Who You Know
It was a funny old evening in the Davis household on Sunday 2nd February 2003. However, for once it was nothing to do with what mischief the kids may have been up to, or for that matter anything I’d done to upset my good lady for a change! It wasn’t even anything to do with some significant world event taking place, aggro at work, or any other intrusion into our otherwise normally idyllic family existence.Yet as the evening progressed, the level of unease and impatience within me grew to a point where, later that night, sleep would become a very hard-won commodity. I knew precisely what the problem was, though, and it was nothing to do with anyone else.
You see, I know that this will be hard to believe, but for the first time in all the years I have been fishing for pike, I actually knew in advance that when I went out for a cast the following morning, I would catch a pike that would, without question, weigh a long way clear of thirty pounds! I’m not talking premonitions here, or yet another visit to yet another water with the potential to produce something extraordinary. I’m talking absolute stonewall certainty that the following morning, without question, regardless of my prowess as an angler, I would be completely guaranteed of success of almost indecent proportions. Such occasions are of course extremely rare, to say the least, when it comes to catching outsize pike and, so far, it has only occurred to me this one time! It had all started the previous February when long-time angling mate Adrian Morley had chanced on what was to gradually unfold as an almost unbelievable, and literally priceless, scenario.
Ade works as a self-employed architect, (he’s a good one at that!) and during a conversation with a new client, who for obvious reasons will have to remain anonymous,it came to light that the client had a lake on his private estate, and that said lake was rumoured to contain a thirty pound pike! Such reports, of course, come up from time to time, but in my, and that of most other pike anglers’ experience, they contain little by way of fact. However, when the offer of a day’s fishing was made, it was difficult for Ade to say no, especially when it transpired that almost nobody else was allowed to fish the water.
The day of the arranged visit arrived, and following a lengthy journey across farmland in the client’s four-track vehicle, followed by an unexpectedly lengthy walk, this remarkable water was seen for the first time. No expansive estate lake this, or gravel pit of impressive proportions, just a tiny speck of blue that has subsequently become known by those in the know as ‘Ade’s puddle’.With a firm underarm flick putting the smallest of baits twenty yards back into the undergrowth on the far bank, or a slightly stronger overarm effort putting the same bait a similar distance onto the far bank when casting from one end of it to the other, it was obvious from the outset that Ade’s day would be a wasted one.After all, we all know that really big pike are not exactly likely to exist in such places!
Fate, however, had other ideas, and fortunately Ade chose to fish for a few hours, more in hope of catching a few much needed livebaits than of catching an outsize pike. But the pike rods would still have to go in, just in case! The all-important run was not long in coming, the fish picking up a float-fished sardine, and when Ade pulled into it, just about the last thing he expected to see on the other end was an absolutely enormous pike swirling on the surface before him.The fish was netted without incident and was found to be a scale-and-fin perfect example of her breed, pulling the scales round to the absolutely priceless figure of exactly 36 lbs. She was still found to have a previously-lost trace in the back of her throat though! The pike was almost certainly the biggest one caught in Norfolk (that’s the nearest you get to a clue chaps!) that season, and the mystery of the lost trace, which Ade was unable to recover from the fish’s stomach, was solved when the lake’s owner reported allowing a couple of other business associates of his to have one day’s fishing a couple of weeks before Ade’s. Unsurprisingly, the big fish had put in an appearance on that day too, reportedly at a similar weight to Ade’s encounter, and apparently the fish had been hooked once and lost in the morning to a broken line, only to be hooked again and banked later the same day.
Most of the time with my own fishing, I enjoy the challenge of trying to solve the various conundrums that my travels present. The harder the challenge, the greater the personal reward derived from success would pretty much sum up the situation, but of course the occasional gift horse has to be savoured and enjoyed along the way, and when that gift is in the form of a pike of such impressive proportions, it would be hard to resist the offer of a try at her!
The invitation did arrive, Ade, bless him, securing us a return visit the following winter, and I spent most of the following spring, summer and then autumn worrying myself daft that some horrible fate would have befallen the great fish, prior to our return. Pike of this size are frequently very near to the end of their lives through natural causes, hence the windows of opportunity in which to catch them are usually painfully narrow, and easily missed. Moreover, this whacker had been left with a brace of hooks in her stomach, almost certainly due to careless angling practices.Would she still be there, could she still be there, or had those lost hooks caused her demise?
