When huge pike ruled our rivers

THIS is the time of year when pike spawn. They usually travel considerable distances to do so, moving into very shallow water. The males and females travel separately, as the females are much larger and have cannibalistic tendencies.

Pike have a huge range throughout the northern hemisphere and their size has been well researched and documented, in particular by an Englishman called Fred Buller. Remarkably, the largest specimens seem to have come from Ireland.

The reason is probably that most of the large pike records date from the 19th or early 20th centuries. At this time Ireland had some of the heaviest runs of Atlantic salmon in the world. Before the building of the dam at Ardnacrusha, the Shannon is thought to have been the most prolific Atlantic salmon river in the world. Pike fed on these large and nutritious fish and grew to immense sizes.

The Meelick Lock pike, which dates from 1926, weighed 90lbs and appears to have choked to death while trying to swallow a 15lb salmon and then been washed into the weir at Meelick on the lower Shannon. It was weighed and measured by a Herr Hassee who was a German engineer employed by Siemens to do preparatory work for the Ardnacrusha dam.

The largest ever Irish pike is not quite so well documented because the record is much earlier — either 1815 or 1816. It wasn’t caught on rod and line either, but seems to have succumbed to this tendency that pike have to move into very shallow water to spawn. It was reported by WH Maxwell in his book Wild Sports of the West, which was published considerably later, in 1832. He was visiting the Marquis of Clanricarde in Portumna and this is the story he collected.

“Two gentlemen brought to the Marquis an immense pike which they had just caught in the River Shannon, on the banks of which they had been taking their evening walk. Attracted by a noise and splashing of the water, they discovered in a little creek a number of perch driven on shore and a fish which, in pursuit of them, had so entangled himself with the ground as to have a great part of his body exposed and out of the water. They attacked him with an oar, that by accident lay on the bank, and killed him.”

The fish was certainly a ‘her’, not a ‘him’, but the Marquis was equally astonished by the size of it and called for an accurate weighing scales. “It exceeded the balance at ninety-two pounds; its length was such that when carried across the oar by the two gentlemen, who were neither of them short, the head and tail touched the ground.”



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