The first time Nick Gahagan fished Chew Valley Lake in Somerset, England, he caught a northern pike that set a new waterbody record and nearly broke the British record. This was last Thursday, Feb. 16. The 43-year-old stone mason and father of four usually fishes the River Avon, but he was looking for a change of scenery that day. So, he brought his gear to the 1,200-acre lake west of London, where he quickly found out that he’d made the right call.
“I had a huge bite, and I knew straight away it was a big pike,” Gahagan told USA Today. “I picked up my rod and it almost bent in half.”
The heavy fish made a blistering first run. Armed with an Ugly Stik rod and 40-pound braid, Gahagan did the best he could to keep pressure on the pike.
“It was the hardest fighting fish I’ve ever encountered, so strong that my [rod] was absolutely bent double,” Gahagan said. “I really did think she was gonna spool me on her first run as she went off like an absolute train. The fight went on for a good while before she rolled to the surface and succumbed to the net.”
Gahagan was using a dead sardine as bait, according to a Facebook post by the UK-based Holy Mackerel Fish Oil Co. This wasn’t your typical canned sardine, though, as he’d injected and sprayed it with the strong-smelling fish attractant. Gahagan also chummed along the shoreline that morning with chopped fish that he’d soaked in the stuff for a full two weeks. He figured the chum would bring trout into the area, which would then draw in the larger predatory fish.
A Giant by North American Standards
Gahagan weighed the 44-pound, 7-ounce fish in front of several witnesses. After snapping a few grip-and-grins with the massive pike, he released it into the lake. His catch will go down as a new lake record, and it’s only two pounds shy of the British record—a 46-pound, 7-ounce fish caught 31 years ago.
It’s also within range of the IGFA all-tackle world record for the species. That 50-plus-pound pike was pulled from Germany’s Lake Grefeern by angler Lothar Lews in 1986.
Pike this big are almost unheard of in North America, where fish over 30 pounds are a rarity. Most U.S. anglers think of Canada and Alaska as being home to the world’s biggest pike, but most of the real giants over the years have come from European waters. Looking at the IGFA record book, Italy, Sweden, and Switzerland have all given up 40-pound pike. A 46-pound Northern was reportedly pulled from New York’s Great Sacandaga Lake back in 1946, but the biggest pike recorded in North America since then is a 34-pound, 8-ounce fish that was caught in Alaska .