Click images above to enlarge
It’s been a while since I have done any canal pike fishing, for a number of reasons. Firstly my piking is pretty much an October start so the summer months are out anyway, secondly as an all-rounder I also have lots of other competing attractions and thirdly, last winter saw the canals frozen solid for weeks on end. So it was with a sense of freshness and anticipation that I headed for the Staffs/Worcs Canal on a cold winter’s afternoon in pursuit of esox lucius. I don’t set out to make it hard for myself, but I do like a challenge, and I certainly set myself up for that by visiting a section not renowned for pike – although they are there.
The session is the one that you can see in the accompanying video and I go through my basic approach which was float-fished (photo 3) deadbaits with a small sardine on one and an even smaller perch on the other. I put out some predator groundbait and liquid mixer as an attractor. A crowd attracts a crowd and anything that brings small fish in will also have pike not far behind it. Well that’s the plan and as I say in the video, you always need one of those. Otherwise you’re literally chucking it and chancing it so it’s all down to luck. Yes there is always the unknown in angling, but as far as it depends on us, we need to do our bit.
As mentioned, it was a cold day. I was more than comfortable though in my new Wychwood Solace suit (photo 1). I say new, I’ve had it a couple of months now, which for the amount of time I fish means it’s probably done a year’s worth of outings for some anglers. So although I cant comment on long-term stuff as such, in one way it has been through a lot in its short life so far. It’s been cold enough for me to give it full marks on that front, as it has kept me totally warm, which ultimately is all that is required of it. One thing I did notice though even before I wore it was that the detachable fleece is attached to the coat at the cuffs by a single press stud which connects via a 1cm thick piece of fabric.
So I wasn’t surprised when just by putting the jacket on and off, the fabric pulled away on both sleeves. It isn’t a problem, but it is a design weakness as it needs two or three press studs and ideally to be connected direct without the fabric. I’m surprised that it wasn’t picked up by field testers even if only when it pulled – as it did for me on the second outing. But don’t let that put you off. It’s still a top mark product and I anticipate no issues with it. I bought mine from Harris Sportsmail and the link is at the foot of the article. It has free postage as well and as I write an additional £20 off. If you’re looking for a winter suit, you won’t be disappointed.
The other products I have mentioned specifically in the video are the side cutters and forceps (photo 2) from Greys in the Prowla range. It could be argued that forceps are forceps, but like everything else you need quality and these items from Greys fit the bill. And they made their debut as right at the end of the short session the sardine was picked up by a pike (photo 4). Bolt cutters are like a good insurance policy, you need them but you hope you don’t have to use them very often. On the other hand forceps are used pretty much every time you catch a pike.
I was certainly happy to land the fish. It wasn’t a massive pike but as with any catch, it’s not just the weight of the fish alone but the other factors that determine where it sits in the league table of achievement. And from a stretch of canal that is not a recognised pike section, that alone meant any fish was going to bring satisfaction. And it did. And it created a desire to get back, so as soon as I got home I was in my office till midnight creating time for another visit the very next morning. Well I was well and truly caught out by the sharp fall in the temperature. I knew it was going to be cold but I didn’t expect the scene that greeted me of solid wall-to-wall ice. There wasn’t anything I could do either as I only had a few hours before I was at Molineux in the afternoon to see Wolves play.
My third pike session of the article and I headed for a lake (Dudmaston Big Pool) a little further from home for an afternoon. My approach was pretty much the same ie float-fished deadbaits. It was an horrendous day (photo 5) and alternated between driving rain, sleet and snow. Therefore when I had a run I was more than happy. The initial joy disappeared in an instant though as the bait came back minus a pike.
Not to be outdone I carried on and right at dusk I had a second bite of the cherry. And can you believe it, it was a case of groundhog day as once more I pulled out of the fish. But rather than be discouraged I was just motivated to get back on the venue. And for the second time in the article I found myself confronted with a venue covered in ice. The funny thing is though I didn’t realise until I actually cast out and everything landed on the ice. I was at Specsavers two weeks before, I think I need to go back. In my defence, the lack of wind and the way the lake looked, I simply wasn’t aware it was iced over. I thought it was hilarious and saw the funny side as I prepared to pack away and go home.
Then I noticed a group of mallards swimming in an area on the far side. It wasn’t a spot where I have ever seen a pike angler before but as it was the 1% of the lake that wasn’t frozen, and I was there anyway, I decided I had nothing to lose. So I set up and cast into the tiny spot as the icy conditions bit deep. Within minutes though I was lifting one of the rods as the float had come alive. But as I struck and initially saw the rod bend as I hit the fish, for the third time on the trot I found myself pulling back just the deadbait. I couldn’t believe it.
So when the float went again on the recast I thought, no please, not again. The time it took to strike and bring it to the net seemed like an eternity. I didn’t know whether to play it hard or keep it gentle. I was just relieved to get it into the net. And as it rested I had a run from the other rod. Usually I pull the second one in as soon as the one float starts to tremble, but in the conditions I simply wasn’t expecting double action. But I landed the second one (photo 6), and as it was small, was able to land it without the net. Then I had a surprise. In the meantime the other fish had flapped and flipped and done a runner.
That was close. I could have lost both fish. As it was, although I only had the one for a photograph, it was such a result considering the conditions to get anything. Size didn’t even come into it. Just catching anything was an excellent feeling. And the three runs in minutes meant all the action came together. But I wasn’t complaining, it was nice to be able to fish, the catching was a bonus. That’s a later shot of the lake I took (photo 7) and even though the thaw had set in you can still see an ice-line if you look closely.
You can see a different day again (photo 9) when the sun is trying to burst through but is really battling against the clouds – and losing the fight. But my final visit to the venue saw me win mine as at last the pike responded (photos 8, 10) and although I didn’t battle any monsters, the reality is that there aren’t any there anyway. Well, not that I’m aware of and that’s the beauty of fishing isn’t it. On many venues we simply don’t know. I always target big fish but that has to be taken in the context of the venue. On some places a 10lb pike is a specimen, on others you would be talking double that weight before some anglers even started to get excited.
And that’s my advice, particularly for young anglers. Don’t fall into the trap of becoming obsessed with the size of fish. I get asked three questions more than any others put together, and one of them is ‘How big is it?’ But does it matter, and more to the point, people should be asking questions that edify and educate such as ‘Why did you put the bait where you did?’ and ‘Why did you fish one length out and not two?’ Knowing that a fish is 10lb 4oz or whatever isn’t going to help anyone in the slightest is it? But insights into bait and tactics will. So if you ask questions (and it’s a great way of learning) then make sure you ask the right ones. (And I’m not criticising people who ask ‘How big is it?’ by the way. I’m sure you get the point I’m making.
And finally, on the nature front, my final session saw a goshawk put in an appearance. And not just a bird high in flight like I normally see in the area where I live. This one wasn’t passing through but was at low level and seemed well at home. I saw it three times as it made its way round the area. With people shooting geese I did fear for it. Not all of them of course, but some are pretty ignorant when it comes to birds of prey. They’re still persecuted, and whilst I can understand where people are coming from, it doesn’t mean to say I agree with them. In many ways birds of prey and pike have lots in common, not least of which the ignorance of many costs them dearly.