Originally published in the London ES magazine on the 15th of November, 1996.
My second outing in search of a giant London pike takes me to the Regent’s Canal, behind King’s Cross station. I have chosen this stretch of the canal because Bob at the tackle shop says that one of his customers, Charlie, recently caught a 21-pounder there. It was dark at the time, and when Charlie and his mate finally got the pike to the net they were both so spooked that they hardly dared land it, despite both of them being anglers of many years’ experience. The whole story, of course, is pure hearsay, but pike fishing is as much fuelled by hearsay as by facts and figures. A lot of the biggest pike – especially, for some reason, pike from the Serpentine – get quietly returned to the water. No photographs are taken, no report is made of the catch. I have met two people, whose word I have no reason to doubt, who have returned Serpentine pike of 30lb-plus.
I start the day’s campaign a few hundred yards below St Pancras lock. The setting, in the shadow of the gasworks, is a dramatic one, more conducive to the pursuit of pike than, say, the back of Sainsbury’s or the Daewoo Garage in Camden Town, although both are good pike spots. I cast a frozen smelt into the shadow of a wild lilac bush on the far bank and within minutes the line is ticking determinedly off the reel. I tighten and the fish makes a rush upstream probably aiming for a sunken bicycle or shopping trolley to snag me on. I manage to turn it, however, and within a couple of minutes land a beautifully marked pike of 8lbs, all shining olive and silver. I return the fish unharmed; the canal is full of fat roach and bream, and there is no reason it should not grow into a 20- or even a 30 pounder.
In the afternoon I am joined by Nick Fisher, presenter of Radio 5’s Dirty Tackle fishing programme. Nick has read about the ES pike competition, and is keen to have a go. He also has a number of secret pike locations in Stratford Marshes and on the Lee Navigation Channel that I am anxious to extract from him. We record an interview and then fish until dusk, but without further success.