John Bailey: For the biggest pike head north

As you read this piece, I'll be planning my trip to Scotland, around the Great Glen, retracing my pike travels there in the 80s and the 90s.

In fact, Norfolk piking has a serious history up in Scotland that is both fascinating and in formative.

Back in the 1960s, those Broadland stalwarts, Bill Giles and Reg Sandys, went with Richard Walker, Fred Buller and Pete Thomas up to Loch Lomond on an historic exploration.

They were all massive angling heroes of the time and I doubt whether there has ever been a more august gathering in the whole lexicon of pike angling. They resided in a little village of caravans, fished and partied hard and lost a potential monster, a pike that might conceivably have rewritten the record books.

As chance would have it, Bill Giles actually recorded the night-time conversations that were held after dinner around the table, wine flowing. Many, many years ago, for a Christmas present, he gave me the box of tapes. They were utterly outstanding in their breadth and depth of pike lore, but that's another story.

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During the 70s and 80s, Norfolk's young Turks followed this blazing example. You've got to remember that 40 years ago, the 400 plus mile drive to Lomond was seen as a massive adventure.

And, of course, for Norfolk lads the drama of the lochs and the mountains after the flat lands of Norfolk was immense. Guys like Steve Harper led the charge, particularly in the spring when, in those days, Norfolk's waters were all closed down.

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There was soon to be a great debate in the angling press as to whether Lomond, or any of the Scottish lochs come to that, could actually produce a monster pike the like of which Fred Buller lost a decade earlier. The cynics all felt that Scottish pike would have to bottom out at the mid or upper thirties. Of course, romantics like me have always disagreed.

In the 80s and 90s I entered the Scottish fray. However, then, I moved further north. My experience was on the lochs of the Great Glen like Oich, Ness and even more remote waters like Garry, Loyne and Cluanie.

Initially, I was out of my depth. My Norfolk lessons weren't especially applicable on waters up to 800 feet deep, several miles long and often a mile or more wide. Just the whole experience of being afloat over almost an endless void was unnerving. The weather, too, could turn homicidal within minutes.

Frequently, I realized I was simply lucky to be alive. However, success slowly came my way either by trolling lures or fishing the shallows in the margins in spring when the pikes moved from the deeps in to spawn.

The big question that remains even now in my mind is whether there are, or there were, monsters actually up there. Of course, the scale of the landscape suggests everything must be vast.

I was told of one fish caught in nets during spawning time that was too large to weigh on thirty pound scales. It was hacked in half and the pieces weighed twenty-six and twenty-nine pounds respectively! And how about this? I heard of one fish caught on a pork chop! There's more! Its head and tail both touched the ground when it was laid over an old-type minivan that out for yourself. More convincingly, some mates of mine had a thirty-two pounder which was weighed and photographed, truly signed and sealed as it were.

Soon after that, one autumn day I was fishing a fast glide on a river running into Loch Inchlaggan. This is the time when the Arctic char gather over the gravels to spawn and the pike follow them there for easy pickings.

There was a taste of winter in the air that afternoon as I worked my spoon slow and deep, hugging the bed. As in all the best fishing tales, I was convinced I'd hooked bottom. Ten minutes into the battle, I still hadn't seen the fish but when I glimpsed it roll, deep down in the tea-stained water, I was gobsmacked. The hooks pulled.

I was devastated. I still feel that fish was a 'forty'. I hope it is waiting for me once again, as the sun sinks one afternoon coming soon.

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