Pike are a fickle fish. Some days they can be mad on the feed and almost suicidal when hunting. On other days they can be frustrating to say the least: skulking, digesting food, waiting for some kind of primeval force or other “trigger” which will spring them into feeding mode.
As pike anglers, we hope that our days sport will coincide with the pike embarking on such a feeding frenzy, but more often than not, it is seldom the case. However every now and again external factors and human influences collide to provide us pike fishermen with a session to remember.
The winter of 2010/2011 was savage. The country was gripped by plummeting temperatures and cruel winds from the eastern continent. Snow fell in droves and our waterways where clad in an iron grip of frost and ice. For weeks the ice lingered, and up and down the country anglers suffered from “cabin fever” as they longed to angle once more.
These Siberian temperatures mattered little to old Esox. Under the ice, temperatures would have stabilised and once accustomed, the pike would be quite at home marauding prey, free from human intervention. In fact the pike would have thrived, under the lid of the ice, where little light would penetrate, in that eerie twilit watery world the pike would be at an advantage. Creeping around in the gloom, using its amazing senses to ambush and attack its prey; which would be grouped tight together, like cryogenically preserved embryos.
On the canal that I fish there are a few boatyards and marinas dotted along its length that have no access for anglers. I have long come to the conclusion that big old pike have learnt to seek refuge in these areas and seldom roam far, preferring to linger in these man-made havens. These urban pike have waxed fat on easy pickings free from the pressures imposed by anglers. As the winter intensified and the ice remained these “queens” began to forage and hunt further from their lairs, their confidence grows due to a lack of angling pressure. They would venture from these boatyards, basins and marinas and enter the main canal system. At home I watched the weather forecasts with a keen eye. I studied the long range forecasts on the internet. Eagerly, I awaited the thaw, as I knew that this would be a golden opportunity to meet up with one of these urban myths. Come what may, when the ice receded, I would be there ready and waiting for the predator to become the prey.
At last the temperatures grudgingly lifted. My window of opportunity approached and I knew that within a couple of days the ice would thaw. I had a short period of time where I knew that these big pike would be susceptible as they would be out in the “open”. This was a unique opportunity. Traces where made, bait stocked up and tackle prepared, I was ready! Friday was to be the day. Being self-employed I pulled some strings and loaded the car on Thursday night ready for an early start the next day.
That night I couldn’t sleep my mind was in overdrive and eventually I got up, made a brew and prepared a plate of England’s finest.
It was still dark when I left the house on that January morning. Stars glinted in the black sky and the car was coated in a layer of frost. It was still hit and miss if the canal would be frozen or not so I had a couple of other possible locations to try. I raced to my first spot. I wanted to have the baits in the water for first light, I love driving at this time of the morning the roads are quite, the only company being the tunes blasting out.
The first area I looked at was frozen, as was the second. The sun was now up, had I missed my chance? Defeated I drove home, and I looked in on one more spot, more out of hope than anything else. I couldn’t believe my luck it was ice free! If only I had tried here first. I felt that I may have missed a prime feeding spell but I was still going to give it a go. The canal here had not seen an angler for weeks, I had a day off work and a full flask if nothing else it would be nice just to soak up the weak winter sun and relax. Out went the baits, a sardine, joey and mackerel tail. I settled back pouring myself a brew, the drink hadn’t touched my lips when in the corner of my eye I noticed the float creeping along the water’s surface, “I see you” I said under my breath. As I moved forward the float bobbed twice then slid under the surface moving steadily away. I paused momentarily then reeled down and heaved the rod back keeping the rod bent until I felt the thump and shake as I connected with what lay beneath. The rod held round and the fish stayed deep, always a good sign. After gaining some line she loomed up through the water all green, blue and silver. She shook her head, gills flaring crimson as she came to the surface. The water exploded as she sounded and I gave her line letting her run. With the rod held low I applied side strain and turned her, then pumped the rod back. The net was readied and as she wallowed heavily on the surface I drew her over the net, she was mine. All that anticipation, waiting and planning and it was all over in less than 10 minutes of arriving at the water. The pike was a superb specimen and at 24Ib 2oz she was a rare pike for the “cut“.
