Bob Dellar

Call of the pike part 2 (with a chub thrown in).

There is something compelling about pike. Of all our freshwater fish their call, for me, is the most insistent. They are the black-eyed death-dealer of our fresh waters, the equaliser, the remorseless destroyer without whom natural balance would falter. Their narrative coloured by tales of dark, bottomless pools where monsters capable of devouring small dogs and even toddlers lurk. A fish adored and despised in equal measure, persecuted, like raptors, to perpetuate the manufactured hunting grounds of the privileged. Removed from some commercial waters to protect the interests of the owners and the sensibilities of the anglers. 

I suppose in some ways it’s understandable. They are a bit scary, and those teeth are sharp. They’re the only UK fish that can inflict real damage to a careless angler. I’ve known many a fellow fisherman who regard them as a nuisance and would no more fish for them as sell their favourite match rod. 

But the pursuit of pike is fishing at its most primal. It’s almost audacious, hunting a hunter. To outwit a pike of any size and trick it onto the bank is the defuser of myth, the proof that the monster is fallible, vulnerable. It’s a privilege too because they are creatures of great beauty and surprising fragility. Handling and unhooking them requires love, respect and, occasionally, a surgeon’s dexterity. And they have the added attraction of growing big, on a par with carp weight-wise but bulk based on natural food not man-made protein balls.

There’s not much to look forward to in winter apart from pike fishing, and pubs serving dark, malty ales. (Pubs, how I miss them.) 

Also, winters have less allure now as far as general weather. The crisp, cold, snowy and white frequently replaced with drab, damp, muddy and brown due to climate disorder. And the seemingly endless winter rain plays havoc with river piking. It’s only December but my local stretch of the Suffolk Stour has been up and down like a Bo-Jo’s Barnet. I did manage a fruitful session or two in mid-November, however. 

I’d become drawn to a prime stretch of the Stour near Sudbury Town centre known as The Priory. Adjacent to this is another more open section called Friars Meadow, nomenclature no doubt based on the Dominican communities that occupied the area in the 13th Century. 

I like a degree of isolation when I’m fishing and the Priory section offers that despite being in the middle of town. There’s ample riverside cover and a formidable belt of willows and vegetation between the railway walk footpath and the river itself which separates the angler from passers-by. 

The Stour was fining down nicely after autumn rain, which coincided serendipitously with a mild spell, so an ideal opportunity for a go at the Stour pike.

A opted for a mid-week session and off I went my my German Shepherd Indy who makes for a fine fishing companion as long as I keep him onside with Bonios. We found a likely-looking, spacious swim on the Priory, enough room to fish two float rigs tight to near bank features. The swim had the added appeal of being opposite a majestic sweep of water meadow and the moment I settled in my seat I spotted a nosy muntjac checking us out from the far bank, all ears and nervous curiosity. Indy stared back, ears up, hackles twitching. “Go on then, if you think you’re hard enough,” I chided. The dog might’ve if there wasn’t a river in the way. As it was he turned his attention to my rucksack, probing for Bonios.

Even a half-arsed angler like me was in with a fair shout of catching, such were the almost perfect conditions. I felt confident, and so it was that within twenty minutes of casting out, the right hand float bobbed and danced and disappeared and I was into an angry Stour pike. The fish fought hard and thundered around the swim in tight, powerful circles. It felt excellent to be connected to my first sizeable pike for years, and my first river pike for even more years. 

Indy’s quite funny when I’m playing a fish. Despite the commotion, usually involving me puffing, swearing and thumping around looking for the net, he just sits there nonchalantly, some may say indifferently, picking burdock seeds out of his coat or something. He may come and have a gander once a fish is on the mat, but only if he can be bothered. This is in stark contrast to my previous German Shepherd, Harry, who happened  to be Indy’s great uncle. I only ever took Harry fishing once, such was the extent of his copybook blotting. We were on the famous Met Pit in the Lee Valley, fishing for pike. Harry was his normal well behaved self until I cast out my dead bait, then he went totally insane. Before I could stop him he dived straight in and struck out towards my pike float, which was only a few metres out, grabbed it in his jaws before I could reel it in, and swam back to the bank, dragging float, trace and dead bait with him. He nearly became the biggest live bait in pike fishing history. But that wasn’t the end of it. To keep him contained I had to tie him to a tree, he was literally straining at the leash to dive in again.

