Fishing Methods for Catching Pike
Fishing Methods (Live-Bait and Dead-Bait)
The least successful way of live-baiting in a lake is to choose a spot, cast in and wait, all day if necessary, for a pike to come along. Live-baiting should never be too static, unless the angler knows that a particular specimen has taken up residence in the place he is fishing, and decides that a siege is necessary. If you know of numerous spots on a given water which in the past have proved productive, a useful plan is to visit each of these in turn, never spending more than ten minutes on each, unless it proves that pike have ‘packed’ into one particular small area, as they sometimes do.
If your lake is spanned by a long bridge, then you are lucky for it should be possible from this vantage point to command a good acreage of water, and if there is a breeze you can work over many pike without recasting.
It is impossible to give written directions on where to fish. Every water varies, and experience is the only guide. On a calm day, it is possible to learn a good deal about the movement of pike. In a shallow lake particularly they will be seen ‘striking’, swirling in the water and scattering the shoals of small fish. If you can drop your live-bait near a pike feeding in this manner, it is virtually certain that he will take it.
Live-baiting in rivers can produce excellent results. The slacker waters of a river are usually fished — weir pools and backwaters especially. Slow-moving stretches, and eddies wheremay be worked round again and again may also prove fruitful. Very often, pike are not so evenly distributed in rivers as they are in lakes; there maybe especially `pikey’ stretches with which the angler will become acquainted as his experience of the water develops.
The old idea that very cold weather and successful pike fishing go well together seems to be pretty well exploded now. How the notion grew up remains a mystery. More important than the temperature is the matter of how settled the weather has been. A sudden drop in the temperature will kill pike fishing stone dead for a day or two, though the same does not seem to be true of a rise. The kind of day I prefer is one often experienced in autumn, a misty, soft day with plenty of cloud but no heavy rain. In my experience, a real downpour is fatal to pike fishing while it lasts, though sport may pick up immediately the rain, stops. A thaw after a short spell of hard weather often produces excellent pike fishing. When a lake is ice-bound, there are certain to be patches of water which are clear of ice earlier than the rest of the lake. When the thaw starts it is very much worth while to try these spots even though there may be only a limited area in which it is possible to fish. In these circumstances you may often see big pike cruising round the edge of the ice, and if you keep out of sight there is every chance that they will take a bait dropped where they can notice it.
Only when there is a downpour of rain or when the water is completely frozen over should you give up all hope of a good day’s pike fishing. Some of my best pike have been taken on days which, conventionally, were not worth fishing — one twenty-pound-plus fish came on a day of brilliant sunshine in early March, another from a hole in the ice at the bitterly cold fag-end of a January day.
Many years ago, Fred Taylor of Aylesbury and some others, reported in the angling press that they had had a good deal of success with dead-bait legered on the bottom of a lake. This was received rather sceptically by anglers who had been nurtured in the belief that any bait for a pike had to have life or simulate it. However, the method worked in many parts of the country, and it became plain that a new method of pike fishing had been born.
Ground-baiting is sometimes useful when dead-bait is to be used, herrings being chopped or minced before being introduced into the water. I have an idea that fish oil,-liver oil in large quantities, or pilchard oil in small quantities, might be as effective in this context as it is in sea fishing. This, however, is a theory I have not tried out in practice.
When a pike grabs a dead-bait there are usually two distinct parts to the run. The fish picks up the bait in its jaws, moves a little way with it, pauses to turn and swallow the bait, then moves off again. The strike should come at the beginning of the second run. .f it is delayed too long there is a possibility that the pike will gorge the bait and you will have to kill it.
Although dead-baiting will take pike in most conditions, it comes into its own as possibly superior to other methods in hard weather when the pike become lethargic and loath to move far after a bait. Thus, while they cannot be bothered to chase a spinner or move up in the water to take a live-bait, they will pick up a dead-bait that lies in their path on the bottom. The deepest water of the lake is the best bet for this kind of fishing.
In light summer fishing, a floating plug is the best bait to use. No other artificial will really do, since there is a good chance that the lure will sink into the weed.
