The Pike in Ireland
The Pike is known worldwide, a species of the family Esocidae, have been around on the Earth for at least 80 million years. Until relatively late in time Esox lucius evolved and spread across the upper latitudes of the northern hemisphere to North America by means of the Bering Strait land bridge. This had been under the ocean since the drifting apart of the continents began around 60-70 million years ago, but the ice age of the Pleistocene epoch caused a lowering of sea levels making the land bridge possible again. Back in 1980 a fossilised skeleton of Esox was discovered in Canada, which dated from at least 62 million years ago.
The introduction of the Pike into Ireland was believed to have been by the monks around the fourteenth century. The pikes appetite has been the inspiration for many an old wives tale, throughout history, most of man's dealings with Esox have been dominated by myth, superstition and his resulting fear. The pike is depicted as vermin to some fisheries, and so the legend of the water wolf, the pond tyrant, etc, begun. Man's knowledge of the natural world expanded over time and almost all of the myths, and half-truths have been laid to rest by scientific research. Even with all the weighted proof the pike still commands disrespect & persecution. Many people still prefer to believe the fairy tales passed down by old stories from generation to generation. Stories continue to fester of the pike who devour dogs, ducks and swans, while there is a little truth that pike do on occasion take ducklings, rats and voles, it should be stressed that these make up less than 1% of their total food intake.
The pike is one of the most widespread of Irish fish and pike fishing is as old as Irish angling. Pike are predators, but a big pike is perhaps the greatest predator still living in the wild in these islands. Its physical make up - the smooth enameled body, the great head - has a beauty which no one appreciates more keenly than the pike angler.
Many of the stories of great Irish pike are well-founded and far bigger fish swim in Irish waters than have been caught on rod and line. Sometimes they are seen - by an angler during a brief contact, or while taking wildfowl from the surface, or perhaps in the shallows of a lough in spring when the big females spawn. Such incidents start legends, and stories of great pike are often associated with very large waters such as Lough Ree or Lough Derg. So when the angler is afloat on a wild lough or on the banks of a wide river the idea of a big pike has a special power, because it is here that such a pike can grow quickly and remain unseen until the day it takes the bait.
It is said that pike thrive on neglect, and in Irish waters they have every opportunity. Ireland is still a pastoral country of farmland and peat bog with a very low population by European standards. The land is drained by a network of rivers (there are 7,000 miles of riverbank for the pike angler) and there are hundreds of loughs varying in size from a few acres to thousands of acres. Many loughs, for example the bigger loughs on the Shannon system, such as Lough Allen, have preserved their wild qualities. They can be difficult to approach from the bank because of marginal reeds growing in deep water, or because the shores may be rocky or boggy. And even from a boat, one angler would not be able to fish all of just one of Ireland's bigger loughs in a lifetime. So pike have been able to flourish and many fish will not even have seen an angler's bait.
This quality of habitat is one of the attributes of Irish pike fishing, and because of it the pike angler in Ireland can expect an excellent general standard of angling. But pike anglers hope for more than this. Ireland's wild windswept waters have produced pike of legendary size, several of them exceeding 50lbs. It is the chance of meeting a very big pike, in a river or lough little changed from the time when its ancestors first swam, which really fires the imagination of the pike angler in Ireland.
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