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Book of the Week

This week we are taking you all the way to Old Castile in central Spain to go pike fishing with that master of Iberian fishing John Langridge, from his Medlar book As I Cast Out.

Images shown are for illustrative
purposes and not from the book!
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The author pike fishing in Spain . . .
Monster Pike

From As I Cast Out, by John Langridge

Monster pike, I thought. I was over the moon with the day’s fish but I would doubtless return once my imagination had had time to work on that last sighting. There’s nothing quite as exciting as the rumoured presence of a monster pike. I seemed to recall a story of a lady walking her dog around a lakeside in county Durham, throwing in a rubber ball from time to time for her Jack Russell to retrieve. There had been a sudden violent thrashing and the little dog had disappeared. It was found the next day along the shore, drowned and with some very nasty gouges in one of its rear legs. Fishing literature of course abounds with many and more fantastical stories about pike. The combination of human ignorance and imagination can work wonders. In European literature there are stories too of gigantic footprints left across the countryside by the devil. It wasn’t until I went on a trip recently here in Spain to the provinces of Soria and La Rioja that I found the most likely explanation. In the 1970s, palaeontologists there discovered hundreds of ichnites, the fossilised footprints of dinosaurs, incredibly well-preserved and striding across the terrain. They are mostly bipeds, ornithopods, two legged animals with three- or four-toed feet, like birds. One I measured was 18 inches wide and was so perfectly intact that it appeared that the mud had squeezed up between those huge scaly toes only the day before, or, more thrillingly, during the previous night. This impression was considerably reinforced when, a few paces further along, I came across droppings, coprolites, or dinosaur excrement, fossilised and more than sufficiently real to be a little unnerving.
MMy afternoon reverie was finally interrupted by a hearty ring from the bell on the one rod I had left out. I jumped up and struck. A frenetic little battle ensued, albeit short-lived, and I soon slid the net under another small chub. I popped it into the net and before baiting up decided on some dessert. There was only a mouthful of wine left I was rather surprised to see, since I only have a glass or two usually. So, I finished it off and opened a tupperware box to reveal some homemade fruitcake. There was also a bottle of homemade sidra, a cider from my neighbour’s village in Asturias, which I had quite forgotten about. The cake wasn’t made by me I hasten to add, but by a very nice lady whom I’d become friends with after having explained to her one morning why I was such an early (and noisy) weekend riser. It was a fact that had quickly come to her attention after my moving in. Unfortunately this meant that she was forever and a day importuning me for fish. She flatly refused to believe that I returned them to the water, being convinced instead that I never caught anything. The same old story.
MThe cake went down very well indeed, helped along by the very dry, strongly flavoured cider. It is completely flat in the bottle and I had a hilarious time pouring it from as great a height as I could into my glass, just as they do in the sidrerías of Asturias.
MSuddenly, the reeds below were being hammered into yet again by a pike. This time I jumped up and grabbing the spinning rod, aimed my cast to land beyond the point in question, with a view to Tadpollying gently past, as close to the reed stems as I could. The lure flew majestically through the air, the light twinkling on its silvery flanks, way over the still attacking pike and into the far bankside trees. I ran off down the bank uttering various expletives, keeping the line high and tight, towards the bridge. I scampered across and, there being various other obstacles along the bank, propped the rod up with the line going directly into the offending branches.
MGetting to the bushes, I fought my way into the brambles, which formed the trees’ lower defences. One or two of the larger thorns embedded themselves in my hands. One bled profusely and hurt like mad but I could think only of getting to my Tadpolly. With my legs still under attack from below, I clambered up into the young willow, the branches of which began to give gently under my weight. A few moments later, my right foot slowly entered the water, the wet sensation causing me to inch my way a little further along the branch. Below it, the water looked deep and most uninviting, despite the agreeable late afternoon temperature.
MThe line passed overhead quite close and then dropped out of sight, somewhere in front of me, into the water. As I myself headed waterward, the lure suddenly pulled up out of the water and dangled before my eyes. I swung back and forth making the lure do the same until it bumped into my T-shirt a few times, finally catching there. As a resounding crack sounded from lower down the tree, I held on for dear life. With my heart in my throat, I rivalled any contortionist that ever existed until I got the line before me into my mouth. I bit through the nylon just above the wire trace and hung there watching the now free monofilament pull free and drift off on the slight breeze.
MIt was at this point I think, that I realised I was just a little drunk. A whole bottle of wine plus the cider was more, by more than double, than I ever usually drank. One thing was certain, I had absolutely forgotten about the pike. I was completely unable to move and my grip was failing. The feeling of tipsiness passed in practically the same instant that I had become aware of it. My foot was still in the water, and the tree, barely more than a sapling, was far from pleased with my antics. The rest is a bit of a blur, but I managed somehow to get back on to terra firma and to my tent, albeit bleeding profusely from arm and leg, and with both shoes full of water.
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MNo sooner had I regained my little camp, than I decided that some coffee would be the thing and that the fire would help matters no end. It took only a minute to get it going again, with the wrapping paper from the empanadas, and the pot soon emitted a plume of steam which wound up into the clear blue sky along with the wisps of wood smoke. I poured myself some strong coffee to accompany the remaining slices of cake and made a mental note to show my kind neighbour the photo of today’s pike. The sun was low now and would be setting in an hour at the most. I would have to get away just after dark as it was quite a long cycle back to the city with the tent and everything else. I sipped the coffee and leant back against the old trunk enjoying a renewed sense of safety and peace. The canal waters drifted by gently, various bird melodies still filling the air, and somewhere a big pike lay quietly in ambush.
MA while later, I collected up my gear, de-tackled the rods and after dismantling the tent, loaded up my poor old bike. It was a fine machine, though rather past its best even back then. The Conquest model in its day had actually held the world record for altitude mountain biking, on Kilimanjaro, if I remember correctly. One thing was for sure, it was amazing what it could carry.
MI had left the old rod until last, but to no avail, I didn’t get another bite. The light was fading fast as I made my way, rather precariously, along the mile or so of canal side path before I could take a track, which led to the nearest road. The air was warm, and the main road deserted, just as they had been, my father often remarked, back in the 1950s in England. I soon settled into an easy rhythm that would have me home in a couple of hours at the most. That night I recall, I slept as I had rarely slept ever before in my life.