Having spotted your fish, the most important thing is to keep out of sight. Do not underestimate the wariness of pike, especially in these circumstances. Cast well over the fish and fish the lure very slowly towards him, aiming to bring it a few feet from his nose. If all that happens is that he follows it for a short distance and then turns back, do not keep casting, but put on a different lure and give the fish a few minutes before trying him again. Pike taken this way often fight spectacularly, even the small ones. When removing hooks from a landed fish a gag is often useful. It enables the angler to prise out the hooks without getting bitten in the process.
Fishing Methods (Spinning)
The usual advice to beginners is toslowly and deep. This is rarely possible with an artificial lure on most pike waters, and the best thing to do is to find out by trial and error what speed of retrieve the fish like on your water at a given time. There are occasions, for instance, when a really fast retrieve seems to persuade them to take when they will not look at a lure worked at conventional speed.
As far as the fishing itself is concerned, a useful method ofa particular spot is something like this : one cast down the bank along which you will shortly be walking, then a few short casts close in around any features which look as if they may harbour pike — tree stumps, lily pads, or reeds, then a few casts out as far as possible into the open water. It is wise not to race down the water trying to cover as much as possible in a short time, but on the other hand there is no point in spending too long in a particular spot if there is no response.
Spinning a dead-bait is the method favoured most by the late Jim Vincent, the great Hickling Broad pike fisherman of the period between the wars. The tackle is simple: a treble hook on a short length of Alasticum wire. A baiting needle is used to thread the wire through the vent of the fish and out through its mouth, and ais twisted on. The retrieve should be very slow; experience will teach you how to impart a motion to the bait and how to make it flutter enticingly or fall away in a most attractive manner.
There are tackles available, known as flights, which are designed to make a small natural bait spin and wobble. These are not seen so much as formerly. In practice it will be found that a simple home-made mount like the one just described will be just as effective. A small bait, of course, can be fished on the lighter gear described for standard spinning, and very small baits can be used for light-tackle summer fishing, for they are light enough on leadless tackle to be worked over the weeds.
Pike seem to bring out the most extreme feelings in anglers. Either they abominate the species or they are fascinated by it; there seems to be no middle way. I should say here and now that I have always been a pro-pike man, or rather a pro-big pike man, for there is no greater anti-climax than to go out equipped for ones weighing 18 kg (40 lb) and catch a succession not weighing more than 1.5 kg (3 lb). Some fishermen hate the thought of pike and can’t look at one without thinking of how much delectable roach flesh has been sacrificed to build up its weight. The anti-pike mania can take extreme forms. I shall never forget, years ago, attending the annual general meeting of a fishing club, in the course of which a stout, red-faced man got to his feet and made an impassioned appeal for volunteers to go to the water we rented and wipe out the pike. Fortunately for those of us who like pike fishing, pike aren’t wiped out so easily.
Less vehement anglers prefer to dress up their prejudices with a show of reason. Pike fishermen usually argue about the balance of nature and declare that, if it weren’t for pike keeping their numbers down, the lesser fish would multiply and become stunted. The answer to this is that in many waters where there are pike the roach and so on are stunted in any case; and that there are plenty of examples to be found of specimen roach (or rudd, or whatever) coming from waters where there are no pike. The truth seems to be that the presence of pike is not an important factor in extensive waters; there are other, much more significant factors at work. In small, enclosed waters, there is a strong case to be made out against pike.
What the question boils down to in the end is whether or not one likes pike fishing. Speaking for myself, I think that all the roach that went into the making of one weighing 9 kg (20 lb) gave their lives in a good cause. If small carp-family fish interest you more than pike you will disagree. There seems little hope that the two points of view will ever come together in a compromise.
What is certain is that pike give most coarse-fish anglers in this country their best chance of a big fish. Pike do grow large. Even in a farm pond, where the average size may be only 1 kg (2 lb), there is always the possibility of one of 4.5 kg (10 lb) turning up. If one is fishing one of the great lakes of Ireland or Scotland, or the Norfolk Broads, or some delectable private lake, perhaps, in the heart of England, there is always, at the back of one’s mind, the feeling that this might be the day, that the next time the float bobs under the resistance will not be that of an ordinary pike, but of some great monster that will immortalize the angler who catches it in angling history. In some ways I would rather catch a record pike than break the record for any other species.
