Wednesday, 3 March 2021

Holding Area & Route Theory Condensed


Many anglers are not interested in theories such as the one I am going to try and explain and I have often heard that such ideas are irrelevant to them as they only fish in areas where they have caught before. This is, of course what the Route Theory is all about.

Nobody who has experienced the tribulations of Winter pike fishing would ever be so brash as to try and explain what is going through a fish’s mind or their thought patterns but some ideas can be gained from their behaviour, habits and actions.  

The Route Theory is only a theory and as with all theories they can neither be proved nor disproved but if you follow logic it is only fair to think if that what is suggested makes sense and falls within your experience over an extended period. If this is the case then it must have some merit if nothing else.

I would like to clarify one thing and that is these theories are best realised on big Lochs, Lakes, and Loughs which are dotted around the Country. They are more prevalent on these types of waters because the distance between each Route or Holding Area can be of a measurably distance but that doesn`t mean that they don`t exist on smaller waters. On smaller waters they can be closer together and difficult to differentiate.

Pike anglers who are observant will have realised that certain behaviours reoccur and a good piker will never believe in coincidences as coincidences work against nature where nothing is done just for the sake of it. Pike don`t aimlessly move around a water haphazardly hoping to meet a dazed silver fish for his meal or spend masses of energy chasing shoals of fish around a water hoping to get lucky. Of course, this is what jack pike do as they grow but soon realise that there are better ways to find a meal and with age comes a change in behaviour to suit.

 All pike movements are designed precisely to make feeding an exact science which may not be dependent on a pike’s intelligence but in its will to survive and if you analyse the life expectancy of a pike and highlight what are its main objectives in that time then I can only find two.

  1. To feed and grow as quickly as possible prior to spawning
  2. To feed so as to produce spawn to further the species

Now if anyone can think of another then I would like to know as these two factors will determine how Routes fall into their daily routine.

If the two scenarios are accepted then the Route Theory can be split into two depending on the time of year, e.g. feeding during the non-Winter period and feeding during Winter to Spring months as follows;

  1. Feeding Routes
  2. Spawning Routes  

These periods are dependent on conditions present at the time and on the individual water.

How can routes and holding areas be identified?

Not to alienate any specific type of pike fishing, the only way a fuller picture of Routes and Holding Areas can be identified on big waters is by being afloat using a method which can locate productive areas and separate them out form non-productive ones. This could take a long time but if you are regularly fishing a water it is worth the effort.

Float Trolling is that method and by moving around quickly on an expanse of water dropping in on areas systematically it will soon be noted that pike are normally caught in these areas to the exception of greater expanses no matter how alluring these expanses may appear. I believe this is an American method of fishing waters much bigger than those we have in the U.K. and must be respected.

Very pikey areas can be pike less and for no apparent reason other areas will produce on a regular basis. These areas will change when spawning becomes a priority.

If I catch good size pike say once in five visits to a Holding Area, I would consider that to be a worth constant revisits. These spots can also be highlighted my watching where other are catching – maybe the best way to start.

Failing this (and remembering not to look at the water, but look through it), areas that visually indicate possible productive area are rocky edges into deeper water, rocky outcrops, weed expanses, underwater changes of contours like mounds or depressions, if you see a land point then follow it out into the water and fish the point at whatever depth you select, a common area like this is the end of islands etc. underwater joggles of contour where the feature creates inner and outer curves. Loughs and Lochs are full of these type of features but finding the productive ones is where the hard work come in.

One common statement that needs to be challenged is when someone advises the angler to concentrate on the “drop offs”. Basically, true but on a 20-mile Lough or Loch the number of areas which can be described as “drop offs” is infinite depending on what the angler considers a “drop off” to be. 2 foot into 10, 10 into 20, 20 into 40. Best of luck locating pike on a week’s holiday.

One good tip if moving around a big water float trolling is always have a bait in the top 10 feet of water. Some anglers say that a pike will come up from 40 feet to take a surface bait but the fact is that pike are already up there in the top tier and not necessarily striking from depth.

To try and differentiate between the productivity of Holding Areas and Routes I believe that Holding Areas will always be more productive than Routes because pike spend more time in Holding Areas as a Route is a path which pike move along and catching a pike whilst in transit is far less probable.    

This identification of these areas doesn`t limit the way you can fish them as lures and dead or live baits can be used to great effect as it is not the fishing method that catches the pike – it’s the location.   

