Practical tackle


It is all well and good knowing how to get pike to take your lures, but this is no use at all if you then fail to hook the fish and get them on the bank. This is, after all, why we go fishing - isn't it? Now I am not going to claim that pike never hit my lures and then fall off before I get them to hand, but I will outline a few little steps for you to take that will keep losses to an absolute minimum.

The first thing to do to increase your hook-up ratio is to sharpen your hooks. I have already mentioned the importance of this process elsewhere, but sharp hooks are at their most important in the split second that a pike takes hold of your lure. A super sharp hook will actually take a minute hold the instant it contacts the pike. The sharpness to aim for is the sticky sharpness previously mentioned. It is difficult to describe in words, but when you get it right you will know by the way it feels in your hand. Just touch the hook and you will be in danger of getting it stuck in your skin. With a hook in this state you actually gain a little time to drive it further home.

Except when pike take lures and turn away from the angler at speed they rarely hook themselves. You should always endeavour to strike the hooks home. Effective striking is enhanced by a number of factors. Rod position is the primary one. At all times I aim to have the rod pointing as directly along the line as possible. When using a straight retrieve this is easy to maintain, and will result in more effective hooking than the stance I see a lot of pikers adopting where the line is coming off the tip ring at almost ninety degrees. It is a nice idea to fish like this and to strike when you see a take, indicated by a tap on the rod end. The problem is that by the time you have noticed the rod top move the pike has probably ejected the bait. With the rod pointing down the line you will feel the take far more positively, as the rod does not absorb any of the energy, and you can strike immediately. Because there is no angle between rod and line you also have the maximum arc to swing the rod through to strike. When fishing jerkbaits or twitching lures, for example, it is impossible to keep the rod pointing down the line, so you have to adopt a stance that allows you a good swing back with the rod when you get a take as you may have already brought the rod part way back through the striking arc when the pike hits. This is not always as easy as it could be, but a little forward planning should put more fish on your hooks for you.

The preferred rod position for bringing back lures on a straight retrieve is demonstrated here by Martin McDerby - rod pointing down the line with the tip close to the water.

At all times the strike itself should not be upwards, but more in the horizontal plane. This way you are pulling the line along its axis and not trying to pull its length up, through the water, which causes much resistance and deadens the effect of the strike. Hooking pike while you are in mid-jerk is more problematical. I try to wind down to the pike while continuing to pull the rod back, winding down quickly again and striking a second time. This works sometimes, often enough for me, being the only tactic that I have found to be at all successful. It is worthwhile winding down quickly to every fish after your initial strike in an attempt to drive the hooks well home as the fish turns away from you. As a general rule, big pike are easier to connect with than smaller ones as they have more weight for you to pull against. Little pike often get dragged through the water, still hanging on to the lure without getting hooked. As soon as they open their mouth they fall off!

Slack line takes are, thankfully, not an everyday occurrence as they are difficult to cope with consistently. The only answer is to wind like fury as soon as you feel the lure go dead, or you lose touch with it. Keep on winding until you either catch up with the pike, or you feel the lure working again when the pike spits it out. When you do feel the fish follow the striking procedure already described. The only other thing that I can think of that might improve your hook-up ratio is the use of low stretch lines. These lines do put you in more direct touch with your lures enabling a better feel of takes, and, as a consequence, quicker reaction to them. I have sometimes felt the pike hit the lure before the line has gone slack when using these braids. Almost as if someone had hit it with a fly-swat. Sadly my reactions have always been rather sluggish so it hasn't helped me much! I have heard it suggested that nylon monofilament, because of its stretch, can actually help hook fish for you. The theory is that with a tight line to the bait the stretched line contracts when the pike lets go of the lure, 'catapulting' the lure out of the pike's mouth. With a bit of luck a hook will nick the pike in the process. If a hook point has already made contact, then as the line contracts it should pull the hook home a little further.

With the pike hooked all that remains is to get it in. Provided that your line, trace and knot are in order there should be little reason for the pike making its escape. All you have to do is keep the rod well bent, that is what it is designed for, and the pressure on the pike. Only give line if absolutely necessary, and never give any slack. With a good hook hold a momentarily slack line won't lose you any fish, but with those tenuous holds that occur at times (just one point of a hook in the bony upper palate for example) slack line spells disaster. I find that a fixed spool with the drag screwed down tight and the anti-reverse off gives me the best control and feel of a pike. With a multiplier it is the thumb on the spool that I get the control from. Rather than relying solely on the drag. When a pike is close to hand I will hit the free-spool button and use the thumb alone for line control. I look forward to trying multipliers with an optional anti-reverse. They are already available, but not yet in a model that suits me.

Getting a pike on the bank, or in the boat is the final stage of the battle. Using a landing net has the advantage that it can be used sooner than you would be able to grab the pike by hand. The drawback is that the hooks of your lure are likely, more than likely, to tangle in the mesh. This means that it will take a little time to extricate the pike from the net. It is a swings-and-roundabouts scenario. Until you get the confidence to hand land your pike, go for the net every time. If it has a wide mesh like I have recommended then the hooks will cause few problems, especially if they are debarbed. Getting a lure hooked pike in a net is no different than for any other pike, with the proviso that you pay extra attention to the free hooks which can snag the mesh before the pike is completely over the net. Having a big pike attached to the front of the net by way of the lure is annoying and results in lost fish. Make sure the front of the net is well sunk and that the mesh is not floating, then draw the fish as far over the net as you can and lift. With the fish in the net you can put the rod down and lift the frame of the net with both hands. In most instances I grab the spreader block with my left hand, and the net cord with my right - which is still holding the rod.

