The Lure Of Summer Piking

It’s a myth, well, I think it is, that pike are a winter species, to be caught after October 1st. Allegedly, until then, they are out of condition, thus it’s considered, by some, to be unsporting to fish for pike during the summer months. This theory probably dates back to the days when they were caught for the pot, and yes, pike might be better eating after that date. It might also have something to do with the primitive tackle of that time; a ballistic missile on the end of the relatively crude gear was probably near uncatchable! Lean, mean hunting machines, a fair description of a summer caught pike.

A Polaris missile, erupting from the water, no hint of its presence until then. Three feet of supercharged pike jumping clear of the water, your lure clearly visible in its gaping mouth, its gills flared, the fish landing back in the water with an heart stopping slap of its tail. Near white out on your part, the pike surges off on its first run for freedom! No fairy tale, this is summer piking, when twenty pounds of frantic female has your tackle in its mouth. Okay, so most of the fish you catch will weigh rather less, but a big one is always a very real possibility. Are you up for it? Read on!

Summer piking is about hunting, searching out the thrills. Go to the pike, you’ll catch far more than will those who sit and wait. Not only that, pike feed more aggressively during the summer. Live and dead baits, it’s been suggested, tend to lead to deep hooking, rather less likely when lure fishing. Search the margins; look out for tail swirls in the mud as a pike moves onto the feed. Watch out for fleeing small fry as a hungry pike smashes through a shoal of silver fish. Ducks that take fright for no apparent reason are a sure sign of a feeding big ‘un. Eels climbing sinuously up a reed to escape a marauding pike, reeds parting as a pike moves out into open water, all sure signs of sport to come.

So, how do you go about it? First, take your doctors advice; can you cope with the thrills and the racing heart? No, take up carp fishing then! But for those of you with the disposition, go for it. In an ideal world tag along with an experienced piker, summer piking is not for outright beginners. You will probably have a reel that’s up to the job; any reliable fixed spool reel is capable of catching a pike. There does seem to be a vogue for massive reels more suited to beach fishing when after pike. No need when lure fishing, you don’t need a crane. If your reel is strong enough for river ledgering then probably it will be man enough for pike. Summer lure fishing is a delicate but responsive form of angling; it can suffer from tackle overkill. The pike is an aggressive predator but it is a sport fish, a thrill to hook and fight on suitable tackle.

You have your reel, but what about the line? Certainly nothing less than ten pounds, fifteen pounds being a better choice for the newcomer to piking. Its safer for the pike, a fish lost with a lure in its mouth is bad for the pike and bad for the angler’s wallet. A nick or a flaw in a fifteen-pound line soon reduces it to a less safe ten-pound breaking strain link between you and the fish. Lure fishing is debilitating on tackle. A well looked after fifteen does have a degree of reserve. It’s frustrating to see an expensive lure sailing through the air, unattached, the line broken due to a snatch whilst casting. Worse still, a fish encumbered with a lost lure can so easily become a dead fish. Better still; go for a braid of 30 lbs breaking strain, no thicker than a conventional 10 lb mono line. It’ll cost you a few pounds more than mono but will soon pay for itself. A good braid, such as Fireline or Whiplash, will take a hammering, far outlast mono and, due to its additional strength, mean that you can haul lures out of snags, even if it means breaking a hook to save your lure. Not only that but the sensitivity of braid, compared with mono, is a real boon. It’s as if the lure talks to you, the rod acts like a soundboard as it transmits information through your hands. The lightest touch of a striking fish will signal action. Strike, the fight is on!

But what about a rod? You could, if you wished, make use the one that you use for ledgering or carp fishing. It would certainly do for an introduction, but so much better is a rod made for the job. Go for a reputable make, ABU, Normark, Shakespeare, Daiwa or Shimano. Summer piking is about sensitive presentation, not about lobbing humungous great jerk baits about. Master the smaller stuff before branching out. Go for a rod of between seven and eight feet long, one that is capable of casting ten to twenty-five gram lures. Many manufacturers recommend nine foot long rods but they can be hard work for a day’s fishing. A shorter rod has a great deal going for it. Both European and U.S. anglers appear to favour shorter rods, with good practical reasons. Follow my suggestion & you will have a good, basic bit of gear that will double up as a stalking rod.

