European Tales of Odd and Unreal Pike

by Louis Bignami

While European pike are definitely larger than American specimens, there has been much nonsense written about pike sizes on both sides of the Atlantic. We hear about an 80-pound, 4-foot pike from Sweden that "was dragged five times up to the gunwale of the punt, but never captured." Then there is the famous Mannheim pike that hung in the Cathedral of the same name that was supposed to have lived for 267 years. Skeptic H.G. Seeley writing about northern pike as far back as 1886 noted, ". . . preserved in the cathedral of Mannheim, its bones furnished the gloss on the old story that it had been manufactured out of smaller fishes." Another European source mentions a 350-pound pike that was 19-feet long. That must have looked like a broomstick. In proper pike proportions it would have weighed over a ton!

Though pike eat anything, they don't get that big. They definitely munch oddments besides baby ducks, swimming mice and muskrats. Pike, it must be noted, are considerable predators of baby waterfowl in the spring. They certainly define 'predator'. "It's not unknown for pike to be boated that are not hooked, just locked in a death grip on lures or flies."

Even stranger tales abound abroad. In 1865, a 40-pound, 49-inch long pike was hauled in when it hit the head of a floating croquet mallet that was tied to a string and tossed into an estate pond by the three-year-old son of the Devon estate's owner.

Modest Size Pike from Idaho's Coeur d'Alene Lake.

PHOTO: LOUIS BIGNAMI

There is even an English story of a pike found dead in a haystack. His teeth were set into the hind leg of a dead fox. The story suggests the pike attacked the fox before it was dragged from the water. The English do like country tales!

The Irish have even more pike stories. That's fair; they have more pike. Many of these early big fish were caught in Ireland's Lough -- lakes -- or rivers. Few were caught on rods. It was only after 14th century German armorers developed the art of drawing wire that reliable wire leaders became available and bigger fish could be taken by more sporting methods. Horsehair leaders don't cut it with pike!

John Buller, in his British book Pike and the Pike Angler lists at least 34 Irish and English pike ranging in size from 92 pounds down to the weight of the current North American record fish. A recent magazine listing reported 99 fish larger than Dubuc's North American Record. Some of these records (the list goes back to 1822) are a bit obscure. A number are well-documented and pike approaching muskie-size may be the occasional result of the combination of ideal conditions and a lack of angling pressure.

The World Record Czech Pike

Clearly, even bigger pike swim in Europe than in the British Isles. The NFWFHF current world record, a monster 55 pound 15 ounce pike came from then Czechoslovakia's Lipno Reservoir, where at least six other pike over 38 pounds have been taken in the last 20 years.

Jiri Blaha took his 4 1/2-foot long pike on a large roach bait -- a European minnow much like our sucker. According to the report in Splash, the magazine of the NFWFHF, the 55-pound, 15 ounce pike was landed without a net or gaff. All records were carefully checked. The scale examination, weigh in and angler and witness interviews were done by Bedrich Hala, a Czech magazine editor. So this fish is now the NFWFHF all-tackle record.

German Pike

The IGFA world record northern pike is Lothar Louis' 55-pound, 1-ounce fish from Grefeern Lake, Germany. Both European fish are larger than the North American record. Even larger fish wait lucky fishermen in the USSR. A standard guide to Soviet freshwater fish lists netted pike from the Dniepr marshes at 131 pounds, and a 69-pound fish from Lake Il'men near Novgorod.

Even farther east, the Amur pike, now stocked in a few U.S. waters, runs slightly smaller, but, according to international experts, "it fights harder." Pennsylvania and one or two other states have experimented with these pike.

Few of these pike species got much attention in the past. European trout and salmon fishing is almost entirely private and extremely expensive. Carp or perch are commercially raised in ponds or netted. So pike are considered useless predators. Water bailiffs try to destroy them by any means at hand and convert them, depending on the country -- into fish cakes or garden fertilizer as soon as possible. So well-documented pike records are only now starting to surface in Europe.

Irish Perspectives

A trip to Ireland after some careful research on Irish Loughs could produce a record. For pike grow fast here, as elsewhere with ideal conditions. A 41-pound Irish pike had only eight annual rings on its gill covers!

Life After Blonds; A look at Swedish Pike

A visit to Sweden could produce a record too. Swedish catches hold the IGFA 4-, 12-, 16-, 20- and 30-pound line class records. Jan Eggers, one of the most expert pike fishermen in Europe touts the Trosa Archipelago about 75 miles south of Stockholm, Sweden as the best choice. Of course, he may be a bit prejudiced; when he first fished the area over 25 years ago he caught 47 pike on his first day.

Eggers does note several differences with European pike which are both less common and much fatter, so less hungry than those in Canada. Trosa pike are extremely fat because they live on Baltic herring. Still, with a week's effort, and a good guide, a 30-pound pike is a definite possibility and 20-pound pike common.

These pike are so big that a 6-inch long Swim Wizz(r), usually used for muskie, and other monster plugs are popular lures. With catch and release common, some outstanding pike are certain. So are sea trout and a popular "pike-perch" called the zander. Check with Frontiers for information or Jan Eggers in Holland - 01131 2285 13213 - for information. Some Russian waters now opening up could produce monsters too.

Lake Sacandaga in upstate New York is the spot to try for a North American record. Given a little luck, pike might reach 20 years of age anywhere. Project the growth of the Irish pike mentioned above into other waters with ideal conditions and modest fishing pressures and muskie-size pike may be possible. New reservoirs newly stocked with pike offer another record option.