and so on. I decided to cast out again and tried the same. I almost laughed to myself at the stupidity of it all. A lump of plastic for God’s sake. Time passed, the delicate, amorphous mist which had been crawling over the water began to fade into the morning sunshine. Silly bloody plug. A swan drifted elegantly by. I began to remember why I had once loved angling. Casting became increasingly natural and accurate as my wrists and arms regained their memory. My fingers were beginning to get cold so I reeled in and chomped away at the soggy roll watching Paul. Plop, sink, jerk, slow retrieve, twitch, retrieve...
‘D’you want to move on to a new swim?’ It was about 8.30 a.m.
The gravel pit had once, we had been informed, been well maintained and highly popular with local anglers. This was over twenty years ago. Today the margins are so densely covered by trees and other vegetation that it is difficult to estimate the size of the water. Walking from our first swim (‘The Finger’) it was at least 150 yards before another fishable opening appeared. I decided to try a Reflex. It was a lovely thing to cast, nice and weighty, going more or less exactly where I wanted it to go. Plop, sink, jerk, retrieve. It even gave off a lovely fluttering vibration which could be felt through the rod tip. I smiled. The sun came out. Cast after cast, but still nothing. I was becoming very jaded by the whole thing. To relieve the boredom I tried fishing closer to the trees which grew on a small island. Cobblers! Too close. Yank, tug, swear, tug, expletive! All went loose and the spring sunlight glinted from the copper blade in the tree as if to taunt me. £2.75 down the bog! Deep breath, it’s only money, Pete.
The Reflex’s twin sister was attached to the newly-tied trace. Perhaps I’m retrieving too quickly, I pondered. Plop, sink, yes, the spinner was definitely on the bottom. Jerk, snap, b******s! I had lost my whole collection of spinners in five minutes. £5.50 plus the three quid to get in! Time to change swims again. On the way round the bottom half of the pit we lobbed in a cast here and there but all confidence had faded. I was subconsciously avoiding the bottom and any potential snag, retrieving with increasing speed and decreasing intrerest. Lunch was nearing and my tummy began complaining. I had used almost every lure from Paul’s extensive collection. I had tried spoons, plugs and spinners. I had changed colours and sizes. Nothing. Lure fishing is rubbish, I had known all along. Cast, plop, yawn, sink, scratch, burp, retrieve...
quo;Pete! Quick, bring the net!’ Panic struck almost as quickly as my head struck the bough of an aggressive hawthorn. Paul’s caught one!
On arriving at the hole in the jungle Paul had decided to lose tackle in, I saw the sweetly bending rod and the magical boil as a very annoyed Jack tried to shake off the spinner. In time honoured fashion I drove the net in the water in front of Paul as a toothy sneer was coaxed forwards.
‘Bloody hell! It’s a pike!’ I was dumbfounded.
‘God almighty, I’d forgotten what it was like,’ said Paul, as the adrenaline kicked in. He bent down to unhook the magnificent fish to find that the spinner had already come free. I grabbed the camera as Paul held onto his hard-earned prize. Seconds later Paul was about to gently revive the noble creature when it just shot off, splashing us both with water and contempt. So that’s what all the fuss is about.
‘About three to four pounds I should say, just a little un.’
Little! It had scared me silly. Paul went on to tell me how he been consistently fanning his spinner around 25 degree arc of water up to the edge of a lily bed a mere twenty feet from his rod tip. Using a combination of sink and draw, slow bottom-hugging (oo-er missus) and quick retrieves, he had eventually wound the fish up, forcing it to have a go.
We stayed for another twenty minutes, just long enough for me to lose one of Paul’s Toby spoons and spend most of my time trying to climb trees and saw through inch thick branches with a Swiss Army knife. From the depths of despair and ridicule I had seen my first pike, the first fish of any kind I’d even seen caught on a shiny metal thing. Maybe there was something to this after all.