Pike fishing tips & techniques

 

 

In this article I’d like to discuss the intricacies of the pike, and how learning the principles below can improve your catch rate

 

Written by Thom Hunt

 

Over the years I’ve found patterns and learned lessons on everything from where they're likely to be found at any given season of the year, through to water temperatures, weather conditions and even the size of teethmarks in your lure can affect how I select certain baits or fish specific presentations. Each year for the last 5 years I’ve set myself (and achieved) the target of catching 100 lure caught pike per season/year.

Last year I managed 121 from 17 different venues including rivers, canals, reservoirs and gravel pits both in the UK and abroad. I say that not to boast (and there may well be anglers out there who catch many more than that) but to iterate that after consistently catching good numbers of fish, I’d have to be an idiot not to spot specific patterns that repeat themselves year after year. And if you focus on and learn these patterns you will definitely catch more pike.

 

A biology lesson

So lets start with a little bit of biology, and the general rules I stick to through out the year. The reason I have started with biology, and then later discuss the annual ecology cycle of pike in depth, is because a large part of consistently catching pike is in the old adage of location, location, location. So whether its a large river, reservoir or lake you are targeting, knowing what to look for at what time of year will hugely cut down your failure rate. Pike are aggressive and tend to bunch up in certain areas of a waterway, so can be relatively easy to catch. Whats not relatively easy to do is find them.

 

Pike excel as the top underwater apex predator in UK freshwater systems. They have many senses that they utilise for hunting but the most important one, without doubt, is SIGHT.

How do we know this? Because by simple deduction, when a waterway has a consistent amount of suspended particulate (muddy/murky/low visibility) pike will generally NOT be present in large numbers. This is a really important point to consider, and one we’ll come back to later…. when you think of a lure approach for pike, don't first think taste or smell, don't think sound, think SIGHT.

 

Of the three main predators in the UK (pike, perch & zander) we also know that pike grow to the largest sizes, in relative terms have the largest mouth and also in relative terms have the largest teeth. Not surprisingly then, their ‘personality’ as such tends to be dominant, aggressive and generally lacking caution, and we can take advantage of this as anglers, by creating an approach that can match this.

 

Ecology cycle of pike…

We also need to consider the time of year. The general cycle for a pike goes as follows. When the water is warm (anything above 14 or 15 degrees), pike will be spread out and moving up and down in the water column and exploring shallow to mid depth often weedy areas looking to ambush bait fish that are also well spread out at that time of year.

As the temperatures cool in the Autumn (up to roughly Christmas) pike will start to feed heavily and bait fish shoals will naturally concentrate as they are predated upon. The more temperatures drop the more both pike and baitfish will congregate in deeper, more stable (in temperature and oxygen terms) water that is less prone to being affected by the vast changes in the weather seen in the winter (frosts, storms, heavy rainfall)

 

In winter, shallow water is the first to cool down, but also the first to warm up so once the water temp is down to the 3-6 degrees mark, the absolute best areas to look for will be steep underwater drop offs at the northern bank of a lake, river or canal. Why the Northern bank? Well, its generally the most protected area from cold Northerly (or North easterly) winds which come from Siberia, it benefits from warm South Westerly winds (coming from the Caribbean) and is South facing so gets maximum sunlight so therefore warmth, at the cold time of the year. All in all, most Northern banks of a fishery will be a degree or two warmer, and in the depths of winter, for a cold blooded animal (meaning it temperature is the same as the water around them) this can make a huge difference.

The steep drop offs are excellent, especially in the new year, as pike can sit in deep stable water overnight, then if a warm, sunny January day arrives and the shallow water warms quickest, the pike will seek that warmer water, and the shortest distance from deep to shallow will be a steep underwater drop off. In a large lake for example, its a much shorter distance to migrate 30-50ft up a shelf to find warmer shallow water, than it is to swim 300ft to the back to a gently sloping long bay.

 

Coming in to the spring, usually in February or March, as temps rise and specifically hit between 6 & 7 degrees, this triggers movement towards the shallows (often reed lined bays) in preparation for spawning. This is when pike can be caught at their heaviest weight, often much shallower than you imagine for still very cold conditions, as they have their last pre-spawn feeding spells.

However, once they start spawning this is the time to leave them alone, not only to let them get on with spawning, but they also tend to be very difficult to catch so its largely a waste of time. It really is a sight to see though, if you have a water nearby with good water clarity, it’s possible to sometimes watch 2-5 males ‘courting’ a large female. It’s almost like a choreographed dance where they weave in and out of each other in a bid to impress and mate with the female.

 

From March in to April, this is what I would class as the worst possible time of year to target pike. During and after they have spawned they go into what American anglers call ‘the post-spawn funk’. They tend to be very moody, often in very poor body condition from spawning stresses, and generally not feeding properly, swiping at baits and hook up ratios can be very poor.

 

However, what follows is what I consider to be the very best time to target pike…. The post spawn feed up! It is a period that can be insanely intense, often lasts at its peak for around 2 weeks or so, and is very often the last 2 weeks in May.

And let me tell you, the fishing can be absolutely insane. At this time of year the water temp is usually up to about 10/12 degrees and they hit the lures really hard, really aggressively and in big numbers. I tend to not fish specifically for pike much from July to September, partly as the water temps are up but also partly as I target other species like Perch and Chub. Then when the ‘pike season’ starts again, I use an old adage I learned from fishing in Denmark… When the water hits 11 degrees the pike are worth catching. Its not that you can’t, or shouldn’t fish for them before this, but they just wont be fat enough yet, not for the Danish anyway, they hate catching skinny pike!

 

So to recap quickly, heres a quick summary of what to consider and where to concentrate your efforts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer

Autumn

Winter

Spring

Water Temp

15+

13 down to 8

7 down to 3 then up to 7

8 up to 13

Areas to concentrate

Large, shallow to mid depth flat areas that receive wind

Begin looking for transitions towards deeper, more stable water holding baitfish

Deep areas with steep underwater shelves then once up to 7 look for pathways to adjacent shallow spawning bays

Secondary points/first bit of deeper water coming out of spawning bays

Notes

Spread out, difficult to locate numbers,often aggressive reaction strikes, long slim fish

Superb time of year for numbers and good size. Will be fat once water hits 11 degrees

Short intense heavy feeding periods (usually first and last light) mixed with large spells of almost zero activity. Pike at their largest

March/April - Avoid

May - Post spawn feed can be one of the best times for pike fishing.