I admired her solid thick set frame and her silvery yellow “leopard” spots decorated the flanks. The only blemish to her armor was a wart like growth on her side. It gave her character which made her even more unique. She was a true “urban queen” a pike that will always mean a lot to me, she remains my best pike from my local canal. A canal that I have fished since I was a kid and have come to know intimately. I lay on the towpath holding the pike by the root of her tail feeling for the strength to return to the fish’s body. The outside world was far away even the sounds of the morning rush hour seemed muted as I gazed down at the pike, the hunter and his quarry, the only sensation I was aware of was the stinging cold of the water. The pike’s gills pulsed and her fins began to furl as power once more built within her. With a flick of the tail she was gone, disappearing into the icy water. Jobs a “good’un”.
Keep an open mind as these “windows of opportunity” are there to be exploited by the thinking pike angler.
We all know pike as the sleek, fast killers of the freshwater world. But the pike is much more than that, as an apex predator, it has evolved over millennia to adapt to any feeding opportunity that comes its way. Pike will exploit the most unlikely of food sources one of the pikes favourite prey items are dead and dying fish. Big old females don’t want to waste energy hunting and chasing fit and healthy fish. Instead they much prefer to scavenge and scour the lake bed in search of the “departed” We as pike anglers have long realised this and we can manipulate this behavioural trait of the pike to our own advantage. By regularly baiting an area with chopped fish we can condition and influence the pike to feed confidently. The pike will overtime associate the baited area with food and begin to make daily visits to feed on these easy pickings.
This is a method that I have long considered trying but for whatever reason had not got round to it. An opportunity arose for me to use this method. I had struggled to get into my piking and had not ventured out as much as previous seasons, I had recently moved house and had to leave my old bait freezer behind due to a lack of space. However I had a glut of dead baits that would go to waste so what better than to begin a mini baiting campaign. Now I’m not going to profess to adopting a precise and calculated baiting programme. Instead I could see that due to predicted frosts my local canal would freeze over. I decided to tip the lot into a favoured area, allow the “lid” to form and return in due course having hopefully left the pike to dine in peace.
It had been a week since I had applied the prebait, the ice had thawed a couple of days earlier and I now felt that it would be worth giving the area a go, just a short evening session of a couple of hours to gauge the baited areas potential.
It was a perfect pike angler’s day. The January sky was cloudless and as blue as the ocean, a good stiff breeze ruffled and creased the canals surface and the air felt chill and fresh. I soon had three baits out and the orange tipped floats bobbed and rode the choppy water like fiery beacons.
This area of canal was quite peaceful and rural compared to some of the more urban areas that I fish. Nature was all around that day, a sceen of geese “V ed” across the sky, Mistle Thrushes busied themselves in a nearby hedgerow. It seemed like it was a day for the hunter, a piercing whistle announced the arrival of the kingfisher and a sparrow hawk ghosted along the towpath - silent death.
The atmosphere was electric, it was one of those days you just knew something would happen and happen it did as one of the floats moved against the wind ruffled water and disappeared from view the resulting strike met with nothing and dejected I sat back down. It had been my first “run” in sometime and I had missed it, however I knew as with all angling that there would always be another chance.
The low winter sun dipped towards the west turning the dead rushes a fiery gold and the sky turned red with the promise of a “Sheppard’s delight” for the coming morning.
As the shadows lengthened I began to tidy my tackle away as usual leaving my rods to last. One rod had been wound in when I noticed the float nearest to me lift slowly out of the water and tip flat before slowly trundling off. I crept over to the rod keeping low as any sudden movements could alert the pike to my presence causing it to drop the bait. The strike was met with solid resistance followed by some violent headshakes, the pike moved fast towards me and in the clear water I could see her dark frame. As the pike came along side it opened its cavernous mouth again shaking its head, I could see she was a good fish, but noting that she was barely hooked. I then did something stupid and tried to net her too quickly forcing up the net when she was half in and out. CRACK! The net handle splintered and she surged away, I now resigned myself to the fact that I’d lost her. Lady luck must have shone down on me that day as I managed to bundle her into the net. Punching the air I knew I’d got a 20lber, 23Ib to be precise, she was as fat as a pig excreting evil smelling grey matter all over the mat. Like a dragon jealously guarding its treasure she had probably sat over that pre-bait all week devouring it. It was now dark and I quickly took some pictures of my prize. She was a lovely golden coloured pike and she seemed to glow in the cameras flash, the air was now cooling rapidly and my breath steamed, it was time to release the pike and get home for a welcome shower and hot brew. Piking is something that is in my blood and I live for these winter days chasing Esox against the backdrop of an English winter.
Tight Lines one and all and be lucky.