Thursday, 28 February 2013

Till the very bitter end of name that fish.

This break wasn't about me and fishing, it was about us, and having a rest. The fact that we were staying next to a huge broad full of big pike was incidental. 33lbs though! That just can't be ignored can it..?! and 33lbs is the weight of the biggest biggest pike caught in recent years from this broad...

The information regarding pike caught from this broad is as secretive as the bitterns that supposedly reside in the marsh alongside it. The men that brave it week in and week out through the winter are as  protective of their captures as they are hardy enough to catch them in the relentless cold. I know, because I spoke to one face to face at the end of a wind swept jetty the other day. Whether it was my dedication to be out in such atrocious conditions that endured me to him I will never know, but my friendly wave as he passed me on his way back to the marina inclined him to change direction and throw me a rope so he could stop for a momentary chat. Turns out things were not good. The broad had been frozen recently until when a change in the wind and sun had combined forces to thaw it; since then nothing significant had been landed. "The weather conditions were the worst they could be" he said, but when I broached how well he had done this winter the conversation stalled, and rather than restart it he instead opted to politely say his good byes, sparked his ancient outboard back to life and preserved his secrecy.

That conversation was one that was to echo through my mind as I pushed myself to the very point of defeat by the cold. For the next four days it would only be a case of how much punishment I could take whilst I waited for an encounter.

I have a slight infatuation with broadland pike. How many hours I have spent engrossed in the pages of The Pike of Broadland by Stephen Harper probably should not be recounted. Needless to say it is a lot. If you have ever read it or one of the many other books written on this subject, you will know that in the big pike water stakes the broads is the tortoise to all the new waters hares. Look back through the recordings of big pike captures in the UK and something becomes apparent - waters rise and fall in their reliability to produce big pike. Whether this is to do with angling pressure or whether its just the way these things happen in nature, the fact remains that in most cases a water producing big pike does not last forever. With the broads it is different as they are not one but many waters interlinked. They change with the growth of the reeds that make up a large part of their geography, and as they do old parts disappear and new ones are formed. If you have any knowledge of this water I know you will not hesitate to agree that there are fish in this vast waterway that have no knowledge of man whatsoever, and I think they are what makes it such a special place to pike fish..

The general geography of the broads and where those weather beaten men fish in relation to this little adventure were irrelevant. As to truly explore this water and the system to which it is part, a boat is a necessity, and not having time to use or access to one I found myself truly high dry.

My whole theory for my terra firma based quest however rested upon the idea that even fish need shelter in bad weather. Therefore me having access to five boat packed marinas where life could hide seemed to make my target areas very simple. Or so I thought...

No matter how stringent I was about my plan, the romantic idea that the huge reed bed that flanked the marinas seemed the more classical back drop by where to catch a monster pike. My first attempt was squandered here watching a gaudy florescent floats bobbing around in the waves.

I finished that outing back in the mariners where I had scampered after the wind began to cut right through my many layers of clothing. Something inside my head needed to see that physiological boost of a float dipping under in order for me to be able to keep up what already seemed like sheer madness after only a short few hours. A bite I did get, not from a crocodile of a pike but instead from a blade of a roach I had caught using tackle I would normally only use in sheer desperation on a winter canal.

Not one to give up I again readied myself for the Arctic conditions early next morning, gathered my tackle and threw back the curtains to see snow on the ground! The day before the odd flurry here and there confirmed that winters icy grip still held firm in these parts, and over night it would have seemed to have carried on with slightly more consistency.

This time I was headed right into the deep of the marinas in search of pike, and as I walked along the hard concrete banks I could felt the snow rolling under foot. This was not flakes of snow but rather frozen rain! It sounds insane but this was not postcard style ice crystal formed in the high in the sky but it was instead droplets of rain frozen by the freezing north east wind as they fell to earth.

Twice that second day I pushed my self to the very limit of what my body could take. I made my way through no less than three large marinas as I searched for both predator and prey, and not so much as a the slightest dip of a float had come the ether my pike or my scratching rod alike. 
The wind and cold had become so bad that I covered as much of my skin I possibly could, as a few moments re-baiting had left the fingers on my right hand a unsettling shade of blue and seemingly almost frozen.

Three sessions of practically nothing and I was getting desperate. As I ate what can only be described as a superlative steak in a broadside restaurant later that night I chatted to Jacky. Honestly I had been pushed right to the very limit by the lack of action combined with the constant struggle to be out fishing and was about to ether just leave it alone or seek solace in some sheltered dirty commercials arms. But somehow Jacky talked me round and the next morning I would again cast into the frigid water.

