in England some of the best, and most under exploited, pike fishing is to be found
on our rivers. Maybe not for the biggest fish of all, but the average size can
be well into the low teens of pounds, twenty pounders are always on the cards,
and multiple catches of ten to twenty fish are pretty common. During the summer
months those rivers which allow boat access can become infested with holiday makers
cruising half out of control. Only when the school holidays end does peace and
tranquility start to return to the rivers. Luckily for the pike angler this is
when some of the best fishing is to be had. Water temperatures are still relatively
high resulting in active pike, topwater action being common through much of September
in good years.
During September and October, even into early November,
pike fishing on the rivers can be very good indeed. Mostly the fish can be caught
by casting, and well oxygenated areas like weir pools are the first places to
check out. Even right in the fast water directly below the weir pike will be found,
but the slack areas, particularly those with weed associated will be the best
places to throw the Hawg Wobblers and Jackpots. That is not to say that the deeper
back eddies should be neglected for the topwaters. Prey fish are often concentrated
in these areas. Pike at this time of year will be actively chasing food and surface
activity is not uncommon. Scattering food fish should be cast over with a topwater
if you see them, even over ten or twelve feet of water. The rivers usually run
clear in autumn, and fish will come a long way to hit a lure.
baits should also be thrown when fishing other reaches, particularly around any
weed beds that are visible. Grass-like streamer weed waving in the marginal current
is always worth a look as pike love to lie up beneath its folded over strands.
It is easiest to work topwaters through this stuff with an upstream cast, so that
the lure comes back cleanly. So anchoring the boat is the best way to approach
these spots. Usually the first accurate cast will tell you if there are any pike
in a weed bed of this kind. If nothing shows itself within the first five minutes,
cast the edge of the weed with a spinnerbait and if still nothing happens move
Away from the
weed pike will be found in some predictable places. Overhanging bushes are prime
spots to search out with a spinnerbait, especially if there is a good depth under
the branches. Isolated bushes on the outside of bends are okay, but three or four
in a similar spot are better. Any that have rafts of floating debris associated
with them are well worth concentrating on, as are the slacks at the down stream
and of the semi-submerged branches.
casting is the order of the day. If you can drop your lure, spinnerbaits are first
choice, so close as to tickle the leaves just before it hits the water you are
in the right place. Letting a spinnerbait fall in front of a bush will many times
result in a take on the drop, or as soon as you pull the lure away from the cover.
Gaps between bushes are also going to produce fish, and crankbaits or jerkbaits
will pick up pike here better than from the front of the bush where spinnerbaits
In stretches of slow flow it
is possible to fish overhanging bushes while drifting with the current, repeating
drifts past those places where pike have shown themselves. If flows are so strong
that it is difficult to fish casts out as you would wish then the anchor must
be dropped. Work each bush over thoroughly then lift the anchor and slip downstream
to the next one. This approach allows a very thorough covering of productive swims
and gives you more chance to throw something back at fish that follow. A Bull
Dawg is a good choice, or if the flow allows it a jerkbait. When working any lure
across the current get ready for takes as the bait turns to come upstream. This
change in direction being a natural trigger.
jerkbaits on rivers is usually associated with the slack areas, but they can be
fished in the flow too. Glide baits are ruled out here, and by far the best I
have found is the Burt. A weighted model seems to bite the current and work really
well. When the pike have got tired of a steady retrieve, switching to something
more erratic can bring a few more fish from a spot.
As you might have
gathered, the approach that I adopt on the rivers is to give each spot a really
good working over. Once I have found a place with a pike or two present I won't
leave it until I am sure it is fished out. Productive spots will hold numbers
of pike, and although the biggest ones tend to show themselves early on, this
is not always the case. I well remember my fishing partner ribbing me for not
yet having a take from one bush where he had already caught two fish. When I did
get a hit I ended up with a twenty-four pounder in the boat. These fish fell for
spinnerbaits, but later in the day, from another bush further down stream my mate
had a fish, also of twenty-four pounds, on a crankbait.
down river casting to likely looking spots, but without success, it is a good
idea to troll back upstream with your lures as tight as you dare to the cover.
This is always worth a try as it presents your lures in an alternative direction
and keeps them close to the bushes for longer on those days when the pike won't
move out from cover. Some days the pike seem to prefer a trolled bait to a cast
one. Don't ask why, they just do. Faced with a long run of trees and bushes hanging
over the water trolling spinnerbaits close to the trailing branches can be the
most efficient way to cover the water.
