RBTraditional recalls ‘the old man’s pike’

The marsh a passion for which was shared by R.B. & his grandfather

Cawing rooks and chattering jackdaws seeking out the last remnants of the autumn harvest came over the small copse to my right and I smiled. I’ve always had a deep love for corvids, particularly rooks and ravens’

My float hit the water and settled nicely bobbing gently on the surface of the drain, the rings on the water created by the cast continued to ripple outward from the epicentre for some time and in the half light of dawn I could just make out the orange top of the little bung sitting a few yards downstream just off the reed bed. It was a perfect pikers morning, the frost was glinting like shards of silver from every blade of grass and all around the silence was discernible.

My float hit the water and settled nicely

With the kettle on I sat back to drink in the atmosphere of the surroundings. I’d been fishing on the marsh since I was a kid and for a few moments I reminisced about a life spent angling and walking across this haunted and unforgiving landscape. I thought for a moment that I could hear the familiar whispered voices of old friends long since passed, I had become part of this landscape and it had become part of me since “the old man” first brought me down here as a young boy.

A heron made its way across the darkened sky its raucous call breaking the spell momentarily, steam rising, coffee poured, cold hands wrapped around the cup for warmth as I watched the bobber. I was satisfied with the cast, the question now being asked would there be an enquiry from old Essox? I thrive on the unknown that I find on these rarely fished waters, today would be no exception.

Slowly but surely as it had done for millennia the sun broke cover, the richness of this ancient landscape became more apparent – a palette of greens, russets and bronze these are the colours of the autumns finale, there is indeed beauty to behold whether the seasons be in their beginnings or in their passing.

Pike were ‘his fish.’

Pike were “his” fish, the old man had been gone from my life in the physical sense for thirty years or more. He had taught me much, not just about fishing and shooting but about respect for the countryside and the natural world, he had an enquiring eye and ear, everything had a place and purpose.

A countryman who had worked the land all of his life and despite having fought in two world wars as a young man always had a gentle demeanour, never happier than when out with his terrier Touser and a fishing rod walking this sacred land. I remember him visiting his doctor, he’d had a bad cough which he couldn’t shake off, he was told give up smoking, which he did…two weeks later he was dead. He’d have laughed his head off at the irony of that. His presence was always tangible out under that big old sky amongst the reed beds and dykes, how fortunate I had been to have him as a mentor, friend and Grandfather.

Cawing rooks and chattering jackdaws seeking out the last remnants of the autumn harvest came over the small copse to my right and I smiled. I’ve always had a deep love for corvids, particularly rooks and ravens, to me they are magnificent in every respect, intelligent, resourceful and beautiful, I tipped my hat and watched them disappear from view over toward the main river, the omens were looking good.

A brace of Sussex Micky’s magic

I picked up the rod and flicked off the check on the centrepin and inched the bait back a few feet, guiding it closer to the reed bed. The big old girls sometimes become inquisitive by a little movement of the bait. As I put the rod in the rests I noticed the float “dink” – weed? Ah ha! The float started to move, there’s something quite surreal about watching a pike bung come alive. I let it run a few feet clicked on the check cupped the spool and pulled the old cane round to connect, the water erupted…fish on!

The fabulous marsh pike

The teal which had quite happily until now been quietly about their business took off in fright as the pin howled, I let out a little chuckle witnessing their dilemma, sorry girls. A back and forth battle between man and fish ensued, the upper hand being equally shared throughout until finally giving in she turned and I was able to draw her between the arms of the waiting net and safely into its folds….I’m sure I heard the old man whisper “well done boy” or maybe it was just the rustling of the reeds.

Writing & images RBTraditional, the garden of England, Winter 2021