Hid­den preda­tors on day-ticket waters

The coun­try’s carp waters are a largely un­tapped re­source for pike anglers and top spec­i­men hunter Paul Garner cashes in on the apex preda­tors

Improve Your Coarse Fishing (UK) - - Contents -

OVER the last few decades thousands of gravel pits have been de­vel­oped as carp fish­eries, leav­ing the other species there vir­tu­ally ne­glected. Many of these lakes con­tain hid­den gems that rarely, if ever, suc­cumb to a boilie and bolt-rig ap­proach, none more so than pike, which often live al­most un­no­ticed in many carp fish­eries. And, as we all know, pike thrive on ne­glect. It is, there­fore, no won­der that there is now some great sport to be had for the en­ter­pris­ing an­gler who tar­gets these venues. Many carp fish­eries op­er­ate on a day-ticket ba­sis, en­abling anglers look­ing for other sport to fish along­side the carp anglers for a few pounds. In win­ter, when the banks are much qui­eter, there is plenty of room to ex­plore the un­tapped po­ten­tial of these waters. One such venue is Sand­hurst Lake, set amid the his­toric Yate­ley com­plex in Hamp­shire. This shal­low gravel pit is well known for its stock of more than 400 carp to 40lb-plus, but the other fish re­sid­ing here are less well known. Af­ter hear­ing a whis­per of some great pike sport to be had, Paul Garner de­cided to in­ves­ti­gate its preda­tor po­ten­tial.

Travel light

As the sky slowly be­gins to lighten, Paul sur­veys the sur­face of the flat-calm gravel pit look­ing for the tell-tale dim­pling of small bait fish. He be­lieves this is es­sen­tial for a suc­cess­ful day’s pik­ing. “The wa­ter is just about at its cold­est right now, but that doesn’t mean the fish are in­ac­tive. On most lakes you will find them shoaled up tight in just one or two ar­eas. Through the day you would never know they were there, but at first and last light they will be­come ac­tive and can be spot­ted dim­pling and rolling. Where the bait fish are con­cen­trated the pike are

un­likely to be far away, so it is re­ally im­por­tant to try to find the bait fish be­fore you start. “You will also tend to find that the wind will drop at the start and the end of the day. This makes spot­ting bait fish so much eas­ier than when there is a chop on the wa­ter.” Un­for­tu­nately, it is one of those morn­ings when the bait fish haven’t read the script and, as the sun rises above the hori­zon, Paul has still seen no signs of their pres­ence, apart from the oc­ca­sional fish in the mid­dle of the lake. With lit­tle to go on, he de­cides to start fish­ing as the pike are likely to have a feed­ing spell in the early morn­ing. “If I don’t see any signs of bait fish, then my first port of call will be any ar­eas with lots of fea­tures, such as over­hang­ing trees, reedy mar­gins, in­flows, or snaggy ar­eas. All these are pos­si­ble hold­ing fea­tures and are worth fish­ing. Nor­mally, if there is a pikepik present I will get a take pretty quickly,quickly so I will only stay in a swim for an hour be­fore mov­ing. This might sound like a lot of ef­fort, but often the pike will be mainly in one area and I need to find them, rather than wait for them to come to me. “Trav­el­ling light is es­sen­tial for this style of fish­ing. All I have to­day is a small Nash ruck­sack car­ry­ing my tackle, two made-up rods, a small cool­box con­tain­ing my dead­baits, a large un­hook­ing mat that dou­bles as a seat, and a big land­ing net. I can pack up and move swims in min­utes, cov­er­ing lots of wa­ter even on a short win­ter’s day.”

Float fish­ing

With no trace at­tached, Paul sets the stop-knot above his float at about six feet and un­der­arm casts to a dis­tance of four rodlengths. He draws the rig slowly back to­wards the mar­gins, feel­ing for weed as he goes. Af­ter two more casts, he is ready to start fish­ing. “The lake is very weedy and ac­tu­ally quite shal­low for a grav­el­gra pit. There is less weed in the mar­gins,mar­gins which is the ideal place for a pike to pa­trol any­way, so I am re­ally pleased that I can fish this close in. Spend­ing five min­utes drag­ging the rig around is time well to check depth and as­sess weed growth.”

