Pike Match Fishing - The Only Way is Esox
FishingMagic’s roving match reporter Terry Comerford reports from what, for him, is a very different branch of match fishing – a pike match.
I have this strange notion that anglers specialise in sections of match angling that suits their personalities: canal match anglers being very fussy, intricate types, commercial match anglers liking everything modern and to excess and river match anglers being of a traditional, almost Victorian, nature; maybe I’m wrong but it works for the anglers I know.
However there’s one category of match angler that I cannot even begin to pigeonhole and that is the pike match angler. Now for me pike fishing is a very individual branch of our sport, a hunter against beast scenario, man against the elements and the toothy critters from the depths; I like to imagine pike anglers as being solitary ‘trappers’ or ‘bushmen’ types but today I’m at a British Pike Championship qualifying match and about to find out that my APS ‘angling personality system’ simply isn’t going to work, if indeed it ever works at all.
Arriving at dawn at a place as beautiful as Patshull Park in Shropshire makes me think there must be huge percentage of the population in this country who have never seen a dawn, especially dawn over a fishery. I’m sure we could double angling’s participant numbers if we could get the non-angling public at the waterside in the early hours, even in winter, when sunrise is very late and most people are probably having a weekend lie in, watching breakfast TV, or bumper to bumper in the works traffic.
The anglers begin to assemble for the draw, organiser Mick Woods has been at the helm of these British Pike Angling Championship qualifiers for six years and his knowledge of pike angling in general, and here at Patshull in particular, is second to none.
Mick isn’t fishing today as a dodgy hip has meant months off work, and indeed fishing, but it doesn’t stop him from organising and he’s here today to run the match for the lads as usual, battling through the pain and even managing a few jokes about his forthcoming hip replacement. I suggested the anglers have a collection for his operation and they could open a ‘joint’ account at the Co-op!
The in-form area is along the left-hand bank stagings on pegs 10 to 15 and a number of doubles have been taken along this area in recent weeks and a few of the anglers told me this area was also the scene of the capture of a 3lb 2oz perch and a 4lb eel in recent qualifiers, which was duly noted in my notepad, for a return visit of my own.
Small trout are kept in the bait cage for the anglers to use as livebaits and once the draw is made a member of the fishery staff nets them out and sells them, most of the competitors have battery operated oxygenated carriers to put them in but some make do with buckets of all types, one of the buckets was branded ‘tyre grease’, he’ll only catch jacks I thought...
Those little trout livebaits are amazingly tough, staying lively on the rigs in the water for a number of hours – unless eaten of course...
All of the anglers ambled off in no particular hurry to their pegs and with just ten anglers competing today it was easy for me to wander along watching the guys set up and that’s when I first saw the uniqueness of pike matches as all of the anglers went out of their way to help each other, not only with information on the pegs but also in setting up, depth variation info and good old fashioned instruction - before a match, surely not!
The guys explained to me that pike match anglers like to pit their skills against the fish and they get as much enjoyment out of helping a fellow pike angler to catch as they would catching themselves, they explained you don’t see huge numbers of pike caught in any pike match so pooling info beforehand usually gives everyone a chance to at least see a few fish caught and this helps with the camaraderie and friendliness of the group, most of whom had fished these matches for years.
A number of the anglers present today had already qualified for the finals in a previous round back in November but continue to turn up for the matches because there is a minimum number required to form a qualifying match and they turn up to fish so their friends also have a number of chances to qualify, a brilliant attitude I thought.
As the match started Wolverhampton’s Wayne Lutton was on end peg number 14 and he told me that he usually starts every match by fishing very close in as pike often can be caught early on right under your feet in and around the stagings on this side of the lake.
Sure enough almost immediately the float moved quickly across and then plunged sharply under the surface - but the run was missed - “Oh bother”, or words to that effect, was heard all around the lake!
Paul Humphries, from Stourbridge, was on the next peg; Paul is a well known character and a top local angler with PB’s for a number of different species that any angler would give his right arm for. He has an interesting theory about this group’s pike matches in that he sees them as a replacement for all the socialising they used to do in the pubs around the area, “All the pubs are closed down now and we wouldn’t miss a match for anything, it’s a great social event as well as a match!”
Mick Garner, from Wombourne, has pike fished for over 35 years, he only uses livebaits and prefers a free roving bait on a paternoster set up and constantly changes the depth the bait is fished at to search all of his peg. He also missed a run early on when a pike grabbed his mid-depth trout and ran towards the bank; a badly mangled bait was all he had to show for the encounter.
Mick had already qualified for the finals back in November and well remembers the final he fished two years previously when he lost a huge fish at the net, which he is sure would have won him the overall title.
Malcolm Ginifer, from Stourbridge, is no stranger to big fish with teeth and in 2007 he held the Irish blue shark record with a fish of 135lb! Malcolm caught the 4lb eel on the last qualifier on a deadbait fished right alongside the stagings, again proof that a well-presented bait close in can bring good specimens of all species.
Malcolm took a 12lb pike presented beside the trout cage to go through to the final on a previous qualifier.
Ken Saunders, from Wolverhampton, is a fanatical pike angler and has taken fish from all types of venue with his best a superb 29lb fish from Gailey Reservoir.
