PIKE ARE JUST A RYAT
Prior to visiting a local reservoir to fish for pike last Saturday morning, I subconsciously kick myself for arranging to meet my buddy Tommy at our usual tackle dealer.
On more than one occasion, I have, in the past, played the role of a stressed out parent who has to physically drag their screaming child out of this toy shop. This visit is not as elongated, and after a few minutes of cajoling, Tommy is happy to be extradited while its still Saturday. Not before, however, he has spent a pretty penny on numerous eye-catching bits and bobs. Apart from buying these people catching items of tackle, which, knowing Tommy, will only be used once should his day not go according to plan, he has spent the past week reading all he can on how to catch pike penned by various angling romantics.
Rather than spending an hour or so catching fresh minnows from the local burn, Tommy has taken the literary route and bought whole herring and mackerel from the fishmongers.
Although we get caught up in some football traffic, it takes only twenty minutes to arrive at the picturesque Ryat Linn reservoir about eight miles south west of Glasgow.
(Living in Glasgow has many angling positives. Not least is the fact that within a thirty- mile radius of the city, you can access hundreds of rivers, lochs and reservoirs: you can even fish for salmon and sea trout in the city centre). For most of its life, the Ryat (pronounced Rye-at) and its four near relatives, held only four types of fish with brown trout being the predominant species. However, in the last decade, some enterprising anglers have seen their potential and introduced pike. While I cannot condone this action, it does, nonetheless, give anglers another option. (Incidentally Linn means waterfall).
As usual, I set up two rods. The first is an old fashioned twelve-foot Daiwa carbon float rod. This soft action rod is fitted out with a tiny spinning reel filled with four-pound nylon. This will be my bait catching equipment, and I rig it out with a tiny sliding float that suspends a size 16 hook smothered with maggots.
I am religiously committed to using natural baits. As pike predate on the most numerous species in their location, its a good idea to present them with their usual fair. As perch, minnow and three spinned sticklebacks are on the menu, thats the bait Ill use on light float tackle.
My second outfit consists of a robust Shakespeare Quartzlite nine-foot carbon spinning rod fitted with an Ardent GLX reel plastered with 300 yards of 12lb nylon.
Unlike many dyed-in-the-wool pike anglers, I refuse to employ treble hooks when fishing for pike as it is completely unnecessary. For many years I have successfully used a single 3/0 Aberdeen Hook. This hook has a long slender shank with a needle sharp point and is a perfect instrument for attaching small live baits. [The Aberdeen style of hook, was originally used by Scottish East Coast long-line fishermen.]
Although, in some respects, these hooks might look over sized, their gape is narrow and theyre useful for catching even small-mouthed fishes such as flounders.
Over the years, many pike anglers have scoffed at my personal pike tactics. However, when I point out that their tactics of ledgering large dead baits festooned with treble hooks, are, in fact, damaging the very fish that they supposedly love, they tend to question theyre own logic.
The perch are playing hard to get, and even after several handfuls of drowned maggots as enticements, they fail to put in an appearance.
During this first hour, Tommy has wandered off and is close to lapping this fourteen-acre reservoir. After re-positioning the maggot bait within a couple of feet of the bank, I gleefully liberate a male stickleback from the water just as Tommy comes within earshot.
Tommy had taken a sabbatical with the camera in the vain hope of getting a snap shot of the Great Crested Grebe, who, along with its mate, and downy chick, have been slaughtering the perch fry on the far side of the Ryat. As grebes are never happier when theyre not being watched, it was only an outside chance that they would allow even a well dressed angler, and part time birdwatcher, like our Tommy, to take a few family photographs.
On catching two more sticklebacks its now show time. After gingerly lip hooking all three sticklebacks, I gently side cast them about thirty feet from the bank just beyond the reed line.
After making a verbal pact to take turns in catching live bait, Tommy begins to set up his gear. Obviously, to me at least, the euphemism that pike are freshwater sharks has made more than a passing impression on Tommy. [If this was a Steven Spielberg movie, involving a plot of "lets catch an enormous toothy fish", then Tommys terminal tackle would be a compliment to the wardrobe department. As it is, I am thankful that no one else is in the vicinity, as this outfit is cringe factor material.] "What are you laughing at?" he asks. In between giggles, I remind him of his recent slip disc, and tell him not to dislocate a shoulder when casting this one-pound mackerel bait. "Youre laughing now", he insists "but Ill bet the pike are more interested in my oily mackerel than your tiny sticklebacks". Belatedly, I advise him to throw out knives and forks along with this feast, as the Ryat pike will appreciate this gesture.
Perhaps the bright sunshine and the brief but thunderous hail showers are putting the fish off their grub, as the whole morning turns out to be pike-less.
