1st October has long been the traditional start to the “Pike season” for many anglers. Autumn is upon us and we get the call, ‘it’s Pike time’. For some its unthinkable for people to begin Pike fishing before October, to them it’s almost cheating. Then there are others who claim that its simply too warm to fish for Pike until the winter weather hits us and we’ve had a few cold, crisp nights and frosty mornings. You can read this on forums and Facebook pages all over the web but I’m not sure where this opinion comes from. Maybe these people are busy fishing for other species and don’t like the thought of Pikers getting in before them. Maybe they’ve never fished before winter, so don’t know what it’s like. Or perhaps they’ve just read and repeated someone else’s opinion from elsewhere on the net. Whatever the reason behind the opinion, to say Piking before the frosts is somehow bad, is simply a load of cobblers.
In the past I have been a year round Piker, I fished baits through the colder months and lures when it was warmer. To begin my lure fishing was mostly a bit of fun to pass time between cricket matches, I also used it as a way to search out new waters. As I got more interested in lure fishing I took it more seriously but I learnt to be selective about the waters I fished and I learnt that when it’s really hot Pike are almost impossible to catch. For me, bait fishing for Pike has always started in mid-September, when the daytime temperatures are in mid-teens, there’s a good wind on the water and it feels ‘right’. At this time of year I’ve mostly fished stillwaters and can honestly say that the six weeks or so leading up to the first frosts are the most productive and most enjoyable time of my Pike season.
Let’s face it, the cold bleak days of January are hard work, just keeping warm requires extra effort, unless you choose to spend these days static, zipped up in a bivvy. The waters are looking weather beaten too, gone are the vibrant greens, the trees are reduced to skeletons and the banks are often a sea of mud. I must admit there is a certain charm when the banks are covered with a layer of frost however. In autumn you wear less clothes and can travel lighter. I love the sights, colours and smells of autumn, it’s a real joy to be out on the banks. And the fishing is bloody good too.
If you know your waters then you’ll know where to find the Pike and they are usually in different areas to where you’ll fish for them in mid-winter. They won’t be skinny and underfed either, often they are in better condition than they are at the end of the autumn. They will also fight dam hard too but not so hard they knacker themselves and die as some internet experts will have us believe. I find Pike will happily take a deadbait at this time of year and often I don’t even bother with lives until after the first frosts, could there be a clue there? As I said, I’ve mostly fished stillwaters during the autumn but when I’ve ventured onto rivers I have found it a different story. They are often too weedy and sluggish and I think these rivers do fish better in the winter.
A few years ago the third weekend of September rolled round, the weather wasn’t too hot and it felt like time. I fished my favourite water and was lucky to catch four fish including one very special Pike. This one made me fight for every inch of line, at one point I thought I had her netted only for the fish to leap clean out of the net and start fighting again. I won the battle in the end and hoisted her into the boat. I removed my double hooks easily but peering into the mouth I noticed another trace with a treble hook stitching up the throat, someone had obviously started Piking earlier than me. What should I do next? Do I remove the trace or should I avoid stressing the fish out and just photograph and return her as quickly as possible? I chose to remove the trace and after a rest in the Sladle she was weighed and photographed. I was happy to feel her kick out of my grip and swim away strongly. Later I found out this fish was caught at least twice more that season, weighing considerably heavier each time. I done no harm by catching that fish on a mild late September day and done the right thing in taking the hooks out. And here she is…