Originally published in the London ES magazine on the 31st of October, 1997.
Sunshine, at the time of writing, and the warmth of summer still on the water. The season is under way, but until that first freeze knocks back the weeds and the pike move into their deep water, sport will be slow. In the meantime, there is piking literature. The great chroniclers were those of the 19th century, men like Stoddart and Cholmondeley-Pennell. Here is Stoddart describing his quarry: ‘None that ever felt the first attack of a pike can easily forget it… The whole is mouthwork, calm, deliberate, bone-crushing, deadly mouthwork. You think at the moment you hear the action – the clanging action – of the fish’s jaw-bones, so powerful, so terrific: you think you hear the compressing, the racking of the victim betwixt them…’
Books by Victorian pike-writers can be found in the second-hand shops, and just occasionally at bargain prices. A brief word of warning, though. ‘Fishing’ is usually next to ‘Flagellation’ on the shelves, and this juxtaposition can lead to misunderstandings. Recently, in a bookshop in the Charing Cross Road, I came upon a slim, leather-bound volume entitled ‘With Rod In Hand’. Assuming this to be the memoir of some Victorian sportsman I took it down, only to discover that it was actually a lovingly ordered treatise on the subject of birching and flogging. Film and video titles can be equally misleading. I sympathise with the reader who found out that Robert Redford’s ‘A River Runs Through It’ contained ‘far too much human-interest material’, and can confirm that Rose Troche’s ‘Go Fish’, while providing a fascinating insight into inner-city lesbian culture, offers very little in the way of decent pike footage.
And while on the subject of the Ladies Bathing Pond on Hampstead Heath, those rumours refuse to go away. Earlier this week I was introduced to a woman who claimed to have been the victim of a pike attack. ‘It just nibbled me a bit,’ she told me. ‘It was nothing, really.’ What, no calm, deliberate, bone-crushing, deadly mouthwork? No racking of flesh between those terrible jaws? Stoddart would have been disappointed, as would Cholmondeley-Pennell, who collected tales of pike attacks. Chummers, indeed, was himself attacked by a Thames pike which, having been landed, leaped from the bank and sank its teeth deep in to his thigh. Vis-a-vis my Hampstead Heath acquaintance, it seems to me there are two possibilities. Either she was employing traditional British understatement and was actually flayed to the bone, or she is London’s first victim of harassment by a roach.