Fishing Lines: There may be a sting in the pike's tale

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The Independent Online

*** Frank Buckland, Queen Victoria's Inspector of Fisheries, was highly suspicious of pike anglers. He said: "More lies have been told about pike than any other fish." So it's not surprising that there is some doubt over the claim by a Scottish fisherman that he has just caught a pike weighing 50lb 12oz.

Let's put that in context. It is almost 5lb larger than the official British record, caught in 1992. Fred Buller, who knows more about pike than anyone, records 32 over 50lb in The Domesday Book of Mammoth Pike, but many have come from elsewhere in Europe. Others were caught by dubious methods (one was speared by a pitchfork) and most stretch back more than 100 years, when weighing was often carried out by eye rather than scales.

Many were taken in Ireland, in the days when a big pike's diet was enhanced by a feast of migrating sea trout and salmon. Not many salmon left these days once Irish drift netters, seals, cormorants and other predators, from otters to poachers, have grabbed a piece.

The largest Scottish pike was caught back in 1945 from Loch Lomond and weighed 47lb 11oz. In 1967, Buller himself lost one estimated at 50lb from the self-same spot, but there's been nothing since. To most Scots, pike are on a par with rats and Englishmen. Hardly anyone bothers to fish for pike except to remove them from salmon and trout waters.

News of the pike surfaced at a meeting of the British Record Fish Committee, which otherwise concerned itself with heavyweights such as a 1lb 12oz tadpole fish (from Bangor Harbour, if you fancy a crack at the record) or a mighty 1oz 4dr butterfly blenny, the proud trophy of Cliff Williams, who will surely never forget that momentous day off Weymouth.

The committee merely stated that it would consider a pike claim from R Simpson for a 50lb 12oz fish from Scotland at its next meeting. No more details were known. But Angler's Mail, a weekly angling paper, has done a very fine job of tracing not only the venue but the captor as well.

It was taken at the end of December from Mill Loch, a small water near Lochmaben in Dumfries and Galloway, and it was caught by Ralf Simpson, a 40-year-old warehouseman. It measured 54in, which would certainly be about right for a pike of that size. Furthermore, there's even a picture of Simpson with the fish, though it's a bit blurred because it was taken with a phone camera. So what's the problem?

Well, locals say Mill Loch is an unlikely sport for such a huge fish because it does not benefit from "bonus" food like salmon. Though it's known to produce an occasional 30-pounder, one almost double that size is quite a shock.

And what of Simpson's story? Far be it from me to say he's telling porky pies, but it doesn't quite ring true. He claims that he had lost a 40-pounder there, and that the day after he caught the big fish, which he put back, it took his bait again but he lost it at the net. Impossible? No. Unlikely? Yes.

A tall tale to back up Frank Buckland's opinion, or a true loch monster? It's one for the butterfly blenny investigators.