Four Steps to Lure Heaven

What has become apparent to me recently is that many answers people coming in to lure fishing are looking for are to questions they need not ask. It's fair enough asking how to fish lures in various ways or what sort of tackle to use. Such technical questions are easily answered and will help the angler perform the mechanical functions of lure fishing more effectively. But trying to explain how and why pike react to various lures under various conditions on different waters is pointless. The only information we need is that various tactics and techniques work every so often - that some work more frequently than others, and that when those go-to tactics fail something else might, just might, work.

Why do pike sometimes appear to want lures worked in a particular manner when logic tells us they should really prefer the opposite? Does it really matter? I think not. All that matters is the empirical evidence that one presentation isn't working, and another is. Given that knowledge what you have to do is try something else. Anything else. And keep trying different things until one of them works. Then keep doing that until it stops working and do something different.

That, in a nutshell is how to approach lure fishing. Start out using the lures and presentations that logic tells you should work under the prevailing conditions and location. If it works, fine. If it doesn't then, firstly, try something else, and secondly try somewhere else.

No matter what methods you are using to try and catch pike, livebaits, deadbaits or lures, the most important thing to get right is location. I know this has been said many times before, but that's because it is the primary factor to consider in all fishing. You simply cannot catch fish that are not there. Locating pike is exactly the same no matter what baits you are using, and is mostly based around looking for changes; changes in depth, changes in vegetation (weed edges), changes in water clarity (mud or algae lines), even changes in light level from overhanging trees or other shade. Of course sometimes pike are found in open, (apparently) featureless water, which makes no logical sense to us humans (unless there are prey fish there or it is close to a physical feature).

The way to find pike is to use the general principles, starting out with what seems obvious given the time of year and prevailing water and weather conditions, and to fish the most obvious looking spots. Pike, however, don't read Pike and Predators, so there will be times when they aren't where we think they should be! This means you have to look elsewhere. When fishing is tough trial and error has to be applied - and not only to location.

Given that there are loads of different situations to deal with, efficient lure anglers need to have an equally wide range of presentational options open to them to maximize results. Which is why there are so many lures on the market, all designed to be fished in various ways. Which brings us to the second important aspect of lure fishing - lure control.

Lure control is not something that can be easily written about. It is all about being able to gauge where your lure is, and what it is doing, at all times. It's also about being able to make it do what you want it to do at all times, and knowing which lures will do that best. All this can only be learned by casting lures and trying different things with them. I could write a thousand words about how to make a particular lure perform certain 'tricks', but I'd have to use words like 'flick', 'pull' and 'snap' to describe what has to be done with the rod - which is all rather subjective. It is far easier to show someone what is required. Or they could do what I did, and just mess around with lures in clear water. You'll soon learn to differentiate between a jerk and a twitch!

With practice lure control becomes like learning to play a musical instrument. When you start you have to look at what your fingers are doing all the time to ensure you play the right notes. After much practice you can play with your eyes closed. That's the state you have to get to with lure control - to tell by feel what the lure us up to, how deep and how far out it is. It's not a black art, although it may well seem impossible to master at first, but it is the one aspect of lure fishing that will have the most bearing on your success once you have located some pike.

There you have the two main things you need to know to be a successful lure angler - location and presentation, the former dictating the latter. Location varies from water to water, and the only way to get to grips with that is by getting out there and fishing. Aside from looking for obvious pikey looking places, catching pike, seeing pike caught by others, and maybe even spotting pike activity are the best guides to spots that are going to be productive in future. The only way to really learn about lure presentation is, as I have already said, by fishing various lures and getting to know them well.

As I tried to get across in my Essential Lures series, it is better to have a small range of lures that you know and understand really well than a large range that you don't. The same can be said for lure colours. The main things to consider when selecting a lure to fish a particular spot are the depth and speed at which you want it to fish. All else is decoration on the cake. Get the depth and the speed right and the chances are that you will succeed - if you have got the location part right. I have seen many occasions when one angler has been throwing a particular lure in a certain colour and catching. His boat partner obviously reaches for an apparently identical looking lure - same model, same colour - and fails to match his friend's catch rate. After some chopping and changing the second angler has run through a few more lures and started catching by using the same model of lure in a totally different colour, or maybe a different lure altogether. The reason for the change in success rate being how and where the lure was presented. Even with plastic lures there can be variation in running depth, rise or sink rate that can be crucial at times.

There is no doubt at all in my mind that what the lure does is the most important consideration for its selection. Colour, presence or absence of eyes, rattles or not are of far lesser importance. Where you chuck it is of even more importance. The 'spot on the spot' has been discussed many times and it is just as crucial as lure behaviour. Even a foot or two can make a world of difference. The closer you can put a lure to a pike the better. Especially when pike aren't prepared to move far to take lures. Of course, we have no way of knowing when that will be the case, but coloured water and low water temps are two conditions that spring to mind when pike need to be 'hit on the head'. No matter what the conditions it is a good idea to assume the worst, and make your casts as pinpoint as you can to spots on spots you hope will hold pike.

Persistence. You cannot catch pike on lures that aren't in the water! You have to keep casting - but you must be thinking about what you are doing to. Robotic casting and retrieving will catch pike, but not as many or as consistently as thoughtful presentation and careful lure control. Such concentration takes its toll on your alertness, so a break every hour or so during a long lure fishing day will help keep you alert and on the ball and improve your chances of success. You can use these breaks to assess what you have been doing, to think how you might improve your presentation and bring about an upturn in success. So although you might not have a lure in the water you can make that next cast really count by even a slight change to one aspect of what you have been doing.

Persistence is easier to maintain if you are confident. Confident that you are in the right place, throwing the right lures and presenting them correctly - even when no pike have shown. It's funny how days when action is coming regularly your attentiveness and confidence levels will stay high for longer. What you don't want is to lose faith in what you are doing and start chopping and changing lures, or to lose your edge by switching to automatic pilot on a slow day, because when that one take comes you might just fluff it. Confidence in persisting with what you are doing is all a part of the final step to success - experience.

There is no substitute for getting out there and fishing. Not only will time on the water make you more technically proficient in using lures, it will also help you learn about pike location. One good thing about lure fishing, unlike most other forms of piking, is that you can learn a lot from your blank sessions. Seeing a pike follow or missing a take, even if you don't manage to land a fish at least fills in a part of the location picture. The more lure fishing you do, the more you learn about which lures work best for you and where, when and how to use them. The strange thing is that the more experience you build up the more you realise how simple this apparently complicated branch of pike fishing really is.

So there you have it. Find the pike, select and present your lures well, stick at it - and do that it as often as you can. Oh, and don't get hung up on worrying about the things you don't need to know about…

(This article first appeared in Pike and Predators - February 2006 on this site August 2006)