I had thought about it all night and as best I could figure my final chance lay in me finding the most sheltered spot on the entire broad away from the relentless and savage north easterly wind. So the next morning I began to look for a fishing spot in way totally different to how I normally would. Simply I walked around the waters edge paying no attention to the water itself and instead concerned myself only with how comfortable it was for me. 

In the corner of the broad is a lobular marina and here I found that the wind was buffeted away from the water by a couple of skeletal woods. It was certainly warmer but not by much. Now I had my area I now had to find my and this wasn't easy due to the masses of yachts and cruisers moored up for the winter. Soon enough though I found a free spot and began to set up. Only a matter of minutes after sitting down sliver roach broke the surface scattering and they were followed by the huge gaping maw of a big pike and I was flabbergasted. This was it, shangri-la, the place I was looking for, and hell did it look risky...

There was certainly fish here, but those two posts filled me with a terrible feeling of dread. I have done a lot of stalking of carp in tight spots but this was different. Carp you can hit instantly and hold, pike though need a little time to run before striking and also make surging runs once hooked. Bearing these things in mind I at first only dared cast my dead mackerel half way between the bank and the post to my right.

Using the finest pole float I had in conjunction with a size 22 hook and one pound line, I plumbed up a reasonable deep area about a metre of the boat to my left. Fishing just off the bottom and scattering minimal amounts of pinkie over the float began to stir some interest. The bites were very slight to say the least, only sinking the fine bristle half way. But soon enough I began to catch fish. Roach, perch and the odd skimmer mixed in for good measure.

All the activity had to rouse old essox again and it did when once again swirls of scattering prey fish appeared around the right hand post. Reacting to this I put on a small roach and suspended it half way off the bottom, sadly to no avail. Then when all had gone quiet I flicked the mackerel out again this time much closer to the post.

The little fishes confidence again rose and After a while I was quite absorbed in catching them and as always that's when something else happens. I caught sight of the float drifting away from the corner of my eye and was on that rod so fast. I held on for as long as I could letting the fish run for at least a few feet but it was going toward the post and I had no choice but to strike and try to hold it. My hard strike was met with a quick and decisive run right under the yacht beyond the post. I lent on that fish as hard as I could giving so much side strain the fibres of the rod were audibly creaking. Then the inevitable happened! my hook hold from the early strike was obviously not too good and with all that pressure I was exerting combineed to pull my hook hold free. I felt the exact shake of that pikes head that dislodged the hook. I saw the big oily swirl on the surface as the pike found freedom and instantly my trace found the wooden post just at the surface. Trace, weight and float, the lot was gone as was the fish. The only good I can say came of that moment of madness was that the pike did not get tethered around the post.

Sense took over at this point and how painful it was. There was certainly a chance of another run but the risk was to great by far.  The next one could get snagged and I did not want that at all. So the pike rod was put away for good and I carried on just after the the small fry.

Even unable to pike fish I was having fun just getting bites in such cold weather. Then amongst the roach and perch I made a very unusual capture. Being someone who has studied British fish since I was very young, it's not often I catch a fish that I don't know the identity of pretty much instantly, but as I swung this one in it did not look right. At first I thought I may have caught an alien top mouth gudgeon but close investigation proved its identity to be something else.

I figured it out after about two minutes of looking it over and it really is a first for me, and maybe the last one I ever catch. So I think I will extend a challenge to anyone who read this blog...

Tell me what species of fish you think it is by leaving a comment. 
Once everyone has had a go, all right answers will be put in a hat and I will draw out a winner who will receive one of the last four bottles of my much sought after semi-hallucinogenic 2011 homebrew, ladybird wine.

After that last session I knew the reality of the pike fishing was that they were where the prey fish were and the prey fish were where I could not safely fish for pike. So I let my last chance slip me by because I know I will be back and maybe when I am the pike might be in open water.


  1. Ooh Ooh I know!!
    Did it smell of cucumbers? Is it a smelt?

    Very unusual catch though especially on the broads- don't they turn up in the Thames occasionally?

  2. Dan it looks like the bait I was using for pike last week mate.
    Smelt, they live in the sea & brackish water and breed in the estuaries I think.
    It looks like a very small one, not many points for that one.
    Pity about your pike, but a quick strike is the best policy everytime.

  3. Smelt. Pollan is a deeper fish.

  4. Oh, I didn't know it was semi-hallucinogenic. Last time I sampled a bottle of that intoxicating curious brew you make Dan, I just thought I was off in a 'strangely relaxed and reflexive mood' due to the fact that I polished it off in less time than was sensible!

    I remember it smelt of something peculiar. Now I know why, It's fermented cucumber ain't it?

    My advice to the winner is polish it off in less time than is sensible...