It is important to try and explain why these Holding Areas exist and what purpose they achieve. If as a conclusion it is possible to understand that pike do not dash all over a water looking for silver fish but hide in redetermined areas waiting for the silver fish to come to them then you have understood why this theory makes sense and can be accepted as something to consider before deciding where to fish on a water that you are either familiar or unfamiliar with.

Local knowledge on an unfamiliar water is key and talking to other anglers can result not only in the location of swims that produce pike but more importantly where pike are rarely or never caught. Known areas that never produce pike are more important than anglers think. After all, when you go fishing do you start in an area where you have caught before or where you have never caught?

This doesn`t mean that areas of a water won`t produce pike as I have always thought that no area will produce all of the time but all areas will produce some of the time. Now that may sound a contradiction on what I have previously said but don`t forget that these Holding Areas and particularly the Routes between them are split into different times of the year where behaviour changes to suit the pike reproductive cycle.

Pike will use routes which are familiar to them exclusively and these paths join up the holding areas which are used by pike to ambush their prey because they are either using up as little energy as possible, lazy, or just very clever.

How does this theory of holding areas manifest itself?? Well, that’s an easy one.Over thirty years of pike fishing large waters it has become clear to me that pike will normally be caught in specific locations, which can be as small as 20 feet square in a square mile of water. Pike don`t frequent every acre of water but are concentrated in certain spots which consistently produce pike with other areas being fallow.

Now I accept any comments that this could be a self-fulfilling prophecy, but before anyone hangs their hat on this statement, I suggest you go out on these big waters and try catching pike from areas which have never produced pike of significance before. You will encounter a glut of blanks which is not what you want if on a week-long holiday.

Holding areas are selected by pike from experience of the movement of the shoaling fish that move in their own way depending on either their method of feeding or to avoid the undertow created by high winds which are common during our Winter period. Shoals are rarely static and it is fair to assume that they move around a water constantly in a predictable pattern.

Wouldn`t it be a wise move for a predator to position itself in an area (through experience and learnt behaviour) when they knew that eventually those very shoals would pass their way for ambush. And as shoal movement can be predicted the predator would have more than one holding area to pick from? These areas will always be the same which also means that the routes joining them would be same. Routes that are used habitually to take the pike from one productive area to another – it just makes sense.

Spawning Routes

Depending on the water and temperature prevalent at the time of year (usually sometime in January) things are about to take a dramatic turn. A change in the behaviour of jack pike occurs and they start to shoal together en mass for two reasons.

1.       To move into the shallow weedy areas and by doing so they inadvertently select the spawning areas for that year.

2.       To hide from the marauding female who are looking for that spawning area and also looking for an easy meal which a jack pike will provide.

This behaviour is a characteristic of the jack pike species that is critical to the spawning procedure and changes the movement of big pike from its feeding habits to spawning ones and manifests itself by the jack pike grouping up.

The jack shoals can be immense in size and if located in real shallow water can produce great sport, especially on lures, but more importantly it is an indication that in adjacent open water larger pike will (or can be) patrolling in a search for its prey – jack pike.

With the jack pike “gone missing” from their usual haunts larger pike spend their time both feeding to produce spawn and searching for the predetermined shallow water spawning areas. Nature has deemed it that pike will not spawn in the same place or at the same time each year and thank God for that as this irregular behaviour ensures the species longevity. For the pike angler this means a series of long hard slogs searching for these areas of interest. On smaller waters you can count these seasonal areas on one hand, but on large waters there could be a hundred.

For the angler it should be noted that big pre-spawning pike will move into and, out of shallow water during this period so finding the jack shoals is the first sign you should be looking for.


You can say this theory is nonsense, irrelevant or exaggerated but the one thing you can`t say about it is that been made up from thin air. As previously suggested, there is no place in the natural world for coincidence and non-productive activity. Everything happens for a reason.

It may not be as relevant in smaller waters with different shapes (drains, canals) or sizes (small Llkes) but it does work in the large loughs and lochs that I have fished. Living in Newport in South Wales leaves little time (even over the years) to say that I am an expert in all these waters as I am far from that, and I have always thought that I`m not the best pike angler in the World, but I am probably the most observant.

Take from it what you please and I hope that if you have no experience on larger waters you can gain an edge to at least give you a start in catching pike on these magical waters that present the angler with the ultimate test.


Chris Donovan.

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