He settled down eventually, mainly because I hadn’t cast for a while. Then I hooked a jack of about six pounds and he became a monster. The moment I laid the netted pike on the mat the lead securing Harry to the tree broke, unable to withstand his lunges. He was on the fish in a flash, jaws snapping, eyes bulging. Quick as I could I lifted the net plus the fish back in the water, trying to block his advance with my body. I shouted at him so loudly that my voice echoed around the pit, startling me as well as the dog. Having lost sight of his prey he calmed somewhat giving me time to unhook the fish and release it pronto; I was thankful it was lightly hooked.

I loved that dog. He was a beauty, a great companion with a flawless temperament, until you took him fishing!

Me and Indy managed to catch three pike during that first session, smallest nine pounds biggest twelve. We lost a bigger fish that could have been a mid-double. And we were treated to numerous fly pasts by a kingfisher, the bird with the sky on his back. All in all a satisfying and enjoyable day for man, (and as far as I know but it’s hard to tell), dog. 

Footnote. It wasn’t all satisfactory. I collected two bags of litter from around my swim before I left, almost certainly discarded by anglers. There was a good deal more too but I only had two bags. Some say that littering has become a collective myopia, which is galling enough but for fishermen to litter, to discard dangerous, wildlife threatening, river polluting, unsightly waste while they fish is the antithesis of what angling represents and embodies for so many.

Pike No 1
Indy enjoying himself
Pike No 2
My wife happened to wander by in her kayak (fishing went dead after)😉😆

From deadbaits to breadflake

The river at Wixoe, on the border of Essex and Suffolk, is a craggy old piece of the upper Stour running alongside a large pumping station. Sadly, its banks are liberally strewn with the detritus of humanity, aided and abetted by a succession of floods that have become the trademark of the wet winters during this age of climate change. 

It’s a stretch run by Sudbury and Long Melford AC and according to some of the club’s more established members it’s well past its heyday, where good bags of roach and dace as well as sizeable perch and pike in the winter are distant memories. But isn’t that the depressing mantra so familiar to anglers nowadays when discussing river fishing in the UK? There’s little doubt that river systems in general are at the mercy of agricultural run-off, excessive sewage discharge and poor management but, thankfully, it’s fairly obvious from reading the angling press that it’s not all bad, that there are rivers that still produce good fish, and that the natural cyclical high and lows of fish stocks and specimen fish still prevail.

Saying that, I’m not specially enamoured by this stretch of the Stour. The whole area has a deserted, frontier town feel. Local businesses seem to eventually fail. In the 15 years I’ve lived nearby, a pub and restaurant, a garden centre, a garden machinery retailer and a hairdressers have floated down the Swanee, or should I say Stour. Probably a convergence of negative ley-lines or something. Anyway, bad energy hotspots aside, and now we’re in lockdown no 3 where fishing is acceptable but must be ‘local,’ I find myself drawn by circumstance to this fishery. 

But it’s definitely got something. 

If you can somehow ignore the mud-flecked plastic bottles, beer cans and polystyrene chunks bobbing about and concentrate on the wintered reed beds, willow-lined bank, near-side slacks, and rafts of accumulated vegetation it all begins to look very fishy.

I decided to try my luck for the first time one cold, bright January afternoon when the river was practically devoid of colour and frankly, about as appealing as a cold shower. Predictably, my trotted single red maggot was flatly refused for two hours solid so, as the light faded, I opted to hoick the light ledger rod out and fish the features with breadflake. Again, nothing, save a few trembles on the tip. But as the magical last hour of daylight came and went, that erstwhile sterile river burst into life. Right under my feet in fact. I’m pretty sure it was a big chub, that great silver head that popped up. Whatever it was it  definitely tickled my enthusiasm. I was pleased as it had corroborated my gut feeling: that this uninspiring river held good fish.

