After my last Twitter storm I hesitate to write anything about pike, but Bill Heavey’s article Spear and Trembling: The Ancient Art of Stabbing Pike Through the Ice in the latest edition of US outdoors magazine Field & Stream makes for fascinating reading. The piece is far too long to reproduce here but you may read it on-line but I’ll give you the brief bones of it.
First, find a frozen lake in Minnesota, USA cutting a hole 3 foot by 2 foot through the 27 inches of ice. Build a tent/igloo over the hole then settle down for hours (it turns into days) peering into the clear water below. In one hand you have a pike spear and in the other a fish decoy which you jiggle on a line. Then you wait until a pike cruises beneath you …. well, you can guess the rest.
It is a great article that speaks on many levels: the hunter rather than fisher, a transatlantic cultural divide and a moral conundrum. Heavey makes the point that this is not fishing but hunting. As fishermen we lob out our fly or bait in the hope that the fish will connect with us. Spear fishing is something altogether different; we are lying in wait ready to connect with the unwitting fish. It is more primeval and harks back to times long ago when the Native American Indians predominately used this method for gathering fish. The writer clearly gets his blood up and he admits as much. On a lesser level I can relate: on the few occasions I have tried noosing pike and grayling it really gets into your head as something different to fishing.
The cultural thing is more nuanced, but I notice it every time I travel to rural America. Whether we like it or not Americans are far more connected to nature. Hunting, a term that is used to cover every form of lethal pursuit of birds, fish or animals, remains largely a blue-collar pastime which is an ingrained part of everyday life. You really do see deer carcasses draped across pick-up bonnets and shotguns racked in rear windows. I distinctly recall a young, blonde fishing guide telling me she felt stiff and sore as we set out in the drift boat one morning. When asked why, she replied, as if it was the most natural thing in the world that she’d been out most of the night with her husband hunting elk. With a bow and arrow too.
I know pike lovers will be appalled at the slaying of the fish and some others might be discomfited by the manner of the killing, but as Bill Heavey makes clear the fish are for eating. So here’s a moral question: is it better to kill a fish for food or catch and release it for sport?
MY OTTER FRIEND IS BACK
The winter dance of death continues for my trout in the lake here at Nether Wallop Mill. As you know when we shut up shop for the fishing school at the end of October there are usually seventy to a hundred trout left – mostly rainbows, a few blues plus some wild browns that find their way in from the Wallop Brook.
Whether these fish are lucky to have survived a season, or simply incredibly smart I have no way of telling but if they make it past the finishing line they will have lived a cosseted life, fed daily with fish pellets the only real dangers cormorants, herons, mink and otters. Fortunately we don’t seem to be troubled by cormorants; very occasionally I’ll see one flying high across the sky, the distinctive silhouette that looks like a bird flying back to front is impossible to mistake. Only once, this autumn in fact, has one ever taken a fish.
The cormorant along with his smaller, white egret buddy, patrol the margins every day. The truth is the stocked fish are far too big for either of them. Sometimes greed will get the better of them, but generally the worst outcome for the trout will be a nasty stab wound. The small, wild trout are definitely possible victims but they are too wily, keeping to the deeper water where the cormorant can’t wade – growing up in a small brook will teach you that.
Mink? Well, I wonder if their days are numbered – it has been so long since I last saw one. They have been driven out by that bigger piscivore, the otter. It seems that the resurgence of the native Lutra lutra, who out-competes non-native
Mustela lutreola on every level – bigger, faster, stronger – is gradually putting his smaller cousin out of business.
So, when it comes to raiding my trout larder otters are the kings of the hill but against my expectations (I predicted trout Armageddon by February when writing in December) their presence so far this winter has been muted. Last week we had two days of heavy frost, the perfect conditions for otter spotting. Day one nothing. Day two the evidence was there but I couldn’t tell whether it was one otter or two. I suspect just the one, a few scales and fish eggs the evidence of a single kill.
For now it looks like the trout are holding their own; Mr. (or Mrs.) Otter must be ranging further and farther in search of food. My suspicion is that the year we experienced total wipe out by Christmas was when a family took up residence, so perhaps this time some trout will make it to opening day.
In truth I don’t mind one way or another. As someone once said otters are rare, fish are common.
Here are a few bi-weekly puzzlers to confuse, confound or illuminate. It’s just for fun and answers are at the bottom of the page.
1) What is Bear Grylls proper name?
2) What are the surnames of TV presenters Ant & Dec?
3) What is pescatarianism?
I’d suggest that fishing gifts are not the best way to celebrate Valentine’s Day. However much the latest Abel reel might be close to your heart, it is unlikely to twitch a romantic nerve in your partner. If it does, well you have lucked out!
However, Valentine’s Day is an important day in the chalkstream calendar; as the old river keeper saying goes, the only winter rain that matters is rain that falls before this day. With the next Newsletter scheduled for around 14th February I will bring up up-to-date with the latest water reports but as you might imagine it is looking good.
PS On the off chance you are going to risk a fishing gift I’d highly recommend the new Sage CLICK which I’ll be giving away to our 2017 Feedback winner.
Simon Cooper is the founder and managing director of Fishing Breaks the leading agent for chalkstream fishing in England. He has over 120 miles of river under his control, across eight counties and twenty rivers. Fishing is mostly let by the day and if you want advice on which to choose Simon regularly fishes every beat under his care, living by the company motto time is precious. use it fishing. It is not a bad job!
Founder & Managing Director
Quiz answers: 1) Edward Michael Grylls 2) Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly 3) The practice of following a diet that includes fish or other seafood, but not the flesh of other animals.