Country diary: a pike rises into thin air

Rockland Staithe, Norfolk: The stillness of the tide, combined with perhaps an elevated temperature, explains the abundance of fish here during winter

This village staithe is about a half mile from the Yare and 20 miles, as the river flows, from the sea. The daily tide is the only movement generated in its waters, and this stillness, combined with perhaps an elevated temperature, explains the abundance of fish here during winter.

You can see the roach and perch swimming in their thousands, flakes of silver shoaling and twisting in the clouded water. It is their plenty that explains the presence of several predators, including herons, a customary arc of fishermen – and pike.

I normally see these glorious creatures only when they’re spawning in spring in Carleton Beck at Claxton, when they follow its vegetated shallows, sidling in and out of the weed, their dorsal fins occasionally breaking the surface, the caudal fin among the shadows swaying slowly, those flanks of tiger-stripes and yellow-spotted silvered green, whose exact hue occurs nowhere else in my parish but pike.

Here, however, the pike are feeding and, according to one fisherman, “the place is rammed with ’em!” He told me he landed 30 in three days and recounted an extraordinary moment when he’d just hooked a 7lb “jack” – a small one – and another 15-pounder veered after it and seized it in turn.

Even as we spoke, his friend’s rod bent double and I was shocked to see a pike rise into thin air. He held it so I could better savour the pelvic and pectoral fins hanging down like turtle’s flippers. There were the rows of glass-splinter teeth and that extraordinary eye – an ellipsis of liquid black mounted within an iris of green gold. Later, when I checked my pictures, I could just see the image of a human with a camera mirrored at its matt heart.

His fist was clenched around the gill and the white pleated throat that is capacious enough for whole moorhens and ducks. Then with great tenderness he leaned right over and laid it on the water’s cold bed. It looked momentarily lifeless. I feared the worst. Then the tail snapped the glass-thin ice sheet, the white belly turned to a silvered-green side. And down it went into the gloom.


Mark Cocker

The GuardianTramp

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