Catch Fish with
For anyone unfamiliar with the site always check the FRESHWATER, SALTWATER and TACK-TICS pages. The Saltwater page now extends back as a record of over four years of (mostly) sea fishing and may be a useful guide as to when to fish. The Freshwater stuff is also up to date now. I keep adding to both. These pages are effectively my diary and the latest will usually be about fishing in the previous day or two. The Tactics pages which are chiefly 'how I do it' plus a bit of science are also updated regularly and (I think) worth a read (the earlier ones are mostly tackle and 'how to do it' stuff so if you are new to fly fishing or spinning these are the ones for you).
27 January 2006.
Why don't they bite?
Pike generally seem fairly easy to tempt in my local rivers. However, there are days when even the most promising spots appear to be devoid of fish. Now when I'm fishing in the sea it's easy to make the excuse that the fish aren't there but in the river there MUST be fish in at least some of the spots. So why don't they bite? There will, of course, be times when the water temperature is too low or too high for the fish to be active but if you catch one or two fish that's hardly likely to be the case. A similar argument can be made for when the water is very dirty etc. If one pike will bite why won't the others? It must surely be something to do with the differing state of hunger of the individual fish.
On my last two trips we had a couple of examples of fish that wouldn't bite. In the first instance I was fishing with my pal Steve Pitts. We had an excellent afternoon catching half-a-dozen pike on natural baits. Near the end of the session we were fishing a large and very pikey looking pool. After about twenty minutes we had searched most of the likely spots and were thinking about moving on when suddenly Steve let out a gasp. I asked what was the matter and he said that the biggest pike he had ever seen had just swept past his float fished bait without touching it. Encouraged and knowing that if you find a pike it will often take we both fished in the area where he had seen the big fish for a further twenty minutes. Despite our best efforts there was no sign of the big fish. The conditions were clearly OK because we caught a number of nice pike between six and fifteen pounds so why was the big one so reluctant to take?
A couple of days later I went with Nigel for another afternoon's piking. Again we used natural baits, some float fished and some wobbled. Of course we tried 'Steve's spot' again - to no avail. In all we landed twelve pike this time - an excellent session you might think. However, after we had already caught eight or nine fish I was wobbling my dead dace through a deepish pool when it was taken by a pike of perhaps eight pounds. We landed the fish and released it then I continued fishing just a metre or two from where I had caught it. As I watched my bait lurching along about a metre beneath the surface a massive green shape appeared from beneath the marginal weeds and slid past the flashing bait without touching it. Encouraged we both tried hard to tempt the big fish (incidentally not the same fish that Steve had seen two days earlier (the pool was miles away). No success except that only a few metres from where I had seen the big pike I caught another of about four pounds - much the smallest of the trip.
Why didn't they bite? These were two fish that we actually knew were close to the baits but after the initial lunges they showed no further interest. Of course it makes you think that on many other occasions there must be pike close to your baits that just ignore them.
One event during the second trip may have thrown some light on the matter. Nigel had been drifting his bait past a very likely looking spot under a raft of floating vegetation. He said afterwards that the bait had passed within thirty or forty centimetres of the weed on perhaps five occasions with no sign of life. Not knowing this I dropped my bait in the same spot and allowed it to swim right in under the raft. The weeds heaved and I was into a pike. Now this fish seemingly couldn't be bothered to move even half a body length to take a bait but when it was literally 'on its nose' it grabbed it. Even though we caught lots of pike it was a pretty cold afternoon following a hard frost so the water temperature was certainly low.
The following day I was talking to my son Richard on the phone and I mentioned the reluctant pike. His comment was that our baits probably weren't big enough. Now whether this is true or not there is no doubt that pike (and other fish) have a built in 'cost/benefit' assessment mechanism. There are a number of things that control the amount of effort that they put into catching a meal. For a start if they have not eaten for some time and their bellies are empty they will be much keener to feed. Consequently a very hungry pike will attack more persistently and from a greater distance than a well fed one. Similarly, if it's cold the fish may be sluggish and less inclined to move very far to take a bait. Finally, if there is a danger of being eaten or attacked by a predator (fish, bird or possibly human) they will be less likely to expose themselves to risk by feeding.
In short, if you want to catch a big, well fed, scared pike you will be wise to keep well out of sight and put a big, slow moving, attractive bait right on its nose and that's what we'll be trying to do later this week.
A fine sight
One of Steve's fish.
A quick picture.