Whether it is that strange mixture of fear and wonder, or just their sheer savage beauty, no fish etches itself in the memory in quite the same way as the pike. My first encounters with the toothy one were quite accidental, admittedly. A small roach on the line one moment, bloody history the next, seized in a mass of teeth and flared gills. Genuine heart attack material.
These were not fish to my tender imagination, but monsters from another world, dwarfing and terrorising those little roach and gudgeon that were then my typical catch on the river. As well as fascination, it was fear that captivated me.
Perhaps the tipping point was a family Christmas present of a rather cheap looking jointed plug. Cheap, yes, but it wiggled quite beautifully, at least to a twelve year old boy. A plan was hatched. I knew exactly where a fine pike lived. There was a deep hole underneath the banks of the River Culm, from which she would emerge in the blink of an eye to steal your roach or dace and generally fray nerves. The idea of trying to catch this beast had existed only as a vague idea, until then.
So, on the next trip to the river, a glass fibre spinning rod was set up at the ready for the monster’s next appearance. Anything but subtle, she didn’t take long to show up that morning, sliding out ominously from beneath the bank and scaring virtually every small fish in the county. With trembling fingers I cast the plug. My garish little present did its sexy, cheap wiggle, like a gaudily dressed hooker prospecting a new street.
A few casts later and I was wondering if that tacky plug was capable of fooling anything, when WHAM! Perhaps sick of watching this seedy, repetitive dance for the eleventh time the pike surged out and destroyed it in a moment of primeval violence. I nearly died of shock. The pike shook her head from side to side in a fury, like a terrier being electrocuted. The little rod bent obscenely under the strain, before everything went slack.
Total disaster. The jointed plug had given way in the middle and I was left with only the front half and a sick, empty feeling in my belly. Worse still, the pike was now swimming around somewhere with the lure’s tail in its jaw, like an unwanted piercing.
About all that I could do was to cast again, this time with an old copper spinner. I tried the same spot. I tried fast and I tried slow. I tried upstream and downstream. It seemed futile. I must have cast that spinner a hundred times, my only incentive the thought of leaving that magnificent pike tethered to half a tasteless plug.
My heart sank when my dad said we would have to leave shortly. I kept recasting, regardless, more in blind hope than expectation, bringing the spinner back past that same undercut lair. Just as my brother was packing up his rod, the line went solid. The pike was back on and as angry as ever! I held on hard as both the spinning rod and my heart started to thump. “Not so hard!” pleaded my father, loosening the drag a little as she flailed in midstream. Her power was amplified by the weight of the current, the reel doing an impression of a coffee grinder as I held on tight and prayed.
After a brutal fight that seemed to last forever but was probably only a few tense minutes, she was in the net. The pike weighed six pounds, an absolute monster to my young eyes. She was the most awesome, perfect fish I had ever seen. We removed the broken half plug first, before taking out the spinner. I watched her swim off with as much relief as joy, hands still trembling. She bolted straight back to her lair underneath the bank, each of us having learned an important lesson about steering well clear of cheap plugs, no matter how sexy their wiggle.