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Pike and other rogues

The Damp Angler encounters dark forces around his favourite evening haunt


Favourite pool: Where a big pike now rules
Favourite pool: Where a big pike now rules

The rivers are raging torrents, giant spiders are invading the house and conkers are falling on the car. This can only mean one thing – autumn and the end of the trout season are nearly upon us.
With the weather distinctly wet and chilly, there have been few insects on the wing and it has been left to a Sawyers-style nymph, tied on a size 16 hook to rescue the situation. As successful as it has been though, I am reluctant to recommend it to anyone because every pattern has its day and whether it will work in another place at another time is anyone’s guess. What is certain is that Sawyers Pheasant Tail nymphs tied on size 14 hooks have never caught for me, but going down to a size 16 and using 8/0 rusty brown tying thread instead of copper wire has changed the game. I suspect the fish are taking it for an Iron Blue, but who knows really? Because the fly isn't weighted, I have been using a sinking polyleader to get the nymph down in the water. Cast across and allowed to come around in the current before a very slow retrieve, it has been taking grayling and trout on both the Tees and Swale when nothing else would. No doubt it will stop working sooner or later – probably when I have tied so many they become too neat, which is a possible explanation for why the Greenwell's Glory, Griffith's Gnat and March Brown have had such a poor season. In previous years, I would have bet the house on those three dries, but I suspect that I have tied too many of them. Nowadays, they look perfect, but don't catch any fish. And having lost faith in those flies, I no longer tie them on the cast, which significantly reduces the chances of them recovering their reputations any time soon.

But there is one pool on the Tees, probably my favourite spot on the river, where even the little nymph has been drawing a blank. In years past, you could guarantee there would be fish in the pool - so much so that it has become a tradition for me to start the season there because catching is more or less assured. Not anymore. Walking past the spot recently, I paused as usual to watch the sunset and wait for a rising fish, but the pool was as still as a village pond at midnight. Just then, as I was turning to leave, an enormous fish raced out from beneath an overhanging bush; there was a terrific commotion and then silence as the water calmed. Pike.

It was suddenly clear why my favourite fishing spot had become a graveyard. If I could catch the pike and move him downriver, then perhaps the grayling and trout would return. I realise this plan is not without its flaws. Pike are territorial creatures and, more importantly, cannibals - it is often only the big specimens keeping the population under control. Take them out of the equation and there could be an explosion in jack pike numbers. The river could go completely Libyan. But then, the situation couldn't really get much worse...so why not shuffle the deck and see what happens?

However, the pike had chosen his lair well. Beneath the bush was a knot of roots and after losing four lures one after another (at £2.99 a pop!) and catching only one gnarled old chub, I gave up.

Two nights later, my car was broken into (I'm almost sure the pike had nothing to do with it). Standing in the middle of the river, I heard the “thump!” of the rear window being put in but did not recognise the sound. Back at the car park an ugly scene was waiting, with broken glass strewn everywhere. My brushed felt Ecuadorian fedora, spinning rod and lures, chest waders and training shoes were gone. So was a cordura rod tube bearing the Hardy logo, which is probably what caught the thieves’ attention in the first place.

If only I could have been there to see the crooks back at their hideout, laying out their haul on an ash-strewn coffee table. Slowly unzipping the rod tube, their leader – looking ridiculous in my fedora – smiles to his gang and then, with a showman’s flourish, throws the lid open…

… and the tube is as empty as my favourite fishing pool…

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