With the climate as unpredictable as ever these days, traditional fishing seasons don’t always add up. It’s not unusual to catch dry fly trout in March, or predators in May and June. But if we do choose to chase large yet sensitive fish like pike, what are the ground rules? Turrall’s Gary Pearson and Dom Garnett have some excellent tips to ensure that both you and your quarry thrive!
Is it still ok to go pike fishing in spring and summer? When are the best times and locations?
Pike are best suited to cooler waters- you only have to look at their natural range to see this. Not only can they be lethargic in warmer temperatures, they are deceptively fragile, too. So our first question should never be whether we want to catch them, but whether we can do so safely in the first place.
Only you can make that call, but it’s up to all of us to protect our catch. Here are some rough guidelines around waters once temperatures get higher. These are not hard and fast rules, but sensible starting points:
Safer pike waters
- Large reservoirs
- Deeper natural lakes where fish have access to cooler water year-round.
- Bigger rivers with decent flows and cold water
Venues to avoid
- Canals- and especially the shallowest, where water can get very warm.
- Drains and fens, especially those lacking any deeper water.
- Small or shallow lakes
- Slow flowing rivers
- Venues where pike are under intense angler pressure
- All venues once the warmest weather sets in, especially in July and August!
Actual water temperature is another matter for debate- but suffice to say the higher temperatures get, the less dissolved oxygen water will hold. As soon as water temperaturess get up into mid to late teens, danger is greatly increased. Nor is fishing early or late going to make a huge difference, because water temperatures are far less changeable than air temperatures.
Keep tackle strong and battles brief
Of course, it’s not just water temperature that’s the main issue with pike. It’s also a case of how we tackle up and how much stress we put on them. At any time of year, it’s important to use tackle that will allow us to apply plenty of pressure and land pike quickly, because a long fight can exhaust them and make recovery harder. Since these fish are not tackle shy, we’d never suggest less than 20lb leaders, along with a robust wire trace.
As for rods and setups, a nine-weight should be seen as a minimum at these times of year. For larger waters with the chance of big fish, a ten is even better in the summer. Tackle up so that you can bully fish in quickly and you won’t go far wrong. Pike will fight like fury on warmer days and gone are the days of playing these fish for an age on light gear.
We’ll discuss more on fish care shortly, including equipment and safe practice.
Mix up your tactics and be prepared to go deeper!
One especially notable trend as temperatures start to rise is that pike are less tightly concentrated. Once spawning is done and prey fish disperse, pike will start to move away from the shallows and can be quite unpredictable in their whereabouts. There’s no guarantee October or December’s hotspot will still produce.
Quite often you’ll find only small jacks in the margins, as inviting as they look. The better fish might not be miles away- but are likely to drop down into areas of ten feet and greater. As the temperatures rise further, they’ll retreat even further to where the water is cooler.
One important tool in your arsenal is therefore a fast sink pike fly line. The market has never exactly been saturated with these, which is why we’ve been delighted to see Cortland’s special Pike and Musky fly line coming to the UK.
This is not a general fit line, but a highly specialised tool to cast large flies and get them down quickly to where the fish are. It’s an excellent choice for any venues where you need to go deep- and especially those where you might regularly find productive depths of 10-20ft.
The only drawback with fast sink lines is that their sheer weight means that you may find hooking into fish slightly harder. If you get any bite when a lot of line is out, there’s likely to be a bit of “belly”- so it pays to not only strike with the line, but also lift the rod hard, to tighten up as efficiently as possible.
Be meticulous and methodical
As much as any time of year, pike fishing from April to June is about being rigorous in your approach. We’ve just mentioned that you may need to fish deep- but pike won’t always be nailed to the bottom. Trying different depths and retrieves makes sense here, to cover different levels- but be really fussy about this.
One must is to count down to different depths and log this mentally, with a slow “one-and-two-and-three…” etc. Even with a fast sink line, you might be counting to ten, fifteen or twenty on a deep water!
Be similarly methodical with drifts, too. You’ll cover far more water on a drifting boat with a drogue than you ever would at anchor. Try different distances from the shore, paying close attention to this. Picking out markers on the bank is a good tip, and making a mental note. If you get takes, you can then repeat the drift!
Finally, concentration is also key, especially on days you may only get a handful of pulls. With sinking lines, especially, few fish will hook themselves, so be ready to react fast and firmly!
Choose your flies with care
For whatever reason, fly colours seem to be more critical in the spring and summer than at any other time of year. This could be because the pike have already seen pressure right through the winter on a lot of waters. It could also be because flies often need to be fished at greater depths- and the later in the year it gets, the more algae develops, creating a greenish tinge.
Experimentation is very much the way to go. However, if we had to pick one colour at this time of year it would be one of the least fashionable: black!
On our most recent reservoir session, it was a black or black and copper coloured fly that definitely seemed to get most attention. At various intervals we tried other colours- but dark flies stood out a mile, in perhaps more ways than one.
Don’t forget to check out Turrall’s range of pike flies. We stock over two dozen of the best flies for pike these days- with plenty of colour choices. We only tie ours on top quality, extra strong hooks. The only other recommendation we’d make is to crush the barbs down on your flies to ensure quick removal- it’s much kinder on the fish.
Handle with care- and release every pike safely!
Last but by no means least, please, please, please take extra care with pike if you must continue fishing into the summer. You owe it to the fish. Consider that a 15lb pike can lay around 500,000 eggs per year and you quickly see it only takes a small number of careless anglers to have a big impact on a fishery.
Above all, it’s about good organisation and common sense. We’re not going to tell anyone how to fish, but it’s up to all of us to respect pike – and this means putting their needs before our own preferences.
Here are some sensible fish care guidelines to follow:
- Always use strong tackle and keep fights as short as possible.
- Keep your fish wet wherever possible. At the end of a hard fight, give pike a few seconds in the water, in a submerged net, to reduce stress.
- Have all your gear ready, from forceps and scales to camera. Every second counts in warmer weather. Well organised anglers put less stress on pike.
- Don’t skimp on the essentials. Have quality long unhooking tools and an extra large soft-meshed net and unhooking mat ready. These are long fish, so trout and salmon sized gear is not sufficient.
- If you want to take a picture or two, be as quick as you can. These are amazing, living creatures and not Instagram trophies!
- Never simply let a fish go after an intense fight. Support it carefully, upright in the water, until the fish is clearly ready to swim off. This could take a minute or two if it has battled hard, so look after your catch.
- Working in partnership with another angler makes a lot of sense with pike. On a boat, for example. One of you can move any clutter out of the way- and set up a sling, for example, to weigh a large fish. Communication is key here, so be clear and decisive.
- If you find yourself in heatwave conditions, or the fish migrate very deep, give the pike a break. Even if you were still hell-bent on catching them, they tend to go very deep and become quite lethargic in these conditions. And we have the whole autumn and winter to come, after all!
Happy fishing- and do respect those pike!