Gravel pit pike with Barry Fickling

14 Nottinghamshire gravel pit

The two 12-year-old gravel pits run by a syndicate are right next to each other in the Nottinghamshire countryside. One is for carp and the other for pike. Both are typical deep, clear pits, except that fewer anglers fish them. This doesn’t mean that they see less angling hours – syndicate anglers tend to be a bit fanatical.

Barry decided to start on the carp pit – an odd decision on the face of it, but he’d been planning this expedition for days and his reasoning was faultless. Both pits contained pike, though there had been a steady transfer from one water to the other since the syndicate had taken over.

There may have been fewer pike in the water Barry had chosen, but no-one fished for them – after all, there was a specimen pike water just a cast away. With the lack of angling pressure, the fish ought to be less wary. On top of that, Barry had pre-baited a swim with a load of old mackerel and herring bits. The plan wasn’t looking so farfetched, after all.

The pit consists of two arms, with a thin neck joining them. This is further narrowed by two gravel bars. Any fish moving from one arm to the other would have to pass through this area. It was here that Barry had pre-baited, and where he cast his hook-baits – a float-legered mackerel and a float-paternostered smelt.

He used two 12ft pike rods with a test curve of 3lb . You need a hefty rod to cast half a mackerel 60m and to handle big fish. The margins were still weedy after the summer so Barry’s reels held 15lb line. Bite detection was from two butt-end electronic indicators. ‘I’d have thought we’d have had a run by now.’ The remark of a seasoned specimen hunter, that. Barry poured some coffee from his thermos, settled down in the boot of his hatchback and looked at his rods as if to suggest he was disappointed with their performance. The rods did not react.

A hatchback for shelter was a real boon on a day when the sun took one look at the frost on the ground and retreated behind a cover of thick mist for the rest of the day. The wind wasn’t as retiring, however, and gusted icily round the corners of the car, blowing away the mist from time to time to reveal the thick grey clouds skulking above.

A nice enough day for penguins, but what about pike?

Sitting some distance away from the rods is good for two reasons. There’s no point clumping around on the bank after you’ve cast out the baits, especially if you’re fishing the margins. It also allows the right amount of time between registering a bite and striking. For Barry, the timing is right when he walks to the rod, winds down and strikes. Not that there was much of that going on this particular morning. ‘Well, it doesn’t look as though my infallible plan to catch us a pike is going to work after all,’ said a disconsolate Barry. ‘I’ll have to try the other pit, but I don’t think that’ll work if this one hasn’t.’ Ah well, no plan is absolutely foolproof – pike are too unpredictable. :

Once set up on the pike pit, Barry tointed out the obvious features. It was mother deep pit with weedy margins, with ;he remains of the summer rushes in the shallows. There were several features you couldn’t see, in the form of gravel bars making obvious drop-offs for patrolling pike. Barry knew where these were from long experience of this pit.

There were several noted catching areas and Barry set up at the number two hotspot because the number one area had had too much fishing pressure recently, making the pike much more wary of feeding there. With a float-legered half maGkerel in the weedyreedy margins, it was back to the car boot to avoid bankside noise. The other bait – a rudd deadbait suspended from Barry’s own tangle-free invention, the Pikesafe paternoster boom – was 60m out over a gravel bar.

The change of venue did not bring the pike crawling up the bank, much as Barry had gloomily supposed. Ah well, it’s been a good day to look at the of gravel pit piking, if not the fish themselves. The wind howled over the bleak landscape and Barry shivered. Even a cup of spectacularly strong coffee couldn’t dispel the gathering pessimism.

Who was being pessimistic? Barry stood up rather suddenly, though there was no sound from his bite indicator. A glance at the line showed the reason. Fishermen have always been able to spot bites – long before the shriek of a buzzer was even dreamed of – and Barry had just spotted one. The line had gone slack – indicating a pike bringing the bait towards the bank. The float hadn’t darted off, however, so Barry began to play with the bait, trying to tease the fish into a full-blooded take.

You can’t wait too long for pike to make up their minds. When a pike doesn’t move off with the bait but swallows it instead, you might not get all the signs of a typical bite. If you sit and wait for a run to develop, there’s a good chance your trebles will end up at the back of it’s throat, or worse – in its gut. Fish don’t deserve to die like that.

Barry finally provoked some sort of reaction from the pike, so he struck. For a second there was a deep curve in the rod and then it sprung straight. After a morning without a run, it was disappointing to say the least. Barry wound in the deadbait to see the damage. Sure enough, there were deep tooth marks scoring the sides of the rudd. ‘Most likely a jack which didn’t really feel like it,’ said an unhappy Barry, ‘but we might as well make sure.’ He cast out a smaller bait to the same spot, in case the pike wanted a snack rather than a full meal.

The new bait landed in the water, right by the place the last one had been attacked. Barry tightened the line and set up the indicator. Still looking glum, he walked back to the car boot and was about to speak when the buzzer let rip. A smile crossed his face. There was no messing this time as he struck, and the arc of the rod seemed to suggest that this was no jack.

The fish set off on a run, and Barry gave it line, backwinding. At a water like this, with heavily weeded margins, the trick is to tire them out in deep water, where there are no snags, and then hurry them through the weeds. The pike ran again, but it wasn’t going to have much joy against 15lb line. The important thing is always landing the fish — losing one might leave it trailing trebles and trace around, which could be fatal.

Barry manoeuvred the pike to the surface in the shallows and it looked to be all over. The pike had other ideas however, and it dived as soon as it saw the weeds. Barry applied as much pressure as he dared at such close range and got it back to the surface again. That didn’t appeal to the pike and once more it made for the weeds. Once more it was turned away as it attempted to reach safety, and this time on the surface it looked tired. Tired, but not defeated as with a flick of the tail, it dived one last time. At this stage, Barry was not going to let this one get away, and he steered the fish towards ever shallower water.

After the struggles had subsided the pike surrendered to the wide arms of the 1.1m landing net. A 90cm net will do at a pinch, especially on waters where there aren’t any big specimens, but Barry recommmends you get the bigger size if you’re serious about pike.

Barry estimated a 14-15 pounder as he was unhooking it. The priority was to remove the hooks from the fish and put it back in the water as quickly as possible. The experienced hands of the big pike hunter had the trebles free in seconds, without even pausing to put it down. The scales were already set up and the fish weighed in at 15lb exactly. Almost before the pike knew it had been landed it was back in the water and finning its way into the depths. A new bait was hooked up and cast to the same area the fish had come from. Pike are sometimes found in small groups and recasting to the area which has just produced a fish can often bring more of the same. This time however, it was not to be and there was no more action. At 2.00pm Barry wound in and grinned. ‘Well, I reckon we’ve done it then.’ Even the wind howled its approval – time to get back into the warm.

As we walk down to the bank a small island is dimly visible in the pre-dawn light. Bryce likes the look of it: ‘There will be a carp or two round there,’ he judges. But he had been advised to fish a bit further on, at a swim which had been producing some good