Originally published in the London ES magazine on the 13th of December, 1996.
This column, as I hoped it would, has stirred some childhood memories. Among those who have written to me is James Gunn, the son of one of the gamekeepers at Kenwood House before the war. Like the others of his five-strong gang of keepers’ sons – they called themselves the Kenwood Rangers – Gunn was a keen fisherman. Early one morning in the Thirties, armed with a bamboo pole, a length of catgut and a single hook, Gunn and a fellow ranger were poaching the Lane Pond on Hampstead Heath, where fishing was forbidden. Both were about eight years old.
‘It was my turn with the rod,’ writes Gunn, ‘and Bertie had gone prospecting along the banks and returned breathless with the news that the Great Immense was basking in the weeds just a few yards out. This was the name we had given to a pike we had encountered from time to time. Looking back, I suppose he weighed about five pounds, but to us he was the Great Immense and about as obtainable as the Holy Grail. But this was our chance, and there he was. We searched desperately for something to tempt him, and Bertie unearthed a very dead and half-decayed small roach. This I attached to our precious No. 10 hook, and dropped it almost on top of the Great Immense, who, to our astonishment, seized it and made off. Weak at the knees with excitement, I was attached to my very first pike…’
Forty years later, in the mid-Seventies, a legendary one-eyed pike named Nelson ruled the Hollow Pond in Waltham Forest. Alan Silverstone, a local schoolboy, fished for Nelson for five seasons without success. One fine May evening, bored of revising for his O-levels, he went for a walk. ‘I was passing an inlet on the Snaresbrook side,’ Sliverstone writes, ‘when I saw him. Four feet long, and with huge mottled flanks and gills. I stared into the water at the massive fish and there was not the slightest movement from either of us for ten or 15 minutes. Then his tail-fin gave a slight shudder and, like an ocean liner heading out of Tilbury docks, he was gone.’
This is the pike fisherman’s joy, that every outing is a return to childhood. For, waiting out there in the dark water, there is always a legend, always a Nelson or a Great Immense.