A beginners guide to winter pike with Dee Mason

Sun 25 November 12


The infamous pike (esox lucius) is probably the most sought after predator fish in coarse angling. It is everything that we expect the top of the food chain predator should be, both in its lifestyle, nature and appearance. With it’s a flat broad, almost duck-like snout, razor like teeth, elongated streamlined body, powerful dorsal and anal fins it might simply be compared to a torpedo with jaws. Combine all of this with it natural camouflage and colours, which can vary from habitat to habitat. It is without doubt one of nature’s most apt killing machines. Throughout the years our pike have been the subject of innumerable fishy storeys, with many telling of the one that got away, the monster that lives below, and the tormentor who took your prize roach (bummer!). Many of our anglers carry these stories through generations, and every time they are‘re-spun’ the monster becomes ten pound heavier, two foot longer, or as ferocious as a swimming Rottweiler! Due to such stories establishing the true weight of the largest pike on record in the UK has been almost as tricky as catching the actual fish it might have been. According to reports, the record goes to one caught on rod and line in Llandegfedd reservoir, Wales in 1992. It is reported that the Welsh fish weighed an incredible 46lb 13ozs .Even more prestigious would be the 1945 claim for the Scottish record when it was claimed that a fish caught in Loch Lomond weighed a fantastic 47lb 11ozs. There have also been numerous unconfirmed reports of even bigger fish emanating from Northern Ireland over the years. However for various reasons I shan’t get into attempting to prove or disprove such claims. From my personal point of view, I believe the most important record of all is that of your own. Your ‘PB’ i.e. personal best which should says it all. And that’s the record you should aim to better, not a legendary figure or weight which most anglers may never see in a lifetime of stalking. Also remember your piking should be something you relax with and enjoy. Too many destroy the enjoyment by chasing impossible targets and trophy weight that others claim to have had. In the past thirty some years I have personally enjoyed every minute fishing for the freshwater shark (old esox). And yes this has included the disappointing blanks, the good days and the so called red letter days when the action comes fast and furious, double takes, more than a few high thirties and the odd ball breaker that only mate believe, because they helped you get the net under it. But remember such red letter days only come once in a blue moon and for me have been dotted over a thirty year career of hard work, intense targeting, and significant trial and errors. That said, I can confidently state that on each and every trip and session I always came away learning one thing or another. Maybe something new about the particular water I had fished that day, or the effectiveness or even ineffectiveness of particular tactics I used on that day, or simply how the weather conditions had affected the fishing on that particular venue. As for fish welfare this must become our first priority, be it from the tackle you use, to playing/landing unhooking and releasing the fish safely back to the swim alive and well and hopefully in the same condition you caught it. Giving it the best chance of survival so we can allow it to fight another day! Now getting into what basic tackle you will require i.e. rods, reels, and terminal tackle. The first thing you should be looking to invest in is quality unhooking equipment this is unfortunately the most overlooked and yet most important pieces of kit you will require for. These vital pieces of equipment should be acquired before you ever set yourselves down at the lake or river to start your pike fishing career. So let’s start as you mean to go on with fish welfare, and remember when starting out always go along with an experienced angler or guide, who hopefully will assist you in building your confidence up with handling/unhooking and releasing old esox before heading of alone. The pike may look a lean green fighting machine and as tough as nails, yes it is in its own territory under the depths in the water, but out of the water it’s the total opposite and needs respected and handled with the utmost care. I do believe that bad handling and unhooking of pike cause more damage to our sport than any other factor old esox has to put up with in its journey through life, but with the right frame of mind with the right unhooking equipment with the fishes welfare put first and foremost the future will be a lot brighter for old esox and the future pike anglers. Without question it’s all down to experience and confidence which I believe in turn is all down to hands on experience, after which the rest should start to fall into place. You should look forward to these first hurdles in pike fishing, they are by far the most important tasks you will need to complete also take pride in it as you carry on fishing for many happy years ahead. These are the basic skills which we should all learn, thus we don’t end up relying on others to handle and unhook your catch. Get in there and build your self confidence and experience, take advantage of the guide and/or experienced angler watching over you keeping on the straight and narrow. Believe me when you have achieved this and have gained those slick unhooking drills the world is your oyster. It is only through such guided hands on experience, that you will eventually gain independence and confidence, permitting you to relax and perhaps get out there and start living the dream. Who knows maybe someday you could be the one that everyone wants to be the infamous record breaker.

