Practical tackle



Throughout the book I have mentioned boat fishing in passing, so in this chapter I shall go into the matter a little deeper. I admit that what follows is still somewhat sketchy, but that's because the subject of fishing lures from boats could really do with a whole book to itself. Specialised techniques like trolling with wire or lead lines, downriggers, and even planer boards to reach out to the side of the boat, are beyond the scope of a book like this one. However, what follows should be of some use to anyone thinking of taking to the water for the first time.

There are two reasons for going afloat in pursuit of pike; because you want to, or because you have to. This is not as daft as it sounds. Some waters have vast lengths of bank that are unfishable except from a position out on the water. Overhanging trees, thick rush or lily beds, or even boggy margins can all keep the bank-bound piker away from good fish holding water. A boat is the obvious answer. On the other hand the majority of trout waters that open up to piking only allow fishing from their boats. For this reason many pike anglers get their first experience of boat fishing on trout fisheries. Luckily this means that they usually get to fish from good boats, which is not always the case on coarse fisheries that have boats for hire. If you are going to fish from a hire boat it is well worth taking along a few items of your own, even where the boats are well equipped.

An essential is an anchor, or preferably a mud-weight. I have never found the grappling hook type anchor to hold very well - except when snagged on a submerged fence! A home made mud-weight of around twenty-five pounds will hold in most conditions when sunk in mud or silt. Either fill a suitable plastic bucket with concrete and scrap iron, firmly seating a loop in place for the rope, or find someone who can weld a loop to a lump of steel. Aim for a weight somewhere between twenty-five and thirty pounds in total. This is usually enough to hold most boats in most winds. When such an anchor starts to drag it is time to head for home. Don't be tempted to play the hero and stay out in a howling gale, it just isn't worth the risk.

The best mud-weights are compact, so they sink easily into soft lake beds. Sash weights are excellent, if you can find them. Use one sash weight for light winds, two for a bit of a blow (under which conditions I have heard that these weights can cut their way through soft mud, because of their small diameter). A length of heavy chain, three foot or so, between the mud-weight and the rope helps prevent the movement of the boat from dislodging the anchor. I have little to say about anchor ropes, except that they should be long enough to reach the bottom, and at least half as long again as the maximum depth of water you will be fishing in. In a flat calm the front anchor rope can be almost vertical, but as the wind increases the anchor will hold better on a longer rope. A second, lighter, anchor can be useful at the back of the boat to keep it steady. It is, though, another snag for a hooked pike to swim around. If lure fishing alone from a boat I do away with this second anchor. With two in a boat it is rare for both to be playing fish together, so one can lift the back anchor while the other plays a big fish. Two fish on at once is enough trouble with one anchor down.

Dave Scarff gives a big fish some stick as it kites around the back of the boat.

The biggest difference when playing pike from a boat to playing them from the bank is that they can go in any direction they want, and that includes down and behind you. Opinion is divided on whether a vertical anchor rope is more of a problem than one at an angle, when it comes to pike finding their way round them. I don't have the answer. The best idea is to keep the fish away from the rope in the first place. Not always easy, I admit. Short rods, under eight feet, are a definite advantage when fighting pike from a boat as they let you put much more pressure on the fish, and literally pull them away from trouble.

Another thing worth taking in the boat with you is a piece of carpet, or underlay. This should be large enough to cover most of the bottom of the boat so there are no loose edges to trip over. The carpet both quietens your movements, and provides some protection for the pike. I have to admit that I don't worry too much about clanking about in boats, I have yet to be convinced that a bit of noise worries pike unduly - except in very shallow water. Continuous noisy behaviour might put pike off, but the occasional dropped pair of pliers or heavy footfall I doubt makes much impact on them. An alternative to the wall-to-wall is my ubiquitous camping mat which gets laid on the deck when a pike comes aboard. I used to fold it up to sit on when having a brew, but these days I have a Kevin Nash Bum Buddy (naff name, good product) that makes sitting in a boat much more comfortable, giving a modicum of back support as it does.

