Pike Fishing, English Style
By Chris Bishop         December 8, 2007

Chris Bishop practices catch and release
Chris Bishop practices catch and release

Pike Fishing, English Style - by Chris Bishop

They talk the same language as us but over in England they call dinner tea, wear pinstripe suits, ride red double decker buses and have a totally different outlook on pike fishing.  Chris Bishop's going to do his best to interpret for us. So roll up that umbrella, cut those cucumber sandwiches, tell the butler to make a cup of tea with a dash of milk and enjoy the ride.

Nearly every time I catch up with stuff on Esoxhunter, I realize how different things are where most of you guys fish - despite the fact we speak the same lingo and love catching the same fish.   And the other European guys and the Scandinavians..?  Well they all fish different too.

I fish in the Fens and Norfolk Broads.   The latter are lakes, not ladies by the way.   So if I ever say this particular broad was really hot today, I'm talking about the fishing.   Stick to the fishing, yeah I know.   Well it's kinda different over here.   In fact while English anglers have bought into so many things which have come from your side of the pond where lure fishing's concerned, I'm astonished some of our methods haven't taken off over there.
Beautiful Pike on Deadbait
Chris with a beautiful pike
on a dead bait

Take dead baiting, for example.   For most of us, pike fishing's something you do in the colder months between October and March.   We swap our pinstripe suits and bowler hats for thermals, and fish hard for northerns.  We go by weights and a twenty (20lbs) pike is considered a specimen or trophy fish.   A fish of that weight would average out around 40 inches over here and would make most anglers' season.

Most English anglers use dead baits as their main attack.   They're not only cheap and easy to buy, but the rigs we use offer near-instant indication of a bite, meaning the fish should be hooked in the mouth and therefore be easy to unhook and return without harming it.   Our poles are longer than yours, as they often say in places where pike anglers have longer, um, poles.   Seriously most anglers over here favor 12ft rods with a test curve of between 2.5 and 3.5lbs for dead baiting from the bank (shore...) or boat.   They'll comfortably cast a rig with an 8 - 10" dead bait and two ounce lead (sinker...). I normally use Daiwa Emblem reels and 50 or 65lbs Power pro mainline.
Bluey - The bait rigged to go!
Bluey - The bait rigged to go!

Turning to the rigs, it's easy to float leger a dead bait on the bottom.   My favorites are sea fish like mackerel and sardines.   Sure, they're not strictly natural, but they're oily fish and when the rivers I fish get coloured-up in the winter.   I'm convinced the scent trail they give off helps the pike to find them.   Some of us take that a step further.   We inject our baits with fish oils and other flavors.   Maybe that's another story.

Float legering..?   Easy.   You have a sliding float - or slip bobber - stopped a foot or two over-depth, depending on things like how strong any current is or how windy it is.   A lot of us use things called rig stops, instead of tying knots, because they don't damage the line when you move them to change the depth.   Underneath the float, we have something called a run ring, which allows the lead (sinker...) to move freely on the line.   Beneath that, you have a buffer bead to protect the knot.   I use Gemini clips, so I can snick the trace (leader...) off the line and put the rod out of the way before I unhook the fish.   The trace (leader...) is just two trebles on around 20" of wire like Mason's Multi strand or Mr Softee.   I normally use size four hooks and the brand I normally use - Drennan Extra Strong - have small barbs.  The bait is hooked as shown, with the top hook in the tail root and the bottom around two-thirds of the way down its body.   Putting hooks any further down the bait risks deep-hooking, as pike tend to swallow baits head-first.
A complete float rig
A complete float rig

I always take my baits out frozen, in a specialist cool bag.   Softer fish survive the cast much better if they're still frozen solid when you hook them on.   As soon as the float (bobber...) moves, reel in until you feel the fish kicking on the end and sweep the rod back to set the hooks.   We're big on striking instantly.   Our methods are designed to give prompt indication so you can react straight away and avoid deep-hooking the fish.
The satisfaction of a good release
The satisfaction of a good release

The idea is they all go back and minimal handling means maximum conservation.   I'm sure a lot of the UK guys who post on your forums could talk about repeat captures, which shows pike can go back unharmed and provide someone else with a trophy fish - not to mention carry on the important role they play in a vibrant and balanced fishery.   Strike promptly and they should all be hooked in the mouth. There's no need to wait if the bait's rigged-up right.

If it's not worth weighing - which, let's face it most pike you catch aren't - just drop the net and off it swims.   You never know - it might be a 40-incher next time you meet.

We've had a strong catch and release ethic since the Pike Anglers Club was formed in England more than 30 years ago.   Attitudes about conservation and our whole approach to pike fishing have come on in leaps and bounds since then.   Our pike fishing's got better as well.   For more on UK pike fishing methods, go to

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Last updated on ...February 3, 2008