That must sound very strange to the many disbelieving folk who have over the years said to me: “I don’t know how you can just SIT THERE?!”, or alternatively: “Don’t you get BORED?”
How little they know, but I never try to convert them – why would I want them down the river or lake next to me?! Let them stay indoors in front of the television! It might be a little sad but I am one of those selfish gits who wants the world to himself, and I am never happier than when I am out with Max, my faithful labrador, and there is not another human being within two miles of me. Perhaps it’s because of this that I don’t tend to be involved in ‘pike trials’ or ‘Armada days’, as I call them!
“Antisocial swine!” I hear you cry, but that’s just the way I am, I’m afraid!
In view of this background information it should be easy to understand why I spend so much time during the winter months walking the banks of my local River Nene, pike fly rod in my hand and Max never far away – to me it is only just short of paradise.
It is rare for me to see anyone else fishing, especially during the week, and this of course suits me down to the ground. I have pike fished for most of my life (quite a long time now!) and in the late ‘forties when I started, most pike were killed and eaten. It makes me squirm slightly when I think about it today, but nevertheless it is the truth. My interest in catching them on fly started in December 1985 when I ‘accidentally’ caught a 25 pounder, on a size-8 trout fly intended for rainbows, in a Cheshire mere and my boat partner, Ken Heath, truly thought it was a crocodile! I kid you not! (I wrote about the incident in my good friend Bob Church’s book: ‘Big Pike’ so I won’t elaborate now)
Anyway, after that I started fishing with big flies, wire traces and 8/9-weight rods etc, purposely targeting pike and with enough success to further fire up my enthusiasm. But things took a big step forward when Bob brought out his 10/12-weight ‘Champion Piker’ 9ft fly rod. With this new tool I could cast an 11-weight shooting head 25 yards with ease, and I have been using one ever since.
Getting back to the river, it certainly supports a fair population of pike. My record one-day catch was 34 pike plus a big perch all on the same fly. Having said that, it can be extremely temperamental and when it’s not being kind you would swear there wasn’t a predatory fish in it! Everything depends on conditions, especially the colour of the water, and I must say that there have been occasions when, despite everything looking perfect to me, I have still blanked! Such days are conspicuous by their rarity, however, thankfully!
Being retired for eleven years now I have every opportunity to keep my eye on the water, and the fact that the Upper Nene passes by within half a mile of my house is also a great plus. Most days see me walking Max along some part of the river, and when it starts to clear after a muddy flood, I begin to make plans.
Over the years I have come to realise that there are stretches that always hold fish, and others where they tend not to be so numerous. Depending on how I feel I will normally explore areas close to where I live when conditions are ‘so so’, travelling further afield to some of my secret hot-spots when I think there is the best chance. Some of my pals refer to me as ‘that jammy git’ or even ‘golden balls’ (how unkind!), and I have to say that I have had my share of luck with good fish over the years. Bob (Church) has never managed a twenty-pound pike from the Nene, whereas I have had eight over that weight – six of them on the fly rod. Interestingly, four of those fish have come from the same mile of river, and naturally I tend to save that area for times when I consider conditions to be perfect!
Such was that situation a few years ago, in January I seem to recall, when I made the journey to that fairly remote spot on a lovely calm day, in the hope of some decent sport. My normal procedure there is to walk several miles upstream from my parking spot and fish my way back over four or five hours. The water looked so good that I was tempted to have a cast here and there, but I resisted in favour of my usual plan. The weather was settled and calm – nothing was going to change.
When I eventually reached my chosen position I threaded up the slow-sink ‘Slyme’ shooting head, attached a whitish fry pattern fly to the ‘Staylok’ clip and began covering the water. Everything looked so right that I was a little surprised that I didn’t get one first cast, and after I had covered a hundred yards without so much as a pull, I was having a job to believe it! But it was sheer ecstasy throwing a nice long line in lovely conditions, and I was really enjoying myself despite my lack of success. It HAD to happen and indeed it did but only in the form of a twelve inch jack. Well, it was at least a start and fifty yards later there was a solid thump from what was obviously a much better fish. After a dogged fight I chinned out a fish in perfect order which proved to be just fifteen pounds. As I slid it out a guy came past on a longboat (the only person I had seen since arriving) and seemed most impressed with its size, but the quick photo I took of it laying next to the rod was nothing special (are they ever?!).
I was a happy angler now – that had been a lovely fish (although Max was singularly unimpressed!) and things were looking good. Not many yards further downstream my casting was going really well and I was almost expecting it when my arm was nearly wrenched out of its socket, and I was attached to something BIG! For many minutes the beast kept deep and I was unable to get a sight of it, despite giving it plenty of wellie, but I was in no doubt that this was indeed the best fish I had ever hooked in the river. Strangely I never considered that it would fall off, but instead started pondering what I was going to do for a picture. My pals would have taken hours to get there even if I could contact them, and in any event I didn’t want to tether it up for that long – the fish’s welfare MUST come first!!
I looked upstream – nothing; I looked downstream… and the lucky star was shining again. There were two people about 500 yards away but heading straight towards me! They turned out to be a Canadian couple just out for a walk, and asked me what on earth I had on the line. I still hadn’t seen it at this stage, but told them it would be over 20lbs ! At the same moment I caught sight of it and excitedly added, “it could be over 30!”
The very nice man retrieved the camera from my bag and proceeded to take pics as I slid the pikes head over the reeds and chinned it out. He quickly took a few photos and I then weighed it with them as witnesses. I had been convinced it was a 30 but the scales read 28lbs 8oz (twice!) so that was it!
How could I be disappointed? It was my best Nene pike by a mile – and on fly.
The Canadians were amazed such a large fish should inhabit the river, and I was still shaking after slipping the brute gently back to the water where it went off strongly.
I thanked the man profusely for taking what turned out to be nice photos, we all shook hands and went our separate ways. What an event, and didn’t I just live up to my ‘Lucky Green’ reputation with the timely arrival of my photographer?!
My recollections of the rest of the afternoon are very vague. I think I had a few more casts and may even have had another fish or two, but I am not too sure. My day was made – what a fish! I was literally floating on air!
I am quite sure I shall never have a better fish from the river but, there again, I seem to recall saying that before!!!