I have been a passionate fisherman since the age of just four (in 1945!). Initially it involved perch, tench, roach, chub, bream and most other coarse fish, including a reasonable number of pike. Back in those far-off days, it was nearly all live-baiting and occasional spinning with very basic spoons. Almost all the pike we caught were killed and eaten… dark days!
It wasn’t until the late ’60s – probably 1968 – when that great all-round angler, the late Arthur Cove, introduced me to trout fishing. He taught me how to cast with a fly rod at Grafham Water. I took to it like a duck to water. I soon started tying my own flies, and visited Grafham two or three times-a-week. Usually I went with Rod Barley, one of Arthur’s friends, and a man I fish with regularly even now. I was thrilled at the tremendous fight those trout put up, and the coarse fish were forgotten completely for two or three years.
At the time, Grafham was teeming with pike of all sizes. Rod and I regularly found ourselves ‘bitten off’, sometimes many times in a day, even when using small nymphs! I must confess, being so trout-orientated, we came to regard the pike as somewhat of a flaming nuisance. We often seemed to spend half our time tying up replacement casts. Nevertheless when, one day, a fellow angler caught and clubbed to death a magnificent 25lb pike – being too scared to extract the tandem ‘baby doll’ fly from its mouth – I have to say that I felt some sadness. It seemed a sorry demise for such a great creature. Having put up a great battle for some 30 minutes or so, it lay there, still, in the bottom of the boat. I thought to myself that, had I been its captor, I would probably have set it up in a glass case.
Fast forward to 1985
Some years later – 1985 to be exact – my great pal Ken Heath managed to ‘wangle’ a day’s fishing in Cheshire. It was the day before Christmas Eve and the venue was the very private ‘Maer Hall Lake’. It belonged to a chap, who shall be nameless, for whom Ken’s plasterers did quite a bit of work. He wasn’t renowned for generosity, but we were nevertheless granted exclusive access to a tiny ‘coracle’ of a boat. The lake had been netted to remove the wonderful big bream that lived there (shame!), and restocked with rainbow trout. We would be fly-fishing for them but the owner asked us also to bring spinning rods. He had seen a big pike eating his trout and, if possible, wanted it removed.
A day to remember
The day was quite mild and calm for December. We had some fun immediately, catching six or seven black-looking rainbows during the morning. I then suggested that we change over to our spinning tackle to see if we could catch the notorious pike. Ken agreed, and for an hour we cast hither and thither, but with no success – not even a trout. Getting slightly tired of retrieving lures, I then went back to my trout rod. I tackled up with a single, size-8, long-shank, black lure, on a 6lb leader, fished on an intermediate line. First cast, as I started to pull, the fly stopped dead with a jolt.
“I’m in”, I said to Ken, who looked round and saw my rod bent over, but not moving.
“That’s the bottom,” he said, “you’ve caught a branch or something.”
“No, it’s definitely a fish,” I insisted, “and a big one, too!”
The ‘bottom’ then shot off at speed for 15-to-20 yards or so, and stopped again.
“Big pike – must be!” I exclaimed, “or maybe a big brown trout?”
Then started a long and dogged battle with the unseen monster. I gave it all the stick I dared on the light tackle, all the time wondering why it had not bitten through the leader. After some time, the beast began circling about 5 or 6 feet down. It towed our tiny boat around with it, but it was very reluctant to come to the surface.
“Ken, stand up and see what it is,” I asked. “If it comes off now at least we shall know what I’ve lost.”
He did as requested, then suddenly there came a loud, and un-repeatable, oath!
“For Christ’s sake,” he blurted (or something similar). “It’s not a fish!”
“‘course it’s a fish,” I laughed, “what else could it be?”
“It’s a f……..g great crocodile!” he replied, and one look at his ashen face left me in no doubt that he believed it!
That told me all I wanted to know. I set about the task of getting it in, whilst all the while my pal was repeating: “Whatever that bloody thing is, I do NOT want it in this little boat with me – and I MEAN it!”
How I managed to get it into the boat, I can’t quite recall but, having done so, we noticed our host viewing us through binoculars. He had obviously witnessed the long battle, and plainly did not wish to see it returned. Reluctantly, we felt obliged to despatch it. I then unhooked it, noticing that the fly was lodged in the pike’s ‘scissors’, virtually outside its mouth. This clearly accounted for it not biting through the light leader.
An unexpected trophy
On the scales it went exactly 25 pounds. I can’t recall whether or not we fished on, but on our return to shore it became pretty clear that the lake owner had eyes on the fish. It transpired he wanted to have it set up and hung in his palatial home. He had every right, in fact: it was his fish from his lake, but somehow or another, I ended up with it myself. It stares down at me to this day, from its glass case in my trophy room. God knows how I got away with it – I don’t think he was best pleased – although I understand he continued to use Ken’s men for his plastering jobs following the incident!
The start of an obsession
Of course there were to be many sequels. Having enjoyed such great sport catching this beautiful fish ‘by accident’, I set about upgrading my tackle to cope with such creatures. I increased the leader strength to 20lbs, used a wire trace, tied 5-to-7-inch fish-immitating flies, and went after them on purpose. The incident had ignited the start of my pike fly fishing obsession, which I believe will never leave me.
I have been catching pike on fly ever since, and to pretty good effect. I’ve now caught dozens of 20s, plus no fewer than seven pike over 30lbs – four of them on the fly rod. I am convinced that, when pike are in the mood, fly fishing is as effective a method as any other to catch them; and without a shadow of a doubt, it is far and away the best fun!