You can either set out to catch large numbers of pike in the hope of one exceptional fish, or you can work patiently the difficult, unrewarding specimen waters which hold only big pike.
A pike of over 10lb may be regarded as a specimen in most parts of England and Wales, although 15lb is more appropriate in the Fens and the Broads, and Scottish and Irish lakes.
10-1 lft hollow-glass stepped-up carp rod, 2-3lb test curve
b.s. ll-15lb; 18lb or more in snaggy waters
Bronzed, ring-eyed, extra-strength. Trebles Nos 10-6, singles 2-1
Live coarse fish, dead sea fish
Livebaiting, deadbaiting— ledger, float, paternosterledger, spinning or drifting with a sliding float In most parts of Britain any pike over 10lb is a specimen, although in the Fens and Broads 12lb or even 15lb would be a better figure. The problem facing the specimen hunter is how to single out these big fish from the total pike population.
Naturally, the first step is to find a suitable water. This is relatively easy. Any Stillwater bigger than 10 acres, with a good average depth, say 10ft, of clean water, and prolific stocks of shoal fish, should support a healthy head of good pike—provided that it has not been overfished by thoughtless anglers. Rivers and drains are not usually as good, but the larger and deeper they are the better. Waters that produce good nets of fish to match-anglers should also yield good pike.
There are two basic approaches to the problem of catching specimens. The first is to set out to catch a large number of pike in the hope that some of them will be bigger fish. The second is to fish selectively for specimens in specimen waters.
Livebaiting is a favourite method of catching a lot of pike. Depending on the water, you can either use a paternostered or a bottomledgered bait of 2-4oz. Small baits are not a handicap with this sort of fishing. But enable you to fish delicately, without unnecessary hooks, and to position the bait almost anywhere you wish on a water.
Excitement of the unknown
You will, of course, catch all sizes of pike, down to miniatures weighing less than lib, but lots of fish are caught and there is always the ex-citement of not knowing how big the next one will be. Excitement is often sadly lacking from other specimen hunting approaches, particularly when too much is known about the water and what it contains.
Many anglers would argue that livebaiting for numbers is not really specimen hunting, where by definition the idea is to avoid smaller fish. All the same, at the end of the season, any competent angler fishing this way should end up with as many big pike as the man who sets out purposely to avoid all but double-figure fish.
Nevertheless, most specimen hunters do not want to be bothered with small fish. Although it is impossible to completely eliminate them, whatever the approach, there are two things you can do to reduce the percentage of small pike you catch in any session.
First, you can increase the size of your livebait. This approach works well with other fish, such as carp, but small pike have relatively large mouths and even really big livebaits, almost too big to use comfortably, are not immune to the attentions of hungry and adventurous jacks. Even so, livebaits of 6-8oz cut down the number of small pike, though you may experience more abortive takes as small pike try it on. Another problem is that big livebaits present difficulties when designing suitable hook rigs, and you may need to use multi-hook systems. If you do, strike very quickly, for too many hooks on a bait can cause a suspicious pike to eject it quickly.
The second, and better, method of avoiding small pike is deadbaiting. Most deadbait-caught pike weigh over 6 lb, and, on a good water, few will be less than 10lb. Only static deadbaiting is a serious specimen producing method; mobile dead-baiting, that is, wobbling, spinning and sink-anddraw, is neither selec-tive as to size nor, in my experience, very productive.
You will also need a wide range of miscellaneous items such as a large landing net (24in circular frame or 36in triangular frame) with a soft, knotless mesh; 8in straight artery forceps; long-handled wire snips; two different-strength gags with masked points; ring whipping thread for stop knots; grease to make line float, and diluted washing-up liquid to make it sink; a fine file for sharpening hooks. For weighing fish, you need an accurate e balance—say an Avon or Salter—of 1 32-40lb capacity; a large polythene laundry bag to hold the fish during HftN “”x- weighing, and a big knotless imitate a natuially dead fish and their use is more successful than trying to make a deadbait imitate a living fish. Pike know full well whether a bait is alive or not.
There are several methods of static deadbaiting. These are: straightforward ledgering, float or paternosterledgering, and drifting a deadbait below a sliding-float, with the reel line to the float well greased with Mucilin.
