Far Bank Strangers on the Levels...
With a seal on the loose and unlikely corners to explore, Dom Garnett has enjoyed a decidedly odd start to the predator fishing season...
ONE thing I love about autumn pike fishing is the chance to set foot in new and unexpected places.
The Somerset Levels are a real labyrinth, offering hundreds of miles of water. But they are also maddeningly changeable. As familiar as I become with the area, it maintains an unfathomable strangeness. Some things, like winter floods, dented lanes and steep banks, you come to expect. Others might convince you that you’re seeing things.
A seal some 25 miles from the sea is a new one on me. I’d pointed out what I assumed was an otter to fishing pal John Deprieelle as it circled close to the bridge, before it surfaced closer and rendered us speechless.
It didn’t stick around for long, but it left us a little startled. We searched plenty of early swims but found the pike elusive. I guess 400lb of seal can have that effect, but at least on the Levels you’re not short of space to explore.
Every new season is a mystery to solve here. You have a huge mishmash of wild and man-made waters. You must suss out which spots get poached and which are worth trying or skipping over. And that’s before a bloody seal turns up.
Quite often you can walk for a mile or more without a touch, before finding a little concentration of prey and pike. The latter can be especially fickle when waters run low and clear. Seeing many of the fish is thrilling but frustrating. One or two jacks lash out at my flies and John’s lures, but the larger fish just sulk or bolt for cover.
In the idle late-morning hours there are other distractions, including side drains that look too small to hold fish and yet too irresistible not to try. I question John’s sanity as he balances halfway across an old pipe on today’s smallest drain. But in one of the dodgiest fishing spots you’ve ever seen, he extracts a perfect little perch from 12ins inches of swampy water.
Back on the main river, little fish scatter and we cast with fresh urgency. Autumn has been late this year and there are still billowing beds of streamer weed. I let my pike fly sink just above it and bring it across the flow. Finally, in midriver, there is a scything rush and the water explodes. The fish fights hard in the current, tearing off line before sulking in the weed. The long, fit fish in the net is a great start to my pike season, but I’m hoping the seal is far away as I slip her back.
Thanks to John Deprieelle for the images.
Wide open spaces – a day on the Levels.
A wild and wiry Somerset pike.
What the heck is a grey seal doing here?