Caught by the River

Tangles with Pike

19th January 2015


Dominic Garnett; Tangles with Pike
DG Fishing, 134 pages, colour photography, limited edition hardback

Review by Jon Berry

Older types will remember the quip ‘you don’t have to be mad to work here, but it helps’. The passage of time can alter memories, but I can assure you that it was never funny. Never. Not even once. But, in a way, it can be applied to those who fish for pike. Pike anglers – and I am one of them – have a masochistic madness all their own. Sensible sorts would never consider going afloat in blizzards, tramping the Somerset levels with horizontal sleet for company, or sticking prized digits in to the smashing maw of a creature that really isn’t too happy to see them. But we do. We even like it.

Garnett is such, and this book suggests a level of self-aware, willing daftness greater than most. He might call it dedication, but the chapter detailing his efforts to catch pike on imitation ducklings suggests otherwise.

Tangles with Pike is a collection of the author’s previous articles for the likes of Pike and Predators magazine, enhanced with new material. It succeeds because of its variety, and because of the quality of the writing. Garnett has a sound reputation for previous work, including two excellent offerings published by Merlin Unwin, but this is a self-published affair through his own company, DG Fishing. Whatever the pros and cons of self-publication, and there are plenty of both, it has allowed the author to write freely and anarchically about his passion. It’s the kind of gem that can emerge when there is no-one around to fret about shifting units or satisfying contrived demographics.

The text mixes stories with technical pieces, and Garnett’s ideas about pike fishing are sufficiently innovative and quirky to overcome my usual revulsion at ‘how to do it’ fishing writing. His use of flies, wobbled baits and the aforementioned ducklings takes him outside the pike fishing norm, where the majority stare endlessly at floats or the luminescent, Ann Summers-esque oddities known as drop back indicators.

There’s some of this too, but it is clear that the author is not prepared to sit behind a battery of rods and wait his turn. Garnett is an angler who likes to go looking for his fish, and this takes him away from the usual haunts to mosquito-infested Finnish lakes, forgotten backwaters, polluted urban rivers and the aforementioned Somerset levels which, in the author’s words, ‘are to metropolitan culture what North Korea is to democracy’.

Pike books, especially those of literary quality, are a rarity. Putting aside the breath-taking work of Fred Buller, modern pike writing has tended towards the instructional rather than the entertaining. Perhaps it is just me that finds it unremittingly dull, but I do. Diagrams of rigs that have changed little since the days of Alfred ‘the giant pike killer’ Jardine are not enough. Regrettably, it’s just one of angling’s truisms that good pike stories are far more likely to be found in waterside pubs than on the printed page. In Tangles with Pike, however, Garnett has gone some considerable way towards redressing this.

Treat yourself. On sale now in the DG shop, priced £15.

Jon Berry on Caught by the River.