Country & Coast: Look out for a lurking jaws in a waterway near you

A pike

A pike

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I am not an angler, and if we leave aside juvenile attempts with small net and basic bamboo rods, I never have been.

However, I work closely with angling groups to help improve the quality of the region’s rivers, and for example, am honorary president of SPRITE a group dedicated to the urban River Don.

Anyway, these people know how to fish and I don’t, so I leave it to them. However, with anglers, the word “pike” is always likely to get strong response, and not always positive.

A few years ago, I had a very interesting series of communications with anglers about the merits of eating pike.

The upshot was that those caught in murky muddy waters were indeed earthy in taste and not recommended, but caught in clear clean waters they were good.

It was interesting therefore, to come across a good-sized specimen while walking my local canal.

The fish was about two feet long, floating close to the water surface and I suspect rather unwell.

Unperturbed by a group of onlookers on the canal bank, even a duck Mallard and her tiny chicks floating within inches of the fish’s great jaws produced no reaction.

Therefore, I think this pike was sickly, but even so, it is unusual to get such an opportunity to observe our biggest native predatory fish at such close quarters.

A big proportion of the fish is jaw and the jaws are lined with needle-sharp backward-facing teeth.

In its element, this is the king of the crop, and they can grow very big. One caught by Ewout Blom in Holland was about five feet long.

However, many old tales of giant pike, sadly, have since been debunked.

The “Emperor’s Pike”, taken in 1497 from a lake near Mannheim in Wurtemburg, reputedly weighed in at 350lb and measured nineteen feet long.

Excitingly, the fish was found to have an inscribed copper ring attached to one of its gill covers stating that Emperor Frederick II had planted this fish in the lake in the year 1230 AD.

This was 267 years before its capture and the story was evidenced by the existence of a large pike skeleton in Mannheim Cathedral.

Unfortunately, a closer examination revealed a fraud as the backbone of this skeleton had extra vertebrae added to stretch the myth

Oh well, the one that got away…

Ian Rotherham is a writer, broadcaster, and Professor of Environmental Geography, Reader in Tourism & Environmental Change.

Local wildlife conference date

Back from the Edge – the fall and rise of Yorkshire’s wildlife is the title of a conference in Sheffield next Saturday.

Speakers will draw on examples of both losses and gains to show how diverse landscapes and species have responded to pressures and to opportunities.

It will also discuss who will champion Yorkshire’s future wildlife in an age of austerity.

It’s at the Centre in the Park, Norfolk Heritage Park, Sheffield, on Saturday, October 29.

For details see www.ukeconet.co.uk or http://place.uk.com .

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