As I sit here looking upon the river that I started on all those winters ago, I think back to the days where every fish I caught was massive. My first memories of fishing will always be pike fishing and going with my mum to take pictures of my dad with a huge pike he had just caught. I would have only been 3 or 4 but it always stayed with me seeing that monster with teeth cradled in my dad’s arms. I wish I knew where those photos were now as I would have loved to know how big they really were.
By the age of 5, I was bugging my dad every weekend to go fishing. Rain or shine, snow or hail, it didn’t matter to me I just wanted to be outside next to the water. I still remember what he used to say to me “when you can swim, then I’ll take you” so I learnt to swim pretty sharpish. It felt like a lifetime, but I had learnt to swim confidently within a summer, so I was ready to go that next winter.
The first frost came, and dad looked at me said “c’mon let’s go, you can catch me some live baits”, so we went to the Great Ouse at the Lark Outfall. I had caught my dad some live baits and I was fairly chuffed with myself and then one of the ‘big’ rods went off with a scream from one of dad’s Optonics. It was a pike! Not the biggest, but I still remember it like it was yesterday. It was a tiny jack on a little live bait that I had caught. I was so impressed with myself. Dad netted it for me and I looked into the bottom of the gapping net. Needless to say, I was terrified when it was on the bank, but dad calmed me down and showed me how to handle and unhook a pike using forceps and sliding my hand under the gill. That was our only run of the day, but I can safely say, I WAS HOOKED!
About 8 or 9 winters had passed since my first pike and I had only gone a few more times with dad. I learned the hard way what a family break up could do and fishing was a casualty. From a young age I had to grow up quickly, helping mum through depression, being a big brother and trying to get through school. I was a bit of a troublemaker at school, I didn’t like the place and sadly I bunked off quite a bit and never really got much out of school life.
A lot of the time, when I was supposed to be at school was spent walking around Roswell Pits in Ely and going for long walks talking to fisherman on the banks of the Great Ouse. I never really found my place in fishing at this point but I was always attracted to the water and was fascinated with fish. It wasn’t until I was 16 and had left school and went to college that I found my feet and worked my arse off to get some of the grades that I needed. This also coincided with being given a fishing rod.
That fishing rod was my world. As I never had much, I looked after it and I still have it now. Looking at it these days I don’t know what I was thinking, as it’s a 10ft telescopic rod, but that rod kept me out of getting in trouble with the police and kept me well away from people who were no good for me. I started teaching myself how to fish again and I used to read book after book on how to tie rigs for different species and how to read the water.
Then I came across a picture of a 25lb+ pike from the fens, and all those memories with my dad came rushing back. I was ready for pike and my imagination ran riot. In fact, I could not stop thinking, dreaming and talking about pike! From the age of 16 up to 19 I went every moment I could during the winter, trying to catch my chosen species. I caught plenty of pike to 18lb 6oz, but never really considered targeting anything over 20lb at this point. I was just enjoying my fishing and getting on with life. In my late teens I joined the R.A.F but had to come out within a year due to injury and this left me with a huge gaping hole in my life as that was all I wanted to do. After that I became very depressed and not in a fit state to do anything; I became very solitary and was in and out of jobs. Fishing once again had to take the back seat!
Change of luck
I was 21 now, and supposedly the age where the world was my oyster and all that crap. I had been to the very bottom and scraped it for too long. There must have been a turning point, but I cannot remember it. The one thing I can remember though is being invited on June the 16th to go fishing with a couple of my friends. I accepted and went out and bought myself 2 pike rods and 2 reels, I wanted to look ‘good’, as I was still using my telescopic thing on the quiet.
I got there nice and early to set up, as we were fishing the sewer outlet, I knew it was going to be good sport for pike and perch in the early morning. As I arrived there was a young lad in my chosen swim, but I wasn’t bothered as I was wondering if he was meeting my mates there as well. I got talking to him and yes, he was also meeting them. His name was Steve, and I didn’t realise it then but this lad was going to be like a brother to me. The day went on and we all had a laugh and caught a few fish. Thinking back, something must have clicked that day because the day after I went to have a look at a lake. Once again, that lad called Steve was there fishing for carp. We got chatting and I ended up staying the whole day just talking about fishing and getting to know each other. We swapped numbers and I went home. A few days later I got a text from Steve to see if I wanted to go fishing again, so I agreed. This happened quite a bit and we became good friends over that summer and carried on fishing together.