If you regularly fish from hire boats it is well worth taking a bailer of your own. There is usually something provided for emptying out water that finds its way into the boat, either from the clouds or through leaks in the hull, but not always. Make one of your own by cutting up a suitable plastic bottle. Ones with carrying handles work best. When fishing from hire boats you will soon come to realise that few commercially made rod rests will actually fit their gunwales. This is why most pike anglers get them welded up on large G-clamps. Crude but effective. If you are trolling lures with the rods in outrigger-rests you want them to be rock solid. Fitting out your own boat with outrigger-rests should pose no problem as there are a few types available which have mounts that can be bolted or screwed to the gunwales. The rod-rest itself being easily removable with a twist-lock fitting.

A fish finder is one thing that is all but indispensable for successful boat fishing, but it can be all to easy to rely too much on it. All you really need is a basic model, which will give you a good enough idea of the bottom contours. Don't try to use these devices to find individual pike. You will waste a lot of time fishing for large blips on the screen that might, or might not, be big fish. The picture on the screen is never all it might seem at first glance, it has to be interpreted. Look for underwater features or shoals of prey fish, these will be a better guide to the whereabouts of your quarry.

I won't go into the details of general boat handling and fishing, much has been written elsewhere on the subject, so I will concentrate on the techniques that relate specifically to lure fishing. It is important to remember that a boat is just another tool in your kit, one that enables you to get into the best position to present your lures to pike. This is why more and more lure anglers are getting into boat fishing these days. A lot of people think that the chief advantage of lure fishing from a boat is the mobility it allows, but I reckon that it is the positional advantages that are more important. Having the ability to get in the utmost position to cast to a feature, and present your lures along the correct path, is a tremendous plus over fishing from the bank with its limited scope for getting into position relative to the pike. Faced with an extensive length of reed bed, it is fairly obvious that the pike are likely to be stationed within a few yards of, or even tight up to, the reeds themselves. To my way of thinking a lure cast close to the reeds and then drawn away from them, as is the only option you usually have if bank fishing when the reeds are on the far bank of a drain for example, is only covering a short stretch of pike-holding water. If you get in a boat and anchor tight up to the reeds you can cast along them and work lures close to the where the pike should be for a much longer portion of the retrieve. Instead of takes being probable in only the first few feet of a retrieve, they could come at any time. This is just one example of being afloat giving better presentation, there are many more examples that could be cited, but, unfortunately, space does not allow it.

Unless trolling, it is all to easy to move too often when afloat. I have seen it time after time. Inexperienced boat anglers moving from spot to spot without giving anywhere long enough to discover if there were any pike present. The disturbance caused by moving into a swim and dropping the anchor can sometimes put the pike down for a while. Or perhaps the swim is a spot where pike are not resident but pass through at times throughout the day, responding better to the sit and wait approach. Stick around long enough, say an hour, and the pike should appear if they are feeding.

Another big advantage of fishing from a boat is the fact that you can carry a lot more gear in a boat than you can when tramping the banks. This gives you a wider range of lures and rods, allowing (with a bit of luck) for better lure selection and presentation. It is quite normal to take three or four rods out in the boat, and two or three boxes of lures. Try carting that lot around on foot! The fact that I will possibly use only two of the rods and maybe ten lures is neither here nor there. How many times have you been out fishing, and realised that the ideal lure for the day is at home? This is less likely to happen if you have a hundred lures in the boat. Resist the temptation to try every lure you have with you when things are slow though. It is counterproductive and rarely puts a pike in the boat.

With all that gear in a boat, maybe twice over if sharing a boat, it is essential to keep everything tidy. Don't strew lures everywhere, keep them in their boxes or other containers. There is a temptation to hang them from the gunwales if they are wooden, but this soon blunts hook points. A short length of foam pipe lagging clipped over the gunwale makes a better resting place for the lures you are concentrating on. Even so, they can still catch in clothing and landing nets. A spare lure tube can be handy for keeping lures handy, if there is space. It comes to mind that a few tubes could be mounted on a frame that could be hung off, or clamped to, the gunwale to keep lures handy, tidy and snag-free from nets etc. Or you could take a tip from the Yanks, and get hold of a large, open topped, polystyrene box and hang the bulk of your lures around the inside of that. Unhooking tools can be thrown in the middle of the box. Pliers and Hook-Outs are all too easily lost overboard, so make sure you have spare unhooking tools with you.

