Finesse Angling

Finesse Angling has developed out of the U.S. style of Ultra Light. ‘U/L’ has never been looked on with widespread favour by U.K. pikers. The risk to fish because of a break with the fine tackle involved being the probable main reason. In the U.S. there is a large group of people who consider it ‘sporting’ to fish, for example, for sharks, on two-pound lines! They might play a fish for hours on end. Should the fish break free then there is much merit seen in it as the fish has ‘won’. The fact that in winning the battle the fish might eventually die due the lost tackle and extended fight seems of little relevance. These extremes have never gained much favour on our side of the pond!

There are those of us who have always questioned the ‘extended fight syndrome’ as a killer in relation to pike fishing. Gassing up after a long U/L tussle just does not seem to happen. This factor has always been a contention of those who have actively criticised U/L in the past. It is worth noting that there has always been an outspoken voice from a man who is very much a natural bait fan and very critical of successful lure anglers, a voice that considers that only he can ever be right. Those of us who continued U/L did so on the quiet, realising that the quality of presentation that it allowed, in skilful hands, far outweighed the alleged risks. I would add that there is a practical lower limit but more about that later. The one major downside of Ultra Light is the use of overly light lines. This is one very real criticism that can be levelled at U/L. At this point I will add that many of us who lure fish, whether light or otherwise, cringe at the acceptance of deep hooking that is part of some natural bait fishing styles, cringe at the callous handling techniques that we see some of our fellow pikers using, cringe at the heavy tackle being used and the way fish are dragged out of the water, far from being played out and thus more likely to damage themselves whilst on the bank if not handled sympathetically. Gassing up does also appear to be more prevalent to that sector of angling. Yea, yea, so some of you will accuse me of talking a load of old bollocks! But am I really? Just sit back and watch yer average, sunny days only, weekend piker. It might even be a case of looking at your own style! So, back to light lines. A major boost, in the form of thin diameter braids, has brought the style back out into the open.

Mick Brown, a highly respected voice in pike angling, has stated that he considers that lure fishing, when really successful, is the most skilful branch of the sport. I would go along with this and would add that the most skilful branch of lure fishing is ultra light. At this point I would point out that, in English lure fishing, ‘Finesse’ has developed out of Ultra Light, basically a more reasoned and responsible approach. Gone are the irresponsible lightweight lines, but now the use of braids has revolutionised the sport. It is still a fool who fishes in snagged waters because the Finesse rod does not have the stopping power of a conventional pike rod. Its roll in life is to be able to flick out tiny lures, to be able to drop little plugs and spinners into targeted nooks and crannies. There are times when pike are not actively feeding that such an approach works, catching pike that you might other wise miss. A 4gm plug can hardly be seen as a meal. Possibly the pike is snapping at an annoyance, just as a lazing cat might lash out at a fly buzzing around her head. Whatever or why ever, pike take Finesse lures. My contention is that a tussle with a pike on Finesse tackle cannot be a hard fought battle. A twenty, even as much as a forty-yard run is quite possible, hence the need for a snag free area. That said, there are times when a pike reacts almost as if it unaware that it is attached to an anglers line. Runs will have no power, the fish being steered rather than lead. But it can be almost leisurely. The pike rarely, if ever, comes to the net totally knackered. It really is a case of steering rather than leading them to the net. Here it can be a problem, if you insist on bringing the fish out of the water. The freshly landed fish can really come to life so good technique and an unhooking mat are a must. It is not intended as a big fish method, although specimens are welcome, so there really is little need to actually land, or boat, the pike for the obligatory photo-call. Tweaking the lure out of its hook-hold with a pair of forceps, whilst the fish is in the water, is both easy and fish safe.

Most of the critics of the style tend not to have tried it. Barry Rickards and Ken Whitehead are two well-known names that have used it, neither criticising it when done responsibly. A number of well-known pikers have realised the potential of fly-fishing for pike. If that is acceptable then why not Finesse? The Finesse outfit is perfectly able to flick out a pike fly, albeit maybe not so far. The Finesse angler has the advantage of using a reel directly. The action of the rods is not a million miles apart. More than a few Finesse anglers use converted fly rods for their style. I would contend that the criticism is based more on history than fact.

