John Bailey: Piking puzzles and stats that still bemuse

Greatest pal simon Ratcliffe with a Broadland beauty. Was Bailey The Spaniel lucky to escape with his life?

Greatest pal Simon Ratcliffe with a Broadland beauty. Was Bailey the Spaniel lucky to escape with his life? - Credit: John Bailey

There are so many statistics bandied about in football that quite frankly I can’t make head nor tail of most of them.

When I was ploughing the midfield up on Blakeney’s hallowed turf a good while back, the only qualities we worried about were how fast you were, how high you could jump and how hard you could kick someone. Today, even professional mathematicians get confused by all the modern formulae so what chance do I stand, considering it took me nine attempts to pass the O-level in maths I needed to get to university? Piking is a little easier.

Perhaps. Nev Fickling once said that you drown a mackerel on the top, in mid-water or on the bottom and that is all you need to know, but is it? I’m as lost when it comes to moon phases in pike fishing as I am to understanding  Stat Man’s analysis of Teemu Pukki’s back heel-to-goal ratios. If only pike could talk, I’ve thought this week, then they could explain why me and my lads had red letter days Wednesday and Thursday and one run between the lot of us on Friday and Saturday.

For the life of me, after half a century of pike catching, I don’t REALLY know if pike prefer big baits or small ones, sea fish or freshwater ones. Do they want them twitched or static? Have baits got to be blood dripping fresh or is one a bit whiffy what they like? We sort of think we have a good idea about these dilemmas, but, speaking personally, once I’m sure about something, pike instantly prove me wrong.

I still don’t really know whether it is better to stick in a swim when the going is tough or to keep on the move. The arguments both for and against each approach are equally compelling, my experience tells me. Are pike, big ones especially, solitary or do they live in pods of similar-sized fish? Time of year plays a part in this one, but I’d say there are far more exceptions than rules.

How long do pike live? Again, we think we know, but then a pike gets caught that we think had died years before. How do pike learn, because they do for sure, and quickly too (ignore this fact at your peril if you want to catch fish)? How far and often do pike move? The excellent Steve Lane proved that on the Broadland fastnesses they motor for miles because of tides and prey fish wanderings, but what about small, upper rivers where it appears a pike will live on a bend for years, or at least until an otter makes its life a hot one?

What about climate change? Are these scorchingly hot summers going eventually to boil them alive? It also seems to me that still waters are increasingly at the mercy of algae blooms. Is the decrease in water clarity due to high nitrate and phosphate levels irreversible and will it impact on pike growth rates? And what about the fact that ever more stills become infested with signal crayfish? Will this destroy prey fish survival or will pike wax fat on the crayfish themselves?

Most Read

Which brings me to growth rates. Trout waters are generally held to produce the biggest pike, but what about the Thurne monsters through the decades? Or what about the '40s' I saw from the Baltic last century? They might have been feeding on herring shoals, but we can only guess that and their girth could have been down to a diet of fish and chips.

Why do some pike waters only produce between 9am and 2pm, or thereabouts? Why is dusk key on other lakes and why does night fishing work in Wroxham, but not in lakes at Lyng? Why do dark, brooding days produce sometimes, but not others, and why do frosty , sun burst mornings blow pike waters apart about one dawn in 10? Sometimes a gale drives pike to a frenzy whilst I have known a slight breeze kill a feeding spell stone dead. Explain that!

Family folklore has it my grandfather lost the tip of his little finger to a pike bite, but did he really? He died before I was born so I could neither ask him nor inspect his digits. Do pike truly eat legions of wildfowl? I have spent what seems like several lifetimes on winter lakes and seen this happening twice and never since the otters have returned and devoured most coots and moorhens anyway. History has it that big swimming dogs have routinely been attacked, that a drinking bull was grabbed by the nose and the offending pike had to be surgically removed. Really? And what about bathers who have suffered limb losses to Moby Dick pike? Strange these horrors only occurred before 1900 and generally only to vicars and clergymen in general. In 1700, surviving parsons were those who kept to high ground.

There are those who think that stats and VAR are reducing the random fun in football. We’ll never have those problems in our pike fishing is my hope and my guess too.