Since starting serious pike fishing back in January 2000, most of my winter sessions have been devoted to this superb predator. Following a dire 2004 campaign, this season I have fared much better and caught many doubles from a variety of venues, on a diverse mix of methods and baits.
An early-November piking trip started off like any other. A pre-dawn start saw myself and two mates load up the van and head off into Yorkshire in search of some specimens. We arrived at the venue to find the water gin-clear, with a few pike anglers already setting up. Not the ideal scenario for a successful day’s piking.
Still, we loaded ourselves with tackle and headed as far as possible from the madding crowd, in the hope of finding some big pike seeking some peace and quiet. The weather had taken a noticeable chill overnight and I remember feeling the cold air in the back of my throat as we walked. I was the first to find a peg, as I spotted a shoal of roach and bream rolling on the surface, close to some extensive reed beds. I set up quickly and cast a paternostered bait towards the edge of the shoal. Within minutes I was into my first pike of the day, a fish of around 4 pounds.
I set the other rod up with a float-leger rig, using a home-made float and a buoyant bomb to prevent my bait being dragged into the detritus on the bottom. Whilst packing my cool-box that morning, some red mullet which I’d bought last year fell at my feet. I never had any success using these baits, but I took them along anyway, as a ‘novelty’ bait. I decided to start off with one of these baits on the float-leger rod, and cast it to a clear area between two reedbeds.
After my red mullet had been cast out for around an hour, I noticed my float move. A solitary beep sounded from my alarm, before a pike tore off at speed with my bait. I wound down to what was obviously a heavy fish. “A good double”, I thought. The fish stayed deep as I played it carefully and after some powerful but short runs, I saw the fish for the first time. I knew it must be close to my personal best weight of 18lb 12oz. That fish, incidentally, was caught way back in the year 2000. It was my second-ever pike and I had failed to catch a larger one since!
As the pike rolled into my landing net, I noticed it had a considerable girth. As I peered into the net, I started to shake. I radioed my friends to tell them I’d landed a good fish; probably a PB. I carefully unhooked the fish, then placed her into the margins to recuperate. In the back of my mind, I knew that the fish should be at least twenty pounds, but I wouldn’t allow myself to believe it. Having never seen a pike of this size before, I knew it would be easy for my mind to play tricks! When my friends arrived, I weighed the fish and I was elated as the scales needle swung well past 22lbs. I knew my net didn’t weigh 2lbs, so it was then that I realised I’d finally broken the 20lb barrier. A landmark in any pike angler’s career and a dream come true for me.
What a fine conditioned specimen she was. Long with a large head and a very healthy girth. My first British fish of over twenty pounds lay on the unhooking mat in front of me and I was absolutely thrilled! When the net was weighed and deducted, the pike’s true weight went 20lb 12oz. I had no trouble smiling for the camera as we quickly took some photographs, before reviving and returning her to fight another day.
The remainder of the day went slowly. I had a 9lb fish on deadbait, but caught nothing after 10.30 am. Did I care? …No!
Thirteen days later, I was on the bank pike fishing again – this time on a fen drain which I’d never fished before. The prospects looked good at the first swim, because there were large shoals of roach and rudd showing at the surface. The occasional pike strike sent these fish hurtling in all directions, to avoid the mighty jaws of the pursuing predator.
The previous few mornings had seen the hardest frosts of the year, causing the silver fish to tightly shoal up. The pike seemed to be capitalising on this opportunity, as I missed a run on a paternostered deadbait within minutes of casting out. Twenty minutes later I had a run on my other rod. I landed a small pike, then recast the same bait to another spot. This bait was taken again within half an hour, so I changed baits and recast to another feature. I was up the bank scanning the shoals of fish, when a couple of bleeps brought my attention to the same rod.
A fast run ensued, so I quickly picked up the rod and leaned into a heavy feeling fish. My drag was set very tight, but the fish took several metres of line as it powered away on four runs. I regained the line and eased the fish to the surface. I knew instantly that this fish was around the 20lb mark. It was even longer than my PB and still had a good girth.
I netted the fish and felt her bulk as I tried to lift the net from the water. She measured 41 inches from nose to tail-fork and had a 19 inch girth. The weighing confirmed that I was looking at another new PB of 21lb 3oz! I just couldn’t believe it! Six years searching for a 20lb pike, then I catch two in as many weeks! It’s a fortnight which will live long in my memory. I just hope that my run of big pike can continue…
Further information about the history, life cycle and biology of Esox lucius – the pike (known in some parts of the world as “northern pike”) – can be found on Wikipedia here: pike Wiki
And on Fishbase here: pike on Fishbase.org.