George was about to lift the rod and strike the now tightening line when he eyes traced the line back to the rod. As his eyes focused on the rod, he noticed the line was not emanating from the tip ring as it should, but was instead dangling from somewhere back of the second eye. Knowing full well that should he strike now the chances were the line would snap or even worse severe the cane rod tip he calmly and deftly he flicked the rod gently up in the air and pulled the tip back through the water. The line now led directly out of the last ring and not to soon ether as the belly in his line was gone and the tension was not far away.
He sent the cane swishing through the air into an unearthly bend. That initial moment when the angler wonders what he has on and the fish does not realise it is hooked seemed to last an age. It wasn't until he struck the rod into the air once, then twice more to make sure the hooks were driven home, that the pike moved and when it did, it did so with nothing but pure ignorant power. The Mitchell reel sounded the movement before anything thing else got chance. The reel sang a verse begging him to ease the strain so he loosened the stiff clutch off straight away, relieving the pressure. There was no panic from the pike at all as it resisted the pressure being applied from above; almost imperceptibly the force from below increased, turning the arching cane into a near hoop.
The words his father had passed down all those years ago rang through his mind, ‘It’s all about balance son. Light enough to trick the fish but heavy enough to land it. If it’s a monster, let it do its thing, hold on and pray your line don’t snap.’ So he let the fish do its thing and it took generously of the spool and headed straight for the sanctuary of the reeds. With no choice George had to manually break the spool and then try and turn the fish, but the pikes only compromise was to turn a little and move in line with the edge of the pool, forcing him to physically turn in the boat. Twice more the fish turned back on itself and kept plodding up and down the reeds until finally it found what it sought and buried itself behind a lone clump of reed standing three feet from the rest. He could see his line cutting into the water on the left side, the fish on the right making the water pulsate; he had no choice but to go over and try and free it. All the while trying to maintain pressure on the line he pulled the oar from the mud behind the boat, untangled the rope as best he could and pushed off in the direction of the snagged fish. It took a little time to catch up with the sagging line but luckily when he did he could still feel the occasional thump of contact. The reeds neared quickly and within moments he was positioned right over the fish. Instinctively he let the drag off so as the spool could spin freely should the worse happen and then he grabbed the closest oar before leaning over the side line in hand.
What George saw when he parted those reeds made his heart thump harder than the German’s flack did all those years ago. Three feet down in the gin clear water laid the most immense pike imaginable. He could only see from the gills back as its head was buried deep under the roots of the reeds, but what he could see looked to be almost five feet long and had a body as thick as a black Norfolk pig. It was huge and tangled very badly deep down in the water. His only choice was to try and free it with the oar. The first time that oar touched it bucked violently rocking the boat from underneath and tangling itself further. This was never going to work, the more he tried the more he knew he would sooner or later part the line. Then it struck him! The reeds around which the fish was tangled actually sprouted the surface right there in front of him, he just had to pull them up. One by one he began pulling at the soft stems. At first they broke off but after grabbing four at once he clocked that they seemed to break less when pulled in a clump. He’d only managed to pull three small clumps, when on the forth the whole lot moved. He felt the root ball move off the mud and as it did he turned to see his line become tight again and his spool start to spin. Dropping the vegetation he dived for the rod grabbing hold of the now vibrating handle, as he did though an awful mess of line spilled from the spool. Keeping calm he wound carefully on the handle trying to clear the nest. How he got away with it was a miracle but the line untangled at his fingers as he reeled it through them. Now again the fish was free moving in open water and he stood a chance, if only a small one.
The fight so far, though eventful, had remained relatively calm as the giant pike continued plodding around the pool. The only issue now was that the boat on which George floated was not in any way anchored. Thus the powerful fish now towed it in any direction it chose to go. At first it was just round and round but soon enough the fish realised that it might stand a better chance out of the pool. Just like that it stopped circling and moved in the direction of the entrance to the hidden pool, dragging the boat with it. Why George suddenly panicked was anyone’s guess but he thought he should stop it leaving the pool and braked hard on the reels spool, gripping it with his hand. This only served to push the fish on and that’s when he came to the worst problem so far. Abruptly the spool of his old Mitchell reel locked up. Looking down his heart sank when he saw that age old classic problem associated with these reels; the line had at some point found its way behind the spool and was now jammed firmly, preventing any more line from winding on or off the spool. The only reason the massive beast had not snapped him up was all the give from the free moving boat. Now he was in trouble; attached to a massive pike, being towed around and with barely control of the fish at all. The pike passed though the reeds barely moving them an inch, the boat though, crashed through them like an elephant through the jungle. That was it, they were both out of the pool and travelling back along the little channel into nowhere.