Pike have teeth, big and sharp! You will need a wire trace, ideally one made of multi-stand wire. Eighteen inches long is ideal. A longer trace than that can cause problems, especially when casting. A shorter one could mean that a bite-off is more likely. Don’t listen to the advice from the occasional piker who suggests that you don’t need a trace, you do. There are those that consider braids are immune to a pike’s bite, rubbish. Braids are neither immune to bites, nor abrasion. You need a trace, preferably of about twenty-five pound breaking strain when used with a thirty-pound braid. There is no excuse for not using one.

Almost ready, you need some lures. The choice is mind-boggling. Where on earth should you start? The right dealer can give sound advice but such dealers are few and far between, most being more interested in carp, carp, carp and yet more carp. For myself, if I could only have a few lures, then I would plump for spoons. If you can track one down, the Landa Pikko leads the pack. This is such a versatile lure, one that can be fished close to the bottom, skimmed across the surface, fished fast and fished slow and it really does catch! The eighteen-gram ABU Toby and a small, weedless ABU Atom Giller complete my ‘must have’ selection. Armed with these three lures, during the summer, success is all but guaranteed. But why, when three lures are enough, do I have literally thousands of the things? Highly collectable, yes, but also, as you learn your new craft of lure fishing, you will find situations that demand alternatives. But don’t worry about that for now, get started, get catching. The lure-collecting thing will catch up with you, its unavoidable!

You hook your first pike, yeeehaaa! That’s a very ancient piker’s war cry! Play it firmly, take control, but do give it a chance to get its head round and take line. Subdue it before bringing it to the net. On seeing you the pike might have one last bid for freedom. More pike than a few are lost as they come to the net. Don’t rush things, if in doubt allow it just one more run. Better to subdue it in the water than have a fish thrashing about on the bank or in your boat where it could injure itself, possibly fatally. Please note, I say ‘subdue’, not totally exhaust, there is a difference. A pike is ready for landing when it comes to the net without surging off again.

Bring it to the net, what net? One thing that really annoys experienced pikers is the would-be piker who has no net or one that is totally inadequate. Watching people struggle to lift a pike out of the water can be pitiful. Novices who have seen an ‘expert’ lift a pike out of the water by its gill covers feel that they can too, its not as easy as some would make us believe. You need a net, preferably one that has a mesh designed for lure fishing, one that hooks can’t easily become hooked up in. The ‘micro’ mesh so much favoured by those who fish for other species can be a nightmare for pike. A lure net is quite stiff which has the advantage that it won’t be sucked into a pike’s gill rakers where it could become caught, thus injuring the pike. A carp style net is better than nothing but a specialist lure net is preferable.

So, you’ve caught your first monster! What next? Pike might be at the top of the predator chain, the hard men of the river, but out on the bank they are susceptible to bad handling, perhaps more so than any other freshwater species in the U.K. Their length and weight is designed to be fully supported throughout by water, not just by their gill covers or a hand at either end. The sooner the fish is laid down on an unhooking mat the better. Even better is a quick return to the water. Out of the water they weigh whatever, back in the water their weight is near negative. When you catch a pike it is your responsibility to return it in the same condition as prior to catching it. Its previous captor did that, that’s how you have now caught it! Minimal and careful handling equals pike conservation.

The pike has given you a memorable tussle; don’t even consider using a gaff. Bring the fish in over the net, lift the net to retain it, still in the water. Stay calm, clear your work area, and be ready to work quickly, forceps or pliers to hand? Camera ready? Everything must be to hand, before lifting the pike out of its environment. Remember, minimum time out of the water. Buggering around searching for equipment, setting up a camera is like a time bomb ticking away, straight out, onto an unhooking mat or soft, damp grass, hooks out, quick snap and back in, simple isn’t it? Don’t place the pike on concrete or gravel; it can de-slime a fish, leaving it prone to infection.

