Fishing Lines: Mysterious case of the monster of Alexandra Palace

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The Independent Online
NO DEATHS have been reported from Alexandra Palace in north London this week. No children have disappeared. No shocked dog-owners left with a trailing lead. Even the ducks that paddle across the boating lake are all accounted for. It's been a quiet week for the Ally Pally monster.

Despite the lure of a pounds 460 bounty and the best efforts of fishermen, the giant pike of the boating lake still haunts those murky depths. Michael Dispirito, head bailiff at the lake, is quoted as saying: 'It's a rogue pike that kills for the sake of it. It eats its own weight every week, and at that rate we'll have nothing left in a few years.' It's claimed that the pike, said to be 4ft long, has eaten more than 40 per cent of the pond's geese, ducks and other fish.

The unseen monster has perked up trade no end, despite the introduction of a pounds 1.50 charge for fishermen. Radio, television and national newspapers have flocked to the water, hoping for an exclusive sight of the beast. Even a special night competition (pounds 10 to enter) failed to trick the wily fish. A report in the Daily Telegraph quotes Dispirito as saying: 'We had thought that we would have a better chance of catching the pike at night, when it's active and eats . . . But the hunt will go on.'

Before you pack your rods and head for north London, I should warn you that there's something decidedly fishy about the 'monster pike'.

For a start, pike do not kill just for the sake of it; they kill to eat. And any pike that eats its own weight every week should weigh about 100 tons by Christmas. Pike are one of the most efficient of all predators in converting food into energy, and a 10lb pike could maintain its weight on an annual intake of just 14lb. No wonder they're getting nervous in north London. The pike will soon be longer than the pond.

Nor am I too sure how the 4ft measurement came about. Is the pike calibrated in inches? Does it sunbathe on the surface, allowing onlookers to measure it? If we are to believe these measurements, it would be at least 36lb, making it one of the largest pike in the British Isles. To find such a fish in a London boating pond would be the equivalent of finding a flock of dodos on your bird table.

It's not surprising that the night fishers failed to tempt the fish. Pike hunt by sight, and though they are very occasionally caught during darkness, this is a rare occurrence. They certainly don't become less cautious at night. They go to sleep.

A cynical local journalist, John Ryan of the Hornsey Journal, claims the whole thing has grown from the last paragraph of a press release about silt removal on the 4ft deep pond. The last paragraph said: 'Perhaps anglers may even catch the mythical giant pike.'

Ryan said: 'The whole thing has disguised the real story: that they are now charging to fish what was once a free lake.'

Paul Vousden of Ignition Marketing, which handles publicity for Alexandra Palace, admitted that pounds 5,000 was needed to de-silt the lake, but denied that the pike was swimming only in the fevered brain of a PR person. 'Lots of people have seen it. There was a sighting only yesterday.' So there you have it. If you believe in fairies, by all means have a crack at the Leviathan.

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