Looking for those big pike can make winter pass a lot quicker

John Bailey and Simon with their first reasonable pike of the season.

John Bailey and Simon with their first reasonable pike of the season. - Credit: Archant

The other Saturday, on a very misty morning, I helped guide Simon to my first reasonable pike capture of the year.

The fish weighed in at 17lb 2oz. Normally, with a fish this size such a precise weight wouldn't have been of interest to me but, as it turned out, this was Simon's PB so a special pike indeed.

Perhaps some of us ought to take a reality check from this. Perhaps we're too involved with twenties, thirties and in some case, even forties. I think it's well to remember that many, many anglers are more than content with doubles alone. We should also remember that the vast majority of the country isn't as blessed with big pike as we are in this region. Let's be sensible, let's appreciate a good mid-double for what it is, a totally fine fish indeed.

I'd like to see more beginners move into the piking arena because, with kids especially, even a five or six pound jack is a mighty capture. They fight well, they look ferocious and they get the heart beating. There's too much in the angling press these days, I believe, about complex piking methods. With pike, you don't have to overcomplicate most of the time. When it comes to teaching kids, the only thing really at the top of my own agenda is the welfare of the fish themselves.

Pike are close to the head of the food chain and let's not forget that one of their major enemies is us. We, as anglers, can do colossal harm to any pike fishery if we don't tread on eggshells.

When it comes to the kids, I make sure the gear is sound, the hooks are barbless, the hooking arrangements are up to par and, especially, bite indication is spot-on. I advise kids to strike at absolutely the first sign of a take. After all, if you miss a fish, chances are it's a very small one. Rather miss even a big fish than have it deep-hooked.

Thereafter, it's all about dealing with a pike on the bank and overcoming the deep-seated fears that most young and inexperienced anglers feel. Pike look dangerous and toothy and I've lost more blood to them than most over the years but if you know what you're doing there is no need to panic. Above all, as most of you out there know, you straddle the pike to make sure it's secure, that it won't slither and damage itself and that you can operate safely. When the pike is upside down it will cease to struggle and you can slip your left hand (I'm right-handed) under its gill flap and open the mouth with ease. Thereafter, with your right hand and long-nosed pliers, you can easily and safely take out those barbless hooks. A quick photo and back that fish goes, absolutely none the worse for wear. Use special gloves if you're a bit windy about this operation but, above all, have confidence and work with speed and knowledge.

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Of course, lure fishing, especially with rubber lures and a single hook, makes the unhooking of pike even easier. I'm beginning to realise that on many of our waters, both still and running, signal crayfish are beginning to form an important part of the diet of our fish. Pike, especially, love these large, alien lobsters and I have a feeling that on many stretches of upper river in particular, crayfish are right up there as a major food source. I recently picked up some Savage Lure crayfish imitations from North Walsham's Harris Angling. I took them out onto the mid reaches of one of the rivers and had a piking ball.

As we all know, dawn and dusk are the times for real piking success. The failing light benefits the predator rather than the prey and over the years I have found that pike will feed well into blackness. Indeed, back in teaching days, I often found it was a good idea to be on the water at 4.30pm in the depths of the winter and fish until about six or seven. Those first two or three hours of darkness can be really sensational so, if you've got a water on your way back from work it makes sense to stop off and still be home in time for dinner.

As a final tip, it's always a great idea to put half a dozen or so dead baits into your favoured swim each and every time you leave. If you build a rhythm like this, you will find that these regular bait-ups entice more and more pike into the area, even if not into your precise swim itself.

Believe me, fishing adventures like this, short, sharp excursions though they might be, don't half break up your winter week and make the cold months hurry by. And it's good to wind down after the pressures of the day. Listen to the water at your feet, hear the owl in the wood, listen to the rustle of the line as it pulls off the reel. Wrap up warmly and you'd be surprised just how great winter can actually be.