The pike – handle with care

Many anglers love the thought of landing a big pike. But when you do – how should you ensure that both the fish and your hands remain intact?

Pike ace Neville Fickling has the answers.

Most freshwater fish are pretty inoffensive looking creatures. The pike, however, is a different matter. Because it is a predator it has a large mouth and teeth -and consequently it looks dangerous.

Whether or not the pike is dangerous to anglers depends on how carefully it is handled. Treat it with care and you avoid damage to yourself and also to the pike.

In spite of its size and its tough looks, the pike is one of the more fragile of our coarse fish and it is all too easy to return one alive, yet find a corpse a couple of days later.

The most thoughtful pike angler is not the one who catches the most, but the angler who goes prepared with the right equipment to ensure the pike is unharmed.

Be prepared

You’re on the bank, waiting for the first run of the day and your rods are close to hand. Whatever your means of bite indication, it should register – and you should strike – as soon as the pike takes the bait.

The moment you start playing the fish is not the time to begin considering how you are going to handle your catch. All your preparations should be made beforehand…

Preparing a work surface

Sink a large landing net just in front of you in the water – make sure you choose one of the fine knotless mesh designs.

If you can, pick a spot on the bank which offers a soft, well grassed place just behind where you are fishing. If you can’t find such a spot, position a carp unhooking mat, or carp sack, in a suitable place behind you. This provides you with a good work surface for handling the pike.

The importance of a suitable work surface becomes very obvious when you are in a boat, or fishing on a very hard bank such as the concrete wall of a reservoir. Hard surfaces can cause severe abrasion, scale loss and – worst of all – concussion. A struggling pike may hit its head on a hard surface, which won’t help its chances of survival at all. Pike are not as tough as they look.

Arrange all your other pike handling equipment next to the work surface: an industrial rubber glove, a set of long artery forceps, scales and a weighing sling. If you wish to retain a fish for photographs or to allow it to recover, it’s a good idea to have a pike tube – a sack tunnel that can be staked into the bank.

After netting

All has gone well and you have successfully netted the pike. Now unclip the wire trace from the link swivel – if you’ve used one to attach your reel line. This means you can walk to your work surface with both hands free for holding the net.

Hold the net just above the pike to avoid undue strain on the frame. Lower the net to the work surface, and kneel down beside the pike – if it struggles restrain it gently. Sometimes a carp sack draped over its eyes calms a pike down.

To unhook a pike you need to gain entry into its mouth. This is the risky bit. The fish has no feelings of animosity towards the angler, but it does have a lot of sharp teeth. Should angler and teeth meet accidentally, then cuts and blood result. It is perfectly possible to avoid this if you are careful.

One rule is never to put your hands or fingers in a pike’s mouth – this is why you have forceps! Put the glove on your left hand (or right if you are left-handed) and insert your forefinger under the pike’s chin, where both gill covers meet. Now, when you lift the pike’s head, its mouth opens.

At this point you can extract the hook using the forceps. If the pike attempts to jump – you know this is about to happen when you feel it tense its muscles — remove your finger from its chin and gently hold the pike down. The more gently you hold it, the less it struggles.

If you are using barbless trebles, unhooking is easy enough – ask a fellow angler to hold the trace and use long forceps to remove the top treble from its hold. Don’t forget to make sure your first treble doesn’t re-hook itself while you are tackling the second! For deeper hooked fish special commercial disgorgers are available, which should mean it is possible to unhook your pike without tears. (For a closer look at unhooking pike see Fishing Round-up 51-52, Coarse.)

Weighing and snapping

Once you have unhooked the pike, transfer the fish to the weighing sling. After weighing you can – if you wish – have your photograph taken with your catch.

Holding a large pike can present problems to the inexperienced angler but it is not difficult. Use one hand to support the fish underneath the head and the other to support it just in front of the anal fin. Don’t stand up while holding the pike; if you drop it from a height the fish can be badly damaged. Kneel down to hold it.

If the pike struggles, hold it firmly to your chest – if it becomes too active, lower it back to the work surface. Should you wish to retain the fish for a short while, slip it into a pike tube and stake the tube out in sheltered water deep enough to cover it.

The release

Releasing a pike is simple enough. Here the weighing sling is useful for carrying it back to the water’s edge. Hold the fish straight and level in the water and it should recover its senses rapidly and swim off. If your fish is exhausted, hold it lightly under the belly until it has had enough time to recover.

Pike can be caught and returned many times – provided anglers are not clumsy on the bank, don’t keep them out of the water too long and haven’t hooked them badly.

Handling them is always much easier if there are two of you, particularly when it comes to dealing with wire traces and taking photographs. The whole process of keeping the fish on the bank should last no longer than five minutes – indeed, small pike can be dealt with much quicker than this.

If you are in any doubt, go fishing with an experienced angler, or join the Pike Anglers Club for expert advice. mV- j :Hr