Lure Fishing – Part One

One of the great things about lure fishing is the mobility. One of the great things about the mobility is the opportunity it gives you to talk to many different anglers during a session.

As you move from swim to swim, talking to carp anglers, tench fishermen, matchmen out practising, you soon build up a picture of where the fish are and what they are feeding on. Regulars soon get to recognise you and are happy to lay down their rod to talk a while, and to find out what you know about how the venue is fishing.

So often, during these conversations, the angler will reveal that they have a couple of lures in their bag, which they never use, or that they gave lure fishing a go once, only to give up after a couple of hours.

Now, lure fishing is such an effective method, not only for pike but for perch and chub as well, not to mention the great variety of sea-fish that can be caught, using exactly the same tackle as used for river and lake.

It is the ideal method for short sessions of an hour or so, early in the morning, before the wife and kids get up; or on a summer’s evening, after work. It gives you a wonderful freedom, to explore new swims, and new waters, in a way that allows you to build up a complete picture of a venue in a few hours, rather than the weeks it might take when exploring a water using say groundbait and a feeder rod.

So why do so many anglers try one short session, then give up?

The most common reason seems to be the incredible ease with which costly lures are lost.

With most good lures costing between £10 - £15, a budding lure angler, losing three in the first hour, without a single fish to show for their efforts, is almost certain to become an ex-lure angler after their very first session.

So, lesson one, for any budding lure angler, should be ‘How not to lose lures’! I don’t ever remember seeing such a chapter in any book on lure fishing that I’ve ever read. It sure would have saved me a few quid when I first started, I know that much!

So then, lesson number one: -

Don’t cast those expensive lures into trees and bushes on the opposite bank. Seems pretty bl***y obvious doesn’t it? So why do I see so many lure anglers attempting to catch squirrels?

I guess that once you have had one or two casts, your ego starts to get the better of you. ‘Sure I can drop that lure right under those branches, there’s sure to be a pike waiting under that cover’.

Just think for a moment, how many times do you think you can land a lure in a 1 foot circle at 25 yards? 19 out of 20? Not bad! The only problem is that you are going to be making hundreds of casts. If you lose a lure every 20 casts, unless you are rich, you aren’t going to be able to afford to be a lure angler for very long. OK, so you won’t always lose your lure every time you tangle with a bush. Lets see getting it back 2 times out of 3, still loses you one lure every 60 casts. You’ll still be losing a lot of lures.

Now the books all say that if you aren’t losing lures, you aren’t catching fish. True, pike love snaggy swims, but you are a beginner. You’ll learn soon enough how to cast with unbelievable accuracy, how to read a swim for hidden snags, how to retrieve a snagged lure. But, until you have got a few fish on the bank, fished a few sessions, and are confident that you can hit a dinner plate at 50 yards, almost every time, the golden rule, is cast well clear of any vegetation or known snags.

The good news is that pike, hearing your lure splash down, will often move out of cover to investigate, particularly in the warmer months. Let your lure stay where it landed for a while, giving any inquisitive pike the chance to move in. Twitch it a few times, before beginning the retrieve. Try to believe there is a pike moving toward the lure, and wait. You’ll be surprised how often that works. Oh! And try casting to the same spot several times. Sometimes a pike just has to see what’s going on.

The other mistake you often make as a beginner, is to walk straight up to a new swim, cast out your favourite, most expensive lure, begin the retrieve and find the line goes horribly tight. You instinctively strike, bend into the fish, and then realise your mistake. Shopping trolley? Old bicycle?

World War II bomber? Whatever it is, it isn’t going to move. Crack! Another lure gone.

Whatever you do, don’t cast your favourite or very expensive lure into unknown depths. Use a shallow running or top water lure to see if you can tempt a take. If you then think that the fish might be down deep, use a cheap spoon, or that lure you can’t think what made you buy it (mind you, it’s amazing how a lure zooms up the ‘favourites ladder’, once a big pike unexpectedly has a go at it!).

If you’ve got the patience, try sounding the swim with a weight before committing a lure. In this way, you’ll soon build up a local knowledge of what lies at the bottom of each swim. Knowing where the snags are will not only save you lures, but will help you find the pike.

Follow these rules, and you’ll snag far less often. But snag you will.

So, having snagged, how do you get your lure back?

Lesson Number two – Retrieving lures.

I see far too many anglers using line and traces that are too weak for lure fishing. For pike, the minimum breaking strain you should use is 15lb on the main line, 20lb on the wire trace.

Monofilament degrades quite quickly in ultra violet light, such as you get from sunlight. You need to change it several times during the course of a year. Lure fishing also puts a lot of stress on the line; the power of the cast, being constantly dragged over snags.

