Predator fishing

A beginner’s guide
to pike fishing

by Ricci Cox

Traditionally in the UK, early October to mid-March (when the river season closes) is the best time to target and catch pike. You can catch them all year-round, on lures and live baits in summer for example, but they’ll be at their biggest in the colder months (before spawning) and pack on weight feeding for the cold weather. For example a pike that weighs 17-18lb in June could potentially be 20lb-plus in February or March.

Fox jig heads are easy to use with shads – just thread them in through the nose of the fish and pop the hook out the back

The two most popular ways to catch pike are with lures and dead baiting (live baits are a great option, on waters where this is still allowed – although that seems few and far between nowadays). When it comes to lures, soft lures (such as shads) have become much more popular in the last 10-15 years.

Hard lures, like these from world-renowned brand Rapala, (pictured right) are also a great way to fool pike and you can cover the entire depth of the water searching out fish with deep diving lures – a great way to cover the entire swim.

You’ll probably find, particularly on rivers, that 90% of your fish whilst lure fishing will be smaller ‘jack’ pike (1-5lb fish) as these are most common and more enthusiastic chasing lures. You will catch the odd bigger one depending on venue, but generally, dead baits definitely seem to pick out the bigger fish.

Generally, lure fishing is a great way to cover lots of water on lakes and rivers and a really efficient way to catch pike if you only have time for short morning or evening sessions before work.

Dead baiting can be done either with a float (pencil floats, pictured right, are the most popular and versatile) or by legering with a free-running rig, bite alarm and drop off indicator (pictured below). This involves leaving the bale-arm of your reel open so fish can take the bait freely at which point your drop off will move up or down, depending whether the fish moves away or towards you, and your bite alarm will ‘bleep’. At this point, you should pick up your rod, close the bale-arm and strike quickly to avoid deep hooking a fish.

Generally, float fishing is recommended on shallower water, whereas in deep water, it’s easier to leger – although it really is up to you – some people like watching a float all day, whereas others like to kick-back and read a book, watch a film on an iPad, etc, knowing as soon as a pike picks up the bait, they’ll be sharply awoken by a high-pitched alarm on a leger set-up.

The two images below show how easy and few components you need to set-up your rigs. The left hand image is a simple leger set-up. Simply thread a lead weight or in this case, a lead weight on buoyant ‘leger stem’ (to avoid weed). This also has a large run ring to keep the line running freely when you get a ‘take’ from a pike – they will drop your bait if they feel too much resistance – then just thread a leger stop bead on to your line and tie on a pike trace covering the swivel on the trace with the leger stop bead as pictured below.

The image (above right) shows the components you need for a float rig. It’s a really simple set-up too. You simply thread a ‘float stop’ onto your mainline (set this at the depth of water you are fishing in, so the bait lays on the bottom of the river or lake bed) then thread on a bead, the float and another bead. Next goes on a Fox ‘egg sinker’ weight and then simply tie on a pike trace (I recommend buying a ready-made one if you are new to pike fishing) with two-trebles to mount your dead bait on.

Bait wise, there are a whole array of dead fish that a pike will eat. They aren’t particularly fussy in my experience. Although a lot of anglers have their favourites. Mackerel, sardines, lamprey, eel section, roach, rudd, skimmer, perch, trout, small pike will all catch a feeding pike if presented in the right spot.

I use a Korum Multi-mat which is a combined unhooking mat, weight sling and carry bag. Making it ideal to unhook, weigh and return a fish to the water. 

Rods of 2 & 3/4 to 3 & 1/4 test curve are recommended depending on if you are fishing on a river or large gravel pit. Anything lighter and you’ll struggle to cast a decent-sized dead bait out. Standard size reels will suffice on rivers, but again if you are planning on fishing a large lake you might want to go for a larger ‘big pit’ reel. Minimum 15lb mono main line is recommended. If you are fishing braid, 30lb-40lb should do the job and be roughly the same diameter to the 15lb mono anyway, so you’ll get a similar amount of line on your reel either way.

Other items of tackle you will need include a good sized landing net – a 42 inch one is ideal. When lure fishing some anglers use a separate and smaller specialist latex-type net, which stops the hooks getting caught up in the mesh. An unhooking mat, weigh sling, scales and some forceps to unhook the pike are all essential items too.

Learning how to unhook pike is a must. The key is to be confident and learn how to ‘chin’ a pike. This involves sliding two or three fingers under the gill plate and gently pulling to open the pikes mouth, which will give you access to the hooks with your forceps. This is the safest way to un hook a fish – for you and the pike. Barbless trebles are better and will even just fall out in the net sometimes if a pike is lightly enough hooked.

If you are new to pike fishing, try and go with a more experienced angler on your first trip. You’ll learn loads and be more confident unhooking them on your own next time.

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