If you’re a river predator angler, then the last few months have been pretty awful! With nothing but dirty brown floodwater filling our running waters for what has seemed like an eternity, with opportunities to do some pike fishing having been limited to say the very least. We have floods every year but I can’t remember an autumn and winter when the rivers were unfishable for such a long period of time. I usually get out regularly throughout October, November and December going after a river Esox, but other than a couple of very half- hearted short sessions way back in October my pike rods had stayed in the garage gathering dust. I’ve fished stillwaters in the past, mainly in the shape of trout reservoirs, but with funds and time tight my options were limited this year so come January I was desperate to get some time bankside, especially with the end of the river season fast approaching.
New Year came and went, yet still the rivers were full to bursting point and showing no sign of dropping and I was getting fed up and as each day off work passed with no chance of getting out I was beginning to lose the enthusiasm to even making an effort. Still, my gear was ready to go the instant an opportunity arose; let’s be honest, I’d had plenty of free time to make sure it was organised.
Finally in late January the flood water started to recede and I started to get a little excited at the prospect of fishing for some pike that in all probability hadn’t fed properly for quite some time. My day off was Sunday and during the previous 2 days the river had dropped in the region of 8 feet! Now that is a hell of a lot of water but once a spate river starts to drop it’ll be back down quicker than when it rose. Come the long awaited day to be on the river, she still had about 3 feet of extra water on but more importantly the colour was dropping out fast and the visibility was a good 3 feet. The conditions couldn’t be better; so I had no excuse if I didn’t catch.
Arriving well before first light I pulled up at the locked gate and peered through the murky darkness to see a field full of water. There was no way I would be driving into the field, so donning my boots and gear I carefully made my way across the muddy, sodden and smelly expanse before me and was soon at the river bank. It felt good to be back and I wasted no time heading towards my favoured swim for the day. With the water still being up there was only one swim I’d be able to fish that’s huge and gave me plenty of options for a full days angling.
I always fish 2 rods when piking on the river, it’s a little more to carry when roving but it enables me to cover a lot more water and use different rigs and/or baits to see if the pike prefer one thing over another during the session. I chose to put a float ledgered sardine in 9 feet of water right in the margin, literally 2-3 feet from the bank. I figured that with the river still pushing through a few pike might have taken sanctuary in the gentler water of the margins looking for an easy meal. The second rod was rigged up paternoster style and baited with a joey mackerel, and this bait was positioned on the crease line in the hope of intercepting any pike that might be actively feeding out in the flow.
My baits were in place and I was finally fishing; I was confident and happy with my bait placement but would the pike oblige? I didn’t have to wait long to find out as within 5 minutes the margin rod float cocked then laid flat again twitching slightly. I was on it in a flash and struck into a powerful river pike; I’d forgotten how hard these fish fight and it was all I could do to keep her out of the main flow. Eventually I had the fish ready for the net but the pike had other ideas and went for one last run; just as I was about to draw her over the net cord the hook pulled!! At about 15lbs she was a cracking fish and would’ve been a great way to start the session. Oh well, these things happen so I rebaited the rig and put a fresh sardine back on the same spot. Just 10 minutes later the float was moving again but this was with more purpose, but once again I lost the fish as I bumped her off on the strike. To lose one fish was disheartening but two, I was gutted, they could be my only opportunities and I’d mucked them both up.
I was disappointed but also more determined to get it right and catch and was confident that with two quick bites more would be forthcoming. Over the course of the next hour my net was finally graced with two lovely river pike. First up was a low double that took a liking to my paternostered Joey out in the flow, she was a cracking fish and I gave her a big thank you as she was unhooked in the net and sent on her way. The second fish was of a much better stamp and came to my static fished margin rod. She gave one hell of a fight in the deep water and I was convinced she’d go over 20lbs when I first saw her in the water, such was the frame of the fish. However her frame belied her weight – but at 18lb 8oz I was over the moon to catch such a cracking pike. Interestingly, she had obviously been feeding heavily in the receding waters as she was very fat and I could actually feel what I suspected to be chub in her stomach so she must have been very hungry indeed.
Things went quiet after this spell of activity and with four bites already falling to my margin spot I wasn’t sure that there would be anymore pike present. I tweaked and moved the bait every now and again but the float remained motionless. I was stood looking at the swim and decided that rather than put my sardine 3 feet from the bank I’d drop it as tight to the marginal cover as possible. The water was 8 feet or so deep only inches from the edge of the bank so I had a thought that maybe a pike might just be lying up tight to the bottom of the shelf. It was a stab in the dark but worth a shot.
Not long had passed when a stream of bubbles came up and surrounded my float, now deadbaits don’t expel air or breathe so there was either an otter in residence or a pike was taking an interest. Nothing happened so I disregarded it then 5 minutes later more bubbles, hmmm this was interesting so I sat, hovering like a heron ready to strike. Without warning the float plunged under and was away. I struck into a heavy fish and my 3lb test curve rod just folded over then it was almost flattened as the fish headed for the main flow. After getting the rod up to prevent a hook pull I slowly gained control and soon had the fish doing circles in front of me and after a few minutes the lunges became shorter and she was almost mine. As the pike neared the net I could see it was well over 20lbs, but the question was how far over? Would she be a PB for this particular venue?
Everything was ready for weighing and photographing as fishing alone I had my self-photography set up ready to make everything as quick and easy as possible. My previous river best on this venue was 22lb 6oz, so when the Reubens read 23lb 4oz I was absolutely elated and after a few quick snaps she was released to fight another day. After a pretty miserable winter just one mornings fishing had made up for all the missed time on the bank, especially after losing 2 fish early on in the session to land an upper double and a 20lb plus fish was brilliant and I was made up. My winter fishing had finally kicked off in spectacular style.
Unfortunately, as I write this the country is being battered by yet another storm and every river within a hundred miles or more is over its banks and in the fields. With only a month of the river season remaining there is the very real possibility of my carp gear being brought out of hibernation but with several big barbel and some nice pike under my belt on limited fishing time this season it’s not been a bad one.