I had turned a corner and my life was looking good again with a sprinkle of fishing to go on top. Maybe fishing was my calling all along, but I have never looked back and have always carried on fishing until this very day and hopefully for many years to come.
The first winter Steve and I went out together, we only had information that we had read in books; about the places to target and we were only after big pike. We were fishing 3 to 4 times a week and every day on a different venue (which I now know was a mistake). We probably fished every drain and river in the Fens that winter with nothing really to show for it, but there was a small gravel pit close to me that I had heard had done a colossal fish of 28lb. I told Steve and we both had intentions of fishing it but never did get around to it that winter. We carried on fishing that year, all the way through spring and summer, going for all kinds of species and my life was thankfully getting better. It was a complete turn around and I have a lot to thank Steve for, he was a true friend and a brother.
October the 1st came around once again and what I can remember of it, it was raining cats and dogs. It was torrential, but I was chomping at the bit to get out. It was the year Mark Barrett and Denis Moules had just released Fenland Pike and I had bought it and read it within a week of it being released.
I had my sights set on a few venues and I wanted a 20. I tried The Lark and had nothing of any size. Then I tried The Little Ouse with no success and I consequently tried The Great Ouse with no reward. I had fished hard and it was coming up to my birthday and I was going to be 23 on the 10th of February and I had nothing of note for that season, then I remembered the small gravel pit that I had heard about the previous season, so my plan was to fish it on my birthday and try and get that monster pike which surely still lurked in there.
The morning of my birthday came, and all my stuff was in the car ready and I was on the bank of the lake by 7AM, all set up. I had put a massive herring out on one rod and a bluey out on the second. I waited for hours without a sniff and noticed that 2 other pike anglers had turned up and set up about 100yrds away from me. Lunchtime came and went, 15:00 sounded on my watch as I saw the float with the big herring sink away, I struck, and one hell of a fight pursued. The pike stayed deep and fought hard, until a monster popped his head out and my knees went like jelly when a long, gigantic pike had been netted with help from one of the other anglers down the bank. I left the pike in the net and made sure everything was ready for photos and weighing. I was 23 years old that day and the pike weighed 23lb and 7oz!
I was ecstatic and I chucked the scales down with a bang. The scales exploded, but I didn’t care at that point, though this mishap would come back to haunt me. I was so happy, I phoned everyone to tell them that I had my first 20, but it was empty. I found out, at a later date, it was the biggest in the lake, down in weight for some reason that season.
I carried on fishing and this time my second rod with bluey sank away. I struck and another large pike ended up in my net. I had no scales, as I had broken them, so I asked one of the anglers down the bank if I could borrow his. He agreed and I was passed pair of digital scales, I had never used digital scales before, but they were easy to use and I zeroed them to my weigh sling and continued as always to weigh the fish. It weighed 20lb and 8oz, I couldn’t believe my luck, 2 different 20lb pike in one day on my birthday; I was in awe. I had the pictures taken and after that I packed up and went to see Steve, to tell him all about it.
The next day Steve and I went down to the same lake to fish for pike. There were 2 guys there who had heard that I had caught a couple of 20lber’s from the lake and wanted to have some success themselves. We turned up a bit later than usual and as we walked past them one of them was fighting a fish. Naturally, we stayed around to look at the pike and to my pleasure that it was still feeding after being caught the day before, it was the second of 20lb pike. The fishermen weighed it and I was surprised that it weighed less than what I had weighed it on those digital scales the day before but it was down by 4lbs. That was a lot of weight to loose in a day, so I started to question myself. I found out from doing my research that digital scales can be off by quite some bit if the batteries are running low. Therefore I will never class that pike as my second 20 but I’ll let you decide if it looks 20 or not. What an amazing days fishing and one I’ll never forget.
Then until now
From that season until today fishing has become my life, my world has changed completely since those days and I now have 16 x 20lb+ pike to my credit, with a personal best of 25lb 10oz. I enjoy every part of angling and what comes with it; I have landed a job in the trade with ‘Willow Grange Tackle and Bait’ and I’m also the youngest Regional Officer in the country for The Pike Anglers Club (Cambridge Region). As I said before my life has changed and pike fishing, I believe is what turned me around.
Nowadays, I am always finding new targets in all aspects of my fishing and at present I am chasing my dream of a Fenland 30 pike. Hopefully, one day you might see a picture of me proudly holding one.