If you are serious about catching specimen pike, you must pay close attention to your tackle to eliminate the risk of losing a large and hard-fighting fish. Moreover, heavy baits impose severe strains during casting, so careful matching of line and rod is important.
A hollow-glass stepped-up carp rod of 10-1 lft, with a test curve of 2-3 lb, matched with 11-15lb b.s. Line, is the ideal combination. I use Bruce and Walker MklV carp rods, Olivers compound-taper carp rod, or one of the Going Brothers’ range. I also recommend the carp rod marketed by Simpsons.
Prestretched monofilament lines, which are prone to sudden failure, have no use in specimen piking. In-stead, use a good, non-abrasive line, with a uniform diameter. Colour is unimportant, although many anglers feel better if they use a sombre shade. My favourites are the 11lb b.s. Sylcast and the 12 or 14lb b.s. Maxima.
Extra-strong terminal tackle
There are many reels now available, and the choice of which to use is up to the angler. However, I find that its versatility makes a fixed-spool reel, such as a Mitchell 300 or 410 or an Abu Cardinal, with a line capacity of 100-150 yards, the best choice in most circumstances. Only if you are using very heavy lines—over 18lb b.s. In snaggy water, for example—is a multiplier better.
For hooks, use an extra-strong, ring-eyed and bronzed pattern. Treble hooks should be in sizes 10 to 6, single hooks in sizes 2 to 10. Stiletto trebles, Partridge trebles, Mustad extra-strong trebles, Model Perfect singles and Stiletto singles are all suitable for this kind of work.
The hook should be attached to a trace of 20-25lb PDQ stranded wire or Alasticum cabled wire. These are dark, fade-resistant wires not prone to shrinking. Do not use single-strand or nylon-coated wire. The rest of the end tackle should include a selection of sliding floats, swan shot, barrel leads and Arlesey bombs (in weights of 2oz-14oz).
Keepnet, such as a C J Field Polynet. Do not use sacks or makeshift bags to hold fish.
Most deadbaiting is done with saltwater fish—sprats, herrings, mackerel and, occasionally, sardines. (When herring and mackerel are chosen, either the tail-half or the head is usually fished.) But there is no reason why coarse fish and trout should not be used, provided they are already dead.
The effectiveness of deadbaiting is influenced by the weather. It is more productive at times when at-mospheric pressure is low or when the pressure is actually falling. This is probably because the water becomes less oxygenated during low pressure periods and the pike become sluggish and stay on the bottom. In high pressure, they are more active, and livebaits, fished in mid-water, produce most bites.
Some waters do not yield pike to deadbaits at any time. Fortunately, such waters are few; but I know no way, other than trial and error, of sorting them out. If deadbaits are not yielding fish, try livebaiting. You can then find out if the pike have a preference for livebaits, or if simply there are no pike at all.
Location is the most important consideration in the search for specimens. It is a well-known cliché, but it warrants repetition; the best techniques and finest baits will not catch big fish if you do not know where they live.
Young pike are extremely timid, and spend much of their non-hunting time quietly watching from the cover of weedbeds. But as they grow, and their own predators, mainly larger pike, become fewer, they brave more open water. They now need to eat larger food fish. A pike over 6lb has no natural enemies, but a healthy appetite, one which cannot be satisfied by remaining in the shallow margins, picking off little pike and assorted fry. So big pike leave the cover of weedbeds for the larder of deep water. ‘Deep’ is relative of course, but in most lakes it means 10-15ft, in reservoirs and lochs perhaps 25ft and in shallow rivers and drains perhaps only 3 ft. Try to seek out water of around 15ft if possible; in shallower waters find the deepest area.
Deep holes, shallow ridges
If the deep water totals no more than 30 square yards, then all you need do is cast out (perhaps fishing with two rods at the same time) and wait. More commonly, however, there will be a series of deeper areas surrounded by shallow spots (this pattern is particularly frequent in gravel pits) or one big area surrounded by shallow margins, as is often the case in reservoirs.
In gravel pits, plumb the deeper areas to locate ridges within them.
By careful plumbing, you may find several such bars, often running parallel and merging into a sub-surface bay. Big pike patrol the ridges along the edge of the deep water. If there is a bay, they con-gregate in it, creating a short-lived but highly successful hotspot for the angler who tracks it down.
