Fishing has been described as ‘an excuse for being there’ – close to nature, in touch with the seasons, with time to contemplate and gain or regain perspective. In other words, there’s more to fishing than catching fish.
Certainly fishing alone is better than not fishing at all, but for many anglers (myself included) sharing time on the banks with friends or family is infinitely more enjoyable. As Christopher McCandless concludes in one of my favourite films ‘Into the Wild’, “happiness is only real when shared“.
Work saw me based in the UK for the whole of the winter. Whilst I’d be travelling back to Russia regularly to see my family, I hoped to get out piking a few times on my weekends in England.
As it transpired, weather and other commitments saw my best laid plans thwarted. Several planned trips to the Lake District got cancelled and when I intended to fish my home rivers in Yorkshire they were invariably flooded. In the end I only got out once, but it turned out to be a memorable day.
As ever the chosen weekend saw the favoured reaches of the rivers high and coloured which meant having to head further upstream to find fishable water. I was due to fish with my dad and uncle and we chose a favourite spot – not the best place for catching pike of any special size or in any great numbers, but it’s a spot we hold dear.
My dad and uncle learnt to fish here as children and they’ve been bringing my brother and I here since we were young. In all my family have been fishing here for over 50 years and between us we’ve seen the river ebb and flow in many ways over that time. In some seasons coarse fish abounded in great numbers, in others the river has seemed devoid of life. For a while in the 90’s there were lots of big perch – 2 pounds plus – but they seem to have moved on. We’ve witnessed the return of salmon to the river, and now it is not uncommon to see ‘silver tourists’ porpoising upstream. The geography has changed over the years too – long grass runs down to the water’s edge where there used to be a large sandy beach, and islands and weedbeds have shifted position over time.
Fishing here is as much about quality time with the family as the prospect of banking a specimen fish – catching up and reminiscing over days gone by, lines cast out in hope more than expectation.
The forecast for this particular morning was heavy rain and we were in no desperate rush to get to the river for what we fully expected to be a blank day. We savoured our bacon sandwiches in the warm kitchen at home, before loading the car and setting off.
The rain was just starting to ease when we arrived around 10am. We lugged our rod bags and tackle boxes over the field to the river where my uncle was already waiting having arrived, as usual, at the crack of dawn. The river was up, but fishable, however, he’d yet to have any action.
To start with I set up one rod to ledger a section of lamprey – my favourite deadbait for winter pike. The bait was lobbed a mere rod-length out just upstream of our base camp where a deep channel runs close to the near bank. Experience has taught us that in winter the few pike in this stretch patrol up and down this channel.
By now the rain had stopped completely and the sun was starting to burn through the heavy cloud. It was mild and rather pleasant for a February morning, and we were certainly glad to have made the effort to get out on the banks.
I was even more glad when, not ten minutes after casting out, there were a couple of bleeps on my electronic bite indicator as something picked up the bait. As I approached the rod, the tip rattled twice again indicating something was still there. I quickly struck but the fish must have already dropped the bait as the lamprey came back with just a few teeth marks as evidence that a pike had shown interest. As the fish had clearly not felt the hooks I quickly dropped the bait back into the same spot in case it was still on the hunt for its breakfast.
And indeed it was. The bait had only been back in the water another five minutes or so when the line went slack indicating that a fish had picked it up again and swum back towards the rod. I immediately wound down and struck and this time connected with something. The pike immediately came to the surface and a sizeable bronze flash indicated a reasonable fish – not a monster, but not a small ‘jack’ either. However, as quick as it was on it was off again as it managed to shake the hooks free. I put on a fresh bait and cast out again cursing my luck as this is not a venue where you tend to get many bites, and now the fish had felt the hooks it would certainly not take again.
As expected there was no further action as morning gave way to afternoon. For a change of tact, I put up a second rod and explored upstream and down, working my way through a variety of artificial lures in some very fishy looking water. However, apart from seeing what I think were early salmon splashing their way upstream there was no activity.
Despite the wet start to the day, the afternoon was glorious – high cloud, a light breeze, and every now and then lovely, warming sunshine poking through – but in the river nothing stirred. I persisted with the lures to no avail and the baits on the bottom remained untouched.
As the sun lowered in the late afternoon, the wind dropped and the river took on a still and expectant air. With the softened light, suddenly it felt right for something to stir in the previously lifeless river. We imagined the pike in the deep channel gaining confidence with the glare of the sun gone and beginning their evening patrol.
For one last roll of the dice I changed the lure on my second rod for another lamprey section. As I didn’t have a second electronic bite indicator with me, I set a float just slightly deeper than the depth of the channel so the bait would lie on the bottom and any movement of the float would give me an immediate indication of a fish picking up the bait. I positioned this second rod just downstream of my first rod in the same deep channel.
The light was perfect, the baits positioned well and after twenty minutes the float trembled and slowly started moving away towards the middle of the river before dragging upstream and disappearing. I jumped to my feet, picked up the rod and struck – this time the hooks felt well set. After a quick and lively tussle, a lovely pike was drawn over the waiting landing net. Quickly unhooked, we admired a beautifully coloured fish in peak winter condition. At around 8 pounds it was a decent fish for this section of river and was likely the fish that had evaded capture twice in the morning. After a couple of quick snaps, she was returned to the channel and shot off strongly.
The change in light levels had clearly turned the pike onto the feed as no sooner had that fish been returned then my uncle’s bite indicator started bleeping and he was into a fish on a rod that had been untouched all day. However, after striking and playing the fish for a few moments it rolled on the surface and threw the hooks.
That was it for the day, but as we packed up we commented on what a great day it had been. We’d enjoyed some lovely weather at one of our favourite spots and a wonderful fish had graced our nets. It’s not about huge fish or massive numbers, being there is enough and any catch is a bonus.