Hook­ing on a large smelt, Paul clips on his trace and low­ers the rig into the mar­gins, just a rodlength out. The process is re­peated with the sec­ond rod, only this time a her­ring is cast a lit­tle fur­ther out to the edge of the weed. Af­ter an hour with­out a bite, Paul un­clips the traces and puts them in his cool­box be­fore load­ing up his gear and mov­ing to the far end of the lake. Here there’s a line of over­hang­ing trees form­ing a canopy over the mar­gins of the lake. Find­ing the wa­ter here to be slightly deeper, Paul pushes up the stop-knots on his rigs so that the floats are set at dead depth. “Us­ing floats not only tells you the depth of the swim, but they are also more sen­si­tive than leg­ering dead­baits and wait­ing for the alarm to go off. I use sen­si­tive and slim pen­cil floats with highly vis­i­ble tops, which I can see at long range. A take is nor­mally sig­nalled by the float ly­ing flat be­fore mov­ing off as a pike picks up the bait and swims away.” Paul ex­plains the think­ing be­hind his sim­ple float rig. “Of course, you al­ways have to use a wire trace when pike fish­ing. I never drop be­low 30lb test wire, as a slight kink may weaken the wire sig­nif­i­cantly dur­ing the fight. Just as im­por­tant, though, is to use an up­trace above the weight, as this elim­i­nates any chance of a pike catch­ing the line and bit­ing through it. I like to use a 30g weight semi-fixed to the swivel join­ing the two traces to give enough weight to stop the bait be­ing dragged around, even on a windy day. The hook trace is then at­tached us­ing a cross-lock swivel, so I can re­move it in­stantly if I want to move swims, or to make un­hook­ing a pike eas­ier.”

Chance con­ver­sa­tion

An­other hour passes and, de­spite his best ef­forts, Paul re­mains fish­less. How­ever, a chance con­ver­sa­tion with a pass­ing carp an­gler has Paul quickly pack­ing away his gear and pre­par­ing to move. Ap­par­ently, the carp an­gler has spot­ted sev­eral pike cruising along the mar­gins in front of a swim in the mid­dle of the lake and the area is full of small roach, too. “That’s enough in­for­ma­tion for me.” de­clares Paul, as he gets on the move. “If you get wind of pike then move straight away. While we might not think of pike as shoal fish, they often con­gre­gate in cer­tain ar­eas of a lake, so I re­ally can’t over em­pha­sise how im­por­tant it is to keep mov­ing un­til you find them.” En­sconced in his new swim, Paul care­fully swings both baited rigs into the mar­gins. The weed is much thicker out in the lake, which prob­a­bly ex­plains why the pike are pa­trolling the clear chan­nel in the mar­gins. Af­ter only 10 min­utes the left float twitches, send­ing tiny rings in all di­rec­tions. Paul picks up the rod and, as the float falls flat and then starts to move off, he winds down and lifts into the first pike of the day. Af­ter a spir­ited fight, a beau­ti­fully-marked eight-pounder is rest­ing in the land­ing net. Within min­utes, the other float is slid­ing across the lake sur­face and an­other nice fish is soon on the bank af­ter spend­ing a good pro­por­tion of the fight air­borne! A third fish fol­lows soon af­ter, be­fore the swim goes quiet.

De­spite chang­ing baits and twitch­ing them to try to in­duce a take, no more fish fol­low and it is ob­vi­ous that the short feed­ing spell has ei­ther fin­ished or the pike have moved off. Paul sol­diers on, but it even­tu­ally be­comes clear that three fish will be the fi­nal tally. “Un­for­tu­nately no big­ger pike have shown to­day. I have heard of fish to over 20lb be­ing caught here this win­ter, and the carp an­gler in the next swim has spot­ted some big­ger fish to­day. Still, to catch three crack­ing pike on my first visit is still a good re­sult. “Had I stayed put in my first swim I would cer­tainly have been more com­fort­able, but would have blanked. Stay­ing mo­bile was def­i­nitely the right plan, as I had no idea where the pike would show up to­day. It might be harder work, but I have learned a lot about the fea­tures in the lake – use­ful in­for­ma­tion for fu­ture ses­sions.”

The stop knot en­ables the depth of the float to be eas­ily ad­justed You’ll need a va­ri­ety of dead­baits to see what works on the day A cross lock swivel con­nects the up­trace to the hook trace

Un­hook­ing tools are es­sen­tial when fish­ing for pike When un­hook­ing pike hold them like this, to keep your fin­ger­sawa fin­gers away from the teeth and gill rak rak­ers

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