Despite the promising sighting, however, I remained fishless but nonetheless cautiously optimistic. I second visit was a necessity.

Less than a week later I was back, and after some more heavy rain the river was fining down and looking far more angler-friendly than the previous visit. The banks were treacherous, however. Perpetually muddy and sloping, on this occasion the post flood mud was like a quagmire, oozing moisture and offering no grip whatsoever. This is an under-fished water, which is not a bad thing but can also lead to neglect. The banks are a Jack-Straw tangle of windblown willow limbs and deadwood. So getting to my tucked away swims in the near darkness was a trial. And I’d forgotten my head torch.

As quick as I could I knocked up some bread mash and fed two small balls to three swims some twenty yards apart. In my haste to get a bait out before dusk descended I hung the rig up on a willow twig and lost the link ledger in the process. Frustration was setting in now. I’m not the most adroit of anglers. I have my days but generally it’s not second nature to me, I have to concentrate. So it came as no surprise to me when a second cast was as bad as the first and hung up too. Thankfully the fishing gods were sympathetic and the rig dropped clear just where I wanted it. I’d hardly settled on my bucket stool when the tip arched round. It didn’t register at first, it happened so quickly but the penny dropped when the rod thumped, thumped, thumped and the drag groaned. Immediately, the fish made a sprint for the snags. Side-strain thwarted that lunge but two more shuddering runs followed before it broke surface. I knew it was a chub before I saw it, the fight gave that away. But it’s size made me swear, loudly. 

It was a pristine fish, utterly flawless, probably never seen a bank. Along with my torch I’d also forgotten my scales so I can only guess at its weight but it looked like a five pounder or thereabouts.

In my reverie I’d failed to notice that the dwindling light had dwindled entirely and I could barely see the ripple as I slipped that lovely chevin back.

The short, dark walk back to the the car was a tad fraught and I nearly went over but I didn’t really care. That tip of a river held good fish as well as the contents of a dustcart, and I couldn’t wait to get back there, but next time I’d be sporting a head torch, a set of scales and hopefully a rudimentary grasp of casting.

Bob Dellar

The Call Of The Pike Part 1

Jig fisher virgin.

And so the colder months are upon us and I’m keen to get amongst the spikes, teeth, stripes and manly jaw-lines of our native piscine predators.

Although I’ve had the odd dabble already, if the truth be known. And I’ve discovered a new way of catching them, well new to me anyway. Jig fishing. 

My very first outing was an opportunistic one, when I sneaked the jig rod in amongst the chainsaws and climbing ropes before I left home in the hope of nicking a quick session on a lovely stretch of the Upper Stour near Liston, Sudbury after a morning’s work. The weather was red hot, bright and sunny with a brisk wind so not that perfect! Nonetheless I was keen to take my new six foot rod out for its maiden voyage and to pop my jig fishing cherry at the same time! I’ve fished with spinners and plugs on and off for years but the jelly-like jig lures with all their assorted names, colours and strangeness are new to me. When I arrived the river was crystal clear and what was really pleasing to see was the sheer number of fish from fry to the more mature flitting around in the shallows. And where there’s prey there’s predators, so the sight of all those silvers boosted my confidence. Features abound in the Stour at Liston with lilies, cabbages, reed beds and overhanging as well as submerged branches. All great to cover the backs of a spiky-toothed pike or a bristling perch but a bit of a snag-magnet for a cack-handed jig-fisher virgin.

Incredibly, my first cast with a perch fry micro-lure had a follow from a little jack which might well have had a pop had I not panicked and plucked the lure from right under its nose sending it skywards into a hawthorn. I don’t know who was more surprised, me or the pike. It hung in the water stock still for a second or two and if it had blinked and shaken its head in disbelief I wouldn’t have been surprised.

