Pit pike at Foster’s End

Between King’s Lynn and Downham Market in darkest Norfolk lies Foster’s End – a small, innocent-looking spring-fed gravel pit. But beneath its tranquil surface there are one or two surprises in store.

The first surprise is the depth — Foster’s End is a very deep pit. Most commercially mined seams of gravel run close to the surface but here it ran up to 9m (30ft) deep.

Secondly, the spoil from the gravel extraction is usually dumped in the pit itself, and it is this which produces many of the typical gravel pit features, such as ridges and bars. At Foster’s End, though, the spoil was dumped around the edges of the pit, giving it high sides and leaving the bottom more uniform than usual. It produced a pit with steeply sloping sides and 4m (13ft) of water within two rod lengths of the bank in most places.

The deepest area is 8.2m (27ft) deep and roughly hourglass-shaped. During prolonged periods of cold weather most of the fish shoal up in this deep water which is warmer than the water above it. The rest of the features which attract the fish throughout the year are bankside features.

Good spots and bad

A number of hotspots around the banks of the pit regularly provide good catches of the pike which have grown fat on a diet of carp to double figures, bream reaching 7 lb (3.2kg) in weight, roach, perch and crucians. Locate the prime areas and you’re halfway to a bumper day’s piking. The east point The point on the east bank is a noted early season hotspot. Because it sticks out towards the middle of the pit, the deep central area is within easy casting range and the gradient is even steeper than around the rest of the pit. By late autumn, however, anglers have usually given this area a good pasting, and the pike have learned to avoid it.

The west point Another point on the west bank provides similar summer and autumn possibilities. Both points are also good places for the angler as well as the pike to ambush the shoals of patrolling bream. The shallows Two shallow bays in the south-west and north-east corners provide ready-made spawning areas for the fish populations. In both the water is about 0.9-1.2m (3-4ft) deep and very weedy. These bays are late and early season hotspots as fish prepare for and recover from spawning. The beach On the edge of the shallow bay in the south-west corner is a shallow sandy section known as the beach. It is close to the deep water but also allows you to fish a bait inside or close to the shallow bay. The sticks On the opposite bank by the other shallow bay there are the remains of a couple of submerged bushes. The only signs of them are a few branches sticking out of the water, giving the area its name.

These look as though they ought to provide good cover for a lurking pike. However, the water around them is only about 1.5m (5ft) deep, and with much deeper water close by, you don’t often find pike here.

Neville’s choice

When Neville turned up at the pit at first light he looked around the water before deciding where to fish. As it was an early December morning, he reckoned both of the points were out. ‘By this stage in the season most of the pike have learned to avoid the points because of the angling pressure.’

It had been really cold for more than a week and there had been a sharp frost the night before. Therefore he thought the best chance of a fish or two would come from the deep water in the middle. ‘The roach and bream shoal up in the deeper water and the pike follow them. But because the water temperature is low, they’ll be lethargic, so it’s a case of hoping a bait lands near enough a pike to attract its interest. They certainly won’t be out hunting for food today. ‘The depth is an advantage. It means there’s likely to be quite a layer of warmer water at the bottom, even when it’s as cold as this. As long as the fish have become used to the water temperature, they feed even when the air above is really cold. ‘ The only problem comes when the water actually freezes over. Then obviously you have to find some fishing elsewhere. Fortunately the fens are very handy, and the drains don’t usually freeze over because they do have some flow. The pike in the drains also seem to feed in most conditions – even extreme cold. ‘Luckily my job’s pretty easy today. Look out there.’ Neville indicated an area between 35-70m (40-80yd) out from the bank near the south-west corner of the pit where small fish were topping. This often means a pike could be in the area. ‘If one isn’t there already, a shoal of small but active fish like that is quite likely to attract any pike that are interested in feeding. So that’s where I’m going to concentrate my efforts.’

And that is the key to water craft. Using all the clues available at a water. Find out where catches are regularly made, learn the features of the water, and look out for any fish signs that may provide additional clues. It’s only by engaging your angling brain before setting up that you can make consistently good catches.