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Up bright and early, I wanted to be at the water’s edge for first light. With the days now at their shortest, fishing for primarily diurnal species such as pike, we need to make the most of the time available. The days when we could turn up in the afternoon somewhere and still have hours of fishing till dark have long gone. We’re now at that time of the year when daylight is in the minority compared to the hours of darkness. Great for nocturnal fishing, but for pike it’s a case of getting out there with the rising of the sun if we want to have a full day.
My first session is the one that features as the main one on the accompanying video. The middle Severn looked great (photo 1) and I was in for a fish-filled day. Wrong! Apart from two enquiries early on, there was no excitement whatsoever. Other than the natural buzz that comes from watching a pike float in the water. I find this type of fishing up there with the best of them in terms of thrill generation. Even when the float is motionless it’s the anticipation of movement which I find riveting. I can sit there for hours watching a pike float and still not get bored.
I fished sardine on both rods. I like this bait as it is quite oily and so has a natural in-built attractor without the need to smear it with an enhancer. I also used predator ground bait with predator mix added. This product is from SBS (although there are no plans to continue production). But even without buying specific products it’s still possible to make your own concoction using your imagination. And if you’re imaginatively challenged, even brown crumb thrown in to create a cloud will at least bring the small fish like roach in. And not far behind them will be the pike. Well that’s the theory anyway, and even if it doesn’t always work, it doesn’t mean to say that the thinking is wrong. The reality is that, particularly with specimen angling, there will always be tough times and blanks. It’s part of the furniture, certainly for those of us that fish year round in all conditions and targeting a small percentage of the fish in any given venue as well, into the bargain.
My next outing was again on the Severn and proved to be one of the most bizarre sessions I have ever had. It was an afternoon and with no action whatsoever, not even a tremble or a bob on the float, it looked like being another ‘one of those days’. Dropping into a spot that had dense overhanging willows either side I decided to see the reminder of my visit out there. The baits weren’t far out from the bank and while watching them I noticed a trail of bubbles making their way from right to left between the floats and me.
I knew straight away what was responsible for them. An otter. In fact it was about to leave the water when it saw me and immediately went back with a quick splash. That was the end of the encounter I thought. But some moments later one of my floats disappeared from view in a split second. No pike mouthing the bait, no warning that anything was going on. One second It was sitting on the surface the next it had plunged. I struck and the bait came back mangled (photo 2).
This was no pike that had taken the sardine, but the otter! I figured the experience would have scared it off. But no, within a minute or so while that rod was still out the water, the same thing happened to the other float. It disappeared in an instant. I struck and connected with an express train. Well that’s what it was like. We sometimes use that phrase when we hit a big fish that goes off on an unstoppable run.
Well, this one paled everything else I have ever done business with into insignificance. It was all over in seconds, and the result was I was climbing overhanging branches trying to retrieve as much tackle as I could, as from float down everything was entwined. Although still some light left, and I could have had the best part of an hour in another swim, I decided to pack away. For some time later I was absolutely gob-smacked. I don’t know if this has ever happened to anyone else, but it’s a first for me. Ben Hervey-Murray picked up on the story and it ended up in the Angler’s Mail.
My final pike session of the piece was again on the middle Severn but to a different area (photos 3,5). I have fished there before for barbel but not for pike, so it was a first on the predator front. But it was during my previous barbel visit that I had noted to self it looked like a decent pike venue. The species are spread throughout the Severn, so apart from being there anyway, when you find stretches that have lots of overhanging willows then the feeling that pike aren’t too far away merely intensifies.
Although my tactics of two rods with float-fished sardines was the same as the previous sessions, my approach was totally different in that I decided to roam this time. My intention was to fish no more than half an hour in each swim before moving to the next. So with 8 hours to go at, that meant I was going to cover some water during that time. Some spots were covered twice as about 3.00 pm I started to head back and drop in swims I had previously fished earlier in the day.
I think ‘spot’ is preferable to ‘swim’ though as many places I dropped the gear at weren’t recognisable fishing pegs. But as long as I can get at least one rod in and can get to the edge for netting, that will do me. In fact these sort of access points are preferable really as they aren’t fished by regular anglers and the overgrown vegetation, shrub and tree growth that spills out over the river looks great for holding a predator.
And it was one such non-peg that I caught my one and only fish of the day from. It was a drop down to the river, but with loose earth I was able to create steps of sort with my boots. Plus it was shallow at the point where the river met the bank. I write this because as always, safety is an important thing when angling. If you’re going to go off the beaten track so to speak, then you need to be switched on. With both baits flicked to the edge of overhanging willows, it was the left one that started to tremble, cock and then disappear.
After a short but very spirited fight – particularly when it saw the landing net – I found myself slipping the net under the fish that you can see in photo 5. On the unhooking mat, the hooks were out in seconds and after a couple of photographs it was back in the water resting in the net. Making sure fish are ready to go back is important. Often pike will sulk, and this one was doing just that. Even after releasing from the net she stayed there for a while before heading off into the deeps.
I did have a take prior to this fish but I pulled out of it on the strike. Always err on the side of caution as opposed to letting the fish take the bait into its stomach. It’s better to blank than it is to cause the death of a pike. Plus of course we need to carry the right items of tackle with us. Predator fishing is specialised. It’s not the sort of angling where we think we’ll have a go. There are specific tools that we need to carry such as cutters, forceps of the proper length and so on. If you’ve never fished for pike before then make sure you do lots of homework before you even venture out of the house.
So just the one fish to write about this week – talk about the fine line between success and failure. I even managed a couple of zander sessions on the lower Severn that not only produced blanks for my target species but also failed to throw up a pike during the daylight parts of the visits. A tough time, but I feel it’s important to record blanks as it gives a true picture of what angling is really like. The reality is I do catch some decent fish over the year, but I also struggle as well. And finally, let me take this opportunity to wish you a wonderful Christmas. And if you’re out fishing over the festive period, tight lines!