Old Man River Spends a cold day blanking

This is the swim where last September I had had a huge pike lunge at a 6 lbs barbel when it was just about in my landing net. I had high hopes for this spot.

It is Wednesday 19th January, and for a week or two now I have been contemplating a visit to the river Wharfe. The Wharfe is famous for its large predators, and for me it has been too long since I had a battle of wits with a pike. On the Wharfe I have seen them and startled when they have attacked barbel in my landing net.

However, I have a soft spot for these apex predators and they are generally in my own opinion rather dim, or maybe super intelligent I am not sure which. They are willing to sit right in front of you in a couple of feet of water and snatch at any small silver fish you are winding in even to the extent that when poked with a landing net pole they just move a foot or two, scowl at you and resume their patient wait for a free meal.

They will happily engulf a saltwater fish and maybe in preference to a freshwater fish. They will attempt to grab and eat a fish the same size as they and sometimes even bigger than themselves. Lastly and despite their obvious strength, they are actually a rather delicate fish and need careful handling. I do like these toothy individuals.

So last night I prepared the tackles for an early start, the forecast was to be a fine and sunny day with the river running ‘off’ after some pretty hefty flooding. I will say now that I always choose my tackles, the rod, reel, etc. to match my quarry, and conditions. Last night was no different.

I Selected a good powerful rod for I knew that pike topping 30 lbs are present on this particular stretch I intended to fish. I chose an aged but powerful rod of the “black stuff” persuasion, married to a Baitrunner reel. Not traditional I know, but I really did not want to play any pike I may hook until it was gasping its last breath on a lovely piece if cane, fearful of a terminal set or even worse a heart rending splintering of the old and cherished friend. 

Coupled with the rod and reel, I had a good sized modern mesh landing net on a telescopic fibreglass pole, hopefully the combinations would be suitable, it had tamed a few 20’s in the past, and I had every confidence. I was only to use the one rod as I intended to roam the stretch of river and wanted to travel as light as possible. 

Baits were a selection of frozen saltwater species, smelt, mackerel, and sardines. Everything was prepared for the morrow.

The alarm rudely awakened me at 06:25 am. I fumbled into my clothes and after a quick breakfast prepared my flask and I was away. My plan was to have about 4 to 5 hours riverside ‘taster’ with the view of a longer session maybe the following week.

Traffic was horrendous and for the moment the forecast of course was completely opposite to the one offered. Rain pelted down but eventually I managed to leave the motorway and suddenly enter a much more peaceful world; the rain had stopped and the sun was attempting to peep between the clouds.

Making my way along the potholed track I passed the fields and parked in the space that the farmer had provided for anglers. Quickly donning my salopettes and jacket I collected together my gear and walked to the river. 

It was apparent that there had been some heavy flooding as the fields some 12 feet or more above the river were covered in flood debris, branches, the odd plastic feed sack and even a lonely traffic cone. The riverside footpath was covered in a mat of broken branches.

Down at the waters edge the bankside trees had taken a good beating the lack of their summer leaves had not helped them at all and in places it looked more like the Somme than the Wharfe. Plastic sheeting had found its way along the river and entwined itself around the trees like a snake strangling its prey.

Unperturbed I opted for a float-ledger set up which I would fish about a foot over depth in a slack area fronted by some dead wood. I had seen pike patrolling here before and had high hopes. It was not the prettiest of swims and in truth probably needed a bit of work doing – but that was for the future.

When settled I watched a red kite circling overhead begging to be the subject of a quick photograph, alas I was not quick enough and away it went over the trees on the opposite bank.

I sat drinking coffee, occasionally throwing in a few bits of chopped mackerel as an ‘enticer’ but nothing happened and the float remained stubbornly static. When roving for pike I never fish a swim for more than an hour and the hour had passed quickly. I wound in but before moving I tried a different area of the swim, still nothing. Soon it was time to up sticks and move on, I knew the bankside here and where the feature swims where located that I wanted to fish; I soon came to swim 2.

This is the swim where last September I had had a huge pike lunge at a 6 lbs barbel when it was just about in my landing net. I had high hopes for this spot. There was another angler downstream but I would not disturb him, in fact I doubt he knew I was there at all.

This second spot was a carbon copy of the first, a few offerings were thrown in, I sat drinking coffee and eating my first breakfast roll, all too soon it was time to up sticks and try a third swim.

I ambled back down the bank, passing the time of day with a couple of anglers who were hoping to tempt a chub using a maggot feeder. I wished them luck and continued along my way. Every so often pausing to have a look at a likely spot, soon I found a third swim that looked promising. A slack between a couple of trees that had bushed out into the river. I baited up with a fresh Joey Mackerel and plopped it in just at the edge it was deeper here over 8 feet in depth. So I would have to watch my step on the sloping bank, any false move and I would be in trouble.

This was becoming predictable, pre bait, cast in, coffee, wait, coffee, sandwich, etc.

Still no sign of a fish anywhere. I had not seen any silverfish topping, nor a sign of movement at all. I had fished 3 swims so far, had a look around, enjoyed the mornings sunshine and chatted with a couple of anglers and so far for 4 hours had not had so much as a whisper of interest. I decided to give it a half hour and if nothing further happened I would call it a day. 

And that is exactly what happened, except for one tiny ray of sunshine. Having packed my gear away, I decided to walk back along the river bank. I spotted an angler, indeed another pike angler, he was standing with his landing net in the water, one rod in its rest with a float, another laid on the bank side.

I paused and said – 

“Hi, any luck?” 

The young chap replied

“Well yes! First cast and this came along” 

The young chap lifted his landing net out if the water and there laid among the many folds was a pristine pike with lovely markings. He weighed it whilst I watched just a little speechless. It pulled the needle around to show a weight of 14 1/2 lbs. He confirmed that it had taken a Joey mackerel the same bait I had been using.

I congratulated him and ambled back to the car, the sun had come out, and it felt quite a lot warmer. Should I stay, one more last cast? I mulled it over but no, lets get home early today I decided. There is always another day after all, and a blank is not a failure, its just another page in the textbook of angling achievements.