Precisely how you lay everything out in the boat depends on how you are fishing. Trolling on the outboard means that the bulk of your gear should be towards the front (technical term!) of the boat. Row trolling needs a more even distribution of gear. The aim at all times is to keep weight distribution even, but with enough deck space to put a big pike should one come along. I find a plastic crate useful for keeping large odds and ends together, stove, water bottle, things like that. You have to be ready for a brew at any moment! Have important items, like the unhooking gear and landing net stashed tidily, but readily to hand. Try not to have rods poking out over the side of the boat. Not only can they get broken when mooring at the jetty, but they can also find their way into the water. Somehow, I once managed to catch a lure in the tip ring of a spare rod and cast it into the lake. I guess I am just clumsy.

There are two main tactics for lure fishing from boats. Static and mobile. Static fishing is the easiest method to get to grips with for the newcomer to boat fishing, as the only time you have to exercise precise control over the boat is when positioning the boat prior to dropping the anchor. This position should be determined by some feature that you want to cast to. So don't anchor on the feature, but close enough to be able to cast beyond it. There is no point in having the pike at the extreme end of a long cast, make life easy by putting yourself in easy casting range of them. That's what the boat is for. Stream beds, drop-offs and so on can be marked by dropping a 'flapper' on them, moving the boat upwind and anchoring so you can cast to the marker. Flappers can be bought, or made from polystyrene or balsa block painted a Day-Glo colour. Tie a length of thin string or old braided line to the flapper, about thirty feet or so, and a sea fishing lead of three or four ounces to the other end of the cord. Wrap the cord around the flapper, and there you have it. When thrown overboard the weight sinks, and the flapper floats unwinding the cord as it goes. Once the weight hits bottom the flapper is on just the right length of cord to mark the hot-spot.

A mental picture of an area can be built up by watching the finder, and will help you work your lures to their best advantage. The only time I have fished Rutland Water Dave Scarff and I found the channel of a stream bed and, by placing the boat over it, pike. It was November, very cold, and the pike wanted deeply worked lures. Spoons counted down produced most of our fish. The image we had worked out of the area helped us enormously as just about every fish came by casting into the stream bed and working the lures back along it to the boat. Another use for a flapper is when you get a take while drifting, or even trolling. Throw the marker out as soon as you can in order to enable you to get back in the same position again. Either on the move or static. On quiet waters you can leave the flappers out after you move on to mark the spot for a later attack.  On busy waters this will either give the game away to other anglers, or at the very least prove expensive in lost flappers!

Crankbait paths

The paths of diving crankbaits cast from bank and boat compared.

Many times the feature you are aiming at will be the bank. Being afloat is the best way of covering the margins with diving plugs as their natural path through the water ensures that they follow the slope of the lake bed. Casting the same lure from the bank will result in it hitting bottom long before it reaches the rod top. There will be times when pike want a lure fished like this, but in general the lure moving out from the bank catches more fish, particularly if there is a marked shelf, when the one coming off a ledge catches more than the one going in towards it. Perhaps pike see lures moving into open water as easier meat than those apparently heading for cover. However, this limited approach rather negates the whole point of going afloat, to gain access to water that can't be reached from the bank. Casting lures from a boat gives you 360ø water coverage, so you might as well use it. Particularly after a few fish have been caught by casting to the shore in one spot it is worth covering the water that's behind you. Pike might have moved out seeking the shelter of deeper water following the disturbance caused by hooking and fighting fish. There is also the possibility that the fish caught near the bank have been the stragglers from a pack of pike already stationed further out. Take my word for it, this tactic works. And don't just cast towards the bank in the first place, cast parallel with it to. A boat gives you mobility, so move in close and work your lures close to the bank along the shelf.

When fishing at anchor you have to make a decision on how long to spend in a particular place. I have already hinted that it is all too easy to move too soon. If no pike have made their presence known within an hour it is probably worth considering a move. At the other extreme, I have sat in a swim from half-six in the morning with just one take, at around nine o'clock, to show for my efforts before the first fish came to the net at five in the afternoon. I might have caught sooner by moving, but that's something I will never know. That the fish weighed over twenty pounds made the wait worthwhile. If I know a water well then I tend to sit it out in the known spots, maybe moving between them during the day, and certainly resting them from time to time. The continual casting and retrieving of lures can put pike down just as surely as repeatedly hammering on the sides of the boat.

