By then I was standing in the stern, yielding line in long bursts. I could see how it was dwindling on the spool, and I yelled at Pat to get hold of the oars as fast as he could and bring the boat round. Every few seconds came pulverizing thumps at the rod tip, more savage than either of the other fish had been able to manage. There couldn't have been much more than 30 yards of line left on the reel when Pat started to gain ground for me.
After that the fight was more sullen for a while, as the fish sounded and I thought of the tumbled black boulders and snags of the lake bed and the way the line could be taken round them. But Pat kept moving in on the fish, and I finally had him within 50 yards of the boat.
Then he exploded the water and showed himself, breaching clear, standing on his tail and shaking his great head, gill covers wide open to show the scarlet underside and the white cavern of the mouth. He sounded again, and moved fast into me as I madly recovered line to keep in touch. "He thinks the boat will give him shelter," said Pat, and he was right. For 10 minutes his tactics were the same. Wild flurries at the surface that turned our hearts over as the dappled flanks showed clear, then short runs of 20 or 30 yards before he turned again and tried to get under the boat. Then the runs became shorter. The tail-lashing fury on the surface dwindled to heavy rolls. Pat laid the gaff ready across the thwarts, and soon there came the first gleam underwater of the white belly.
"You have him now," said Pat, but when he loomed out over the fish, gaff in hand, there were enough reserves left for a last despairing run in the shadow of the boat before he was on his side defeated, his great golden eyes looking up at the boat and the awful jaws unmoving. Pat slipped the gaff into the V, then used two hands to get him aboard. The fish lay quietly in the bottom of the boat, and I put the rod down. My hands were shaking. Pat got the hooks out and looked at the plug. "Didn't I tell you?" he said shamelessly. "It's the touch of blue that does it."
The Swedish plug took three more pike that afternoon, but where I wanted to be now was in Mooney's kitchen, getting the use of Mooney's scales. Any northern pike over 20 pounds is a trophy fish. Mine was certainly that, but I wanted to know precisely.
Twenty-six and a half it went, a hen fish, naturally. All big pike are, but when you are fighting one and it comes up in the water and shakes its great head at you, you can never think of it as anything but masculine.
"Look at the belly of it," said Mooney. It was loose and empty. "That fella had just started to feed when you hit him. If you'd given him half an hour you'd have had a 30-pounder on your hands."
It was still a fine fish, though, and we took it to the convent up the road. The nuns were glad to see it. It would make a great feast for the poor children, they said. At least I hadn't killed it just for the satisfaction of weighing.
All over Drumshanbo my pike was good news. That wasn't going to be the case in Ballymote. I drove back slowly, planning my excuses. I parked quietly and took as long as I could to change upstairs. But I couldn't stay in my room all evening. I had to face them in the bar.
"Did you do any good?" Jimmy Hogg asked me, polishing a glass.