If a fish, or a catch, is to be a story, the fish has to be out of the ordinary, preferably bordering on dangerous. And if the story is to become a classic, the fish should be as big as a whale or the fisherman should at least be a character like Captain Ahab.
But that doesn’t happen very often. Most fish are ridiculously small, hardly worth mentioning. Honestly, who wants to hear the story about when you caught a couple of char that were big enough to fill a sardine tin? That’s why all anglers are born honest, but soon get over it. And that’s why you should take fishing stories for what they are. Even though many are worth telling, and true besides. A while ago I went to a sixtieth birthday party. The 60-year-old’s neighbour was also there, with his arm bandaged up to the biceps. He went around happily greeting other guests with his left hand.
Since I’m rather reserved, I didn’t ask about the nature of the injury. I surmised that the old chap probably sustained a burn while playing with fire. Instead, when I made some discrete inquiries, I learned that the neighbour had been fishing out on the ice near his home. The record-sized pike had taken the bait and, after a struggle, the angler had managed to pull the fish’s head up through the hole. The hole was too small and the pike was too fat. The line broke and the neighbour watched as the pike began to sink back through the ice. When the pike suddenly gaped, the old fellow thrust his right hand into its mouth, whereupon the fish did what it was programmed to do: it struck. The old man’s hand was now in the grasp of a million slimy teeth.
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Since the pike’s reflexes are such that it keeps a firm hold on its prey, it locked its grip and was dragged from the hole. It weighed 14.6 kilos. Well worth both a visit to the doctor and a course of penicillin. As Sergei Timofeevich Aksakov wrote in his classic “Notes on Fishing” as early as 1847, “The pike’s greed knows no limits”.