Fishing sessions have been sporadic over the last couple of years. One thing that has not happened with any regularity at all are meaningful piking sessions. College and all the associated reports and assignments have been eating into piking time, last winter was a wash out and one thing or another never just aligned whenever it was I felt the urge to get out and wet a line. With time running out before I would have to sit exams, I decided that I would fish a river in the west for a few hours. The kayak and all the relevant gear was loaded up and I made the journey to the intended venue.
Recent rain had swollen the river and it was now dropping fast. There was some degree of visibility in the water but it was still heavily coloured. My tactic was to make my way up river, looking for likely fish holding areas and putting bait and lures through them. I had a supply of fresh herring taken from a recent sampling effort on RV Celtic Voyager a couple of days previously. Lures were going to be of the large and noisy variety, taking the water conditions into account. The plan was to paddle and work my way upstream; the downstream journey is always more preferable at the end of the day. I picked my way upstream, through thickening fog, keeping a close eye on the echo sounder.
The first corner in the river that I met showed a reasonable shoal of baitfish sitting in the slack water at the inside of the river bend. I guided the kayak into the still water that sat above what was now a flooded field margin. I swung a herring deadbait out into the murky water and before long I was rewarded with a jack pike for my efforts. After an encouraging start I did not wait long before starting to move again; it was a chilly afternoon on the river. A more mobile approach would keep me moving, active and warmer and with the tinge of colour in the water I reasoned that any predatory fish may be depending on senses other than sight. A large diving lure that features an internal rattle seemed the appropriate choice. If they can’t see it they will hear it!
Pushing further upstream and rounding another couple of bends in the river the fish finder betrayed the presence of baitfish that were sitting on the inside of the bend, keeping themselves out of the stronger part of the flow. Very shortly afterwards the trolling rod arched over again and I was connected with the second lively jack of the day; one to the bait, one to the lure and not much to split the pair in terms of size. I was very happy with how the afternoon was shaping up as I slipped the second pike back into the coloured river and watched it disappear to sulk on the bottom. Onwards I pushed, searching further upstream with the lures.
Following a period of slow trolling that saw me round yet more bends in the river, I approached the inside of yet another of the meandering curves. In a depth of four metres of water the rod arched over and I instantly knew that this was a better fish, immediately turning the kayak and pulling me downstream. After a very spirited tussle I was ‘chinning’ a fine double figure pike onto the kayak (first image on this page). Taking care of the loose treble hook I took the fish on board and set about removing the remaining hook. Being the smart fella that I am and seeing the pike was hooked near the scissors I decided that the unhooking forceps would be unnecessary. A quick snap of the fish’s jaw suggested otherwise and my foolishness was rewarded with the shedding of my own blood, hence the happy smiling face in the included image! Don’t forget the forceps and don’t be too lazy to turn around to get them when you need them!
The fish swam off and I was happy. The fog really started to thicken shortly afterwards and I decided to call it a day, quitting while I really was ahead. It is at this point that the decision to paddle against the current at the start of the day makes all the difference; you get pushed back to your waiting car!
To expand on the capture of the larger fish; one thing that had struck me was the appearance of the fish in the water when it was alongside the kayak. It looked a good fish and I thought that it was at least a mid-double at somewhere in the region of fifteen pounds. When I slipped my hand in under the gill plate and started to lift the fish from the water it immediately became apparent that the fish was a lot lighter than it looked. Having not caught pike for a while and being quite fussy about weights and accuracy (probably the scientific training) I had made sure to bring an old set of deadly accurate Avon spring scales and a weigh sling. In the interest of accuracy I paddled the five yards to the bank, stepped off the kayak and weighed the fish on land. Water motion can affect a weighing scales to give a false read and the only true way to get an accurate weight measurement is to do it on land.
Sure that my technique and equipment were functioning and accurate, I read the weight on the scales and deducted the weight for the wet sling. When weighing pike, or any fish for that matter, it is important to use a weigh sling to support the weight of the fish to ensure it can be returned in the safest manner possible. ‘Chin weighing’ by hanging the fish on the hook of the scales is abominable and puts great strain on the vertebrae of the fish, not to mention the scale’s hook potentially doing irreparable damage to the gills. ‘Chin weighing’ is something that should be confined to the past but judging by images that get uploaded to the internet, we have some way to go yet. There is no point in using strong, efficient gear to beat the fish to then treat it like dirt when it is removed from the water.
