River Pike

River PikeHere in England some of the best, and most under exploited, pike fishing is to be found on our rivers. Maybe not for the biggest fish of all, but the average size can be well into the low teens of pounds, twenty pounders are always on the cards, and multiple catches of ten to twenty fish are pretty common. During the summer months those rivers which allow boat access can become infested with holiday makers cruising half out of control. Only when the school holidays end does peace and tranquility start to return to the rivers. Luckily for the pike angler this is when some of the best fishing is to be had. Water temperatures are still relatively high resulting in active pike, topwater action being common through much of September in good years.

During September and October, even into early November, pike fishing on the rivers can be very good indeed. Mostly the fish can be caught by casting, and well oxygenated areas like weir pools are the first places to check out. Even right in the fast water directly below the weir pike will be found, but the slack areas, particularly those with weed associated will be the best places to throw the Hawg Wobblers and Jackpots. That is not to say that the deeper back eddies should be neglected for the topwaters. Prey fish are often concentrated in these areas. Pike at this time of year will be actively chasing food and surface activity is not uncommon. Scattering food fish should be cast over with a topwater if you see them, even over ten or twelve feet of water. The rivers usually run clear in autumn, and fish will come a long way to hit a lure.

Surface baits should also be thrown when fishing other reaches, particularly around any weed beds that are visible. Grass-like streamer weed waving in the marginal current is always worth a look as pike love to lie up beneath its folded over strands. It is easiest to work topwaters through this stuff with an upstream cast, so that the lure comes back cleanly. So anchoring the boat is the best way to approach these spots. Usually the first accurate cast will tell you if there are any pike in a weed bed of this kind. If nothing shows itself within the first five minutes, cast the edge of the weed with a spinnerbait and if still nothing happens move on.

Away from the weed pike will be found in some predictable places. Overhanging bushes are prime spots to search out with a spinnerbait, especially if there is a good depth under the branches. Isolated bushes on the outside of bends are okay, but three or four in a similar spot are better. Any that have rafts of floating debris associated with them are well worth concentrating on, as are the slacks at the down stream and of the semi-submerged branches.

Accurate casting is the order of the day. If you can drop your lure, spinnerbaits are first choice, so close as to tickle the leaves just before it hits the water you are in the right place. Letting a spinnerbait fall in front of a bush will many times result in a take on the drop, or as soon as you pull the lure away from the cover. Gaps between bushes are also going to produce fish, and crankbaits or jerkbaits will pick up pike here better than from the front of the bush where spinnerbaits excel.

River PikeIn stretches of slow flow it is possible to fish overhanging bushes while drifting with the current, repeating drifts past those places where pike have shown themselves. If flows are so strong that it is difficult to fish casts out as you would wish then the anchor must be dropped. Work each bush over thoroughly then lift the anchor and slip downstream to the next one. This approach allows a very thorough covering of productive swims and gives you more chance to throw something back at fish that follow. A Bull Dawg is a good choice, or if the flow allows it a jerkbait. When working any lure across the current get ready for takes as the bait turns to come upstream. This change in direction being a natural trigger.

Fishing jerkbaits on rivers is usually associated with the slack areas, but they can be fished in the flow too. Glide baits are ruled out here, and by far the best I have found is the Burt. A weighted model seems to bite the current and work really well. When the pike have got tired of a steady retrieve, switching to something more erratic can bring a few more fish from a spot.

As you might have gathered, the approach that I adopt on the rivers is to give each spot a really good working over. Once I have found a place with a pike or two present I won't leave it until I am sure it is fished out. Productive spots will hold numbers of pike, and although the biggest ones tend to show themselves early on, this is not always the case. I well remember my fishing partner ribbing me for not yet having a take from one bush where he had already caught two fish. When I did get a hit I ended up with a twenty-four pounder in the boat. These fish fell for spinnerbaits, but later in the day, from another bush further down stream my mate had a fish, also of twenty-four pounds, on a crankbait.

When drifting down river casting to likely looking spots, but without success, it is a good idea to troll back upstream with your lures as tight as you dare to the cover. This is always worth a try as it presents your lures in an alternative direction and keeps them close to the bushes for longer on those days when the pike won't move out from cover. Some days the pike seem to prefer a trolled bait to a cast one. Don't ask why, they just do. Faced with a long run of trees and bushes hanging over the water trolling spinnerbaits close to the trailing branches can be the most efficient way to cover the water.

