One of the most frustrating aspects for beginners is the number of takes which fail to result in a fish on the bank. What often happens is that you feel the savage take of a fish, strike into it, feel it struggle briefly, then it’s away. Sadly, it’s experiences like this which dissuade many lure anglers from using barbless, or crushed barbed hooks.
Now, as well as lure fishing, I do the occasional bit of deadbaiting. I use barbless hooks for this and can honestly say that I almost invariably never lose a fish, once I’ve struck into it.With a deadbait, the force of the strike goes directly to the hooks, ripping them out of the soft flesh of the deadbait and into the pike’s jaw. Once the barbless hook is set, the pike is rarely lost.
With a lure, the pike’s jaws clamp onto the hard body of the lure. To set the hooks attached to the lure means that the force of the strike has to shift the body of the lure in the pike’s mouth. This simply doesn’t happen.
Try an experiment. Remove the hooks from a lure. Set your clutch tightly. Hand your rod to your mate and get him to strike as you clasp the hookless lure in your hand. Does the lure get jerked out of your hand? No it doesn’t. You’ll be surprised at just how little of the force of the strike is transmitted to the lure. Most of it will be absorbed by the rod’s action.
Hooking occurs (or doesn’t) as the pike releases its grip on the lure and attempts to eject it. If you are lucky, the hooks will catch on the way out and bury themselves into pike-flesh. They won’t do this unless they are very sharp.Time for another experiment.
Take a piece of dry chamois leather and try pulling a barbed hook through. Now try it with a sharpened barbless hook.
You can tell when a hook is really sharp. Drag it across a fingernail. If it smoothly slides over the nail it isn’t sharp. If it digs in and/or scratches the nail, it’s sharp. Most hooks that come out of the packet aren’t sharp. Hooks that have been used for a while, brushing against stones and branches on the river bottom aren’t sharp. Sharpened, small, barbless, fine wire hooks will give you the best chance of hooking up when a pike lets go of your lure. Barbless hooks are easiest to remove from your clothing, the car’s uphostelry, and your own flesh (it will happen – guaranteed!).
‘Small’ fine wire hooks will hold a pike OK, but will straighten on a snag, letting you get your lure back. (I wonder why then most lure manufacturers fit large heavy gauge wire hooks?) Except for the very big jerk-baits, two sets of trebles are all that are required on a lure. American lure anglers love lots and lots of huge mean looking hooks, and this is the market which lure manufacturers aim their products at, rather than the smaller, conservation minded, British lure angling market.
I routinely remove the middle set of trebles from a new lure, and often replace the remaining two. I always sharpen the hooks, and carry a hook sharpener with me. I constantly use the fingernail test to examine a hook’s sharpness when I’m fishing, sharpening the hooks on the bank whenever necessary. That way, I hook far more fish.
Finding The Fish
Wandering about, chucking lures, you’ll soon get to know your local waters like the back of your hand. You’ll learn which swims usually hold fish and at what times of the year. You’ll learn even quicker if you follow a few simple tips.
Pike are where you find them, and you’ll find them where you least expect to, because they don’t know where they are supposed to be! But generally, in winter, the pike will be down deep, lying on the bottom and in no mood to chase fast moving lures. If you can locate pike holding areas, a big slow spoon, bounced along the bottom right across their nose can sometimes trigger a strike.
Did I say bounce a spoon along the bottom? That same bottom, covered in waterlogged tree-trunks, old prams etc? What I should have said was bounce a ‘weedless’ spoon along the bottom! Weedless spoons usually have a single hook, and a nylon or wire weed guard. They usually bounce over the snags nicely.
Early in the year, the pike start to move toward the shallows in preparation for spawning, look for deep water near shallow, weedy bays. Come early spring, they are in the shallows and prepared to chase fast surface baits.
