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John Bailey: 2019 must provide a better future for our pike

PUBLISHED: 06:00 09 January 2019

David’s home tied pike fly. Hardly a chalk stream dry fly but effective in the extreme Picture: John Bailey

David’s home tied pike fly. Hardly a chalk stream dry fly but effective in the extreme Picture: John Bailey

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Last week, I looked at one of many in the list of Big Angling Questions and the future of pike is well up there with the most vital.

David Lambert with a fly caught beauty. Is this the future of piking in part at least? Picture: John BaileyDavid Lambert with a fly caught beauty. Is this the future of piking in part at least? Picture: John Bailey

Late last year great pal Robbie Northman was predator fishing in Norwich centre when he hooked an eel thin pike on one of his lures. When it was landed, Robbie found there were no fewer than SEVEN cut off traces coming from the pike’s jaws.

It beggars belief that even one angler would leave a pike unhooked in this way, never mind possibly seven. Examples like this one are not isolated and make you wonder if pike angling has progressed from the days of gaff, gag and the feeding of their corpses to the pigs. That particular fish was lucky Robbie was her captor, an angler who took the time to remove all the ironmongery and release her into a brighter future. Not all East Anglian pike are so blessed.

Despite their wolffish appearance, pike are as vulnerable as any fish and more so than most. A single dying pike is its own tragedy, one that makes me question our otherwise noble sport every time I witness it.

There is something gross about plunging size 4 trebles into a fish. You can strike early, you can hook a bait tail first, you can sit on your rods but there is always the chance of deep hooking and another winter time horror story.

Old Timers like me and Ian can catch good pike ..this one on tiny trebles that fell from the fish’s jaws. Pike for the Papa Smurfs indeed Picture: John BaileyOld Timers like me and Ian can catch good pike ..this one on tiny trebles that fell from the fish’s jaws. Pike for the Papa Smurfs indeed Picture: John Bailey

No angler should dream of going pike fishing unless he or she knows how to deal with pike on the bank and, above all, not be afraid of them.

At the very least, go with a friend who must be an accomplished pike dentist. Historically, organisations like the Pike Anglers’ Club and the old Norfolk Anglers Conservation Association have run unhooking course for their members. And how about you and me equally? I’ll confess that in the more distant past I have passed a struggling pike angler by but I never would now.

If you know what you are doing and if you choose to look the other way, you are as responsible for a pike death as the novice angler who hooked it in the first place.

But, surely in 2019, there is another way of looking at pike fishing from its roots up? Do we actually need trebles anyway? A lot of better anglers than me have experimented with double and single hooks for decades with no diminution of results. Hair rigs seem to produce hook ups in the scissors and circle hooks are the talk of some predator forums.

This season so far I have moved to a far lighter piking approach than I have employed in the past. I’ve used smaller floats, smaller baits and much smaller, barbless trebles and done very nicely, thank you. Going back to Robbie himself, he of course goes even further in his habitual lure approaches.

Over the past three years I have seen the young maestro land hundreds of pike and the vast majority he can flick free in the margins without them ever feeling the bank on their flank. And, moreover, I guess he has more fun in any session than the moribund deadbaiter long asleep under an umbrella..who is probably me!

But the real star of this piece is David Lambert with whom I have fished the world over. David is only in his mid thirties but, like Robbie, he has moved on from “what” to “how”.

In the past David has been obsessed with the biggest of fish: today size is secondary and it is how the fish is caught that counts. Over the recent holidays I fished with David three days for pike. Not once did he use anything on the end of his trace but a single hooked fly, of one monstrous pattern after another.

The garish creations would have caused a chalk stream rod to wince but Dave outfished the rest of us in terms of both numbers and, more interestingly, size as well. He had more exercise, more interaction with his quarry and most vitally spilt less blood. Not a drop came from his fish and hardly a smear from his own fingers, relieved of that most gruesome of tasks, delving amongst a pike’s incisors. Watching him at work was an elegant lesson in how our sport can progress and how an old pike dog can change his spots.

Another young man has been in touch with me recently.

Dominic Garnett has spent years preaching the virtues of fly fishing for all coarse species as well as game fish. He runs an annual competition and contestants catch some mind boggling fish. So fluff, fur and feather work for, carp, chub, barbel, pike and all the rest but Dom complains that the message just doesn’t ever seem to truly catch fire.

This is a shame because, surely, the future of enlightened angling lies with the likes of Robbie, David and Dominic and all I can do is give them every shred of the praise and publicity they deserve.

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