Part 1: Fish and Locations

Every successful angler, no matter what species he pursues or method he prefers, knows that locating the fish is the first and most important part of the angling jigsaw puzzle. You cannot catch fish that are not there, it is that simple. The location question can be divided into two further questions, what water to fish and what part of that water to fish?

Look at your local waters. Do they hold the fish you want to catch? How do you find out?

First, head for the nearest tackle shop and ask there, but beware of the tackle dealer who sells day tickets, he naturally wants you to spend your money in his shop. Pike anglers are in a small minority and quite secretive for fear of having their favourite waters overfished, but match anglers are always keen to divulge the whereabouts of pike, hoping that you will remove them. Unfortunately match anglers are extremely bad at estimating the weight of pike, and tackle dealers are usually match anglers, or glean information from them, so reduce all weights to about half for a more realistic estimation. An example that springs to mind came to me via a tackle shop in Stourport-on-Severn. One or two local matches held upstream of the bridge at Stourport had been spoiled by pike snatching hooked roach, notably in the winter on the rare occasions that the Severn was low and clear. Estimates of the size of the pike varied up to several "arms" long. However, the vast majority of the pike were in the 6 to 9lb class with a very occasional double. Good sport, but hardly worth the hassle of arguing with irate match anglers who wanted every pike killed. Match anglers are much more useful sources of information on perch and chub, with a more accurate idea of the weights you can expect.

Most local newspapers have a weekly angling column with match reports, check that for up-to-date information. A walk along the bank on a Saturday or Sunday at weigh-in time after a match will reveal plenty about the best swims and sizes of fish, including "one that got away" stories and tales of fish snatched by pike. For a few pounds you can buy a large-scale Ordnance Survey map showing all your local waters, you can then plan a walk around these waters, to decide whether you like the look of them, and find out who controls them by either asking anglers on the bank or checking the "No Fishing" signs for contact telephone numbers.

Join the Pike Anglers' Club, or possibly the equivalent chub, perch or zander organisations, in the case of the P.A.C. there is often a regional association for your area with regular meetings where you can find out all the latest local news, and make friends with other specialist anglers. If you join the Lure Anglers' Society you can get a list of local members who may be willing to help you.

Finally, fish the waters and see what you catch, this is a slow process, it can take many visits before you begin to get the best from a venue. Weekdays are quieter and you can get more bank to yourself, but you are more likely to meet someone who can help you at the weekend. Don't write off a water too quickly: generally if you are catching lots of small fish your chances of a big one are slim, while if you are catching relatively few fish, but approaching the sizes you desire, then a refinement or change of technique might improve things dramatically.

On any water there are small areas that consistently produce good pike, and large areas that rarely produce anything other than jacks, only extremes of weather change these patterns. As far as other species are concerned, chub tend to use the same swims year in and year out, but perch and zander are nomadic and favour different areas at different times of the year and different times of the day, with the weather and flows having a major bearing on their wanderings.

Finding the right areas at the right times produces good results, but it is easier said than done. If you happen to get a good catch from a certain area or swim, try and repeat it. Allowing for variations in water and weather conditions it should be possible, especially where pike and chub are concerned, to catch fish from the same area again, although not necessarily with the same techniques. If you can repeat the success you have probably found a consistent swim, and the size of fish you catch will be a fair indicator of the potential of the water.

I have found that as far as pike are concerned you can ignore the small fish, anything under five pounds is not likely to indicate the presence of big fish, but if you catch a 7lb pike then a double is likely to use the same areas, and if you are catching doubles then you should be in with a chance of a "twenty". We classify pike according to tens of pounds: doubles, twenties, thirties (I wish!) etc, but as far as behaviour goes I think that up to 5lb, then 6lb to 14lb, then 15lb+ seem like more accurate groupings, allowing for some variation depending on the type of water. If you are catching loads of jacks, and quite rightly enjoying the action, do not delude yourself into believing the next fish will be a big one, small pike have very good reason for keeping their distance from big ones. The only time that this advice can be ignored is in the breeding season, roughly from late February until the end of April, when the little male pike risk all for the pleasures of the flesh.

