Caught by the River

Richardson in Zanderland

John Richardson | 28th December 2015


A Christmas bonus. Words & pictures: John Richardson

When you were very young the excitement of Christmas Eve was almost unbearable. Waking-up on Christmas morning you were fit to burst when realizing that the great day had actually arrived and the big question was had ‘he’ actually been. ‘He’ had, of course.

Then after a rapid search through the pillow-case and stocking and excitedly waking up your parents who inevitably tell you to go back to bed; it was a dive under the covers at five o’clock in the morning with the new torch, complete with red, green and clear lenses, the Eagle Annual and a Toblerone.

Your own children re-ignite Christmas for you but now, with me being older, everything is a little calmer and the focus is on Boxing Day and a little gentle atmospheric pike fishing.

Creeping round the house as quiet as the church mouse, well I think I am, while the family sleep on, making sure the wood burner is going when they do finally get out of bed. Walking the two Jack Russell Terriers around the orchards before the dawn has fully lightened the sky is a real pleasure then back home for a quick coffee and toast and away to a swim on my favourite drain way, way out on the Fen.

The tackle and bait are in the car which was packed the night before, the drive through the village where Christmas lights in gardens and on houses struggle vainly with the strengthening light and then the view down a road devoid of traffic that runs alongside the drain. It seems that everyone is still under the duvets and the only sign of life is one early morning dog walker on the drain bank. Cheery waves are exchanged as we go our separate ways.

Finally off the main road and a turn down the track, through the puddles and we’re there. Silence. Apart from the ticking of the car engine cooling down, the odd snatch of birdsong and the squabbling and splashing of the coots. It really doesn’t get much better this. There are pheasants on the fields, a kestrel hovering, quick flashes of kingfisher blue as they rocket along next to the reeds and in the distance flocks of pigeons and rooks.

It is a short walk to the area chosen for this morning’s session, not hastily chosen but selected in my mind the sleepless and anticipatory night before. With all the gear and landing net in position out goes the red float and bait with a splash that seems deafening, the ripples slowly subside and the breathless calm returns.

Concentration and attention to the float begins to drift because there’s too much to see all around you but the little red dot on the surface of the drain is always there in the corner of your view, then in the middle of your view and when you look away to reach for the flask of coffee and look back it’s gone. There are just a couple of rings slowly widening on the surface of the water where the float had been. A closer look, staring into the water and you can see its distorted shape about a foot under the surface and it’s slowly beginning to move; a pike has taken your carefully presented bait but how big, or small, is it? It could truly be a toothy monster.


Once the pike has been netted and unhooked a brief pause to admire the beautiful colour and markings on the fish while the doleful yellow eye seems, in turn, to stare back at you. After the brief pause of admiration back into the dark water slips a pike of around ten pounds.

One fish and the session is a success but a few more pike are caught and a couple of bonus perch too. Perch, the Jack Russell of the drain, they just don’t know when to give up and yet again the colours of the fish are brilliant, if you get tired of looking at sizeable perch you should sell your tackle and simply pack in fishing.

Right I’d better stop dreaming, get out of bed and go pike fishing. Boxing Day pike fishing is a real Christmas bonus.

Richardson in Zanderland archive
John at The Two Terriers Press