The Pike that got away

There are a lot of myths about Pike, as a child growing up near the River Bann I often heard stories of missing fingers, vanishing ducklings and legendary thirty pounders in the reeds of the Newry Canal – incidentally that fish was called Moses.

Roll back to the mid 80s and my tackle in those days was utilitarian and used for all types of fishing something I often lament when I look at the variety of rods, reels and lines that I now possess. The setup was a Daiwa spinning rod, Shakespeare reel and mackerel spinners left over from the occasional rock fishing outing to Bangor. The first pike came from a fishing peg near the Bowling Green in Portadown Town Centre. A small pike, about 5lbs, was tempted by a red and silver Toby and the rush of excitement was soon dulled when I realised I had neither a landing net nor appropriate unhooking tools. We somehow managed to bank the fish, with a questionable approach to welfare, and extracted the hook through a stubborn desire to avoid losing a favourite spinner. The whole process was a little frantic and stressful heightened by the myths of the creature.

A few weeks later, following the purchase of a Vibrax spinner in Tedford’s tackle shop, I cycled up to the Point of Whitecoat where the River Cusher, River Bann and Newry Canal meet. I started in the mouth of the Cusher a cast of about 12 feet and on the first cast a pike which I now know to be about 8lbs, but which felt much larger, engulfed the spinner and led me a merry dance out of the Cusher in to the canal and back to where I hooked it. The bank sloped gradually at this point and I was able to beach the fish and drag it up the bank. The Vibrax spinner had been engulfed and I could see many weeks of pocket money well down the throat of the pike. What I did next still stings and I am a little ashamed but I dispatched the fish with a nearby rock.

The commotion had attracted the attention of a young lad and he came over to have a chat. He asked me why I had killed the fish and then showed me photographs of the many large pike he had caught and released on that stretch of water. He was calm and respectful of my youthful enthusiasm, something which I now know must have been difficult for him and so very different from the reactionary social media posts that are so common nowadays concerning fish welfare and techniques for safely handling fish. We all start somewhere.

It was this background and context that perhaps prevented me from Pike fishing in the proceeding years and I joined a local trout club (Gilford Angling Club) which influenced my fishing direction as I grew older. Twenty years later, and in a work meeting, I noticed a colleague had a tell tale phone cover with a fishing influence and saw the opportunity to improve the meeting greatly. Soon plans were hatching and photos were being shared and, as it was Autumn, consideration was being given to trying for a hungry predator. Neither of us felt that confident handling pike so we needed someone to help. Anyone active on social media fishing circles will be familiar with Gerard Smyth of Border Fishing Guides and we quickly identified him as the person that could help us. Thus followed a number of pretty incredible Pike sessions thanks to Gerard’s expertise and work ethic. More posts will follow about these experiences but the ‘Pike that got away’ is one of my favourites, particularly as it has been caught on camera for posterity.

As is often the case with Gerard we were on to fish quite quickly and had a good start with a couple of good runs on the Shimano reels, is there any nicer sound in fishing than the click of those reels as your deadbait slides out in to the morning mist? Things slowed and the wind started to get up so we moved to a new spot, anchored and cast the baits out. A run followed quite quickly and I stumbled towards the rod, the excitement was building as the fish went out on a long first run and I kept calm under Gerard’s instruction and waited as the line peeled off the reel. And then a pause and Gerard’s command to hit the fish, I lifted the rod swiftly without first disengaging the free spool and ended up with a monumental braid tangle which I am told has never been matched. Somehow the fish remained hooked as Gerard sorted out the mess and I was still attached to the fish.

The fight was rather lethargic, perhaps not surprisingly, but the fish certainly was full of beans as it was lifted over the net. The video below shows the calamity unfold.