Yesterday started well. The sun was shining, the rods were stuffed into the car without breaking any tips (the usual cause for the demise of my fishing sticks) and we were heading South to a favourite spot for Pike. I first met Charlie at Newcastle University where we became firm friends through, amongst other things, a mutual love of fishing. The Northumbrian countryside provided plenty of challenging fishing mostly of the Trout & Salmon variety, the Tyne, the Couquet, the Aln, Lochs by the side of Hadrian’s wall and perhaps the favourite the small yet highly productive River Pont which provided our student house with more protein than the Tesco Metro down the road.
Being poor students, we weren’t always able to pay for fishing and there was one such incident that occurred on the River Pont involving a Game keeper, Charlie’s inability to manufacture a good bullshit story on the spot and the two of us narrowly avoiding large fines. The large Geordie Game keeper had the best line which I can still hear today: “99.9% of the time you try fishing here lad, you WILL get caught”. Well, that hadn’t happened the 25 times we had fished there before…but some things are best left unsaid.
Charlie and I have always had a healthy competition in the fishing stakes, rarely do we both have a good day: one always out-fishes the other, banter runs high but more importantly: fish are always caught. Our “secret” spot has provided numerous Specimens over the years, and it was me who was into the first of the day on a spinner, whilst ‘3 rods -no fish’ Butcher sat waiting for his bite alarms to go off. The pike put up a good scrap, it wasn’t a beast probably only 4-5lbs, but it was the perfect size for supper. So, in a moment of culinary inspiration, I knocked it on the head and got on with trying to pack in a few more fish to make Charlie look particularly crap at fishing.
Sadly the moment never came, I heard the bite alarm go and looked up to see Charlie into something big- a nice fish of about 15lbs (pictured). Over the next half hour the first fish was followed by a 10lb, 5lb and 3lb and none were caught by me…Charlie became smug and the taunting began…Dick. Clearly deadbaiting sections of Lamprey on the bottom was the way forward. I did manage one more as the rain swept in from the downs and steadily grew more intense, so we packed up around 3pm and went in search of an establishment offering Log fires and Harveys by the pint.
Pike have always been a favourite of mine, probably because it remains to be the only fish I have ever caught over 20lbs (the picture of the one in the top left corner of the blog) and the first fish I caught of any size. Or perhaps it is just that they are the most sinister looking fish, Esox Luscius is the perfectly designed predator. Pike have a hidden weapon: their Saliva. This contains an anti coagulant, even the slightest nip whilst sticking the forceps in their gob for unhooking can cause a serious gush of blood.
The short video below from some Nordic chaps illustrates this perfectly…lucky he didn’t lose his hand!
Evil is a word that is frequently banded about with this species, there have been stories of attacks on people, them taking dogs, swans almost anything that paddles near them- even their own, pike are cannibals and quite often, when I a have caught them there is usually a couple of telltale scars from a lucky escape in their youth. Sometimes you can even catch them by accident whilst fishing for something entirely different- nothing attracts pike more than a bit of fishy commotion and many is the time I have been reeling in a chub or dace only to have a pike attack! Here is a short video I got of a hungry pike trying to nail the Chub on the end of my line:
Gastronomically speaking, pike have been a favourite for 100’s of years, many people still eat them today, but sadly Britain has lost its appetite for this tasty predator. I admit I don’t eat them that often, because I would rather put them back and catch them again when they have gained a bit of weight. But I do urge you to try it- the firm white flesh is delicious, but there is a catch…actually there are two: Devilishly fiddly bones and also you will have to catch it yourself. Fishmongers don’t do pike! Big pike are always female, males rarely get over 10lbs, smaller pike are fairly easy to catch with a lure or spinner and that is the size to target for the table- nothing over 5lbs.
There are a few different ways you can cook them: most common is to poach them in a fish kettle with a rich Court bouillon. Once cooked, they are best turned into quenelles- a thourough de-boning to remove all the Y-shaped bones (click here for a handy recipe). The Court bouillion makes an excellent sauce- simply reduce it, season and add a little cream. We opted for a slightly different approach and roasted our pike whole using ‘Floyd on France’ recipe from Burgundy which involved stuffing the fish with a breadcrumb, wine, cream, garlic, onion and parsley concoction and then roasting it on a bed of onion, bay, lemon and Thyme. It was incredibly good- and though it pains me to say it, I might have to start eating my favourite fish a bit more regularly!
You may have noticed a new ‘Navigation Bar’ at the top of the Blog which lead to new pages…I have been pushing my technophobia to one side and getting to grips with CSS and the like which has been a nightmare!
As you can see I am know offering a series of Hunter:Gather:Cook packages as well as tailor-made packages for private groups. So if you want to go out and learn a bit more about what parts of the landscape are edible or fancy a day hunting the fur, feather and fish of our pleasant little Island, do please get in touch! The Revised plan for this year is to start a Tree house Foraging school in Sussex, which is slowly coming together…and France is most certainly still on the Cards! I would definitely recommend watching the showreel!
I am also constantly tinkering in my workshop building stuff out of wood, so please visit the ‘Product‘ Page and have a browse at some of the things I am making- you might see something you like, from your own full size Tree house to a Hazel & jute stool all hand built by yours truly. Oh yes, and there is of course the book I wrote about living in a Tree, apparently it’s rather a good read...