Like a pride of lions, young pike inhabit a home base from which to strike at passing prey. Like lions, too, in old age they lead a lonely, scavenging life, feeding off putrid flesh.
More folklore and complex thinking surrounds the subject of how to fish for pike than any other species. Not all of it is traditional, for a great deal of modern muddled thinking exists. In fact, fishing for pike is a relatively simple matter once you have faced up to a few home truths, unpalatable though these may be.
The prime fallacy is that the pike is a solitary beast—the lone wolf of the fishy world. It is not. Most of the time, the pike the angler fishes for—say over 5 lb—is in the company, often close, of other pike. In this way, considerable areas of water may contain nothing but jack, or young, pike. Rather than the lone wolf idea, we should think of the comparison with a pride of lions. We should not compare them with a wolf pack either, for pike rarely hunt as a pack except when they corner unusually large shoals of bait fish.
Lions live as a pride with a home base. Any game which wanders through that area is safe if the lions are not hungry, but meets instant death if they are. Occasionally lions go on the rampage, hunting far and wide, and not necessarily as a pack, or even as a loose group. The pike’s behaviour is very similar. Days when big pike seem to be mad to feed throughout a water, are those when their hunting urge has spread them far and wide. Most of the time they frequent a relatively small area, which elsewhere I have referred to as a hotspot.
Within a hotspot pike have feeding patterns. Considerable numbers may come on the feed at roughly the same time each day and feed for a very short period. When conditions are adverse—due, for example, to dropping temperature and barometer—only a few pike may respond to the careful angler, but again, it will be at the same time of day.
Generally speaking, these feeding periods last about an hour. In the autumn they tend to be not long after first light with a second (often shorter) period towards dark, often about 2 hours before nightfall. In the winter the feeding period may be later in the day, often about midday, but generally the extent of feeding is less spectacular, even under good conditions, because water temperatures are lower and metabolic requirements are less.
The fact is, unpalatable though it may be, that you have to get up in the morning and fish hard and long for a day or two until you have the feeding pattern—always assuming that you have found the hotspots in the first place. It should be em-phasized strongly that there is nothing quite like sitting in a place you know to be a hotspot, waiting for the feed—you know it will happen and that the prize can be yours.
All other problems of rods and tackle pale into insignificance beside those just dealt with. While not implying that there are not several good rods, reels and techniques, let me describe the extremely simple approach that has produced for me more than 600 pike over 10lb in the last 15 years.
The pike rod
First, the rod. A model like the Mark IV carp rod is too soft, not for playing pike, but for casting the baits so commonly used in piking. However, a stepped-up carp rod is ideal. Several of these are available, in hollow glassfibre, but the best type are those with progressive action as opposed to the tip action associated with fast taper blanks.
Fast taper blanks with a test curve in the range of 2xA-2ViVa have their place in piking, for example in firing 2oz leads and small baits a long distance (up to 70 yards). A slow action rod, however, will not only cast heavy deadbaits a long way (4-5oz up to 80 yards in average weather conditions) but can be used for shorter range float paternoster rigs for live and deadbaiting.
Personally, I find a 10ft slow action rod ideal for most of my piking, which includes use of artificial baits much of the time. When spinning I would probably use lighter bait casting rods as well, but my concern here is to outline an outfit that can be used with great success and versatility for almost all styles of pike fishing you are likely to encounter.
When considering reels a ruthless approach cuts out thoughts of multipliers and centrepins, and homes in on the versatility of a good quality fixed-spool reel. I use those with roller pick-ups and able to carry 200 yards of 15lb b.s. Lines. The b.s. Of monofilament line that I normally use is 11-12 lb, even for very big pike. Only in heavily weeded or snag-ridden waters would I go up to 14-15lb b.s., although I use 20lb line when trolling. Breaking strains under 11lb considerably increase the risk of snapping the cast when hurling out 4oz of mackerel for 70 yards, while lines of 14-15lb b.s. Drastically reduce distance.