Single bladed spinnerbaits from
two to three ounces seem to work best. It can be chancy, as many branches will
be submerged, but don't be afraid to troll so close that the rod tops brush the
foliage now and again. The closer you can get the bait to the trees the better.
Shallow running crankbaits are another option, but the treble hooks tend to foul
up more often than the single hooks of the spinnerbaits.
As the leaves
start to fall and the first heavy rains arrive river fishing can become harder.
The leaves themselves create practical problems as they drift downstream, especially
when trolling as they have a nasty habit of fouling the line without your knowledge.
Thereby killing the action of the lure. The worst thing is that not all the leaves
float, it is those that foul up subsurface that are the real nuisance. So it pays
to keep a close check on the lines at all times.
High, coloured water will
tend to put the pike off the feed, but if you can hit the river right as it starts
to drop after a flood good results can be had. It is all down to timing. It's
best to be there either when the pike are still in the slack areas in which they
have holed up, or just as they start to move out of them. That said, a friend
of mine did well on a quickly rising river one day when he located some fish moving
into a flooding side ditch. Maybe the prey fish were seeking refuge from the increasing
flow, and the pike were homing in on them. I know that pike had been spotted swirling
in the mouth of the ditch, which rather suggests that they were indeed feeding
the main winter period sport does slow down, but rivers can still be more productive
than nearby lakes. Even in really low water temperatures river pike are willing
to accept lures. Trolling is the key to catching in these conditions, and seeking
out the deepest runs and holes is usually the key to location. Even with surface
temperatures as low 36.6 degrees, and air temperatures hardly rising above freezing,
I have caught pike trolling on rivers. Four or five fish apiece to low double
figures is not to be sneezed at under these conditions.
bouncing bottom is frequently the only way to get action though. And it doesn't
seem to matter what lure you choose, so long as it will trip bottom on tick over.
Crankbaits are the best option as depths in excess of twenty feet just about rule
out spinnerbaits as a practical option. The beds of the rivers I fish are full
of snags washed down in the floods. Some are natural, like fallen trees, but others
are manmade debris. Home-made lures have a real attraction under these circumstances!
Around Christmas and into the New Year takes are not the full blooded rod-benders
of autumn, but can be indicated by little more than the change in tip action that
you get when the lure picks up a leaf. Even good sized fish seem to just swim
along behind the boat with the lure in their mouth. So when the lure seems to
lose its action and the tip pulls round a fraction, get the rod out of the holder
and strike. You never know.
Wire line has proved a really useful tool
in midwinter for getting those baits down quickly. Because wire line runs the
lure closer to the boat than other lines it also facilitates in following the
course of the river. You know much better where your lures are whenever you make
a turn. I know for a fact that when I have run lures on wire they have outfished
even those fished on 35lb braid. I am sure that the proximity of the wire run
baits to the boat has played a big part in this success.
through to mid January trolling is the method of choice when conditions allow.
Only towards the very end of our river season in mid March, when the pike are
starting to mass up ready for spawning, do we revert to casting. This time we
are seeking out areas close to spawning sites, preferably with access to prey
shoals close by. The fishing can still be hard, but bumper days are a possibility.
The reason for sticking with it is that the pike are going to be at their peak
weight, and following dry winters when they haven't had to burn energy combating
strong flows can be real pigs. It is surprising what a variation in condition
can be shown in the pike year to year following winters of differing rainfall.
pike anywhere at this time of year, just prior to spawning, is a hit and miss
affair. Often this is the time when I will fish deadbaits in a wait it out kind
of way. Staying in one area for the whole day even, waiting for a pike to find
one of the baits. Lures, often jigs, will be fished around the static deadbaits.
There will be days when everything comes to the deadbaits, and days which confound
expectations when more action comes to the lures.
Towards the end of
last season my mate and I were on the river, which had been well up for a week
or so and which was still heavily coloured, and expected to find the pike in a
big shallow slack and eager to mop up our deadbaits. Sure enough the pike were
there and a few small ones did take the deadbaits, but I was getting far more
action on lures. A couple of low doubles hit the soft plastics and in-line spinners,
and I also had a couple of follows and dropped a fish. Admittedly the one fish
I took on a deadbait was the biggest of the day at eighteen and a half pounds.
At the end of the day we decided to troll back to the launch site, and before
we had gone fifty yards my rod hooped over as a seventeen snaffled my bottom tripping
The lesson to be
learned from that episode is that you can never be sure how pike are going to
behave, and that you should try to be prepared for every eventuality. Just because
conditions look like one method will score, it ain't necessarily so. This applies
to just about any pike water, but is especially applicable to the moody waters
that are our rivers.
article first appeared in Esox Angler 4)