It was midday by the time the fish stopped meandering up and down the channel. The sun was not far off as high as it would get today and George was getting hungry. The pike had stopped momentarily, probably sulking as pike are prone to, so he took the opportunity to first reach for his foil wrapped cheese sandwich that was hidden under the seat. Half watching where the line entered the water and half looking at the foil package he clumsily tore away the wrapping. It was never a meal he was going to savour as he chewed franticly at the crusty bread and pungent cheese. Luckily though the pike continued brooding long enough for him to manage to pour a tepid cup of tea and quickly swallow it. Not long after that they were off again down the channel like a speed boat towing a water skier. On and on the fish went with ceaseless stamina and as it did he could see the sun growing lower and lower in the sky.
Just before dusk the fish stopped again mid-way through a bend back in the main channel. George had watched the line for five or more minutes before deciding to take a chance whilst the fish was resting and he began to gently unscrew the wing nut so as to remove the spool and attempt to untangle the line. Turn by turn the spool loosened and then with the wing nut removed he slipped the spool off as if he were diffusing a bomb. Underneath it was a mess of grease and line. Unable to see entirely what he was doing he plucked at an errant loop which did untangle a large portion of the line from the nest, but only served to leave an even larger loop sticking out of the tangle and it was just then that the pike moved deep under the water. It only twitched but the hint of action was enough to force George to begin screwing the spool back onto the reel. With it back in place he stupidly gave into instinct and turned the reels handle and to his surprise found that the reel would actually recover line. But his rash action re awoke the beast and they were off again. The now free running spool again let line off to a certain extent, certainly until it reached the tangle again when it stopped once more. Why he tried it he would never know, but he reeled hard to recover the line. The fish would take it back and the line would stop every time it hit the tangle. At an estimate he figured he had some were near thirty feet of line between him and the pike.
It was a stalemate for the time being and as the mighty fish lead him along a merry dance he pondered his situation. He had been attached to the fish since before ten in the morning and now it was getting dark which at this time of year meant it was maybe five thirtyish. He did hope that the fish might of dragged him back to the Broad where all the other boats were fishing and the others piker’s could help him, but the fish as yet had not decided to lead them there. Next he thought of the fish. He had been fighting it for around six hours and he had seen its massive size, how long could this giant go on for? At one point he had wondered if cutting his line might have been his best option but the fish stood a good chance of starving to death with his hooks sealing its gullet, so he would never do that. The only thing he could think to do was holding on and try to win, but on thinking this he realised this could well be a winner take all fight were one if not both of them could end up dead.
The cold of the night soon crept over the water. The fishes towing had slowed to a stop and he suspected it now rested, regaining its energy lying on top of the weeds. Still hanging onto the rod his hands now cramped up and his body began to shiver. Knowing the cold had become a player in this battle he jammed the rod between his legs whilst he fumbled for the boat cover to wrap himself in. Now with his all his layers of clothing, coat and a leatherette boat cover wrapped around him George knew he stood a chance of not freezing to death on the water that night. With the wind holding tension on the line he concluded to try and rest a little by curling up in the prow of the boat wrapped up still clutching his bent over cane rod.
It was the jolt of movement that roused him from his half sleep. The pike was done with resting and now so must he be. Disorientated he looked around for something familiar and the only thing he found was the bent over rod. It wasn't a dream or a nightmare at all, this was really happening.
Slowly the fish moved off towing the boat again. George was still rubbing the sleep form his eyes and could barely make out his surroundings in the semi dark at first but then the shadows and silhouettes became familiar. They were back in the Broad and things were soon to become very eventful. Stiff and drained both physically and mentally he knew that he was making no head way in the battle between him and the fish. He had to do something to turn the tide in his favour, if that was at all possible. His options were limited to little more than pulling on the rod harder. So far the 20lb line had held firm under the pressure from both sides but its biggest test was about to come. As they were now in some serious open water he made the decision that would make or break this battle. Slowly he made his way across the boat so as he was seated in the back. Then passing hand over hand up the rod he worked his way back along to the rods tip ring at the other end of the boat. With the main line now in his hand he pulled hard moving the boat forward against the pressure of the fish. In doing so he created enough slack in the line for him to grab hold of and wrap it a few times around the nearest rowlock. With the line now tethered he quickly went back down the rod to the reel and began trying to untangle the line from within. With his hands cold and fumbling it seemed like he would never get the knots out but with a little wiggling here and there he actually loosened the knot from around the reels central pin and up through the rings. Before reattaching the spool he did check to see if the small tangle might possibly come undone but there was no chance of that. As it seemed small enough to pass back and forth through the rings he opted to leave it alone and not chance cutting out and retying his line. That was it, the moment the wing nut tightened onto the spool once again the battle was back on. Straight away he freed the line from around the rowlock and wound the little nest back onto the spool and instantly called forth what energy he had left and leaned hard on the fish once again curving the old cane right over.
