I spent the summer of 1983 trying to learn to fish…properly, mainly on my own and mainly for chub, my apprenticeship for gudgeon had passed. There was a favourite deep run on the Sussex Ouse just a few hundred yards from the Ardingly road which I named chub corner and this was where most of my success came from. I spent a lot of time there with my Walkman listening to one song in particular on a loop just like teenagers do! Afterwards I would lie on the river bank and take in the summer sun, even then I knew these were cherished times.
On my return to school that september one of my science classes was shared with a guy called Mark who always brought a copy of Anglers Mail in on a Wednesday and due to the old style science lab benches (the ones with the gas taps that you could simply switch on at anytime and gas out the whole class) we could secretly read each copy on our laps, undetected by our teacher.
At that time Anglers Mail were running a series of extracts from Pete Mohans’ ‘Cypry the Carp’. We were transfixed each week as the story unfolded of Andy and Cypry the Carp but what also captured my attention was the ‘make your own tackle’ features that were so popular back in those days and in september pike tackle came into the spotlight. Spoons made from, well… spoons! Toby style bars made from spoon and fork handles and slider floats made from broom handles carefully carved out. Pike fishing seemed another world away and new precautions needed to be taken in the pursuit, wire traces, pike gags and forceps all needed consideration.
With talk of pike in the back of the science lab, my friend Mark told me tales of large pike caught in the Horstead Keynes lakes and he had witnessed a few captures as he lived right next to one of the lakes with his mother and brother in a small cottage. Horstead Keynes was only about four miles away but these lakes sounded out-of-bounds to me, still my fascination with large pike was growing.
At that time I was a member of Haywards Heath and District Angling Society and another story was relayed to me about more monster pike encounters and this time it was on a water I could fish in Slaugham, a HHDAS water. A large pike was hooked by two lads fishing dead baits, it had them all over the lake and finally it shot under the platform where the two young intrepid piscators were standing. Hesitantly one of them hand-lined the pike from under the platform not realising how close his hand was to the wire trace until the shock of seeing such a large toothed mouth caused the pike to be dropped, resulting in the line parting. A return visit had to be organised and this time I was going to be properly prepared.
It was a saturday morning, crisp and bright, I had already purchased a PDQ wire snap tackle trace, bound multi-stranded wire with red cotton whipping over the twisted knots. The trace carefully coiled in a tracing paper bag, I could only afford one trace so it had to last. Also I had purchased a Vortex sliding pike float (carving a broom handle was a lot harder than made out in the Anglers Mail article) along with various swivels beads and swan shot. The rod was my trusty old Marco fibreglass carp rod with extra whipping over the joint where a split had started to show, the reel was a Mitchell 300s.
Standing outside the fishmongers by the roundabout in Haywards Heath I purchased a few joeys and some sprats which were a cheaper option. I was now a hunter using fish to catch bigger fish, maggots were for boys…I set off in trepidation!
The journey to Slaugham lake was a good forty minutes bike ride so I set off, now prepared like ‘proper’ fishermen do, off to do battle with rod and landing net tied to the crossbar and a faint whiff of sea fish following behind. On arrival the lake was calm, the trees bare and the air cold. My choice of swim was one of the platforms that protruded from the large reed bed that surrounded a good forty percent of the whole lake, the rest of the lake was un-fishable as the banks were covered in fallen trees that even the most cunning of stalkers could not penetrate. Once on the wooden platform I tackled up, carefully tying on my wire trace and setting the sliding float so that it ‘cocked’ nicely in the flat calm water. I couldn’t remember from my Observer Book of Coarse Fishing whether the dead bait was to settle on the bottom or dangle in the mid-water? A few adjustments over the morning covered both options but the float never moved. By the afternoon I had covered a large corner of the lake and then remembered the illustrations in one of my books back home of a pike snapping at roach near some reeds, so I cast as close as I would dare, fearing that I could loose the wire trace and that would then be curtains for the day.
After only moments the float bobbed, then slowly towed away, just a foot or two but then stopped. Mixed emotions of excitement, fear and disappointment all came at once but I reeled in, kept calm and replaced the now tired looking joey with a fresh tail and re-cast. Again the float carried off and this time I struck, instantly there was a swirl that broke the stillness of the day and I was in a true tussle, like nothing I had experienced before. After a short while the pike was under control and I netted a pike of around six pounds. My next thought was how to un-hook the pike, I had forceps and a ‘humane’ gag but this was an operation all new to me. So straddling the fish I managed to get the gag in place and thankfully with shaking hands, managed to get the trebles out. I leant down and returned the pike using the landing net, I then stood up on the platform and thought, that was a ‘proper’ fish, was I a proper fisherman? Well time would tell but I certainly cycled home feeling a foot taller!