Releasing the pike, I marvelled at the discrepancies between my initial estimate and the actual weight of the fish. On the drive back to the house the afternoon’s events had started me thinking. I was never a fan of ‘guesstimates’. If I don’t weigh a fish I don’t give a weight out, simple as that. I think ‘guesstimates’ can be very misleading and can be wildly inaccurate. Everybody’s perception of weight is different and what one man may call a five pound fish can be easily named a ten pound fish by another. Let’s face it, as anglers we also like a little embellishment and perhaps it suits to leave the scales and sling at home in exchange for a ‘guesstimate’. I always thought I had a bit of a handle on coming up with a reasonable estimate of a fish based on its length, girth and feel of a fish but this one particular pike had turned that train of thought on its head.
I decided to take this investigation one step further. Taking to the platform of online forums, I posted the picture (left) and asked people to attempt to guess the weight. The answers were interesting to say the least and really backed up the fact that what we see and what we think it to be are two very different things indeed. The range of guesses really impressed on me how inaccurate we can be when assuming a weight, especially from a photograph. It also really impressed on me how inaccurate weights that float about online can really influence how people add a couple of pounds onto an assumed weight, demonstrated by the range of guesses that were submitted.
The guesses that were generated went from six to twenty three pounds with all sorts of figures from within that range. Fourteen to fifteen and a half pounds appeared to be the most common range that people guessed from which was still pretty far off the mark. It has made me wonder whether people are starting to develop unrealistic perceptions about the size of fish and it is very rare that they underestimate. Like I alluded to earlier, we anglers are an embellishing lot and it has become customary to throw weights on to fish because ‘ah sure that’s what it looks like’. We have all done it at some stage and there have been many occasions where we have looked at a photograph and the corresponding ‘guesstimate’ with a sense of bewilderment, ridicule, disgust and/or amusement. It is for this exact reason that if I have not weighed the fish accurately on land, I will not put a weight on it.
There are many anglers who are above suspicion and weigh their fish meticulously, some I know very well and if they tell me that a fish weighed a certain weight then that is exactly what it did weigh. One such recent capture was exhibited by Marcin Kantor. Having caught, landed, unhooked, weighed and returned his fish Marcin was delighted to report that it weighed in at just over nineteen and a half pounds; a couple of roach dinners away from the elusive ‘twenty’ mark. Here is where Marcin is to be commended. There are many anglers who would see nineteen odd pound and then declare, ‘Ah sure that’s close enough, I just caught a twenty pounder’. It is a pity and I do think that it happens often enough – a five pound fourteen ounce tench magically becomes six pounds, a two pound fifteen ounce perch supernaturally gains a couple of ounces. Rounding up is a curse that besets many and unfortunately in most cases we will never know the truth. ‘Guesstimates’ are easier to come by because the captor usually confesses to be ‘guesstimating’ and their honest assessment just happens to be off the mark. It is those that tend not to carry an accurate scales with them that I would be sceptical of!
There are many factors that can throw the angler off like the camera lens or angle. Certain lenses and angles can create an illusion where the fish looks bigger than it is. Using the captor’s fingers as a reference point can help somewhat. The physical size of the angler is another consideration. I am 6’ 2” tall. If I pose for a picture with a 20lb+ pike and then give the same fish to a friend who is 5’4” to pose with the pike will appear to be a lot ‘smaller’ when I am holding it. Holding a fish a certain way can make it appear larger or smaller than it is. If the fish is given a backdrop that contrasts highly with its scale pattern then it will ‘jump off the page’ and appear larger than if drab colours made up the backdrop.
Digital scales can give odd readouts too due to battery condition and simple malfunctions and should be used only for a second opinion, if at all. I have had digital scales tell me that three pound hybrids weigh twelve pounds! Needless to say, the only scales I trust now are the spring type, assuming they have been well looked after too. The condition of the fish can also be misleading in photographs. A post-spawn or poorly conditioned fish will be ‘empty’ and need feeding. Her frame might suggest a bigger fish than the scales would show. This was very much the case for the fish I had caught. She was empty inside, held out to the camera with a contrasting background. There is a lot to take into consideration when ‘guesstimating’ and the only way to be sure to yourself and others is to use a good scales efficiently.
For the record, the pike weighed 10lb 9ozs.