Every half-hour or hour it can be worth taking a break. Not only does the rest let you recharge your batteries and reappraise the situation, but it gives the pike time to forget the lures. When you start casting again, go in with something different to start with. From what I have seen on U.S. videos, the Yanks miss out on fish by not sticking with a spot. Their approach is more one of hit-and-run'. Work a spot over for a few minutes then move to another spot. O.K., so their waters are a lot bigger than ours and this tactic might put them on to a taking fish quickly. Even so, I reckon that our technique of giving a swim everything will be more successful in the long term. Just because you don't get a take in the first ten minutes doesn't mean there are no pike in the area.

One way to find good spots is by drifting. It is at its best in light winds and on waters where you are allowed to use an electric trolling motor. In flat calm conditions I have actually pulled a boat along by casting lures in the direction I wanted to go. A very quiet way of manoeuvring into position! For working along shallow, reed-fringed, margins drifting is an extremely stealthy approach. It should go without saying, that you are at the mercy of the prevailing wind when it comes to the direction and speed of your drift though. A drogue can be hung over the side of the boat, or off the bow, to slow the drift. I have never tried this tactic, but have it on good authority that it slows the boat quite markedly. I would expect this to be the way to cover large featureless areas of water. Big, exposed, springtime bays come to mind as good places to get the drogue out.

An electric motor gives the ultimate in control for the drifting lure angler, allowing you to easily work back along the line of your drift with the motor in reverse. It is no surprise that Americans have these fitted to their fishing boats, as they rarely seem to anchor to fish. A bow mounted motor, with a foot control for direction and speed is the ultimate set-up. Fine if you have your own boat and are a piking-millionaire! Most of us have to settle for a transom mount motor that can be fitted to any boat we might have to fish out of. While electric outboards are often referred to as trolling motors, they can easily eat up the juice when used for this purpose. But used to control drifts, and position the boat prior to anchoring they are far more economical on battery life. If electric outboards are not allowed, which for some reason they are not on all waters, then you will have to rely on the oars to manoeuvre the boat while drifting. This is not too difficult, but does cut actual fishing time down when compared to using a motor. You can work lures while the boat is under power, bringing them round in an arc to the boat. This change of direction can prove attractive to the pike at times. It is often worth repeating drifts along slightly different lines, maybe getting closer to the bank on successive drifts. Really give an area a good working over. If you find that takes come at a specific point on a drift, then anchor up there for a while and give it some stick. This is common sense. While drifting, the lures to use are ones that work well fished fairly quickly. Search lures, like minnows or spinnerbaits perhaps, or lures that will trigger strikes if they pass close to a pike, such as jerkbaits. Once pike are contacted switch to a more considered approach, maybe using a slower retrieve - particularly if the pike are located by some obvious structure. Crankbaits and suspending jerkbaits might be worth a try.

When fishing alone in a boat you have the advantages of plenty of room, and the freedom to go where you please. But you have to do everything yourself, like controlling the boat as it drifts towards rocks as you battle with a big fish. Two in a boat can make life a lot easier, but is very much a matter of teamwork no matter what methods are being used. The angler not playing a fish is in charge of controlling the boat, lifting the anchor and so on. When actually fishing, teamwork can work to both party's advantage. By using lures that cover different depth ranges, or that work in radically different ways, the successful technique for the day can be pinned down much more quickly. This 'one-two punch' tactic can pay off big time. On many occasions one lure will locate the pike, but the other one will then catch the bulk of the fish when you anchor up. Even when fishing static the 'one-two punch' is worth reverting to when things slow down.

Teamwork is also important when it comes to casting. Always know where your partner is fishing, and where his casting-arc is. I have smashed one rod (my mate's, not mine) when the two of us cast out at the same time without thinking. Not too worrying when compared to someone needing twelve stitches in his ear when his partner ripped a 5/0 treble through it! Take care at all times. Safety is always an issue when messing about in boats, and as it is easiest to lure fish standing up in a boat, make sure you have a good footing and don't make any sudden moves which might take your boat partner unawares. While life jackets should really be worn at all times when boat fishing, most people find them cumbersome and restrictive. A clear case for a self inflating floatation device.