We decide to reposition ourselves in the vacant lot left by the grebe family. Within minutes, both of us have hooked, landed and released two jack pike of about three pounds each: they could have been twins.
(As I am under orders from Teddy Bear, my ten-year-old tomcat, to bring home a few decent sized pike for next weeks breakfasts, lunches, dinners - we jointly forecast that we can come up with the feline goods).
Tommy has taken to using sticklebacks, as even he was embarrassed at the antics of a jack pike trying to keep a grip of a whole mackerel. After releasing half a dozen small jacks, this productive niche is temporarily negated by a large family of Mute Swans, who take an inquisitive look at ever cast. While the few-day-old signets eagerly scoff the remnants of our meagre lunch, their parents are not as friendly, and every handheld offer of free wholemeal biscuits, is suspiciously greeted with aggressive posturing and loud hisses: its no wonder that people used to eat them. These pretty but easily agitated birds are difficult to be rid of, and, unfortunately, it takes the bursting of an inflated paper bag to move them safely on.
After fishing with bait for nearly six hours, we put away the heavy tackle and set up our fly rods mainly due to amount of small jacks in the immediate area. Using fly rods for pike fishing is serious fun, and a big fish on this light tackle is a stern test for even the smartest angler.
Employing the same ten foot Rimfly carbon fly rod and Rimfly Concept fly reel that I use for ever kind of fishing that you can imagine, I cast the biggest and most garish lure that Tommy has allowed me to borrow from his fly box. After several unproductive casts using a dry line, I attach a nine-foot sinking tip. My usual slow two inch draws make no appeal to the pike, but perch fry, not much bigger than the lure, are infatuated by it and follow, en masse, right up to my waders. The perch fry are so besotted by this lure that they hang around my feet even after Ive removed it to re-cast. A gently shuffle of my feet scares a few, while others mouth food particles from the muddy cloud. For a moment I almost feel like a mother Moor Hen, as these babies benefit directly from my small labours.
A marked increase in the length and speed of my retrieves entices one of the smallest pike that Ive ever seen, let alone caught. This four-inch specimen is, obviously, this years model. While the head and fins are fully formed, the chassis has a temporary look to it as you can see all of its internal organs functioning rather like those engineering exhibits encased in glass that you can find in our Museum of Transport. I quickly return this biological teaching aid to its home and make a mental note of this small wonder of nature.
A loud "Yes" rattles my left eardrum - as Tommys reel screams like a banshee. Two surface foaming crashes are followed by another sprint and Tommy yelling "Ya beauty". I walk backwards out of the water and leave the remaining perch fry to fend for them selves.
On reaching Tommy, I enquire how big he thinks this adversary. A shake of his head informs me that he has no idea, but he says, it hit the lure like an express train and its initial run was truly tremendous.
Its show of speed is now over taken by its persistence to dive as deep as it can. I propose that if this is not a pike it could be a big brown trout, as, in the past, this reservoir has produced fish of seven and eight pounds. Getting a short feel of the fishs actions, I quickly re-think my proposal, as its gives off all the hallmarks of biggish pike that is non-too-pleased about being hooked. Although its moves are now sluggish, it still gives the impression that it can rapidly take off again. The position of Tommys sinking leader is a fair indication that this fish is not far away from the bank, but weve yet to get even a glimpse of it. All attempts to draw it too the surface, are met with violent jerks on the rod and long bursts of singing nylon. We both reckon that it can, perhaps, be tricked into leaving its deep station by easing off the pressure. A reduction in tension pays off, and the fish starts to slowly meander its way along the near banking.
On reaching the backing knot, were both now impatient to see this fish. Another increase in tension is greeted by a ten-yard sprint, which comes to a spectacular conclusion as a female pike angrily erupts on the surface. Languishing momentarily on the surface, and showing off her yellowish white flank, she unwittingly advertises her tiredness.
Before she can awake and dive again, Tommy runs along the bank while quickly gathering in the fly line. With the dual action of keeping her head on the surface, and taking several brisk backward steps, he manages to surf her into my waiting net.
Not having a scale, we both take turns at guessing her weight and settle for twelve or fourteen pounds. Her overall condition is pretty good apart from a few superficial scars that slightly impair her photogenic qualities. On deciding to keep this fish for the table, its demise calls for several hard cracks to the back of the neck. In my estimation, pike are only the third hardest fish to kill after eels and flatfish.
The last hour of our stay is brought to halt by Tommys mobile highlighting the head bailiffs phone number. As we are both Scottish Ministers Appointed Water Bailiffs for the River Clyde System, we are, especially at weekends, on call to help out other bailiffs with any poaching problems within this system.
Before rushing off, we steal a few minutes and overlap each other by casting our way back to the car so ends our Ryatous day.
© Roddy Finnie 2001