One day last January I decided to have a walk around Penton Reservoir. The weather was cold and bright—no good for fishing but fine for walking. Penton is a pretty big reservoir and it normally takes me an hour and a half to get right round. It’s a pleasant walk and a bit of exercise never comes amiss. But on this occasion I didn’t get very far.
In one of the bays on the eastern side I came across Colin Crosby. He was sat there behind his rods staring out over the water. Now Colin Crosby is something of a legend in these parts and maybe beyond for all I know. What makes him a legend is his obsession with pike. He rarely fishes for anything else and no one I know of has a better record of catching them. He has caught numerous twenty pounders and several thirties.
All the local anglers know Colin as CC. He is a quiet man (which I think is a bit unusual for a pike angler). He never appears in the angling press and he never brags about his catches. When other anglers ask him about the secret of his success he just shrugs and says “persistence”.
For a moment I stood behind Colin wondering whether I should stop and talk to him. Lots of people approach CC for a chat and although I have spoken to him in the past I didn’t think he would remember me. Before I could make up my mind he turned and saw me.
“Any runs?” I asked.
CC shook his head.
“Not the best of conditions,” I said gesturing towards the clear blue sky.
“Maybe not,” said CC.
I took a couple of steps closer. “I know there’s lots of jacks in here but I didn’t know there were any decent pike.”
“They’re in here.”
“Of course I’m not a pike specialist. I just come here spinning sometimes. Never caught anything bigger than eight pounds.” I prattled on about my paltry pike fishing achievements for a while. When I stopped CC just nodded. There was an awkward pause and, for want of anything better to say, I said, “So, how did you first get into pike fishing?”
CC looked at me for a moment. “You really want to know?”
“I’ll tell you the story then.” And this is what he told me.
Twenty-odd years ago when CC was eighteen he used to go fishing with a friend called Mike (he did mention his surname but I can’t remember what it was). A local farmer allowed them to fish in a pond on his land. The pond was full of rudd, most them small but some were over a pound in weight. There were also some tench, again mostly small, and a few crucian carp.
CC and Mike usually fished the pond on Sunday afternoons. They didn’t worry much about what they caught, it was just a chance to relax and talk about the things that seventeen-year-old lads usually talk about.
Anyway, one Sunday afternoon as CC was swinging in another small rudd Mike said, “Seen Benny’s new assistant?”
Benny’s was the local tackle shop, a rather dingy place with items of tackle displayed in a pretty chaotic manner. If you wanted to replace a broken rod ring Benny would usually have one to match but it could take a good ten minutes for him to find it.
The fact that Benny had any kind of assistant was news but when Mike said, “A girl”, CC looked at him in disbelief. “And she’s a beauty”, said Mike. A girl, an attractive girl, serving in a fishing tackle shop. With the maggots and the worms. This had to be seen to be believed.
First thing next Saturday morning CC went to Benny’s. And it was true. There she was measuring out a pint of maggots to an old chap who seemed to be in a state of shock. As he left the old chap looked back over his shoulder and walked into a selection of rod rests which were displayed in an old bin. They crashed to the floor. CC bent down and helped the old chap pick them up but as he did so he couldn’t help glancing up at the girl behind the counter. No doubt about it, she was a beauty.
At the counter CC asked for some size 16 spade ends. The girl handed him a packet. “Anything else,” she asked smiling at him. CC hadn’t intended to buy anything else but something about that smile changed his mind. “Oh, well, er, yes,” he said, “A hundred yards of, er, three pound line.”
Having paid for his purchases CC headed slowly to the door. Just as he was reaching for the handle the door opened and in came Mike. CC pursed his lips as if he was going whistle. Mike said quietly, “Told you.” CC said, “I’ll wait for you outside.”
CC waited for nearly twenty minutes and was just about to go back in when Mike came out. He had a carrier bag.
“What you got there?” CC asked.
“The old one bust?”
“No I just fancied a new one.”
“I know what you fancied.”
But the next weekend CC went to Benny’s and came out with an electronic bite indicator.
Mike said, “What use is that when you always float-fish?”
“Well I might start ledgering,” said CC. “Anyway I just…”
So now CC and Mike had to face the fact that they both fancied the girl in the tackle shop. On one of the rare occasions when Benny was alone behind the counter they questioned him about the girl. Her name was Nina and she actually worked in the marketing department of a big tackle company. They, it seems, wanted her to get some first-hand experience of the retail end of the business and they had placed her in Benny’s for a two-month spell. No one could understand why Benny’s had been chosen. It certainly wasn’t because it was a model of efficiency. Although that began to change.
In fact over the next few weeks Benny’s Tackle Shop had something of a makeover. The tackle was displayed in an organized manner. Some of it was lit by spotlights. Small items, which Benny had previously kept in boxes behind the counter, were now displayed on the wall in little packets. Red fluorescent stickers with “SPECIAL OFFER” or “20% OFF” appeared on some items. And Benny began to look smarter as well. He took to shaving every day and his grubby pullovers were replaced by smart shirts. He looked happier too, but then business was booming.
CC and Mike were in an ideal position to see all this happening because they spent more and more time in Benny’s. They always went separately but usually found the other one already there. Neither of them could work up the courage to ask Nina out. Instead they tried to compete for her favour by buying more fishing tackle. Mike bought a landing net that was so big that even the largest rudd from the pond was dwarfed in its mesh. CC bought a bivvy even though the farmer wouldn’t let them fish at night.
As the end of Nina’s two-month spell at Benny’s drew near CC went into the tackle shop determined to ask Nina for a date. He strode purposefully up to the counter and said, “Nina, there’s something I want to ask you.”
“Well Colin there’s something I want to ask you,” said Nina “Do you ever go pike fishing?”
“It’s a very exciting branch of the sport. And here’s your chance to get started.”
Nina pointed to a display at the back of the shop.
“It’s everything you need. Rod, reel, indicator, float, weights, traces, even a pair of forceps. And, Colin, just look at the price. That’s a real bargain.”
CC didn’t want to disappoint Nina and it did seem like quite a good deal so he said would take the outfit. As he was paying he said to Nina, “I was wondering if you would like to come out with me for a drink.”
“Ahh, Colin that’s very sweet of you but, as I told Mike, I have a boy friend and anyway I’m going back to Bromley next week.”
“Oh. I see.” Colin took his receipt from Nina and picked up his new pike fishing tackle. “Mike was in here was he?”
“Yes, about half-an-hour ago. He’s taking up pole fishing.”
“Goodbye Colin. Hope you catch some big pike.”
At first CC thought he would try to sell his new pike tackle but then he thought that as he’d got it he might as well try it out. If nothing else it would be something to remember Nina by. And so Colin Crosby took up pike fishing.
I may have embellished CC’s story a little bit here and there but that is essentially what he told me. All I could think of to say when he had finished his tale was, “What happened to Mike?”
“He moved down south. We lost touch.”
I was just about to say farewell when one of CC’s indicators went off. He struck into the fish and after a fight that was dogged rather than spectacular CC had a pike of just 18lb on his unhooking mat. We both looked down at the fish, admiring its mottled green and yellow markings.
“A beauty.” I said.
“Yes,” said CC “A real beauty.”
[End of excerpt]