Don’t panic; don’t let the pike thrash around. Despite the teeth there is nothing to be frightened of, pike only bite if you put your fingers in their mouths! If the hook is in the lip, as it often is when lure fishing, life is simple. Pliers on hook, turn hook over, out it comes, especially if you have squeezed the barbs down. If the hook and lure is inside the mouth then lay the pike on its back, on something soft. By soft I don’t mean soft as in fabric, some fabrics de-slime a fish in seconds. Wet polythene over something soft is ideal, almost as good as a proper unhooking mat. Laying wet polythene over the pike’s stomach is a wise move as now the procedure is to kneel astride the pike and it helps prevent slime coming off on your cloths. I would suggest you use a heavyweight household rubber glove for the next move. If you are right handed, use your gloved left hand and slide your first two fingers under the pike’s gill cover. Mind that you don’t catch on the red gill rakers within the mouth. These are what the pike breaths with. Now, firmly lift the pike’s head and its mouth will open, easy! The hooks are now ready for removing. Take a long pair of strong forceps, 8” or longer, take hold of the hooks and roll them out of the hook hold. You won’t need a gag, but if you must, buy a pike safe one, that’s one that does not have spikes on the end, rather it has covered bars to fit into the fish’s mouth. Hooks out, return the fish to the net and back in the water. Let it get its bearings and breath back. If it floats on its side then it’s been out of the water far to long, you will have to hold it upright until it can hold itself upright. If you feel a need to take a photograph then now is the time. Lift it clear of the net, keep it near to the ground, holding it firmly. A dropped pike can be a dead pike; even a short drop can cause fatal internal injuries. Use a compact camera or wide-angle lens on your s.l.r. hold the fish away from you; it will look bigger that way. Don’t fool around showing off your prize pike, it must go back in the water, hopefully none the worse for its ordeal.

So, how do you hook a pike in the first place? Ideally, find a competent friend, one who genuinely knows the ropes. Failing that, nip down to your local library. A book by a very experienced angler, Charlie Bettell, and called the Art of Lure Fishing is, although rather dated now, still, rightfully, considered by many lure anglers to be their bible. Perhaps you will be able to borrow the video by Barrie Rickards and called ‘Success with the lure, if your library doesn’t have it then ask at your local tackle shop, its available from Shakespeare, the tackle company.

You’ve read the book, watched the video, maybe your friend is with you, and you have the right tackle, what next? Start off by casting into open water; you can easily catch a cruising fish, one conveniently swimming nearby. As soon as a fish strikes at the lure, you’ll know it! Strike by firmly pulling your rod to one side, preferably away from the pike! The fight is on, the rest I have already covered.

Having mastered open water piking then start casting towards reed-beds and other banks. You might even feel tempted, at a later stage, to put on your weedless lure and start casting right into the fringes where reeds meet the water. You will get some thrilling fishing during the summer months, more so than during the winter. Now, you are on your way, keen to improve. Master the basics; learn to walk before you start to run.

I have seen beginners hitting a pike on the head with a landing net handle prior to landing it. Youngsters who put their foot on a pike’s belly and try and drag out the hooks out, complete with the pike’s gill rakers, are another nightmare that pike angling has to contend with. Adults with so many deadbait rods out that they can’t possibly give them the attention that they need. Match anglers who let a fish gorge the bait so there is no risk of loosing the pike, a lost fish might mean a lost match and lost prize money. Such is the bad side of pike angling. But you, dear reader, will not be one of the problems, will you?

A word of warning, lure angling can quickly become an obsession. The basic tackle required can be a great deal cheaper than required for other piking methods, but that’s before the lure-collecting bug takes hold. But lure angling doesn’t end there. You will become a hunter, not a trapper, as most dead-baiters appear to be. You will start to read the water, looking for tell tales of a skulking pike, one that’s ready to snatch your expertly placed lure. Watch for a roach trying to swim through the air, a sign of a feeding pike. The cormorant and heron will become your friends; wherever they are the pike will be nearby, after the same prey fish. Keep an eye on baby ducks, count ‘em. When twelve becomes eleven you know a pike is feeding. Cruel signs but we are hunting the hunter.

Good luck and tight lines. Join the growing band of pike hunters, those who fish with lures. It really is
one of the most fascinating forms of pike angling. You never stop learning!

Take care, tight lines and may your fish be long ones.

Peter Waller. Copyright 2001