A change in species pays off (pike article)

One of the advantages of being an all-rounder is that, no matter what the weather, there is always a species that will oblige. Hence, come the New Year, grayling will be amongst my target fish. However, the sudden drop in temperature almost brought my grayling season forward by a few months!

From comfortable, double figure readings, the water temperature fell to six degrees in just a week. Well, one thing was for sure – forget the barbel gear for a while! I’ve had a good run fishing for them, but it was time to move sideways and fish for something else. Certainly, I’ve done a bit of chub fishing this autumn, and I did consider that, but I also intend to fish for pike up till Christmas, as well as barbel and chub. Hence, as I tossed the options around in my mind, esox won!

With the rivers still being low and clear I decided to have a session on the lower Severn. Travelling light I intended to fish a number of swims, as opposed to my usual static approach when barbel fishing the river. Hence I took just the one rod – many of the swims on the section I decided to fish are very overgrown and have steep banks. It can be hard enough to deal with one rod, never mind two.

Although there had been a slight rise to 7 degrees, I still felt I had made the right decision not to fish for barbel. Although they will feed comfortably at that temperature, I personally place more emphasis on temperature trend rather than the actual temperature itself. And with the trend being sharply down from the previous week, I didn’t fancy sitting it out for a barbel that might never materialise anyway.

As far as pike fishing is concerned, I’m a deadbaiter as opposed to a livebait fisherman. But let me add, very quickly, that it has nothing to do whatsoever with my views on fishing livebaits. I am not against that type of fishing at all; it’s a much more practical reason – I can never catch small fish when I want to!

When I don’t want them, I can catch pike sized bait all day long! But somehow, when I need to catch a few 4oz roach, I blank! I remember once having a session to catch a few ‘lives’ only to end up with ten and twelve ounce fish every other cast! Hence, I cut out the hassle and go for the deadbait option. It also means you can start fishing immediately instead of having to catch your bait.

On this occasion, on the lower Severn, I intended to fish with sardines, but I also had a roach that I intended to fish with as dusk fell, as there are some decent zander on the stretch. I dropped into a number of ‘holes’ along the bank, during the afternoon and spent up to about forty-five minutes in each one before moving on.

Incidentally, right at the very end of the meadow I discovered a swim that has real potential as a high water peg for barbel. Therefore, I thought to myself, even if I catch nothing this trip, it has still been worthwhile to find that spot.

However, the trip itself did prove to be more beneficial than just finding a good swim for the future. Just as the sun began to set over the far bank, I had a take on the roach that I was now fishing with. Just gentle movements on the indicator, but you get the picture of what is happening beneath the surface. It is important when pike fishing to time the strike well – the last thing you want is a deep hooked fish. Yet at the same time, you don’t want to pull the bait out of the mouth of the fish before you even get a chance to set the hook.

The fish fought well, but eventually I was able to slip the net under a lovely looking pike. Easily a double, I could see that. With the scales registering 13-2-0 I was pleased to kick my pike campaign off with a decent river fish. The pike had taken the bait into its throat, but I was able to deal with the hooks without too much fuss.

Contrary to popular opinion, the pike is quite a sensitive fish, and it is imperative to fish for the species with the correct tackle and equipment. I still find it hard to believe that people target pike without a wire trace! However, I do feel that education is the way forward, not threatening people. Two wrongs don’t make a right!

An unhooking mat is also an essential item when targeting pike, and it’s encouraging to know that many clubs stipulate in their rules that all pike anglers should be in possession of one. Not just pike, but I don’t like to see fish in general laid out on gravel. Certainly for the specimen hunter when targeting larger fish of whatever species, an unhooking mat should be a compulsory item of tackle.

After unhooking my fish, I took a couple of photographs and returned the fish to the water. I nursed it for a while and then suddenly it came alive, flicked its tail and powered off again into the deeps! I did realise, as I had the fish in the water that the photographs I had taken weren’t ideal as I had the open sky behind me. I could have done with being the other way round.

But the fish wasn’t massive, and so it wasn’t that important to haul it out of the water and start again. I believe photos are good; particularly when one writes weekly articles like I do, you need to have some fishy flesh on display. But the paramount importance is not a nice photograph for the journal, but the welfare of the fish concerned. Therefore, as it shot back into the depths of the water, I had no regrets about the backdrop of the photograph.

(Article 17, originally published November 2003. If you like, why not share? Thanks)