Long ago, when I had all the time in the world, my fishing was of the pioneering sort. I would fish new, untried waters all the time, most of them being a dead loss but just once in a while I turned up something special. Catching something special is what fishing's all about for me, it's the thing which keeps me going back time after time. Nowadays, however, when I can't invest so much time in my fishing, I find that I have to give myself an edge in other ways in order to have that chance to catch my special fish.
So it was that for the second year running I forked out a small fortune to go and fish one of the country's finest pike waters, Blithfield Reservoir in Staffordshire. Blithfield is a trout water of particular note. Not only is it well stocked with browns and rainbows of a remarkable size, it also contains pike the like of which most of us can only dream about. The management at Blithfield have a most enlightened attitude towards pike. They have had the courage to embrace pike fishing where some other fisheries have shunned the pike angler and it is paying off. The trout anglers benefit from the increased revenue that pike anglers bring in and pikers have the opportunity to catch some truly special fish.
Year 2000 was the first time I fished Blithfield. The eight days I had booked were marred in two ways. First the torrential rains coloured the water into a thick soup and on one occasion even came close to preventing us from reaching the lake. Then came the dreaded foot and mouth which meant the water had to be closed for the final session. The sum total of my catch for that year was one eleven pound fish but my boat partner, Gary Knowles, did manage a super pike of 31lbs 8oz which made it all worthwhile for both of us.
October 27th 2001 held far more promise than the previous year. With little in the way of rain throughout the summer and autumn, the level of the lake was low and the water much clearer than the previous year. There had been heavy rain the day before which meant that the water level and the turbidity were increasing but Gary and I had a window of opportunity which we were going to make the best of before it got too bad.
Day dawned on the boathouse at seven o'clock as fifty four anglers set off to their chosen spot to try their fortune on the 800 acre lake. Many pikers favour a famous spot known as Watery Lane, the scene of a number of captures of huge pike and almost half the boats headed off in that direction. Gary and I abhor the crowds and wouldn't dream of sitting gunwale to gunwale with the great and the good of pike fishing, so we sloped off to do our own thing as usual.
First port of call was the spot where Gary had caught his thirty the previous year. As we motored slowly into the area, it was obvious that there was a large shoal of prey fish there. Besides picking these up on the sounder, as the sun started to rise a little higher they started to "top" all around us and showed themselves to be small roach. A number of trout were slashing at the roach and we had high hopes that the pike wouldn't be too far behind.
Pike fishing at Blithfield is lure only - a deliberate and very sensible policy aimed at protecting pike stocks and a boon in one way since it allows the angler to travel light and be ready to fish quickly. We gave that area a thorough seeing to with jerkbaits, spinnerbaits and a variety of rubber lures but after two hours it was clear that there were no feeding pike in the area with nothing to show for our efforts but a three pound rainbow to Gary.
After a quick discussion, the decision was made to go on the troll and see if we could find some feeding fish. On with the trusty Rapalas, we motored off slowly into the northern end of the lake, stopping occasionally to fish an area more intensely whenever we found prey fish or obvious features.
The Watery Lane crowd were slowly dispersing and it looked like there had been little caught there. An old friend, Mark Ackerly, came by and told us there were odd fish coming from there but that they were relatively small, having taken three fish to eighteen pounds himself.
Eventually we arrived at the Yeatsall bank on the East shore of the lake and eased the boat in some fifty yards from the bank. As we arrived, an angler in another boat picked up a small pike. This gave us some encouragement since where there are small fish, there are often big ones too. After only a few casts using a springdawg lure, I took a pike of around eight pounds and a little while later, Gary took a twelve pounder. We moved around the area quite a few times, trying different spots, always casting towards the bank where, we knew, the Blithfield biggies were likely to be lying. The lake bed is very snaggy in this area however and several times I got my lure caught. Each time this happened it necessitated a trip over to the bank to retrieve the lure. This caused some disturbance in the swim, potentially upsetting any wary pike which were basking on the shallows and on one occasion I actually lost a bulldawg lure which became stuck fast in a snag. Gary suggested I put on a lure which wouldn't snag - a fateful suggestion as it turned out.
I rummaged in my lure box and came up with a bright green mag-tail jig. These rubber lures have a body rather like a thick worm, some three inches long and a curly tail of about the same length. The lure is mounted using a lead headed single hook which sits with its point upwards making it unlikely to snag. I was quite comfortable using this type of lure, as Mick Brown had taken a thirty five pound fish the previous year on a very similar one, and I commenced casting it towards the bank, jigging it back towards me along the bottom. After a couple of dozen casts the lure was siezed quite close to the bank. The take was gentle, as they often are on rubber lures and I immediately struck into what I assumed was a small pike.