Baits fished in the middle of the bay do well. Additionally, if the channel between ridges is wide—say 30 yards—try fishing one bait in the centre of the channel and one close to the edge where it rises to form the shallow-water ridge.
Besides ridges, plumbing may reveal shelves, where the bottom drops sharply away from a shallow plateau. On such waters, fish one bait at the bottom of the drop-off and another half way down the slope. These baits will intercept actively patrolling pike. Resting fish are best reached by baits fished in the deepest water.
Many flooded pits contain drowned trees, which have become bare and knurled. They are a superb lair for pike, especially on waters that hold perch, which also favour such hideaways. Sometimes they are too snaggy to fish, but heavy tackle fished as close as possible can also be productive.
Islands and emergent gravel bars are also good pike areas and, if you fail to find deep water, are well worth fishing. Not only do such places attract food fish, they also ;&!$? provide ambush spots from which the pike can prey upon nomadic shoals of little fish.
In larger stillwaters, such as reservoirs and lochs, it is sometimes difficult to find variations in depth, and you are faced with many acres of uniform depth. In such cases, you have to find the food fish before you find the pike.
In open water, fish are attracted by any feature which breaks up the monotony. Feeder streams, culverts, pumping stations and valve towers all attract small fish, and so pike. Sorting out the specimens, however, is a problem. Sometimes they remain on the fringe of such areas, but more commonly they mingle with the smaller pike.
Occasionally there are no distinc-tive features and this means slower fishing unless you are fortunate enough to locate a hotspot by trial and error. Only small pike hide in rushes and weedbeds, and your best chance of a specimen is to cast as far from the bank as you can. For some reason, possibly bankside distur-bance, big pike often retreat to deep areas a long way out. So it is always a good policy to fish one bait at some distance, even if good areas have been found close in.
A different approach is needed for loch pike. They rarely frequent very deep water and by far the best ap-proach is to seek out weedy, shallow bays, especially those close to river mouths or adjacent to deep water. Once located, such places can be fished in the same manner as a gravel pit.
Most of the pointers which help to locate Stillwater pike also apply to rivers. However, in dredged rivers and drains, there is precious little to look for and you have to rely on trial and error. It is a good idea to start your explorations as far as possible from the nearest access points. Big pike do not tolerate much distur-bance, and a lot of fishing in one spot—such as by a bridge—drives them away to quieter places. Once you have chosen an area, fish it hard with a variety of baits. If big fish do not come fairly quickly, move along 100 yards and start again until double-figure pike are found. Then keep the location to yourself!
Near Cheshunt in Hertfordshire there is a deep lake which has several of the features described earlier. It is about 15 acres of largely open water containing several underwater ridges. The water is clear but quite weedy, with large reedbeds in three or four areas.
At the end of the lake, there is a reed-fringed and, in summer, very heavily weeded bay. This bay is about 40 yards wide and 100 yards long, with a small island roughly in its middle. Between this island and the bank is a gully some 12ft deep, which runs from the innermost point of the bay, past the island, and several hundred yards farther along almost to the far end of the lake. On the other side of the island, and for most of the rest of the lake, the water shallows to 5-6ft.
The lake supports a good stock of pike, growing to over 20lb. Throughout the winter, large numbers of roach live in the bay and frequently several pike are found to simultaneously strike at surface shoals, especially on calm, frosty mornings and evenings. In winter, when the weedbeds die back and do not interfere with bait presentation, pike eagerly accept both live and deadbaits. Double-figure fish are caught each winter from this swim, the best so far being 24lb.
The swim is best fished from point A, and two baits should be cast out, one to the edge of the gully at X, the other to near the tip of the island where the bottom begins to shelve up at Y. In the deep water of the gully, I fish a paternostered livebait about 18in off the bottom. Near the island, I ledgered a dead mackerel or a herring tail.
The pike feed in spells, usually between 8.30 and 10.00am, some-times again around midday and then towards dusk. Rather unusually, the fishing is best in frosty conditions. It is distinctly poor in strong winds, when the water colours, partly because large waves drive the fish out of the bay into the deeper, quieter water in the main body of the lake.
Other areas in the bay produce fish, particularly the gully up to and beyond the island. The reed fringes and the shallow water to the right of the island also hold pike, although usually only small fish.