GET HOOKED: Learning to love the evil-eyed pike
OCTOBER 1 is the traditional start of the pike fishing season. Some, me included, wait for the first frost in the knowledge that carp and other species will still be feeding, but the majority of predator anglers will be out now, casting deadbaits and lures for Old Esox.
If there is a freshwater fish that can claim to be misunderstood, it is the pike.
When I was a boy, stories of monsters that took ducks and attacked paddling children were legion. I was once told by a farmer, who I suspect now was having some fun at my expense, that the best place to fish the local canal was at the cattle drink. “They’re attracted to the smell of beef,” he told me. “A few of my cows have been nipped at it in the past.”
Literature is full of references to the skulking, malevolent, evil-eyed pike, too. Their torpedo form, crocodile heads and mouths full of teeth have captivated poets, storytellers and anglers alike.
What you tend not to hear is that pike are fragile creatures. Yes, they can smash into a shoal of roach with open maw and come up smiling, but out of the water they are more susceptible to damage from mishandling than any other species.
It doesn’t help that anglers are unnecessarily afraid of them. I have friends, experienced anglers to a man, who simply won’t fish for them for fear of actually catching one. And, when wandering rivers and lakes in the last 30 years, I have seen some woefully under-prepared captors struggling to unhook them – with bare hands, pointy sticks and, once, the toe of a welly boot. I intervened on that occasion.
Newcomers to pike fishing need not be afraid of injury, but should remember that the likelihood of injury faces the pike more than the angler. Preparation is everything. A strong, long pair of forceps is essential, as are wire-cutters. A filleting glove can protect fingers, but do be careful when picking the fish up under its jaw – those gill rakers are easily damaged.
The mechanics of unhooking are simple enough, and I urge new pikers among you to look at the website of the Pike Anglers Club of Great Britain (www.pikeanglersclub.co.uk), where you will learn everything needed to catch and return pike safely.
With the correct equipment and confidence, you need only fear a blank day.
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