Caught by the River

Richardson In Zanderland

John Richardson | 29th January 2012

‘Words on Water’ illustrator, John Richardson, has upped sticks and moved east. Here’s how he’s getting on:

The Eyes Have It

It may seem strange but I believe the character of a fish is apparent in the eyes, this may all sound a bit like a fish whisperer or hypnotist but please bear with me. Let’s take the tench first with that beautiful red eye, a veritable Stieff teddy bear of a fish, the doctor fish and almost cuddly too. If one of your grandchildren wanted a soft toy that was a tench then there would be no problem. Roach, rudd, chub, gudgeon and crucian carp they’re lovely too. Next come the predators; perch look back with a bit of golden eye, zander look back blankly and if you are lucky you get a glimpse of their Dracula teeth for added menace.

Then there’s the pike. I am becoming obsessed with pike, old Esox lucius, with his black, bottomless, unforgiving and staring eyes. I am now convinced that every few hundred yards of drain, pit, lake or river has a ‘Godmother’ pike and, having risen to the top of the pike pyramid, she has the stare, the icy stare. All pike have it but the bigger ones really do have the ‘look’ both in appearance and their stare. Our first Jack Russell was called Pike, as was our first cat, I would add that our two present Jack Russell terriers are called Ruffe and Minnow so we are in the food chain at least!

After a conversation with Andrews of Arcadia and a none to subtle prompt from him to get out and go pike fishing I decided, just a few days before Christmas, to get started and go piking in earnest again and, so far, eighteen fish up to twelve pounds or so have come to the net plus a few beautiful perch to just over three pounds too.

All of the fish have been taken on a slowly wobbled dead roach or sprat and they have been caught in drains, rivers and estate lakes. On one of the drains I hooked pike of about four pounds and this fish was then taken by another pike. The smaller pike was finally landed and returned but with gashes in its side that were between five and six inches apart; it swam off strongly and hopefully it will survive.

Last winter before the Middle Level froze over and in an atmospheric Dickensian fog I was retrieving a deadbait to pack up after several of those notorious anglers’ ‘last casts’ and a pike followed the bait to the surface with no attempt to attack, just a curious follow. Even in the evening gloom it was clearly much, much bigger than a twenty pound fish I had caught a few weeks before. It was one of those cathartic moments when time slows down and you feel as if your blood is turning to ice; you want the fish on the bank but there is a little hint in your mind that perhaps just seeing it will be enough. The light is fading and the thought of landing this monster and unhooking it in the gathering dark is quite daunting; it looked like a U Boat surfacing.

I am sure one of the attractions of fishing for pike is the fear of not knowing just what is tampering with your bait. I’ve thought about this quite a lot and there is just a subliminal moment when the take comes and a little black doubt appears and disappears in a flash, a bit of a ‘what have I done moment’ if you like. Luke Jennings alludes to this moment in his book Blood Knots;

‘if you’ve got it (the reel) set to ratchet, you will hear a click, then another and another, and as you feel the line creep over the back of your hand, a kind of dread will rise through your body. Somewhere out there, deep down, something is moving.’

How appropriate that you will find that evocative description of a pike picking up the bait on page thirteen in chapter one.

I’ll be out again pike fishing as soon as the inch thick ice has broken up and melted, in fact I now have my own deadbait freezer courtesy of Sue who told me she’d had enough of my eel sections, sprats, smelt, dead roach and rudd filling the family freezer. So now it has got even more serious and a friend has made me two new rods especially for pike fishing.

Pike are a fish of legend, read Fred Buller’s books and go to bed that night and have dreams about pike eating ducks, attacking dogs in the water and biting peoples legs while they are swimming. Some of these stories may be myths but they really do enhance the legend and reputation of the pike as the freshwater loner. A malevolent enforcer and hardman, although the biggest specimens are almost always females…

A friend sent me a picture of an angler in Canada who caught a thirty six inch pike and the fifty six pound specimen that grabbed it and didn’t let go, lucky man! I’m just practicing the thousand yard pike stare and making pike shaped draught excluders.

So just mind your ankles when you walk past.

Click here to read John’s previous letters from Zanderland