Big water piking

The vast open spaces of a Scottish loch or any other big water are part of the attraction, but how do you fish them? Gord Burton, big water fanatic, points you in the right direction.

Really large still waters can offer some fabulous rewards for the adventurous piker. There’s always the chance that the massive volume of water and great depths might harbour a record breaking monster. It’s hard to fish the likes of Loch Lomond without thinking of the legendary Endrick Pike, a monster possibly weighing as much as 70lb (32kg), or to go afloat on Lough Derg without considering its reported ninety-pounder (40.8kg).

But however great the possible rewards, the problems of fishing such waters seem to discourage most anglers before they even start. Indeed, the huge open expanses of water sow doubts in the minds of even the most battle-hardened pike angler. But if you divide the problem into two separate areas – location and tactics – you’ll find that pike from really large waters are no harder to catch than any others.

So what’s ‘big’?

To be classified as big, a water ought to cover at least a few hundred acres. But to most anglers, the vastness of some Scottish lochs and Irish loughs, over a mile long and covering thousands of acres, is what really counts as big.

Other large waters include several in the Lake District and some Welsh lakes such as the mighty Llyn Tegid (also called Lake Bala). Scattered around Britain there are also a variety of reservoirs, big pits and broads which, while not as enormous as some of the waters above, still offer many of the same challenges and similar rewards.

The where of it

Anglers who assume that finding pike on these waters must call for a Herculean effort are beaten before they start. All it takes to succeed is a little bit of nous and plenty of common sense.

Look for changing features and varying depth when choosing your fishing position. Rocky points, bays facing the west wind and the points at the edges of bays in general are good places to start looking. Once you’ve found a spot that produces, note its location carefully because hotspots and holding areas are often permanent features.

The feeding habits and movements of big water pike vary considerably throughout the year. Changing water clarity, temperature, availability of certain food fish and of course the pike’s own biological clock controlling the spawning urge, all contribute to the pike’s movements within a water.

In spring, for example, once the pike have spawned, they tend to hang around the shallow weedy bays for a few weeks, feeding ravenously to regain weight and energy. On waters with a run of game fish, autumn can mean pike bonanza. As the trout and salmon move into inflowing rivers and streams to spawn, packs of pike set up shop to prey on them as they pass upstream.

During the summer, the pike tend to roam widely, from shallow bays to deep-water drop-offs. Find areas of steeply shelving water close to shore, especially around rocky points, and you can fish a variety of depths easily, maximizing your chances. Everything slows down in winter, but you can still manage good catches if you stick to deeper water and rapidly changing depths.

The how of it

Tackling a big water calls for versatility above all else. An all-round approach produces the most consistent results. Livebaiting, deadbaiting, lure fishing and trolling all catch, and if you’re not ready to try any one of them, you might miss out on the best of the action.

Sometimes the static approach brings big bags, when you stumble across a pack of pike in a feeding frenzy. At other times, the mobile angler scores heavily with a pike or two from each of a large number of areas. You can, of course, tackle big waters very successfully from the bank but with the flexibility and mobility of a boat your options increase enormously.

Most of the pike caught come from 3-9m (10-30ft) of water, except when they’re in shallow water around spawning time or are shoaled up waiting for a salmon or trout run. Where it’s permitted, use three rods to cover as wide a range of depths as possible — so that if pike are patrolling at a certain depth you have a bait there to intercept them. The best combination is to fish two livebaits and one deadbait.

It seems that on many of these waters, the pike hardly look at a deadbait down in the deeper water. The best place to put one is on the shallowest bar or ledge you can find. A pike cruising shallow flats or ledges is looking for easy pickings – a delicious-smelling deadbait is therefore irresistible.

When boat fishing, legering is very tricky – the movement of the boat makes it very nearly impossible to keep a tight line to the bait for bite detection. The answer is to float leger with a fairly slack line. The float provides the necessary bite indicator.

Fish the livebaits in deeper water – one set at about 7.5m (25ft), the other at about 3m (10ft). Fish the deeper one on a float paternoster with a long link. The link allows the fish lots of room to manoeuvre, and this draws the pike in from considerable distances.

Visibility is the key to this method, so water clarity is important, as is the bait. Silver-scaled fish such as roach or dace produce far more runs from pike of all sizes than darker fish such as perch or carp.

If the wind is favourable, fish the second livebait on a free-roving set-up with the line well greased. The grease prevents the line from sinking, where it would resist the movements of the bait. Using the rod to control the bait, you can make it swim along ledges, covering a wide area. This helps you to find the pike in a given area.

Baits seem to go in cycles, probably due to overuse of certain baits by anglers, rather than pike having distinct piscine preferences. Smelts, mackerel, sardines, herrings, trout, eels and the whole range of coarse fish can all score, so it pays to take a good variety of fish with you.

When you’re only bait fishing with two rods, set up a third for lure fishing. Lures may have a reputation for working best during the summer, but pike chomp on them at anytime, even the depths of winter. Just remember to fish them slowly in cold weather as the pike are less inclined to chase energetic baits.

Trolling with lures or baits along dropoffs and beside rocky points or other features is also highly effective. Indeed, if you can’t find the fish on any particular day, you can do worse than to explore as many likely areas as possible, trolling at a variety of depths. When you find a few fish you can always anchor up and fish static.

On these waters, make sure you’ve got all you need to hand. When you land a pike, unhook, weigh, photograph and put it back as soon as possible. There could be a pack of hungry pike moving through, and speed can make the difference between a couple of fish and a boatload!