Perch and zander tend to favour company of their own size, so one fish will be much the same size as its shoal mates, a couple of points to note though is that as a fish grows and other fish of the same year-class die, for various reasons, it becomes difficult for the fish to find similar-sized company, so a 7lb zander might find itself best friends with a fish of twice its size; and a very big perch, perhaps the last of its year-class, will have no choice but to associate with a shoal of two pounders. Chub seem to exist quite happily in mixed size shoals but you might find that competition for a favoured run in a weirpool sees the smaller fish pushed out to a less desirable patch.

A good personal example is the contrast between the pike fishing on two of my local rivers, the Severn: lots of doubles, fish up to 13lb regularly, fish in the 14-18lb class not exceptional, with a fair chance of a twenty or two every year; and the Avon: lots of pike to about 6lb, with doubles to about 12lb not that uncommon, but larger doubles and twenties extremely scarce. The average size of pike on the Avon is generally 40% lower than on the Severn. The difference in water quality probably explains why, I just accept it as fact, I enjoy fishing both waters, but I know what to expect as regards the size of fish.

There are well-known and obvious features on any water that hold fish. Occasionally a good area seems to have no obvious appeal but usually the principal reason is that the area is different from the rest of the water. On rivers the obvious features are weirs and weirpools, almost guaranteed to hold good fish of all species. Certainly for the lure angler they are the first place to try on any river. Variations in depth and flow, as well as weed growth and bankside cover, are other variables that will affect the fish-holding potential of any river, inflowing streams and drains often hold some fish around the confluences, and areas that are heavily fished for non-predators will attract preyfish to the free food, and in turn predators. Boat moorings and landing stages sometimes hold fish, more particularly in the winter, and marinas are havens for all fish in times of flood. Timing is important though, as the water rises sport will be poor but when the level settles then begins to fall and clear, the lure fishing can be easy.

Lakes can be a little more difficult to read, but look for deeper areas and depth variations, weed growth, inflow streams, dam walls, trout cages, waterskiing ramps, or any other structure. Note the wind direction that will blow food for preyfish to one end of the lake, the pike will follow.

On any water have a chat to other anglers, lure anglers are scarce but usually friendly and enthusiastic (- if a little barmy!). If someone is bait fishing for pike ask them how they are doing, if they are cagey and evasive they might be trying to put you off, if they recommend other waters you might wonder why they are not fishing there in the first place. Find out how far they have traveled, someone is not likely to drive a long way if the fishing is poor. Asking any other angler is a little risky, they might lie! You get the whole range from enthusiastic and exaggerating (and eventually annoying) to gruff indifference and rudeness, you have to make your own judgement on the value of what they say. Look at their tackle and how they are set up, do they look competent or casual. Do they weigh their fish or just guess wildly. Why are all the anglers concentrated in one short stretch of bank? Is it where the best fishing is? Or close to the carpark? When exploring these waters wear your polaroids and look for fish, chub are easily spotted if you approach with care, perch show themselves by chasing minnows, resting pike are quite often visible in broad daylight and often show themselves at the surface at dawn and dusk as they feed.

Learn to identify a few water plants that can tell you a little about the water from a distance. The reedmace likes shallow water on mud, bulrushes like gravel or rock and water about 2-3ft deep, lilies like clear water and the clearer the water is, the deeper the water that they will grow in. You could take this plant identification further if you wished, the Potomageton or pondweed family has many species, which can be difficult to tell apart, but some of the species require very specific nutrient and pH levels before they can thrive. This sort of knowledge is not any indicator of the quality of the fishing, but it does indicate the quality of the water and thus the potential of the fishing.

If you find a good lure water you should think carefully before telling too many people. In the case of a river there are always a changing head of fish so they are more difficult to pressurise, although smaller rivers and certain areas on larger rivers can suffer. Still waters are a little different, unless they are really massive, in excess of a thousand acres, they will be very vulnerable to overfishing. I take care not to fish some venues at weekends, when other anglers might see me. It might sound a little selfish but the fewer people who know about a good pike water then the longer the good fishing will last. There are three points to bear in mind here: firstly I only want the pike to see my lures, the fewer they see the more likely they are to take them; next is the fact that pike do not survive too many captures, especially when deep-hooked by careless deadbait anglers who then take ages to unhook and return them; finally, and more importantly, is the possibility that pleasure or match anglers may decide that there are "too many pike" and organise a cull. Make your own decision, but bragging about your successes can easily rebound unpleasantly.


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