The fish answered his call by also upping its game in a vulgar display of power. Like a rocket it came from the depths with all but its tail coming clear of the water. Some five or more feet of pike bucked back and forth with its epic mouth open so wide you could have stuffed a football in it. Like a whale it crashed back down into the water sending ripples across the broad shattering the dawn. George though was not going to be intimidated by the mighty fish and knowing that his line still held he pulled hard on the rod to send another message pressure down the line. This time the fish surged across the shallow broad just below the surface forcing the water’s surface up as it went forming a massive bow wave. It nearly pulled him over before the motionless boat dragged slowly off the mark. Around the Broad they went with him leaning as much pressure as he could on the fish and with the pike becoming more panicked as he did. Before this he’d wondered if the pike even knew it was hooked but if it didn’t then, it did and now at the start of this new day. Eighteen hours after he had hooked it the pikes attitude had changed. No longer was it the queen of its domain, no longer did it have no fear of predators; now it was in trouble, maybe even scared and he knew it. The realization that he was getting somewhere spurred him on to push ever harder. Dawn had now broken and the end was in sight. The violence that occurred over the next hour was frantic and barley describable. The fish jumped, thrashed and banged its head under the water. Hardly a square foot of the huge sheet of water did not have bubbles or foam on it and as for him, he was sweating, but finally the mighty old girl showed signs of tiring. Now after all this time and the battle to end all battles, she swam just under the surface and he was able to pull her back.
Then she began to circle side on just under the surface and he knew he had won. There was never any doubt in his mind that a fish of this size was never fitting in his feeble net. His only option was going to be to try and chin her. In quiet moments during the fight he had considered if this was even possible and he had even formed a crazy plan to pull a noose around the pike using his mooring rope so as he could keep her tethered in the water whilst he removed the hooks and now this seemed the only option.
Only a few more times did she go round and round before at the furthest point of her path she surfaced. Her gigantic mass just lay there hardly moving apart from an occasional half hearted buck or twitch. This was it, George had won!
Like pulling an inanimate object across the surface he retrieved his prize, the biggest pike he had ever seen. As good as gold she floated towards him and in no time he was running his hand across her mottled green flank. The sheer size of her was scarcely imaginable, even by an experienced angler such as George. She had to be close to seventy or eighty pounds in weight, a proper giant. She barely moved as he slipped at the noosed rope around her and tied the rope off a little back of her still moving gills. Instinctively he reached down into the water to get his hand under the chin and lift her head. That’s when he saw it! He watched as the huge head as it rose up out of the water and then he saw her eye. Never before had a fish’s eye looked so human to him. The look of pure fear in that one big eye told him instantly that yes he had won his prize, but at what cost?
Now he fumbled with the hooks to remove them quickly and as he did the massive girl seemed to grow limper. The hooks gone, he tried to right her in the water whilst gently rocking her back and forth in an attempt to get the water moving over her gills. Time and time again when it seemed like she could support herself he let go only for her to sink slowly down sideways on towards the bottom. How many times he hauled her back with the rope he couldn't know but the truth of the situation was now lying right there dying in the water. He couldn't stop looking at her eye as he built up the courage to do what he knew was right. He had brought her to this state and he would not let her suffer gasping for air on the bottom of the broad. With tears welling in his eyes George took hold of the pipe he used to stake his boat to harder banks and then pulled the fish up in the water. The words didn't seem to want to come out at first, then he half crying he said aloud, “I am sorry my friend for what I have done.”
And with that he brought the pipe down hard as he could onto her skull. With that single merciful strike she was gone. George watched the life drain from her eyes as tears began to stream from his own.
Emotion overwhelmed him after he committed the merciful act that he hated so much. All he could do was slump down onto the wooden seat holding his head in his hands and cry. He hadn't cried like this since that awful day seventeen years ago when his beloved wife left him for the last time. The feeling was unbearable. He had fished since he was knee high and over the years he had probably killed thousands of fish, first as food and then as trophies, but that was in the past and now and he revered all fish as sacred. Now here he was after the capture of his life mourning the largest pike known to man. Time began to slip away from him as he curled up in the bottom of the boat in a tired daze and drifted off…