Esox Lucius have always featured high on my list of favourite fish. Right after Mullet and Barbel. Due partly to their size, even a small fish looks impressive, but more down to the fact that they are just mean looking! All that camo, those evil eyes and a set of teeth any dentist would rightfully be afraid of. Add all those facts together with a healthy dose of wintry weather and it equals fishing heaven for me. This is why I find myself in pursuit of a few dozen fish every winter, and the last few dark and cold months have been no exception.
Sam's dad with one of the many pike he's caught this winter

Targeting a trio gravel pits, one ultra local to me, one ultra local to Dad and one a short drive away, the pair of us have notched up a fair few fish between us. Probably approaching two hundred takes since October, most to Dad as he plundered the midweek predators on his local venue, with multiple catches the norm! Due to the availability of live baits on one of the venues we had chosen, they have scored the lion’s share of the fish on that particular pond, with up to a dozen fish each in any given trip a common occurrence. Earlier in the year it was livebait or nothing to get a bite, but as soon as we were past the festive season, the humble smelt and half mackerel started to do the business. I put this down to them becoming wary of live baits, after watching and stalking numerous fish in the margins and observing their behaviour when approaching a bait mounted on a set of trebles.
Kinetic braid and drop off indicators

These particular by now wary pike would often come right up and head butt the fish then back off. Sometimes numbers of pike would surround the most juiciest of baits and just sit there, knowing something was amiss. I could then relate all the funny bobbing about of the float in open water I had witnessed in previous weeks with the same observed behaviour from my quarry. Behaviour consisting of indifference and suspicion towards an otherwise free roaming bait. So a change to balanced deadbaits on both rods for the next few trips saw the catch rate steadily climb and the drop back indicator steadily fall on a number of occasions.

I like to fish the live baits on a free roaming float and a small inline lead to counterbalance. With 30lb Kinetic braided mainline and some of the new Target Line Stops, I can fish with confidence knowing that I can set the hooks as soon as a take develops and ensure that there are no deep hooking issues. Most of the fish have been hooked lightly, and I can count on one hand the times we needed to use the long forceps. Using size 6 trebles most of the time, I find that this approach works for me with most fish unhooked by hand after chinning them in the edge. No fuss, the fish hardly leaves the water and everyone is a winner, especially the pike. Using Covert Lead Clips, I can adjust from a 2oz lead which helps reach the distance if needed, or a simple couple of swan shot on a link ledger, and know I am fishing effectively. I have not had any issues with the heavier lead on the clip and any downturn in captures due to the pike not liking resistance. With the Kinetic I am always in touch with what is happening. That and pointing each rod at the bait, and tightening up into the Drop Off clip.
Stalking them in the edge

However, there were a few that needed the landing net treatment, and one fish in particular stood out from the rest. Where the usual upper singles and low doubles made up the bulk of the captures, there was one larger female that took a liking to one of Dad’s smelt one cold afternoon. I needed that fish in my life, so tailored my approach to suit. Knowing roughly which end of the pit it mostly resided, it was then a case of spending time up that end in the hope it would come along. Dr Spock would be proud of the logic I had applied. We had located a nice drop off next to a weed bed that was on some form of patrol route, as we could accurately predict when a take would occur. It was one afternoon, during the ‘now is the time’ time that I saw a knock on the rod tip. Leaning out of my chair and taking hold of the rod, I watched the braid start to tighten, and before the drop back indicator could even release, I had engaged the bail arm. Feeling the fish move along the front of the weed bed, I hit it hard to set the hooks.
Mine at last

Immediately I knew it was a better fish, and indeed just knew it was the fish I was after. Dad was soon round with the net as we knowingly looked at each other and I started giggling as the clutch started slipping. It was taking line you see, and until then no pike this winter had really done that to me in earnest. I played it safe, and soon had it powering up and down the margins, under the other line. It was obvious which one it was, and as soon as it rolled into the net I knew it was job done. On to the mat it swiftly went and then on to the scales, which registered a healthy 22lb on the button.

Proudly hoisting my one eyed warty tailed nemesis, Dad did the honours with the camera, whilst I realised that it was one of only a few fish that I had specifically targeted in all the years I have angled. The last time it was a particularly large barbel that stole a couple of years of my life, and possibly the last time I had felt that same sense of mission accomplished. Much rather preferring to enjoy all of my captures as individual victories as much as each other, be they 30lb carp or 2oz roach. As this particular fish had got under my skin, and I am glad that I could now move on. Which was handy as it transpired, as the following weekend my good friend Dan and I had a day booked on the mighty Chew, out on the boat. We fished as we could hard and as well as we usually do together, and blanked. It was cold, we were keen and the adrenaline kept the chill mostly at bay on a day when it snowed and a trio of 30lb plus fish came out. Oh well, there’s always next autumn when we have another few days. Until then the memories from the capture of this ‘target’ fish would do very nicely thanks!

The weekend after freezing on Chew found me sat on the local pit, which was frozen when we got there at 7am, with an old angling buddy of mine, Chris Warren. Having fished on and off together for well over 20 years, we tend to prefer the social these days and have a good natter, so the catch rates reflect this. Not this week though! As we moved into the third swim each for the day, my mackerel head pinged out of the clip and the drop off duly went clunk. Lifting into the fish and setting the hooks (that will be the Kinetic again) it was a matter of steering it away from the near bank foliage and Chris deftly netting it. After a couple of pictures I slipped it back then realised we hadn’t weighed it! Oh well, it’s all about the moment shared with friends, and a nice way to begin the round off to what has been yet another enjoyable winter. Once again spent fishing for old Esox Lucius.