Unhooking Tools & Equipment

1 – GLOVES; Why gloves? A lot of anglers I speak to on the bank don’t seem to bother with gloves. The reasons appear to vary from, I’ve never needed them, I’ve always unhooked without them, I’ve never seen the point, sure what a wee nip or a cut if you get one (yep they are hard as nails). Well it must be really cool to be that confident and hard as nails! The reality however can be somewhat different; I shan’t attempt to blind any of you with the medical science, but unfortunately as we all know far too many of our waters are polluted with all manner of dumped garbage, dead animals, feeding rats etc… Simply ask yourself would I dip my cup in and drink from this water? I don’t think so! Well just remember good old ‘esox lucius’ spends his life swimming, feeding and gorging in that exact same water! For exactly that reason I always choose to wear unhooking gloves. Simply put, prevention is better than cure, I want to spend as much time on the bank as possible, not risk the potential of missing at best, weeks of precious winter piking with lord knows what infections or disease, all because you never put a pair of gloves in the old sky rocket. It is in my opinion without doubt pure common sense get yourself a descent pair of glove today’.

2 – UNHOOKING MAT Yes it says it all on the tin, a descent soft cushioned unhooking mat can be purchased very reasonably from any reputable angling outlet and will prevent all sorts of untold damage, cuts and abrasions to a struggling fish. And I’m sure there are plenty who would say ‘I’ve always unhooked on the bank and never had a problem and all my fish went back safely’. Well I beg to differ, with the discarded debris currently being left on banks I actually doubt if in the long term that could really be the case. But hey! If you still doubt this advice, think of it in these terms. If you were old esox, about to have some major dental work carried out by some big brut with a set of long nosed pliers. Wouldn’t you hope they would at least lay you down on a nice soft cushion before for putting their slick unhooking skills to work! Get out there now and get a decent unhooking mat, fish welfare is the future.

3 – LONG NOSE PLIERS Yes a decent set of long nose pliers can go a long way and would be my personal preference over less sturdy forceps when it comes to extracting a well lodge treble from a particular hard or bony area of the pikes jaws. I also favour a pair with plenty of length to get a better grip on those cold and wet winter days!

4 – WIRE CUTTERS Maybe some of you are starting to think, what’s he on about next ‘wire cutters? I’m going fishing not becoming a sparks apprentice’. However all joking aside a good pair of sharp wire cutters could be the difference between a seriously injured and/or dead fish, if and when you need to act fast. Just ask any experienced piker who has seen a thrashing ‘jack’ with flying hooks or a trace wrapped around and cutting into it and they will tell you the importance of getting those hooks nipped or trace cut as soon as possible. Remember hooks and traces can be easily replaced, but a dead pike is dead forever!

5 – WEIGH BAG RETAINER I would personally recommend ‘Eddie Turners’ new weigh bag retainer , a vital piece of pike welfare equipment ,a must have for all piker’s from the novice right up to the most experienced angler. This is a light weight multipurpose piece of equipment, which simply makes life so much easier, from weighing and transporting fish back to the water to being used as a retainer to give the all too often exhausted pike that extra few minutes to get its breath back before it swims of strongly back to the depths. For more detail, the ET weigh bag retainer can be viewed in action soon on my website via videos link on http://www.monstertours.net,


PREDATOR RODS you guessed right, the rods my customers and I are currently using is supplied by none other than ‘ET’ (Eddie Turner). I can honestly say hand on heart, that I have tried and tested Eddies specialist pike tackle to the limits and found it to be second to none in it particular field of design and expertise. The rods we have been using are Eddie turner rascal 12ft 3lb test curve bank rods and I have found they definitively covered all our needs in the bank fishing department. There’s a stack of backbone in these rods to get you out to that furthest shelf or distant feature and I have found them equally suitable for short range work also. I would simply describe them as a cracking rod with a superb forgiving smooth action when playing big fish, but having the backbone to bully them away from any potential snags at the drop of a hat. Most important of all, these rods won’t burst the bank balance and are great value quality rods, matching and often out playing many of their much more expensive counterparts. It is suffice to say that for my customers and I, the proof has been in their use and having landed to many pike to mention including more than a few ball breakers, these rods and they have been well and truly under the cosh at times, proving to have no faults what so ever, which for me says it all!

REELS and LINE Reels well let’s be honest if you’re looking strength and control you aren’t going to go far wrong with any of the Shimano reels. I personally prefer and use the Shimano 6000 bait runners, loaded again with a personal choice with 50lb braid. I never use mono, however I wouldn’t get into my views on the pros and cons as I accept we all have our own opinions, The one thing I would however stress, If you are going to use mono is that you don’t think of going lighter than at least 15lb breaking strain and make sure you purchase a good quality mono at that!