In the summer, they are everywhere, full of energy, ready to fight like hell, and to exhaust themselves totally. Now’s the time to use weedless surface lures amongst the lily pads and weedbeds, but get your heart checked out first. The sight of a pike exploding out of the weeds, sometimes at your rod-tip, is not for those with weak hearts. If you lure fish for pike in the summer, get the fish out quickly and back into the water quickly. They will be exhausted and the oxygen levels will be low. Don’t ‘sack up’ summer fish, and be prepared to nurse them for a while, until they swim off strongly. On really hot days, the pike will move back into deeper cooler water, or seek out well-oxygenated water, say in a weir-pool, or where a stream enters a lake or slow-moving river.
That’s the theory, now to find those pike.
To make sure you explore a lot of ground, don’t fish every swim you come across. If you are fishing a river, fish every other swim on the way out, and the ones you missed on the way back. But remember to have another go in the productive swims, or where you saw fish.
Do the same on a small lake, but work out how many times you want to go round the lake. Say three times, fish every third swim. That way, you’ll cover a lot more ground quickly, and build up a good picture of what’s happening on the water and where the fish are.
Use a spoon to plumb each new swim. Cast out and count the spoon down to the bottom. That way, you’ll find drop offs, gravel bars and deep holes, and you’ll get a picture of deep and shallow areas of the water. Whilst plumbing, be ready for a take on the drop. When the line goes slack as you are counting it down, don’t just assume that the lure has reached bottom, it could be in the jaws of a pike that will spit it out as soon as it feels it’s hardness. Strike!
Time after time, you will see pike follow a lure near to the bank and turn away. Quite often, the same pike will follow your lure several times before striking, or losing interest completely. You’ll only see a fraction of these follows. To optimise the chances of seeing more of them, invest in a pair of high-contrast Polaroid glasses, the ones with the brownish tint. Not only will you see more pike following your lure, you’ll see a lot mor
e other fish and, where the baitfish are, it’s unlikely that the pike will be far away. To convert repeat follows into strikes, try speeding up, slowing down and/or changing your lure.
Moving from swim to swim, sooner or later, you are going to fall in. Tripped by a hidden tree root, stepping onto an undercut bank, or simply forgetting that you are standing on a precarious piece of bank. Never strap a heavy bag to your body, carry it loosely over a shoulder and put it down before starting fishing.
Before fishing any swim, look around for obvious hazards, work out how you are going to get out if you go in (and work out how you are going to land any fish you hook, both for the fish’s safety as well as your own). If you are fishing alone, don't take risks. If you are a non-swimmer, it’s worth investing in one of those simple flotation aids, designed with anglers in mind, to be unobtrusive and unrestrictive.
As well as inevitably getting wet, sooner or later, you are going to bury a lure hook into yourself, probably with a thrashing pike attached to the other set of trebles. You’ll be really pleased that you decided to crush the barbs on those hooks! Carry a simple first aid kit. Antiseptic to wash the wound, and cotton wall balls to swab it. Waterproof Plasters and a dressing for deep cuts. Don’t risk catching Weil’s disease; make sure that any wounds are waterproofed before recommencing fishing. If you do get an open wound wet, and start to develop flu symptoms in the next couple of weeks, go straight to your doctor and tell him. Weil’s disease is easily treated with antibiotics, if caught early, but can prove fatal if it develops. If you recover, your future health can be ruined. A first aid kit doesn’t cost much, and doesn’t weigh much either.
So there you have it. Some of the things that I learned the hard way. I hope that what I’ve written will enable you to get to grips with lure fishing more quickly, and put a few fish on the bank before you give up in frustration. Although this piece will help you through the first steps to becoming a lure angler, there is a lot, lot more to learn, but you’ll have a lot of fun along the way.
Once you’ve been bitten by the lure bug, you’ll need to join the Lure Anglers’ Society. There you’ll get the chance to attend fish-ins, competitions, conferences and chapter meetings. You’ll meet a great bunch of anglers who really enjoy their fishing, and will be enthusiastic in helping you along. If you see me on the bank at a LAS event, come and say Hi!