There’s no two ways about it, I was a little taken aback. “I told you, I’ve done this before”, she smirked as the ripple from the lure landing spread as broadly as the grin on her face. I had spent the previous ten minutes in full-on instructor mode, working through everything from how to hold the rod to what happens to the lure in the water. I had a feeling I wasn’t being listened to but I assumed that was because she didn’t want to listen to me, not because there was a level ability far above what I had anticipated. With the rod forcibly removed from my hands I stood back and expected a disaster – what I got was a 7g jig head launched far and flat in to a head wind. Put firmly in my place, I decided that the day would be less about instruction and more about keeping the Kelly Kettle boiling…
I wasn’t sure if she was really serious when she first expressed an interest in fishing with me, I wondered whether it might be her way of telling me that she’s realised at this point in the relationship that fishing is a huge part of my life and that she was prepared to show willing. I ought to have known better – Ieva isn’t a lady whose bluff should be called but that’s exactly what I did. There on the couch over red wine and Domino’s pizza a fishing trip with potentially huge consequences was arranged. In my mind I began to estimate which might be the fastest route to the nearest pub when she lost interest after half an hour.
I like to teach absolute beginners the most simple form of the fishing they’re in to. A young bait angler starts off bashing silvers on a local pond, an amateur predator angler uses light and manageable kit for perch on the canal and somebody looking to try fly angling uses the long rod and french leader – the Beta version of fluff chucking. Ieva wanted a pike, a big one, and there (as usual) wasn’t a whole lot of wiggle room. My hours spent fish bragging had backfired in the most fantastic fashion.
Planning a guided day for a client and planning a guided day for your S.O. are very different processes. It’s a safe assumption that a paying client is hiring my services because they would like to learn a new skill or brush up on their technique, or maybe just want to fish a new river with some local knowledge at hand. Whatever the reason there is a safe assumption they’re there because they really want to be. Not so with your non-fishing partner. No matter how keen they are it’ll nag at you that they might only have shown an interest because they feel like they should and as such planning the exit strategy becomes as much a part of the plan as feature finding or retrieve style.
By the last slice of pizza we had negotiated ground rules on both sides. Ieva was to wrap up as waterproof and warmly as she possibly could; I was to make regular mugs of hot green tea and resist giggling if she made any rookie errors. This was starting to sound more like a normal days guiding already…
The second that lure landed in the water I was convinced that she would catch not just one but a number of pike. The lakes had fished excellently in the few weeks previous and although the recent floodwater had risen the level by some six feet I still felt very confident that it was a matter of if, not when she had a take. What she would do once she did get that strike was still up in the air as we hadn’t quite got to that bit of the lesson before she became impatient (bored) of my detailed instruction. Ieva cast and cast for six hours using a whole range of lures and learned how to fish them perfectly – she really did do everything right. These lakes are groundwater fed though and this influx of extremely clear and cold water had reduced the lake’s temperature significantly and knocked the pike to a slumber. I decided to initiate exit strategy P. P for Pub.
It’s pretty hard to convince somebody that they did everything right when they didn’t get the reward, and having to explain the philosophical side of catching and not catching to a new angler is tough – especially when you know you aren’t going to hear the end of it. I needn’t have worried. Ieva took it with the grace and humility of a seasoned angler. Over red wine and a Sunday roast another days fishing was planned. I offered the easy option of canal perch but she refused; she wanted a pike, from a gravel pit, caught on an artificial lure. I’ve got a lot of respect for anglers like that.
Just five days later we were rigging up rods beside the same lakes. The level had fallen significantly and the air temperature was way above the average for January but the water was still icy cool. I figured this may be the case and arranged the trip for early afternoon, gambling on the pike moving on to the shelves as the shallower water warmed. This gave us a few hours to polish and hone some techniques before the prime time of the day. It also gave Ieva two hours of casting and not catching, and after a total of eight hours fishing she showed the first sign of cracking – “I don’t think i’m going to catch anything” were the words I had dreaded hearing.
The most used lure was a 13cm Savage Gear Hard 4-play liplure, using a simple retrieve of three hard winds of the reel followed by a three second pause. This gives lethargic pike a chance to feel the lure vibrating during the hard winding but also chance for them to attack as it’s a very slow overall retrieve. Secondly if it does get hit then it’s almost always while the lure is stationary which means that the next three hard winds actually set the hook before the angler realises what’s going on. The very next cast after Ieva’s concession of defeat landed just over the nearside shelf – a perfect throw – and as she paused for the first time I saw the water bulge where I thought the lure might be. The line tightened as she wound and to the astonishment of both guide and angler she was suddenly connected to her first pike.
A lazy winter pike isn’t ever going to be the most brutal battle and this one was no exception, but such a fight is ideal in the scenario. The first time I checked Ieva had the rod pointed directly at the fish and was winding furiously. Fortunately the attentive guide had pre set the drag to an appropriate level and she was unable to pull the single hooks from the jaws of her prize, and after a few gentle pointers about using the rod we established a solid fighting technique. The attentive guide also missed the fish with the net at the first attempt as he came close to taking a dive off the muddy banks but at the second attempt the fish was ours, prompting what I’d describe as “soppy pandemonium” on the bankside.
She held the fish confidently over the unhooking mat, even after it had twice tried to thrash from her hands. A chunky pike of between 8-10lbs which was covered in leeches – a sure sign that he had been sat dormant on the lake bed until the vibrant lure had stirred him. Given how precarious the wet bank was I took it upon myself to return him safely. After more high-fives and hugs I asked Ieva what she would like to do next, expecting the day to end there and then. She looked at me quizzically – “I want to catch another one, obviously!”. Well and truly hooked.
We’ve all been guilty of throwing in the towel, even the most ardent and battle hardened anglers amongst us. I guess we have to at some point, none of us can fish all day every day (though I am trying). That Ieva was willing to keep casting and casting in tough january conditions is not only testament to the strength of her own mettle but served as a reminder to me that the best way to catch a fish is to just keep fishing. I’d love to take the credit for the capture but ultimately it was her willingness to learn the techniques and her tenacity to keep throwing the lure that brought her that elusive first pike – and a fine one too.
So if your partner in crime asks you for a fishing lesson my advice is this: by all means keep them as warm and as safe as possible but more than this don’t underestimate their desire to succeed and respect that they want to not only spend their time with you but spend it doing your thing, just at their pace. Oh, and if it turns out they’re a better caster than you then you better suck it up pal cos you’ve just gained a new fishing buddy….