235-year-old pike?


Pike isn't eaten much in this country - "a dirty fish" many say, though there are others to disagree. For Paul Bourke of the Central Fisheries, for example, said the other day that in 1981 at a fisheries conference in the Corrib Great Southern Hotel, pike was served over the few days in 30 different ways. Pike fishing is a great lure to Ireland for foreign anglers and there are now strict rules as to what size of pike and how many may be taken. But the legends about this fish are many and often unbelievable. Jeremy Paxman, in his excellent anthology Fish, Fishing and the Meaning of Life (Penguin), gives examples. He quotes one Walter Bromley Davenport as saying that uncertainty is the salt of existence. For example, he once emptied a large fishpond which he had been assured contained monsters of fish, including one especially ferocious pike which "a six-foot gamekeeper gravely asserted to be as big as himself and to have consumed endless broods of young ducks". The result of the emptying was a great haul of small and medium fish of all kinds, a few obese, fat-headed carp "and the conspicuous absence of monster pike".

But then there is the pike which drowns an angler, Grim, the Story of a Pike, by Svend Fleuron (1920). Fiction? Paxman also has stories of people going after pike with bows and arrows, nooses and spears. Alexis Soyer, in his book The Pantropheon, mentioned here recently, tells us that ancient gastronomists had little esteem for the fish . . . muddy water and all that; also "it was a received opinion that this despotic ruler of ponds lived for several centuries, and it may be correct."

The most remarkable, writes Soyer, was the pike of Kaiserlantern, which was 19 feet long, weighed 350 lbs and had lived at least 235 years. It is reported that the Emperor Barbarossa himself threw it, on October 5th, 1262, into the pond where it was caught in 1497; and that this enormous pike wore a golden ring which was made so that it would expand, and on which was engraved the date when the fish was spawned. Its skeleton was for a long time preserved at Mannheim. There is a note attributing this to "Bloch. Ichtyolog." There is a place named Kaiserslautern (not Kaiserslantern) west of Mannheim.

All this because the Specimen Fish Committee results are out for 1998 and the biggest lake pike was taken by Joseph Rooney: 34 lbs 4 ozs. The biggest river pike fell to Joseph Marsella. It was 37 lbs 6 ozs. Y