Photograph by Gary Abbot – silent, lurking predator
Step gently and quietly along a canal-side or lakeside where there is shallow water and you might be in for a bit of a treat. Lurking, silent and ominous below the reflective mirror of the water is a very large predator, very large indeed. The pike Esox lucius, is found across the Northern Hemisphere in freshwater and occasionally in coastal brackish water, and is known in parts of North America as the jackfish. They can grow to a considerable size with lengths of up to 150 centimetres or 59 inches, and weights of 25 kilograms or 55 pounds. Collectors in times past tried to exaggerate the dimensions by adding bits of several pike together and using clever taxidermy to pass them off as freshwater monsters. However, the problem with this ruse is that it involves adding several lengths of pike body to a head at one end and a tail at the other. Since the number of vertebrae (backbone units) is fixed, simply counting the pieces quickly revealed the fraud. Even so, a six-foot pike is a fair size!
Photograph by Gary Abbot
On last month’s BBC Radio Sheffield ‘Walk on the Wildside’ ’phone-in with Paulette Edwards, we had a message form Norman Hedge, and he included some photographs from his friend Gary Abbot. Norman wrote ‘Hi Paulette, What does Ian think of these, they were taken on the 16th April at Thrybergh Country Park, by my friend Gary. He is a regular at the Park, and I will pass on another couple he sent me; one has two pike ready to spawn.’ One picture shows a large pike beneath the surface of the water another has the two pike, male and female together and about to spawn. The other photograph is quite remarkable and shows a large pike just at the water surface but with a young toad attached to the pike’s head. Presumably, the toad does not recognise the danger and I wonder whether the pike realizes that toads are distasteful.
Photograph by Gary Abbot – amazing picture of a young common toad sat on top of a full-grown pike!!
For anglers and nature conservationists pike can be a mixed blessing and rather controversial. On the one hand, they must rate as one, if not the, most impressive of our common native, freshwater fish. On the other hand, they are vicious, stealth predators, the sharks of pond, lake and canal, and are cannibalistic to boot.
Photograph by Gary Abbot
Personally, and I am not an angler, I always find pike to be immensely impressive; perhaps it is the silent menace that they symbolise. Of course, they are edible but the flesh varies with the habitat and unless taken from very clear freshwater streams can be earthy. If this is the case then they need careful preparation such as soaking overnight in brine to remove the earthy flavour as recommended by Paul Ardron. Our next Radio Sheffield ’phone in is Wednesday 29th May at 2 pm, 0114 279 6699.
Aren’t Gary’s pictures tremendous? Let me know if you have wildlife shots you would like me to use or write about.
Ian Rotherham, Writer, Broadcaster, Professor of Environmental Geography, Reader in Tourism & Environmental Change