Although U/L, as a category of angling, has been around since the sixties, the availability of specific tackle has not. ABU apart, probably for marketing reasons, most manufacturers have deleted the term from their U.K. catalogues. Anglers either made their own, turned to the U.S. market, or bought tackle aimed at the trout fishing fraternity. Obviously your rod needs to be light enough to cast the tiny lures involved. But at the same time it should have a crispness, something lacking in some of the cheap rods now being marketed for the style. The four-foot long U.S. jobbies just don’t have the backbone lower down should a big fish be caught. But then, even an ardent U.S. ultra lighter would probably agree that for Pike a rod of six, even seven feet, would be more practical. Some anglers might consider the popular, absolutely excellent, Drennan Spinflex as the lightest rod that they would wish to take pike on. It has power in the butt when it is needed, it’s a popular choice but it is a tad over the top for really tiny lures. Basically, it falls somewhere between light spinning and U/L. But, as with all Drennan gear, it is a gem of a rod, superb at what it was designed for, but personally I would look elsewhere if you really want the joys of Finesse Angling. Many Finesse fans have turned to the U.S for their rods but there is at least one readily available rod in the U.K. It’s thanks to Daiwa, with the smallest of their Samurai spinning rods that I believe I have found the grail for Finesse. Okay, so some of you will disagree but I really rate it! At seven feet long it is a practical length and action with which to safely subdue a pike, even a big old mother. It’s rated to cast lures as light as 3 gms and up to 15. In U.S. ultra light terms it is at the top end. Rods rated 1 to 5 gms are, I believe, verging on the impractical for piking. Linked to a reel such as a Shimano GTM 1000 you will have, I suggest, a very fine outfit. Load the reel with a braid of 12 to 15 pounds, clip on a soft multi strand trace wire of about ten pounds, read up on watercraft and off you go. As for lures, up to 4 gms is the accepted maximum for U/L, for Finesse 10 gms is a reasonable maximum and offers a huge range. Even at 4 or 5 gms there are some surprisingly big minnow style plugs available and these are a joy to fish with. One memorable day, bright and bitterly cold, not a breath of wind, just after Christmas, springs to mind. I was in open water against a drop off. For no other reason than a si
xth sense, I cast a silver/blue shallow running, floating Rapalla minnow. Bang, I was into a jack. In it came, covered in leeches. What had caused that fish to lift off the bottom, some ten feet down, in what many would call less than ideal piking conditions, to take a tiddly little plug? It didn’t end there! More jacks and pike into low doubles followed suit. All had one thing in common; their bellies were covered in leeches, all presumably laying in a state of torpor. The fish were of no great size but the quantity was there. It had been one of those unexpected red-letter days. Would I have caught had I used any other method? All I can say is that a couple of dead baiters had worked the area earlier and had told me that they had blanked.

It would be easy to wax lyrical about the skills and joys of Finesse Angling, flicking lures under trees and into all the likely fish holding areas. That is all part of the attraction of lure fishing. Watercraft and location is very much what it is all about. A great deal of good material has already been written on the matter. What I have tried to do is point you in the right direction. The rest is up to you. Read up from the vast amount that is now available on lure fishing. Much of it applies to Finesse Angling. Keep an open mind. Go out and learn! But screw your head on, for pikes sake, don’t fish in areas where you would be putting the fish’s welfare at risk. Traditionally, in my area, Broads piking has always been about fishing the margins. Fishing Ultra Light and now Finesse has encouraged me to fish open water. And you know what? I’ve surprised myself at how many fish I have caught from open areas that other folk ignore! But there really is nothing new there; if only other anglers were to try it then they would be following in the footsteps of some of the greats. I was quite pleased with myself, having arrived at the above conclusion quite independently of others. But, as always, other folk had got there before me, a long time ago. Although I have Buller’s Pike & the Pike Angler, it was only recently that I bought a reprint of his incredible book, Pike. In it Bill Giles tells us that he and others had reached that conclusion, some fifty years ago! Mind you, they probably were not ultra lighting or, better still, Finesse Angling.

As always, take care and Tight Lines.

Peter Waller