Caught by the River

Pike: Luke Jennings

28th May 2010

in 1998 i was working at creation records on what i shall loosely term the escape committee. we helped people escape from their daily lives by selling them pop music. i became obsessed with escape at that time, and my own came in the form of a newspaper column published every other friday in the es magazine. it was penned by luke jennings and was about fishing in london. over twelve years on his words continue to inspire me as i hope they shall for you. (John Andrews).

‘Red Arches’, which takes its name from the viaduct spanning its northern end, is the smallest and most secluded of the Hampstead Heath ponds. I have chosen Red Arches for my first outing in search of a giant pike because I have caught a couple of pike here before. Not big pike – 4lb and 6lb in fact, mere pikelets compared to the object of my quest – but pike nevertheless. You used to be able to scramble down the side of the viaduct and cast a bait under the far bushes, but last year the heath authorities ‘landscaped’ the pond and fenced most of it off. There’s still one fishable bank though, and by 10am I have tackled up.

There are days when you just know you aren’t going to catch. A good pike-water in season has an air of chilly, slightly forbidding expectancy. Today, it’s just wet and muddy. Small roach nose around the lily pads near my bait, which they certainly wouldn’t dare do if there was a pike around. There is a big pike here – everyone says so – but today it is deep in the weeds, deep at the bottom of the deepest hole, not stirring. It begins to rain, and fortifying myself with coffee and only a very small amount of Calvados (it being early in the day), I huddle over my rod on my folding seat. Soon, I am dreaming the pike dream, the one where the line twitches briefly and then is drawn slowly and evenly away…
‘But with Stella, of all people. I mean she’s just so common!’ The voice is strident and female – West London, I guess, rather than local. On the other side of the bush two tall figures are moving slowly along the path beneath an umbrella. In my drab waterproofs, I realise, I am invisible to them. There is a tiny pffft of a match flipped on to wet ground. ‘Those horrid, cheap little sweaters of hers. She irons them, you know.’ Another match hisses. ‘I mean, why?’
Again he doesn’t answer. Poor Stella, I think, imagining the frosted lipstick, the acrylic sheen of those ‘cheap little sweaters’, the miasma of hair lacquer, fabric conditioner and air freshener that surrounds her. And then, listening to the falling rain and the man’s silence, I am not so sure. Triumphant Stella, perhaps, driving into the sunset in her perfectly hovered Renault Clio.

The couple see me and lengthen their stride. I fish on until dusk. Nothing.

‘Blood Knots’ by Luke Jennings is out now and on sale in the Caught by the River shop, priced £15.00.