Lures can also be dragged along behind a moving boat. This is known as trolling! Some say that trolling is an art, others reckon it is all about luck. The truth is probably somewhere between the two. More importantly there is a time to troll, and a time to cast. I have a feeling that trolling is most productive where the pike are accustomed to snatching at passing prey fish. Lures trolled past ambush points are more likely, in my mind, to catch you pike than ones trolled along patrol routes. No doubt some pike will, at times, follow trolled lures without taking them, which is probably why the oft given advice to vary the direction or speed of the troll is important. Just as when casting, anything that might trigger a strike from a following fish is worth trying.

Essentially, the line of a trolling route is the same as the path of a cast lure. So the idea should be to put the lure, or lures, as close to as many pike as possible. Don't troll aimlessly. Do your best to follow contours, pass close to pikey structure, or around shoals of prey fish. A fish finder is a big help. It will give you advance warning of changes in depth, allowing you to alter the running depth of your baits accordingly. Just like when drifting, it is worth another pass over a spot that has produced a take, and it may be worth covering the spot by anchoring up too. By trolling back over the spot in the opposite direction to the initial run, you might pick up a bonus fish before the second troll proper in the original direction.

The author mans the electric outboard on Martin McDerby's boat as they troll three lures.

It always pays to give an area more attention when you have had a take as Martin McDerby found out the hard way when the L.A.S. held its first fish-in on Esthwaite Water. He had trolled past the big point, picked up a small pike but decided to carry on. Dave Scarff and I rowed up to the area and began to drift the same stretch that Martin had previously trolled over. We quickly picked up a few fish to seventeen pounds using the one-two punch of topwaters and minnows. We pin-pointed a hotspot, dropped anchor and took eight fish in total, including two over twenty pounds (plus a few more followers and fish hooked and lost), before things went quiet and we decided on a move. We kept our mouths shut, and were able to return to the vacant hotspot in the afternoon for Dave to add more pike to his tally. For some reason I couldn't raise a fish in the afternoon. Perhaps if Martin had trolled the point again he, too, might have stuck around.

There are three main power sources for trolling. Electric outboards, petrol outboards and oars. Electric motors are nice and quiet, and they work well at slow speeds. The drawback is that battery life is limited and batteries are difficult to recharge if you are away for a week's fishing trip. Drain on battery power is increased when you are pulling lures behind the boat. Petrol outboards are noisy, sometimes temperamental and not designed to run for long periods at tick-over. They will run a lot longer than electric motors though, and spare fuel is fairly easy to carry. Oar power is limited only by your own stamina.

Geoff Parkinson with a fine pike taken row-trolling a 6" Grandma.

If you will only be trolling for one day a week, then the electric motor is a good proposition, especially as it can be used when drifting too. If you will be doing most of your trolling on large lakes or lochs, or when putting in many days on the trot, then the petrol outboard is worth considering. If local bylaws forbid powered trolling, or if you are skint, then it is the oars every time! Seriously, row trolling is not to be sneered at, not least because boat control can be excellent with the oars once you have had a bit of practice.

If trolling on the outboard with one rod, even if there are two of you in the boat, then you might as well hold the rod at all times. This keeps you in touch with the lure and lets you know straight away if it fouls weed, or if a fish hits it, and is my favourite method of trolling. Holding the rod also gives you the opportunity to quickly raise the rod, which in turn will lift the lure up in the water. When moving over shallower bars, say, this is a big advantage over having the rod in a rest as it allows you to keep the bait working the right distance off bottom as you go over the hump.

There will be times, though, when more baits out will get better results, perhaps by covering more depth bands with a selection of lures. When two or more rods are in use, then I prefer to have them all in rests. Should you be holding one rod when another lure is taken, you have to put the first rod down somewhere before reacting to the take. With a bit of pre-planning, and quite a lot of practice, four rods can be easily managed in outrigger rests. The key to avoiding tangles is to have the deepest working lures nearest to the boat, and the shallowest ones the furthest away. Even so problems will arise from time to time, especially if you turn too sharply. Don't forget, that when the boat stops moving sinking lures will fall to the bottom, and floating ones rise to the surface. Bear this in mind before setting off once again.