Using this rod, reel and line combination, the most common method I employ uses a 12in diameter spherical sliding float with a home-made snap tackle on the business end. The float has a hole of a sixth of an inch through the middle so that it slides very freely on the reel line. Above it is a bead with a small hole through which the line comfortably passes, and above this and set at the required depth, is a stop knot of 6lb b.s. Monofilament or of thick cotton, which has less of a tendency to cut into the reel line.
The snap tackle consists of, at one end, a swivel, and at the extreme of the other end a No 6 or 8 treble hook. Between them is a sliding Ryder hook of the same size. These two items are fixed by passing 2in of the cabled wire trace through the eyes, laying them back and twisting them together firmly with the fingers. The application of some Araldite adhesive can be made, though this is not really necessary.
Dead or live bait
This basic tackle can be used for laying on with deadbait, for suspending deadbait, or for using a freeswimming livebait. Paternostered dead- or livebait is fished by tying a length of 6lb b.s. Monofilament to the swivel at the top of the trace, and to the bottom of the paternoster link is added a lead suitable to combat the current or wind drift. The depth is set so that the bait is the desired distance off the bottom. In order to prevent the sliding float from dropping over the trace a swan shot should be placed either just above the swivel for deadbait fishing, or about 2ft above it if you are going to be livebait fishing.
So arranged, the tackle is suitable for much of the pike fishing that the average angler is likely to practice. However, to achieve greater distance, or to avoid scaring pike in shallow water, the float can be dispensed with and a simple paternoster arrangement reverted to. Similarly, direct ledgering can be carried out by breaking off the paternoster line and adding the ap-propriate sliding lead to the reel line. Alternatively, the tackle can be fished completely freeline, one of the deadliest piking techniques for close range fishing. Whichever variation you decide to use, the same hooks, line, reel and rod are employed.
Only if I used a very large dead- or livebait would I change to a multi-hook system—probably just two snap tackles—but I have not done this for several years. For spinning I remove the float and snap tackle and add the appropriate trace and lure. The bead and stop knot can be left on the reel line in case a rapid change is again made. Trolled artificials or deadbaits, used in conjunction with float tackle, can be fished on the same gear, but a barrel lead of appropriate weight is added to the reel line just above the swan.
It should be clear now that such an outfit enables you to fish livebaits and suspended deadbaits at close to medium range, and to use all these methods from boat or bank. The same rod can be used for floatless trolling of lures in conjunction with heavy lines. This is the first change of tackle we have made which takes more than a few moments. Fishing in heavy weed would require the same change of reel spool, hardly a long job.
Ancillary pike equipment
Other tackle needed by the pike angler includes a big landing net, and unhooking equipment. If used with great care a pair of long-nosed forceps or very long-nosed pliers will suffice for unhooking a pike. If the fish is sizeable, lay it on its back, sit gently astride it and with a gloved hand pull gently at the tip of its lower jaw. The pike’s mouth will open easily and it is a relatively simple matter to remove the hooks with the forceps. Gags are, in my view, quite outdated and unnecessary, and all the ironmongery carried around by some anglers would be better sold to a scrap dealer. Even hooks that have gone into the soft flesh at the back of the throat can be removed by closing the forceps, passing them through the gill covers, opening the forceps, and then gripping the hook shanks and quickly turning them upside down. The hooks usually pop clear of the flesh very easily—remember that the hooks recommended are quite small, except when wobbling dead-baits, where a single large treble may be used.
Very little deep hooking need oc-cur, although it happens to the most careful anglers at times. It can be prevented as a rule by avoiding that most ridiculous of instructions to ‘wait for the second run’. Wait until the tackle is moving along steadily and then wind in quickly to take up any slack, and strike. If you have taken up the slack line it is not necessary to run back yards along the bank or to strike repeatedly. If you do miss, the fish was probably small and, anyway, on the next run you can give it a little longer in case the pike are playing finicky, as they often do. Better to play it this way than to hook the first fish deeply and strike the next one earlier. These, then, are my basic methods and tackle for getting the most out of piking, at least until techniques for special circumstances are needed. It is remarkable, however, how rare are these ‘special’ circumstances, and to me piking is made up of actually fishing, not worrying about special circumstances that occur rarely and are probably only imaginary anyway.