Time to strike for a record pike
Country Sights and Sounds
James leaned forward across the table, his ample fist wrapped around the jam jar that served as a wine glass. “Lookie here,” he said with an air of finality, “there’s not a trout stirring in this cold, the rivers are far too low for salmon, and you might as well cast into the bathtub as into the sea, for the boats have the ocean scoured. There’s only one hope for a right fish of any sort, and that’s to go for a pike. The females are fat and heavy with spawn and the Jacks will bite at anything.”
He was right, of course. The first few days of April can provide the very best pike fishing of the year. This is their season for breeding and given the mild winter they will have been feeding right the way through, so will be in top condition.
All large pike are female; the males rarely exceed five or six pounds in weight, but the fairer sex can top 20 or 30, and sometimes much more. The current Irish record pike weighed a hefty 42 pounds and a bit.
That there are larger fish out there is almost certain. Back in 1920, Lough Conn gave a lucky angler a pike of 53 pounds, a leviathan indeed. Yet even that mighty fish could have been swallowed by two others, both from the 19th century, that have since been lost in antiquity. The larger of these was reputed to weigh 92 pounds. That one came from Lough Derg. The second, a fish from the Shannon River, was lighter only by the weight of a pike-snack of rudd or perch, a mere two pounds being the difference.
It is impossible to know whether either of these giants was authentic. I think that probably they were, or nearly so at least, and that many other record and near-record fish have come and gone without being reported. Just this week I heard of a salmon of 32 pounds taken from a tributary of the Moy, not this year nor last, admittedly, but the account of its capture was related with such enthusiasm I cannot doubt the veracity of the tale. If big salmon are able to come and go without fanfare or applause, why could big pike not remain anonymous in similar fashion?
‘The Field’ of 1898 recorded a little known pike of 52 pounds from Lough Macnean, Fermanagh, and in 1901 reported another of near 54 pounds from Lough Sheelan (probably Sheelin) that was taken by means other than those considered legitimate. I myself hooked, in the space of a few days, a brace of pike each closer to 30 pounds than 20, both of which managed to effect their escape only moments before being landed. No doubt they still swim in that same sheltered corner of the Mask where they slaughter trout for a living.
As we said, it is the female fish prior to spawning that gives the best opportunity of a record breaker. How, then, might we find her? It really is not difficult, for pike spawn in shallow water at the edge of lakes or in quiet backwaters off the main flow of most rivers. Perhaps the best way of locating them is to fish a large plug bait in these areas. This might not be taken by the female, but it will almost certainly be attacked by one of the two or three males in attendance. With their minds on forthcoming events, these will be more aggressive than hungry and ready to drive off any rival suitors.
Find the male and the female is surely close by, likely feeling peckish and ready to fall to a fillet of mackerel, if it is jiggled slowly past her nose.
Stealth is needed, and the patience of the practised angler. And those who are used to catching their pike in deeper water in summer and autumn are in for a surprise. Hooking into even ten pounds of fish in a reed-filled, foot-deep stream might be likened to hooking an electrified pig. The fight is more aerial than anything and more (and bigger) fish will be lost than will be brought to the bank.
This raises a question of ethics. Is it right to take any species of fish while they are breeding? Some, the salmon and trout men, mostly, throw their hands up in abhorrence; ‘No, no, no,’ they say. Still, there is no closed season for pike here, which is just as well, for there is a record to be broken. We have two weeks to do it.