Perhaps the best thing I can write as my first piece for Rambling Angler is about some of my outdoor experiences when I was growing up. It is interesting how some things just seem to stick in our minds for no apparent reason and over time become treasured memories.
I remember having a fascination with the outdoors from a very young age. There was something enchanting about the woods, a little fear too but mainly they held within their shadows the thrills of discovery. I remember clearly discovering a badger set, I asked my father about it and he said we should wait up in a tree during the night to see them come out! I fell asleep in his arms long before any badgers appeared and was carried home back to my bed.
A little later at eight or nine years of age I convinced my friend that we should sleep out in the woods for a night;
“Why?”, he dubiously inquired.
“Because it will be awesome” I exclaimed.
With some help we carried down sleeping mats and bags to the woods. We snuggled down into our sleeping bags with a sense of excitement and trepidation. As darkness fell our nervousness rose and every snap of a twig or rattle of the wind became a faceless terror as imaginations switched to overload! It might have been the squeal of a vixen or the hoot of an owl that pushed us over the edge. Deserting our camping equipment we fled like two terrified rabbits back to the safety of the house.
I have since slept many nights in the woods or beside rivers and lakes, drinking in the soul restoring experiences that are to be found in these wilder places. The love of the outdoors has led me to take up hobbies that allow me to experience these places as often as possible; fishing, hunting, cycling and canoeing. Traveling long distances by bicycle or canoe have been fantastic ways of enjoying the outdoors and of course accessing difficult to reach hot spots for fishing!
Of all the outdoor activities, fishing has to be my favorite. I think it’s because you never quite know what you might connect with when you throw your bait, lure or fly into the watery realm. The magic of anticipation is second to none and can be enjoyed by all regardless of age, sex, color or creed! No matter what discipline of fishing I am enjoying it is always the moment of the take that keeps me coming back time after time.
I remember landing my first “big” fish! It was a pike and wasn’t enormous by any stretch of the imagination but for me it was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. The powerful lunges of the fish as it fought against my little spinning rod, ripping line from the reel. When the pike came to the surface it looked at me with eyes that seemed to say, “If I could eat you I would!”. I tried to persuade my father to take the rod from me and deal with the monster but he just smiled and said that he would help me once I had it in the net! Eventually it slid over the rim of the net and I was giddy with relief. I remember feeling immense pride in having captured such a beast from an unseen and mysterious world. This all seems very grand but that was how it seemed to me at the time.
Pike have held my interest ever since, the savage nature with which they attack a lure can leave you breathless and shaken. Many years after my first encounter with a pike, I witnessed a similar response as my own to seeing a large pike when fishing with my wife on a lake in Finland. As the pike rose up through the clear waters to the boat, my wife declared that; “There is no way we are taking THAT into the boat!!”. In her defense it was over 43 inches long and quite an imposing sight, but it did come into the boat and go back into the lake again. When we go swimming, in that particular lake, she reminds me of the pike that still lurks within with slight trepidation.
So there, by way of introduction, you have a scattering of memories and experiences from times recent and not so recent. These and many more are precious beyond measure to me. Hopefully these tales have made you smile but most importantly I hope they inspire or encourage you to get out there and experience it for yourselves and to make memories of your own! They will last a lifetime.
Nice Northern Pike
Recently I was out fishing with my younger brother. We were spin fishing for perch and pike on the River Shannon in Ireland. The problem is that Perch and Pike are very different fish (although both are predatory) and require different approaches to catch each species successfully. For example when targeting pike one should use sufficiently strong line, rod and reel accompanied by a wire leader and generally large bait or lures. Perch on the other hand respond much better to a delicate approach of light rod and thin lines along with small spinners and jigs fished without a metal leader.
Quite often though a large pike will fancy snatching at something more bite sized that was intended for perch. This will usually result in the lure being bitten clean off the line and the pike being left with a lure in its mouth, not a desirable outcome for either party.
On this particular day though, a large pike grabbed my brothers little perch spinner (a Mepps 2) and got itself hooked right on the edge of its mouth. This meant we were in for a long and nervous fight as my brother played out a pike of at least 15lb on 4 lb line, needless to say the rod and reel were tiny too. The fish surged around ripping line off the reel and pretty much doing whatever it wanted, thankfully however there didn’t seem to be any snags in the area and my brother was able to play out the fish until it could be netted. His relief was immense!
This incident reminded me of the fact that my largest ever pike (around 25lb) was also caught on tackle intended for perch! I was using a light rod and 6lb line. Again there was no leader on the line. I am not advocating using tackle that is too light to deal with the intended quarry nor am I saying not to use a leader when fishing for species that are easily capable of biting through your fishing line.
What I am saying though is; that clearly the delicate presentation was enticing to even big fish and this is worth remembering. Often when I am targeting pike I find myself using big baits and big lures, this makes sense as big fish are what I am after. However in the process the presentation of the bait often suffers. So what we want to do is find the balance between the best possible presentation while still having strong enough tackle to deal with the fish we intend to catch.
Personally in the near future I am going to experiment with some leaders and leaders that are intended for fly fishing for pike. This is because these wires are supple, thin and can even be knotted easily. I usually use only one treble hook these days, this was because I witnessed a loose extra treble hook embed itself deep into a friends hand whilst unhooking a pike. One hook also gives better presentation if you are using a small bait fish.
In the above photo we can see good and bad points of what I am trying to illustrate. The good points are that the setup is very simple; the bait fish has simply been threaded onto a wire leader and a hook added. The leader is tied directly to the main line. This is ideal for fishing over shallow, weedy water because the bait won’t sink quickly and can be retrieved and wobbled back enticingly. This is a deadly method of taking pike. It also however demonstrates a failure in the fact that the hook is too large, this might cause the bait to wobble unsatisfactorily or simply put a fish off.
Interestingly I used this method and caught a pike less than half the size of my brothers, just goes to show that bigger isn’t always better! Using well balanced and well-presented baits and lures will also make your fishing much more enjoyable. You would be surprised at the number of times I have met anglers using beach-casting rods beside a trout stream and wondering why they are catching nothing...