"I'm in!" I said to Gary
"Any size mate, need the net?"
"Nah, it feels small."
It did feel small too. I reeled steadily as the fish came towards the boat but what I hadn't realised was that it was coming of its own accord, not due to any pressure I was applying. As the pike came to the side of the boat I leaned into it expecting a ten pounder to pop up to the surface. Imagine my surprise when the rod, instead of going upwards, was suddenly plunged down and its tip dragged beneath the surface.
"Errrr, it might not be small after all" I said, "In fact it feels rather big, set the net up"
The pike hung, dogged in the water and for several minutes I found that I couldn't move it at all. There were no head shakes, no sudden lunges, just the huge dead weight that told me this was a special pike.
"This is a very big fish" I squeaked at Gary as he fumbled with the net, and with that it slowly began to give ground. A minute later a huge back broke the surface causing both Gary and I to gasp audibly at the width of it. Gary scooped up the pike at the first attempt and she was ours. We both peered into the net which was still hanging in the water and stood speechless for several moments. "You get the scales ready and I'll get it unhooked." I eventually said and I leaned over to take out the hook which was just nestling in the corner of the pike's mouth. As I touched the lure, the hook literally fell out and I realised how lucky I had been. Had Gary fluffed the netting, I would almost certainly have lost the fish.
We weighed her on Gary's forty pound Avons and she went 37lb 8oz, my first English thirty and second biggest pike - wow, what a fish. After a few photographs in the boat I returned her to the water. Surprisingly, the pike was reluctant to go and I had to nurse her in the water for several minutes but eventually that great tail gave two huge sweeps and away into the depths she went.
I was elated, and Gary was pleased for me. The first day of the Blithfield campaign and I had boated a real biggie - now I could relax, or so I thought!
As I had been returning the big pike, another boat had moved in some fifty yards to the left. In the boat was an old friend, Kevin Shore from Tarporley, and I gave him a bit of ribbing about me having caught such a big one. A few casts later I was in again. Once again the pike was hooked in the shallow water close to the bank and, on feeling the hook, dived for the depths. This meant that for the second time I had what felt like a small fish on the end of my line as it ran towards me - the only direction in which it could go to get away to safety. This pike had rolled on the surface on being hooked however so I knew it was fairly substantial but I wasn't prepared for what happened next.
All went solid and I called across to Kevin that I was into another big one. He laughed and shook his head suggesting that I was, in fact, snagged but his expression changed as the rod started to give the occasional slow thud thud.
Once again the fish behaved doggedly as it came close then suddenly it took off at speed underneath the boat. I was forced to stuff the rod deep under the surface as line was torn from the reel under the most tremendous pressure. I swung the rod around so that it passed underneath the outboard and straightened up, pulling the fish directly upwards with a mighty heave on the 35lb braid.
For the second time in just minutes we witnessed the sight of the most enormous pike breaking the surface. By now the fish had rolled up in the trace, causing some abrasions on its flank, and came towards the net sideways but Gary wielded the net like an expert (which, after all, he is) for the second time and once again we had a massive fish in the bag.
We placed the pike in the weigh sling and Gary lifted the Avons which gave out a loud "clunk".
"What's wrong with these?" Gary said, "They're sticking." "They aren't sticking," I told him, "They've hit the stop, it's a bloody forty!"
We both stood open mouthed for a few seconds, trying to take in the words I had just said before digging out a set of heavier scales. This time, the fish went 42lbs 8oz in the sling which we later weighed at just 1lb making it 41lbs 8oz - a new personal best.
We took the fish to the bank this time to be sure of getting good photographs - and because so many people wanted to get a look at the fish. I was in a daze at the capture but I remember being touched by the waves of congratulations and the generous way in which people went out of their way to lend a hand with the fish and the photographs. We only had her out of the water for a few minutes and then she was back, swimming away strongly, probably to grow into a record breaker!
I've been lucky enough to catch giant pike in the past, they are truly stunning fish but to catch two, just minutes apart - now that's really special. You could say I caught them in jig time!.
Back out in the boat and Gary decided to try one of the jigs I had been using. Only a few casts later he was into a fine fish which went 21lbs 1oz. He closed the day with this comment;
"Six hundred quids' worth of lures between us and we go and catch on a £2.50 bit of rubber!"
Anyone want to buy six hundred quids' worth of lures? :-)