After disentangling my lure and trace from a particularly vicious hawthorn branch I continued my trek down the bank on the hunt for more predator holding hotspots. The wind had whipped up sending tiny manes of white water across the river’s surface obscuring potential snags and hazards, so every cast became a lost-tackle lottery. At one point, the eddying wind and water subsided briefly offering a brief glimpse into the depths like a porthole on the Nautilus. It was then that my spiky little lure came into view no than than four metres from the near bank. Just as my wrist tensed on the rod handle to induce a last enticing flick, a jack pike shot out from his liquid lair with astonishing speed and grabbed it. I still am astounded, when I think back, at the sheer pace and savagery of that lunge. What ensued was a brief but powerful tussle with a summer pike of no more than two pounds. He gave it his all that little pike and I’ve had less enjoyable tussles with Esox many times his size who have thrown in the towel early and limped to the net like a hooked bin-bag. A second, slightly bigger fish of about three pounds followed from a swim overhung by one of the oldest and gnarliest white willows I’ve ever seen, it’s squat, fissured trunk rubbed smooth and shiny in places where generations of cattle have scratched an itch or sheltered from sun or rain. It must have been pollarded countless times over the years as well as thrashed and decollated by countless storms but as is the way with willows, new growth soon emerges to replace the lost and damaged. There must have been an absolute maze of fibrous red-tinged roots wafting in the flow where the tree’s huge buttresses enter the water, a perfect ambush point for that hungry little pike.

Little pike from below the willow

Next swim was a tight one and I had to kneel to cast. The jig was snapped up as soon as it hit the water and I fell back in surprise and flailed about in the nettles before I regained my composure. I was attached to a lively perch of about half a pound which, as it thrashed about in the margins, was escorted sympathetically by three or four of its shoal mates to the waiting net. Anthropomorphism is a dubious trait I know but as I released him back into the flow I like to think that his mates took him to one side, checked he was ok, and gently rebuked him for being so impulsive. 

So, for a first session on the jig as it were, things went quite well and overall was an enjoyable experience. Remarkably, I didn’t leave any lures, lost and forlorn, snagged up in the underwater jungle, but I did crush my fibre glass landing net pole when the perch pounced and I fell back on my arse.

First perch on a jig rig

Jungle jigging

I’d recently joined Sudbury and Long Melford Angling Club, impressed by the range of river fishing they offered, mainly on the Suffolk Stour. But amongst the river delights were an intriguing trio of well established gravel pits: Glemsford 1, 2 and 3. The pits are collectively a nature reserve and an SSSI, primarily down to its outstanding population of dragonflies.  I love dragonflies. If I spot one I’ll stand and watch, because every time they enthral. Absolute masters of the air, and aerial predators par excellence they can turn on a sixpence to grab an unsuspecting fly, midge or mosquito mid-flight. Without them they’d be a lot more mossie bites to scratch, a lot more hydrocortisone anointing. And their names are perfect aptronyms: darters, hawkers, chasers. On the Norfolk Broads, I once witnessed a southern hawker doing battle with an angry hornet, a bout that the hawker lost but the ensuing dog-fight was a spectacle as both insects wrestled mid-air, end over end, free falling then ascending, a contortion of brightly coloured abdomens goring at each other until the hawker was thrust away defeated, its perfect wings trashed and crumpled as it ditched in the river Ant and gently floated away, a fitting Viking burial, back to the water from whence it came.

And so for my first trip to Glemsford I opted to fish No 3, a fantastic, prehistoric looking water, wild and swamp-like, a Louisiana bayou without the heat and alligators . A maze of spits, islands and craggy-old willows with dislocated, fractured limbs hanging precariously in the trees or strewn around, as if an angry giant has crashed through. 

The weather was mild and overcast, absolutely ideal so out came the jig rod again for a couple of hours of jungle fishing. This is about as near to wild angling as it gets round these parts. Every swim I cast into screamed fish, such was the abundance of predatory lairs and ambush points. And such was the case as I netted three perfect little Jack pike and a couple of bristling perch up to half a pound within the first hour. I’ve been told that the pike are restricted to youngsters at the moment as a couple of unfortunate summer oxygen starvation events put paid to the older fish. But the perch are an unknown entity. There could be some big girls down there, hopefully I’ll find out.