With two anglers in a boat it is a fairly simple matter for one to control the boat while the other plays a trolled pike. Teamwork again. Alone it is another matter. If there is any chance of drifting into trouble you should throw the anchor out. Make sure the end of the anchor rope is secured to a cleat before you start trolling, then when it goes over the side you have nothing more to think about. That the rope may be many times longer than the depth of the water is of no consequence. The anchor will still do its job - keeping you out of trouble.

As with all lure fishing, knowing where your lure is makes a big, big, difference. Not only how far behind the boat it is, but how deep it is working too. These two factors are actually closely related. There are many ways to keep a check on the distance your lures are behind you. One is to mark the line off every ten yards, and count the marks. Another is to count the travels of the reel's levelwind as you pay out line, prior measuring the amount of line that is given out for each pass of the levelwind will thus give you the total length of line out. Another method is to tie in a stop-knot when the lure is at the right distance from the boat. The advantage of this is that no counting is involved, the disadvantage is that the knot might have to be moved for different lures. Then again you could count off the extra, or fewer, yards from the levelwind. Remember, too, that not only does the amount of line out affect running depth, so does line thickness, just as it does when casting. The further a lure is behind the boat, the deeper it will be working. Bear in mind that when trolling a river your direction of travel, relative to the current, will have a bearing on how your lures behave. So use deeper diving crankbaits when going downstream, than up. Otherwise your lures are liable to run either too shallow, or too deep. You might, for example, choose to select a Big Mac for trolling with the flow, and a Creek Chub Pikie for going upstream thereby covering the same depth band in both directions.

Quite how you go about determining when to cast, and when to troll I don't know. Not in hard and fast terms, anyway. All you can do is try one method, and then the other. Whichever gives you the best results on the day is the one to concentrate on. When the fishing is dour trolling does, at least, take the strain out of repeated fruitless casting. I, for one, find fishless trolling less mind-numbingly boring than the same amount of time spent casting and retrieving for nil return. At least I am thinking about where next to troll all the time.

A nicely marked pike that took a trolled 40gm Hi-Lo.

It might be worth having an idea of which lures are worth pulling along behind a boat. These are basically any lures that work well when cast out and cranked straight back, because this is, more or less, what trolling is, as far as the lures are concerned. The ability to work lures as you can do when casting is lost. Spoons are the traditional trolling lure on the large lochs and loughs, no doubt because they are cheap to make - so you don't feel the loss too much when they find snags! Under certain circumstances spinnerbaits can be good too. Although I have not trolled spinnerbaits myself, I understand that they work well trolled over pike holding weedbeds. Pretty much the same kind of water you would choose to use them in when casting really. Most of my trolling has been done with crankbaits, and not just those designed specifically for trolling. I don't have any favourites, what works for me when cast and retrieved seems to work when trolled too. If I were to give any one guideline on the subject of crankbait choice for trolling I would suggest large lures, certainly upwards of six inches. These baits probably succeed because pike can see them from a greater distance, well off the direct line of the troll. In clear water this might also account for the success I know people have had when trolling fluorescent lures.

If in danger, if in doubt - throw a Creek Chub Pikie out! Nige Grassby brings another one to hand thanks to the C.C.P.

One thing that I almost invariably do when boat fishing is to troll while moving from one anchoring position to another. That this might lead me over water that looks pikeless on paper (or on the finder screen) is of no matter. While there is a bait in the water there is always a chance of a fish. Surprises can come out of the blue, and every so often you might discover a new spot to concentrate on for the future. In a similar vein, it can be worth trolling shallow running lures over deep water. I won't pretend that this will work every time, but now and again it will produce a surprise. This is no doubt because pike will move from one area of a lake to another, not by following the bottom contours, but by maintaining a constant depth. No doubt this makes life easier for a fish as the pressure on it will remain constant, so it will not have to expend energy in adjusting its buoyancy with its swim bladder.

Not everyone likes boat fishing, it can involve a lot of effort during a day's fishing, but those who do learn to love fishing from a boat find bank fishing with lures very restrictive. There is no doubt in my mind that lures are at their best when fished from a boat. So as lure fishing grows in the U.K., I expect boat fishing to reflect this over the coming years. If you want to get ahead, get a boat!