My friend Gary had completed two pike sessions on a new stretch of the river Thames that belonged to a landowner he had got to know; the stretch looked good with a few marginal trees and a drainage ditch that gave protection to shoal fish. Unfortunately the potential did not live up to reality, as all he caught was one small jack pike. So on my next trip with him, we went back to the stretch of the river that has produced 30lb pike to us both in years gone past. Gary had not been down there since late October, as the conditions had never seemed quite right. The actual stretch is over two miles long but the area that had produced the biggest pike was where a stream left the river and made its way across past a marina to re join the Thames a couple of miles downstream the other side of a weir. It was where the stream left the Thames that was the good spot. When the main river is in flood, the shoal fish move into the stream-head for protection, the big pike follow. With the river looking more coloured and higher and with a few frosts under the weathers belt it was worth another try.

We turned up within minutes of each other and parked the cars next to an old pumping hut halfway along the stream and set off for the mile long hike across boggy bumpy fields before the big old trees came in to view as the gloom began to lighten on a new day. It was cloudy but the sky did look like it would break later. When we arrived, the river looked about right, perhaps a little lower than perfect but soon four live baits, two roach and two perch, were cast out under float paternosters.

A few small fish dappled the surface, which was pleasing as at least food was around for the pike. The first run was only an hour into the session when my perch live bait was taken - the float zoomed under as the pike shot away out of the stream into the main river. I struck in to a lively fish that immediately showed on top, I could tell it was only small so let it run about before leading it into the edge and lifted it out with a glove. The hooks were neatly in the bottom jaw and fell out under lightest pressure. We had a quick look at it before I put it back, a fish of perhaps around 9lb. Another perch was put on and swung back out alongside a margin hawthorn bush. We hoped we were not going to be plagued by jacks as Gary had only another five live baits left in the bucket - the Thames had been a bit slow in giving up its small fish to him during the week.

It was another hour and a half before the next take when Gary landed a pike a bit bigger, perhaps just over 10lb. That was all the action and before long the best of the day was over, but from previous experience we knew dusk was a good time so we waited until the dull shades of winter had dulled even more to greys and black. As if scripted my roach live bait float became more agitated and started moving off faster and faster before dipping below the surface. It was heading for a sunken tree so I wound down and pulled into the pike. I met solid resistance and felt a good pike shake its head a couple of times. The fight was dour and slow and before long the pike was in the edge. Gary put the net in the water and the pike slid in. It was not as long as we hoped but was quite thick across the shoulders. The hooks fell out in the net and on the scales it weighed 16lb 4oz. A nice end to the day. Walking back to the cars we reflected that the big pike were not yet around that area but it was worth keeping an eye on as winter passed.

I am sometimes asked how Gary and myself catch so many big pike from the Thames, well the answer is not usually what most people want to hear, unfortunately it is a result of years of hard work, mainly in recent years on Garys part. We started fishing for pike together in the mid 1980s and soon got fed up with badly conditioned, poor fighting pit fish so headed off to the Thames. For years we caught mainly jacks and the odd good double on dead baits but then we caught our first river 20lber on a wobbled bait below a weir. This got us thinking and over the next few years we started using live baits or moving artificials/deadbaits almost exclusively and the average size of pike increased dramatically. This was not the full story though as we also fished miles and miles of river, constantly looking over maps and visiting stretches and just walking along, looking but not fishing. A lot of the better spots were on private land but instead of accepting them as 'out of bounds' we approached landowners and asked, begged, pleaded for access. Most say no, but some are quite happy to let us fish, sometimes with payment, sometimes free. However we always treat them and their land, and livestock, with utmost respect. These days Gary is a full time pike angler and spends his life in that dream of a massive Thames pike; who knows, over 40lb? No donít laugh, we both one day spotted a pike in the Thames that would have dwarfed the 30lbers we both have caught, I kid you not.

The carping trip was a bit of a quiet affair; I went back to the small easy winter water and fished once more off the island. Unlike the session before, few carp showed but I did not have to wait for long for a carp to pick up my single bottom bait fished over a handful of freebies. Unfortunately it was only a small fish of perhaps 7lb, a common. An hour later though I had a screamer on the same rod and this one fought better, finding the old lily stems and under the rod tip it thumped away well on the light line. Soon in the net I found it was another common carp but a nice solid fish of 11lb 2oz. All blacks and gold in its winter colours.

One more fish followed half hour later to the other rod, this one really fought hard and I thought I had a good original on but in the net, it's fight did not live up to its size - it was a solid common but only weighing 8lb 12oz, perfect again though. The skies cleared at around midnight and the air cooled, few fish moved but at around 2am another common turned up but was an exceptionally small fish, even for this lake and was soon slipped back.

That was it for the session but it had been another enjoyable winters week, and with Christmas around the corner, one of my last of the year. I wonder what 2002 will bring?

Have fun!