While I prefer to net larger lure-caught pike, free treble hooks can all too easily get entangled in the net. A large mesh size like this makes life easier though.

A net has the advantage that it can be used as a temporary resting place for the pike while you get your scales, camera etc. sorted out. If there are two of you this is obviously easier as one can hold the net while the other gets the gear ready. On my own I usually make sure the fish can't get out of the net and put a foot on the pole. In the boat I adopt a similar approach with the pole across the gunwales. Only if I am alone and catch a fish that I want to photograph myself with will I consider retaining it for more than a minute or two while I set up the camera and bulb release. In these (very) rare cases I recommend a pike tube staked out with a bank-stick at each end, or hung over the side of the boat. In hot weather I forgo the pleasure of a trophy shot and photograph the fish lying next to a rod or some other item of tackle, like a lure box. Nice photographs are all very well, but they are not why I go pike fishing. I'd much rather put the pike's welfare before pin-sharp pics.

The back-of-the-head grip which is best used for grabbing hold of smaller pike.

Another use for a landing net is to carry pike up steep banks for unhooking, weighing etc. Scrambling up a sheer and stony bank with a fish in one hand, and a rod in the other, could all too easily lead to the pike taking a tumble. To my mind this is less likely to happen if it is in a net. When carrying fish in the net I hold the spreader block with one hand, and the rod and net cord with the other. For carrying pike back down to the water you can use the sling you have just weighed it in.
Hand landing fish causes less trouble with hooks in nets, but is best practised on small fish at the outset - or it can result in lots of trouble with hooks in hands. Small pike are more quickly brought under control and tend to cause more trouble in nets than they do in the water! There are two ways to grab hold of small pike. Very small ones are best grabbed across the shoulders, with your forefinger and thumb behind the fish's gill covers. This gives a relatively secure grip, and keeps the lure away from your hand, too. This grip can be used on larger fish, into double figures, when you have had practice. The other method, which works more easily on fish of seven pounds or more, is the fingers-under-the-gill-cover grip. Make sure that you go for the side of the mouth that the lure is not hanging from. At all times take care that the hooks are not going to get stuck in your hand. Horror stories abound of unfortunate anglers attached to big, thrashing pike by large, sharp hooks deep in their flesh. Never attempt to hand land pike if you are not confident in your capabilities. Pike that are being brought to hand need to be played out to a greater extent than those to be netted. I have seen pike to twenty nine pounds handed out, but recommend a net for such large fish as a rule, tending to hand grab pike up to low double figures, and net those over that size unless circumstances dictate otherwise - like I have forgotten the net. It is easier to hand grab pike when boat fishing or wading than from the bank, as you are closer to the water. Sometimes, when afloat, they will save you the trouble of choosing between the net or the bare hand - by jumping in the boat for you! But watch they don't knock a rod overboard in the process (Eh, Nige?).

Small pike that are not going to be weighed or photographed are best unhooked in the water if at all possible. In fact, any pike that has been netted can be unhooked in the net provided the hooks are not tangled too badly in the mesh. The less time a fish spends out of the water the better. If you have netted the fish and it is badly tangled up, don't waste time trying to undo the cat's-cradle get the scissors and cut the hooks free. A new mesh can be bought easily enough, but a pike is not so simple to replace should it suffer from being out of the water too long. With the pike out of the net, or not as the case maybe, place it on something soft. An unhooking mat is the ideal, but they tend to be bulky to carry. A camping mat is a cheaper, and very acceptable alternative. Soft grass will do nicely, or even your fishing jacket at a pinch. In a boat it is worth putting down carpet underlay as this will both protect the pike and deaden the sound of your feet. Don't put pike down on stones or anything else that will remove slime or scales.

Always make sure that the hooks are well clear of your fingers before lifting a pike out by hand, particularly with the gill cover grip shown here.

Always keep a firm grip on the pike to prevent it damaging itself while it is out of the water. Should it start to thrash don't let it fall. Actually getting the hooks out is generally straightforward. Grip the hook in question with your pliers or Hookout and twist. There will be occasions when more than one hook has got hold and this can be a more difficult situation. Remove the hook nearest the outside of the pike's mouth first, then remove the hook, or hooks, further inside. In extremely awkward cases cut the hook free, as close to the points as possible, using your bolt croppers.

With the pike free of the lure it is time to weigh it, if you deem it necessary. Hold the pike under the gill cover and lower it into the wetted weigh sling. After weighing and photographing, both of which should take as short a time as possible, place the pike in the water and keep hold of it. Never release a pike until you are certain it can maintain its balance. Particularly after a long fight pike will be tired and they have been known to swim out of reach and roll over, either sinking to the bottom or floating belly up on the surface. These problems are most often encountered in warm weather, which is when most lure fishing takes place. If you worry about taking time over releasing a fish because you would rather be catching another, then you shouldn't be pike fishing. Always have the pike's well-being foremost in your mind at all times.