TERMINAL TACKLE With so much competitively priced and genuine good quality gear to choose from nowadays I have decided not to get to deeply embroiled in this subject. However I shall be as open and honest as possible and simply offer advice based on my personal choices. Maybe this will assist some of you in choosing what to spend you’re hard earned cash on, simply based on what I have so far tried and tested to the limit with no identified weaknesses or come backs. As to trace wire, I am currently using AFW 30lb bleeding leader, blood red nylon coated wire thicker than your average trace wire, and to date has proved to be bullet proof. For me probably the best trace wire I have used over the last 30 odd years. I tend to match these traces up with Owner ST41 and ST56 treble hooks size 6 for everyday predator traces, and size 4 for occasions when I choose bigger baits. So far the hook up rate with the owners has proved close to fantastic. So if you are starting to make your own traces I would highly recommend the owner range. I would also recommend you don’t leave more than a 3 inch gap between your hooks and strike early to avoid deep hooking. On the swivel side of life we only use the ultra strong AFW swivels and links!

Starter Rigs

In my opinion the most productive rig and to be honest the most basic is the simple ledger rig set up, with a dead bait pencil attached. I can honestly say that in thirty years of predator fishing the majority of my pike have fallen to this simple and basic rig. It is well worth remembering this point; keep your rigs and methods as basic as you can. Also remember, despite what others may tell you, it’s not about what fancy rigs and set ups you may use. It’s where you put your rigs that count! Trust me, this little set up can find you the shelf’s and features in minutes by casting around your swim are swims noting the depths by simply pushing your float stop up are down the line. The ledgered dead pencil rig will definitively increase your early bite indication (dead simple!). This rig can also be used in conjunction with the highly recommender the Nano biter, again from the Eddie Turner range giving you bite indication from the slightest take of a pike moving of in any direction within a split second!


Pike are generally an ambush predator, hugging and hiding around weed beds, shelves and rock features in our lakes and waterways, waiting for the opportunity to propel themselves upon any unsuspecting prey fish passing over or through the ambush area. However they can turn from predator to scavenger just as quickly, and can be encouraged to do so by the use of correct dead baits and sensible use of pre baiting. Pike can be located all over Ireland and the UK in most of our Loughs and rivers. Giving the enthusiastic angler, who is prepared to do a little homework so many waters to target they will be spoilt for choice. But bear in mind, doing that little bit homework will definitely make the difference between blanket blank and fish on the bank. My recommendation would be to pick a water and start by plumbing the depths and finding those all important features and shelf’s along with water depths and most importantly the head of prey fish the water holds and types of species etc… Pike will likely be scattered all over the water moving along shelf’s and hiding behind features so start by targeting these areas experimenting with different types of baits and oils. See what way they like their lunch to be served. Remember use fresh bait at all times, on a personal note I would suggest there is no better than bait box frozen bait range. As a company these are by far the freshest baits we have used and will continue to use in the future. And you can’t go wrong with the old faithful, the mackerel tail or Joey along with the herring injected with loads of oil.

Come December time and the colder weather approaching it is however time to start looking towards the deeper water. You will of course have discovered (by homework!) that ‘lunch’ the prey fish will have started to go deep, therefore common sense would indicate that old esox will always be close behind them in the deeper warmer water. This is the time of year I look forward to most, when we can hopefully predict where the pike will be gathered together, with luck scavenging for those big oily dead baits that I’ll be dropping in around them. All things being correct this should continue through January and potentially into February, during which time we should be making the most of testing those Eddie turner rods, Shimano reels and all the other bits and pieces we’ve discussed. Finally as the temperature starts to rise again the big girls closely covered by the jacks will be looking to feed heavily before going into their spawning bays. This is your last chance to hit them on top weight, the so called ‘red letter days’. Again if you have done your homework properly and are on top of them at this stage, then stand by for some heavy weight fish (PB busters and dream makers). After this feeding frenzy it’s off to the bays to spawn, and believe me feeding is the last thing on their mind at least time until they do the good deed. Last chance, spawning over there is of course a good potential to catch a hungry fish as they feed up to build the old energy up after losing all that energy rolling about in the weeds! Then for me its pike rods packed away, cat rods took out to play. Its time of the year again! Bring on the summer!    

Tight lines to all

Dee Mason


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UK Specialist Angler.




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