Single bladed spinnerbaits from two to three ounces seem to work best. It can be chancy, as many branches will be submerged, but don't be afraid to troll so close that the rod tops brush the foliage now and again. The closer you can get the bait to the trees the better. Shallow running crankbaits are another option, but the treble hooks tend to foul up more often than the single hooks of the spinnerbaits.

As the leaves start to fall and the first heavy rains arrive river fishing can become harder. The leaves themselves create practical problems as they drift downstream, especially when trolling as they have a nasty habit of fouling the line without your knowledge. Thereby killing the action of the lure. The worst thing is that not all the leaves float, it is those that foul up subsurface that are the real nuisance. So it pays to keep a close check on the lines at all times.
High, coloured water will tend to put the pike off the feed, but if you can hit the river right as it starts to drop after a flood good results can be had. It is all down to timing. It's best to be there either when the pike are still in the slack areas in which they have holed up, or just as they start to move out of them. That said, a friend of mine did well on a quickly rising river one day when he located some fish moving into a flooding side ditch. Maybe the prey fish were seeking refuge from the increasing flow, and the pike were homing in on them. I know that pike had been spotted swirling in the mouth of the ditch, which rather suggests that they were indeed feeding on something.

Pristine Winter PikeThrough the main winter period sport does slow down, but rivers can still be more productive than nearby lakes. Even in really low water temperatures river pike are willing to accept lures. Trolling is the key to catching in these conditions, and seeking out the deepest runs and holes is usually the key to location. Even with surface temperatures as low 36.6 degrees, and air temperatures hardly rising above freezing, I have caught pike trolling on rivers. Four or five fish apiece to low double figures is not to be sneezed at under these conditions.

Slowly bouncing bottom is frequently the only way to get action though. And it doesn't seem to matter what lure you choose, so long as it will trip bottom on tick over. Crankbaits are the best option as depths in excess of twenty feet just about rule out spinnerbaits as a practical option. The beds of the rivers I fish are full of snags washed down in the floods. Some are natural, like fallen trees, but others are manmade debris. Home-made lures have a real attraction under these circumstances!

Around Christmas and into the New Year takes are not the full blooded rod-benders of autumn, but can be indicated by little more than the change in tip action that you get when the lure picks up a leaf. Even good sized fish seem to just swim along behind the boat with the lure in their mouth. So when the lure seems to lose its action and the tip pulls round a fraction, get the rod out of the holder and strike. You never know.

Wire line has proved a really useful tool in midwinter for getting those baits down quickly. Because wire line runs the lure closer to the boat than other lines it also facilitates in following the course of the river. You know much better where your lures are whenever you make a turn. I know for a fact that when I have run lures on wire they have outfished even those fished on 35lb braid. I am sure that the proximity of the wire run baits to the boat has played a big part in this success.

From November through to mid January trolling is the method of choice when conditions allow. Only towards the very end of our river season in mid March, when the pike are starting to mass up ready for spawning, do we revert to casting. This time we are seeking out areas close to spawning sites, preferably with access to prey shoals close by. The fishing can still be hard, but bumper days are a possibility. The reason for sticking with it is that the pike are going to be at their peak weight, and following dry winters when they haven't had to burn energy combating strong flows can be real pigs. It is surprising what a variation in condition can be shown in the pike year to year following winters of differing rainfall.

Catching pike anywhere at this time of year, just prior to spawning, is a hit and miss affair. Often this is the time when I will fish deadbaits in a wait it out kind of way. Staying in one area for the whole day even, waiting for a pike to find one of the baits. Lures, often jigs, will be fished around the static deadbaits. There will be days when everything comes to the deadbaits, and days which confound expectations when more action comes to the lures.

Towards the end of last season my mate and I were on the river, which had been well up for a week or so and which was still heavily coloured, and expected to find the pike in a big shallow slack and eager to mop up our deadbaits. Sure enough the pike were there and a few small ones did take the deadbaits, but I was getting far more action on lures. A couple of low doubles hit the soft plastics and in-line spinners, and I also had a couple of follows and dropped a fish. Admittedly the one fish I took on a deadbait was the biggest of the day at eighteen and a half pounds. At the end of the day we decided to troll back to the launch site, and before we had gone fifty yards my rod hooped over as a seventeen snaffled my bottom tripping Ernie.

The lesson to be learned from that episode is that you can never be sure how pike are going to behave, and that you should try to be prepared for every eventuality. Just because conditions look like one method will score, it ain't necessarily so. This applies to just about any pike water, but is especially applicable to the moody waters that are our rivers.

(This article first appeared in Esox Angler 4)