Conversely, next door is a commercial fishery that’s the polar opposite of Pit 3. Comprising of a ‘traditional pond’, a ‘pleasure/match’ pond and a larger, ‘specimen’ lake, the two ponds are barren puddles with the odd drift of sick looking lilies, no bankside vegetation, very few features and certainly no fishing appeal. A rusting JCB that may well have dug them out skulks nearby, giving off an air of after-thought and that’ll do to the fishery as a whole. The specimen lake is behind a gated fence so is difficult to see. It does look slightly more appealing with some reed beds and a couple of islands, but comparing this fishery to Pit 3 would be like comparing Stephen Fry to Joey Essex.
But I suppose it’s a case of horses for courses. No doubt these ponds are packed full of fish and would provide a a welcome bend in the rod if you’d suffered a few blanks elsewhere. And these fisheries are often fantastic confidence boosters and training grounds for new fisherman. But I’d prefer a wild-water, any day of the week.

The bayou that is Glemsford Pit 3

Apologies to the pike. Winter, 1977 (or thereabouts.)

As a schoolboy of twelve or thirteen, I fished fairly often with Steve, my brother in law. I remember fishing a stretch of what was probably the river Roding in Essex; a small, narrow stretch festooned with vegetation and overhanging willows, a chub fishers paradise. 

One Sunday afternoon during the winter, while Steve and I immersed ourselves in this chubby heaven, probing the depths with ledgered luncheon meat, I got bored with the lack of action and slapped on a rusty old Mepps spinner that had been knocking around in my tackle bag for ages, regularly puncturing my fingers if I delved too deep. I just tied it straight to the nylon mainline, no trace, and no thought to the consequences.

I think I had perch in mind as Steve had said that fishing near features like bridges and weirs, especially during the winter, was a useful tactic for big stripeys, so I blame him entirely for the years of guilt and trauma I suffered as a result of my foolhardiness! Just upstream from our swim was a small weir coupled with a small footbridge; perfect perch territory according to angling oracle Steve, so off I trotted in the naive hope of snaring a giant stripey . I’m not sure if it was first cast or not but everything seemed to happen very quickly. As I reeled the spinner back towards the bank I had a great, lunging take that very nearly ripped the rod from my hand and sent a great shudder of shock and fear right through me. This was no perch, for if it were it would have shattered the British record, and I would have been a famous schoolboy fisherman. What had grabbed my rusty old Mepps was an enormous pike. I’d been a fisherman for about three years up to that point and my biggest fish to date had been a five pound common carp. Now I thought that fish put up a fair old fight but it was truly nothing compared to the pike. I had little concept of playing a fish of any size, and the clutch on my Intrepid ‘Boyo’ reel was cranked up far too tight, so that poor old fish jagged, tugged and tail-walked right under my rod tip. I held on for dear life; from a distance I probably looked like a manic conductor suffering a fit during the final movement. But as soon as it started it stopped. I have a searing image, still vivid to this day, of that great pike’s head disappearing below the foam it had whipped up, my rusty old Mepps spinner, with its flash of red-wool, dangling from its face like some cheap, back-street piercing. I’ve caught pike to 25lb since then, so I have some idea of pike proportions. I’m guessing that pike could have easily been a mid-double and I hope it shed that spinner very quickly and lived a long and happy life, or maybe grew to love its facial adornment and wore it as a token of its prowess in battle. Puerile musings aside, I still feel guilty about that pike. And now, as a convert to the art of jig fishing, drop-shotting, ned-slinging, creature chucking and so forth, I always use a trace, despite the general consensus amongst the lure-fisher fraternity that it’s ok to use fluorocarbon hook lengths, because if you do hook a pike and it bites you off it’ll soon shed the hooks. I think to a great extent this is wishful thinking, so I’m a trace man, in memory of the Mepps spinner pike.

My Mepps was rustier than this