....I glanced back at my rod, wishing now that I was still on the float, and saw the tip tremble, stop, then jerk impatiently.
I struck, but was disappointed to see right away that it was only a small roach coming in towards me.
But when it was no more than a rod's length out, right on the surface, the pike attacked.
It came heaving through the shallows, all eyes and teeth and driving fins. It took my roach, launching clean out of the water as it completed the upwards surge. And it was huge. I managed to flip the bail-arm open just in time to save the line from snapping.
While the pike ran with its prey, I desperately freed off the clutch, then when it stopped its run and lay dead still, as they sometimes do once the kill has been made, I shut the bail arm and quickly readjusted the clutch to what I hoped was a safe limit.
All the same, the fish was so big that I didn't think I had a hope of landing it, even if it didn't just spit the roach out anyway. But there I was, joined on to it for the time being, so I had no choice.
Jan was beside me by now, eyes sparkling.
"Go for it Dave," she was urging. "You've got to land it. It's a monster!"
Even Ken had left his rod and come down for a look.
"You'll be lucky," he said. "There's snags in the water. He's bound to go round something."
Well, we waited and we waited. The pike waited too. In the end I tried giving cautious tugs on the line. No response.
"See what I mean," Ken said. "You're snagged already. No chance!" and he went back to his own fishing.
Jan was more encouraging. "Keep at it, it's going to take a lot of patience," she said, then she too went back to her rod.
"A lot of luck, more like," I muttered, giving another tentative tug. But this time it worked. The pike took off and the action began. With the clutch screaming, it ran across the pool into deeper water, under the far bank. Just as I thought it was bound to snag in the tree roots, it responded to the pressure of the line and swerved to hurtle downstream.
I felt the line catch on some obstacle, but under the force of the run it tore free, slicing and bumping through old vegetation on the riverbed. Then it went dead still again.
It went on like that, running, then stopping, for so long that my shoulder began to ache. I thought of the small hook, and the knot I'd tied, and I wondered how much longer it could hold. But still I concentrated - backwinding at extreme pressures, taking line in whenever I could.
And still the big fish ran, and stopped, and tested out the force that was holding it.
I was vaguely aware of Ken and Jan, fishing on. Jan occasionally called encouragingly, but all my attention was absorbed in the long, long effort of working with the fish, yet against it, hoping that in the end tiredness would bring it to the bank.
I'd never experienced such a strange thing before. In a way I began to feel that I knew the fish; I could anticipate its next move and I treated it gently, not just to try to stop the knot or the line from giving way, but because I knew the fish. I liked it.
And at long last - they said afterwards that I'd been playing it for almost half an hour - I felt a difference.
The line began to rise in the water until my swim feeder was bobbing on the top. Then it came clear out and I caught a glimpse of a huge greeny brown back and a big fin. The fish swirled, creating a mini-whirlpool, and made a half-hearted run down river, before allowing itself to be drawn - very carefully - back towards where I stood, trembling with the final tension.
It did the same thing four or five more times, and I couldn't see how the knot and the hook were standing up to the punishment. Even now, I knew that it could all suddenly turn to failure.
In the end I could hardly believe it was true when, rolling slightly from exhaustion, the great head and deep, long body came drifting, almost easily, towards me. It wasn't resisting at all now, just obeying the insistent pull of the line.
I fumbled around for the landing net, but my hands were shaking and I was afraid to look away from the fish in case it made one last burst for freedom.
"Jan," I called from a dry throat.
"I'm here," she said. And she was, too. I don't know how long she'd been standing at my shoulder, landing net ready.
Carefully she waded a little way in to meet the pike, and then she held the net steady, waiting. I was still terrified that at the last moment the fish would lunge, snap the line and be lost.
But the long, lean, predatory head glided calmly over the net and, choosing her moment, Jan lifted it just enough to ensure that most of the fish was safely in it, even though a fair length was still outside.
She went to lift the net higher, but the pole began to bend, and the net stayed half under water. The fish thrashed the tail part of its body that was in the air, and the net dipped right under.
We both felt panic, anticipating a leap and an escape, even now, but suddenly Ken came splashing past Jan, up to his thighs in the water, until he could grasp the net itself.
He lifted it and swung towards the shore in one movement, depositing net, fish and all, on the bank beside me.
The immense pike slid out of the net, onto the rushes, and I saw the hook, lodged behind one of the hundreds of needle teeth, fall free. There was no sign of the roach.
shaking all over, and embarrassed at the tears in my eyes. Jan put
her arms round and hugged me. "Brilliant," she was saying. "Brilliant.
© David Churchill 1999