Check your line frequently during a session. With monofilament, you can feel damage. Look for any abrasions. At the first sign of damage, cut out that section of line, roll it up and put it in your pocket, to be disposed of properly at home. Remember, angling is under constant attack and it’s wildlife caught in anglers’ discarded line which is one of the chief arguments which antis use to promote local bans. Don’t feed them the ammunition.

Cutting out damaged line is going to be far cheaper in the long run, than lost lures, and it’s going to be far kinder to the pike. The last thing you want is for your first 20lber to swim off with a mouthful of your favourite lure, to die a slow death of starvation as your trebles block its gullet.

Did I say use a minimum of 15lb line? You are a beginner. OK you don’t like using heavy lines, but for the first few sessions, use 30lb line. This may reduce your casting distance a little, it won’t make any difference to the number of attacks on your lures, I promise you.

The reason for using such heavy line to begin with is simple. See that reed bed over there? Land amongst that with a 15lb line and the odds are you will lose the lure. Use 30lb and I’ll almost guarantee that you’ll pull free. You will also find yourself pulling in waterlogged tree branches, festooned with other mugs’ lures, swimfeeders and float tackle. Instead of losing lures, you’ll be building up a collection of tackle ready for when you finally get around to starting your own business as a tackle shop owner.

Most fine wire hooks will bend at around 25lbs pressure. If you are using 20lb line, you are going to lose that lure, using 30lb, you’ve got a good chance of getting it back, with just a hook which needs replacing.

Incidentally, I use 15lb line for my light lure outfit, 30lb braid for my medium outfit and 50lb for my big jerkbaits. Don’t underestimate the hammering which constant casting, retrieving and playing big fish gives your line. Always play safe.

OK, fine. You’ve got a heavy line, a sudden take, you’ve struck and now the lure is stuck fast on the bottom. (Damn! it wasn’t a pike after all!). Putting maximum pressure on might get your lure back, it might not.

Rule 1 (readers of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy will know this already). DON’T PANIC.

Let the lure have some slack. Sometimes it’s just the lip of the lure, caught in the V of a sunken branch, or a hook lightly snagged. Give the lure some line and the weight of the lure and/or the current will have the lure falling free. (In saltwater, wave action will often dislodge a snagged lure if you give it slack).

No? OK, you’ve pulled the lure directly into a snag, perhaps some side pressure will have it out. With slack line, walk as far down current as you can then tighten into the lure.

No? Well try upcurrent.

Still no joy? OK back down current, tighten into the lure, and now apply pressure with jerky movements, trying to shake the lure free. Keep increasing the pressure, but point your rod at the lure so that the reel takes the strain directly. (We don’t want to get that lure back at the expense of a broken rod do we?).

It might be worth trying from another direction again.

No? Ok, we are going for maximum pressure this time, remember to keep applying jerks.

CRACK! Oh well we tried didn’t we!

OK, we’ll tie on another lure and cast it to the far bank.

So, you’ve learned to cast with pinpoint accuracy, every time! So how come your new lure is now hanging from that tree on the opposite bank? You are supposed to be after pike, not squirrels! A fifteen quid lure, and you are going to lose it! Well, probably. But then if you’re smart, and IF fortune is smiling, you’ll get it back.

Remember DON’T PANIC!

Assess the situation. Is the lure hopelessly entangled, or does it drop toward the water when you give line? If it moves you are in luck (maybe). Let the lure drop, until it sits in the water. What you are going to do next is to jerk the line to try and free it from the branches, without having the weight of the lure wrapping the line around branches and becoming horribly entangled. So, you need to get the lure as far away from the branches as possible. Having the lure in the water means that surface tension is working in your favour, you can jerk the line, and the water will hang onto the lure (a little bit). If the water is flowing, let out even more line, to let the flow take the lure further down river.

If the lure is, or becomes, horribly entangled, try to free it by short jerks on the line. Try adjusting the angle by walking up and down the bank. If all this fails, you are left with just the option of pulling for a break. Have a second rod ready, with a lure attached. If, when the line breaks, the lure drops in the water, WAIT until it drifts free of potential snags, then use your new expert casting skills to cast across it and retrieve it with the second rod.

I usually take about ten metres of nylon rope with me, and leave it in the car. With 3 wire coat hangers fashioned into a grapnel, this can be a useful tool for retrieving lures swing in the branches of a tree. Trouble is, I usually need this when I’m about two miles down the river from the car.

If ever you do leave a lure and/or line stuck up a tree, make an effort to let the bailiff or water owner know, even if it means phoning them later in the week. You’ll find that they usually appreciate your call, rather than having an irate member of the local twitchers’ club phoning with a mouthful of abuse about anglers leaving death traps for birds, or getting called out to remove the body of a blackbird, swinging above the river on your line for every rambler to see.

More in part two....