The date of our trip duly arrived, and on a cold, still November morning, I got my first view of this special place. The water was indeed tiny, with the only real area of clear fishable water in front of us being no more than one third of an acre in size. Baits were cast, (well, dropped) in the water in front of us, and before the first cup of tea could even be poured from the flask, one of Ade’s deadbait floats was sliding purposefully off across the surface. I’m sure you will have guessed the rest by now, and you’re not wrong: the weight this time being exactly 33 lbs, if I recall correctly. There was nothing wrong with this most remarkable pike, it being in immaculate condition, and there being no sign of the lost trace from the previous season. But oh that I had caught her myself…
Envy is not the most pleasant of character traits at the best of times, and I’m disgusted with myself to admit I was racked with it that day.With no obvious opportunity of a return visit in the offing, I’d missed my chance, or so it seemed, by placing my bait about five yards too far to the left of where I should have cast. I’d been experiencing the most miserable run of success that season in every direction I’d turned, regardless of what I’d been trying to catch, and that day, having lost out in a two horse race to such a close friend when playing for such a significant prize, frustration finally got the better of me. I got it all wrong for the rest of that day and probably also for a good few more, before I cleared off on my own for most of the rest of the winter feeling sorry for myself, and sulking like your average schoolboy who hasn’t got his own way. The blanks continued everywhere else too.
I didn’t deserve a return to that special water, but return I would, thanks to Ade’s understanding and generosity a few months later, which was on the morning after I began this particular tale.
Having not slept well the previous evening, for reasons you can now probably understand, I arrived at the water to find it thickly coloured with snow-water run off from the surrounding fields, and with the air temperature hovering somewhere around zero. Tough conditions indeed, but as this was obviously the only other chance to go there that winter, I was hardly going to let the opportunity pass by! Having caught the big fish twice already,Ade chose not to fish, preferring this time round to give me the opportunity.
It was just the most surreal of experiences to be honest, sitting there quietly for a couple of peaceful hours, quite literally knowing that very shortly I’d be catching a thirty, just as it had been when trying to get to sleep at home the previous evening. However, the snow-water must have not been to the big one’s taste, for it was several hours before eventually, just as all the old doubts started invading my thoughts,my lucky float, fished on my lucky rod, above an extra large, headless sardine I'd kept specially for the occasion, bobbled a couple of times before disappearing from the scene.
Pulling into the run left me in no doubt as to exactly who was on the other end, and seconds later I was treated to one of the most awesome head-shakes I’ve yet experienced from a pike, feeling quite literally like someone had smacked the rod with a sand-bag.Head-shake number two followed,but she was still on and things were starting to look up at long last, then a few seconds later she slid peacefully into my waiting net. She was again recorded at a weight of 33lbs, and was the first specimen fish, of any species, that I had caught for the best part of a year that had proved pretty much the most challenging year I’ve endured, angling-wise, to date. And as I slipped that great fish back to her special home a few minutes later, I felt that the weight of the world had just been lifted from my shoulders. Without question, that great pike was one of the most remarkable fish I will ever be lucky enough to catch. She had grown to a great size in a very small water that anyone who knows remotely anything about catching pike would not have given a second glance, even if they were able to find it. What that fish had fed on to achieve her bulk I am only able to speculate at.Trout had never been part of the equation, and there was no obvious evidence of other prey fish in abundance. I suspect though, that she was eating her own offspring, which for the size of the water, must have resulted in a pretty tenuous existence to say the least. The one factor, though, that was obviously present in abundance, was the
pike’s greatest friend, neglect!
Ade returned to the water once the following winter with another acquaintance, who managed to catch the big pike twice during his day there, at the same weight as I’d caught it. So is that a brace of thirties, or one thirty caught twice on the same day? That’s not as straight forward a question to answer as it may first appear, and your own answer will depend on your own approach to your fishing. And that, I’m afraid was the end of our acquaintance with what undoubtedly must rank as one of the friendliest thirty-pound pike there’s been, for the fish is no longer there.
Over the course of three winters, the lake where it lived was fished a total of five separate occasions. On those visits the fish was caught six times, and lost once, and when you consider that we are talking about a mid thirty-pound pike here, I doubt that there’s ever been another that could run this one close in terms of ease of capture.
Sometimes with pike fishing, the capture of a big fish can be down to an awful lot of hard work and effort on behalf of the angler, on other occasions the skill of the angler in terms of solving the various problems presented can also have a direct bearing on proceedings. However, sometimes, it just helps to know the right man…