John Bailey: Successfully defying the elements of Storm Eunice

A Storm Eunice pike caught by James Buckley, admired by Bailey the dog

A Storm Eunice pike caught by James Buckley, admired by Bailey the dog - Credit: John Bailey

Or perhaps this should be headlined 'success in Storm Esox Lucius'?

The fact is that my piking pals and I did go out fishing during the gale of February 18 and lived to tell the tale.

Of course, we debated the risks of doing so and whether it would have been more responsible to sit at home drinking tea, should the electricity stay on. However, when we assembled at 7am, the wind was hardly threatening and every detailed weather forecast said that for Norfolk and Suffolk, the worst would be over by 5pm, the time we would want to drive homewards.

Given the added fact that once by the water in question, it would be easy to avoid trees and other structures, we decided to go for it, but with the utmost caution. I tried to keep my feelings neutral, but deep down I was keen to get cracking. High winds and a plummeting barometer can produce amazing sport, as years of experience have taught me.

As we sat debating the issue at breakfast that morning, a couple of us remembered an epic pike session we had enjoyed way back on October 27, 2002 on a very large Norfolk estate lake. That day, winds of 102mph were recorded at The Needles , the barometer fell to 976mb and wind gusts of 75mph-plus were recorded here in the East. The pike fed non-stop and that feeding crescendo coincided that day with the most ferocious period of the storm. As we battled one pike after another, trees were being tossed to the ground like matchsticks on the bank opposite us. Birds were blown in the sky like confetti and when darkness finally came , we drove back to Wolterton’s Saracen’s Head pub through villages in power cut blackness. Robert, our host, had a generator, however, and we could wine, dine and toast our successes until the small hours.

Storms do not just energise pike either. Now I am going even further back, this time to January 3, 1976. That day a hurricane of a wind struck East Anglia and Northern Europe with winds at Cambridge recorded at 105mph. This storm was described as the worst since 1953 (which even I can’t remember fishing in) but it didn’t stop me catching roach to 2lbs 12oz on a pit that was as wind lashed as the North Sea in the fiercest gale imaginable. I lost my umbrella, trees came down, but I survived and never had fishing half as good on that particular pit ever again.

So, in my life, there have been numerous times when dark skies, collapsing air pressures and howling wolf pack winds have produced monumental results and when I think I can get out fishing safely, then I always will.

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I remember when I did a lot of diving, sitting at the bottom of Gunton Lake in a very heavy wind, probably in 1997 or thereabouts. It was a strange experience. The noise was constant and the water seemed alive around me, even lifting me from the bed down by the old saw mill end of the water. Perhaps as much as anything, it is this heaving of the water that goads pike into furious action?

I am not in climate change denial, but history, even our own relatively recent life history, suggests storms have always been a feature of our weather. Some are worse than others and whilst wind speeds are central to the matter, there are other considerations. For example, Storm Eunice would have been far more catastrophic had she blown in October when the trees would have been in full leaf... think back to the Great Storm of October 16, 1987. That event saw gusts of 80mph-plus , not much different to what we have just experienced, but the damage was far greater. Wind direction plays a part as does the wetness of the soil, as does sheer luck.

And how was our luck that Eunice day? Very good indeed, thank you. The best of our luck was that we were completely unscathed, but the pike played the part I had expected of them. They fed pretty much most of the day and the one slice of bad luck we encountered came towards dusk when Rob lost the biggest fish of the day by several pounds I guesstimated. The hooks came out so we will never know, but the one thing I am sure about is that the next time there is a gale and I am able to get to a pike water, that’s where you will find me!