There are many, many enormous pike of legend. Some of them, like the one that chased the parish clerk across the pool in Staffordshire, may be discounted at once. Other monsters may be given more credence. The Loch Ken pike, said to weigh 33 kg (72 lb), is the most important of these, since evidence, in the shape of the creature’s mighty skull, still exists, and from its dimensions it is clear that the fish could have attained the weight claimed for it. The Whittlesea pike, a 50-odd-pounder taken when Whittlesea Mere was drained in the seventeenth century is also well authenticated. All the ‘record’ fish recognized until the Record Fish Committee came into being have since been disqualified for lack of evidence.
It is possible, I suppose, for a big pike to turn up almost anywhere from some protected and keepered water where the fish are left to grow large and lusty. Small waters that are regularly fished are unlikely to produce very big fish, since in such places it is very easy to over-fish pike. There remain the great still waters of Britain and Ireland where the fishing pressure can never exhaust the pike population in the ordinary way. In the past, the Norfolk Broads have proved a vast repository of specimen pike, as has been proved in recent years by the exploits of Dennis Pye, who has caught more than two hundred pike over 9 kg (20 lb) since the war, and a number over 14 kg (30 lb). One can only hope the Broads pollution problems will be solved. The Lake District, curiously enough, does not seem to produce the big pike one would expect from such waters. Possibly there is not a great deal of piking done there, possibly catches are not
reported (and there may still be a good deal of the activity known as `trimmering’ going on; with this illegal method a large float, such as a bottle, is allowed to drift freely with a large live-bait attached to it). English rivers vary in the quality of pike fishing they yield. The Thames and the Great Ouse, two of the major southern rivers, rarely produce a really good specimen. The Hampshire Avon is a good deal better, as is its neighbour stream, the Dorsetshire Stour. The Wye, where permission to catchmay be gained, has some tremendous pike in it; it once produced a record fish and may do so again. The north of England seems to provide little quality pike fishing, though the Yorkshire water of Hornsey Mere is an exception to this. The river Lune is possibly an exception, too.
Pike are not indigenous in Welsh waters, and are not widespread, though there are a few lakes where excellent pike fishing may be had — Llangorse in Breconshire is one and Bosherston in Pembrokeshire another. Lake Bala used to be, and may still be, a good pike water. There are certainly some enormous pike in the lower Towy, a salmon river, but so far it has been difficult to get to grips with them; no live-baits are allowed and artificial lures must be of a very large size to lessen the chance of their being taken by salmon.
In Scotland, Loch Lomond seems most likely to produce record fish. The lowland lochs of Scotland are said to contain some very big pike, but so far little specialist fishing has been done, the local anglers not regarding the fish as of any consequence.
In Ireland, the very large lakes no longer provide the pike fishing they once did, since the Inland Fisheries Trust began schemes to reduce the number of pike considerably, chiefly by means of trapping. In the Irish midlands, however, there remain countless small lakes which probably provide the angler with his best chance of fish up to 9 kg (20 lb) and where one of 14 kg (30 lb) is an ever-present possibility. If you want a record fish, though, the best plan is to scan Ordnance Survey maps and seek out the estate lakes where permission to fish has not been granted for a hundred years. Then win the football pools and buy the owner out. Engage extra keepers with watch dogs, then one mild October morning stroll down to the lakeside with a bucket of live-bait …
At the time of writing, it is clear that sooner or later a really big controversy is going to shake up the angling world over the question of live-baiting. Certain anglers now regard the practice as cruel and feel that with the advent of dead-baitit has also become superfluous. These feelings do their owners credit, but, personally, I cannot go the whole way with them. This is not the place to go into the ethics of fishing, or to examine the motives, conscious and unconscious, that makes anglers of us, but I do feel that it is possible to be over-squeamish about a sport which, let us be frank, does involve catching fish. As far as the second claim is concerned, I am not at all convinced that dead-bait legering is suitable for all occasions and waters, and I am sure that live-baiting gives the best chance of a good pike in most waters, although most of my pike fishing has been done in shallow, weedy lakes where, admittedly, dead-baiting seems not to be as effective as in some other types of water. It is worth noting, by the way, that the legal position is quite clear. A decision of the courts before the war established that live-baiting is not regarded legally as cruelty.