Ken explained his fascination for all things Esox, “I fish for pike before and after work along my local canal, sometimes I’ll even have half an hour during my lunch break! There a swim at the rear of a factory I tried out last week you have to cast across right beneath a factory window,”
He ignored me when I said did you latch into any!
Dave Owen, from Wombourne, is the youngest in the group of match pikers and was only a teenager when I first took a picture of him with a pike for the old ‘Midland Angler’ magazine.
Dave has drawn the bridge peg, alongside the trout cage and we had a bet on how many people would walk by and tell him to “drop a bait alongside the trout cage” even the golfers, walkers and postmen tell you to!
Dave has travelled all over the UK pike fishing and interestingly stated he’s seeing a number of youngsters taking up this branch of the sport.
Never Fish With Kids or Women
I’m three quarters of the way around the anglers at the two hour mark, when a young lad and his dad arrived at the cabin and paid for a day ticket, walking along the match pegs the anglers very reasonably told them to drop into the vacant end peg 15, at the end of the stagings.
At this point, with all these experienced pikers on the bank, there had not been a fish banked, just a few dropped runs. The young-un, Jamie Cotterill, dropped his trout livebait right next to the stagings, instantly the bung took off and dived under and he promptly struck into only his second ever pike, on his first cast! (His first was just 8oz!) After a short but spirited fight a 4lb 8oz pike was netted by Jamie’s dad, Lee.
It was like something out of a Mr Crabtree book:
“Now drop your livebait in amongst the stagings Jamie, pike like to hide amongst the cover”
“The float has gone under Jamie - STRIKE!”
What a great lad and dad day out!
Mine’s A Double
Having run around the lake to take Jamie and his dad’s picture I returned to my chats with the anglers on the other side of the lake but just as I got there another shout from the other side had me running around again, this time to peg 14 and Wayne Lutton who was into a bigger fish taken on a simple lead set up fished in a slow sink and draw style.
Mick Woods made his way around to weigh the fish, he was short and stocky (the fish not Mick) and weighed in at 11lb 4oz (definitely not Mick, err maybe when he was born) Wayne was in front and hoping for a first appearance at the finals, in November.
At that point, Paul Humphries started packing away his gear, stating he had got to go to help his daughter move house! He had only attended today for a couple of hours to get the match numbers up to the qualification minimum, a brilliant gesture in anyone’s book.
Two Patshull regulars had turned up for a spot of pike pleasure fishing and the anglers in the match again told them they could drop into Paul’s now vacated peg (will they never learn!).
Paul had not been gone five minutes when one of the lads struck into a fish from the very spot Paul had been fishing! After a short fight Joe Watton from Sedgley, brought a 4lb 7oz pike to the net.
Paul Humphries, must have had ten texts in the next five minutes as his so called fishing ‘friends’ seemed to take great delight in telling him a fish had been caught from his peg, just five minutes or so after he had vacated it!
Sat out into the lake on the stagings was Merridale’s Ray Higgs who has coarse fished all of his life but recently took early retirement from work and now combines trout fishing with pike fishing and holidays on the Norfolk Broads, where he took his best pike of 18lb. Ray says boat holidays on the broads are still superb for anglers wanting to combine a break with some great fishing action.
There were just two more anglers with Ray pegged on the opposite bank, veteran pike angler Cliff Groom from Tettenhall has probably caught more pike than most although his PB is 16lb 4oz he told me that 20lb pike are still a rarity in an angler’s career.
Cliff reminded me of the old Patshull legend the ‘Duck Guzzler’ a huge ’30lb plus’ pike that he and other anglers had seen take ducks from the lake’s surface many times and he recounted how one foggy November morning ‘the beast’ was seen holding onto a swan’s leg as the bird tried to take off.
I was tempted to interrupt and say he was only pulling the swans leg but Cliff was already into spooky story mode and continued adding things like dogs retrieving sticks, watering deer and even skinny dipping teenagers, that had all come to a sticky end but so do toffee apples and they don’t become spooky legends!
Batman and Rod In
On this bank, on the end peg, was Mick Stevens who had caught the 3lb 2oz perch in the previous qualifier on a trout livebait and he told me a better run and fight you would be hard pressed to have from any fish, as that big stripey battled all the way to the net and then again on the bank!
Mick explained he has only one tactic for pike and that’s a live trout, fished mid-water, on a helicopter, now at first I thought that was a bit a bit extreme and visions of that old 70’s Batman movie with the shark hanging off Batman’s leg who was hanging from a helicopter and the Duck Guzzler pike hanging from the swans leg became mixed and for a second.
I...I think it’s time for a cuppa!
Mick had no runs at all and the only action he had seen was fry scattering in the margins earlier but he had known them to do this even when a few of the lake’s large trout passed through.
Weigh-in for Wayne
The final two hours of the match were very slow with just two jack pike caught one of 1lb 13oz falling to leader Wayne Lutton, to give him a total of 13lb 1oz, the match and qualification for the final. Following him was young Dave Owen, with a jack of 1lb.
Talk of the day was the unseasonably mild weather and strong winds this, coupled with very few frosts, have made this winter a poor one for pike anglers, but that was not apparent at this event as I was ending the day with a completely different outlook on pike match anglers.
Having seen the friendliness and genuine camaraderie that’s involved at these supposedly competitive events I’m sure if even a tiny piece of their attitude to their fellow anglers was transferred to other sections of match angling maybe we would have a much larger attendances all-round, a huge database of modern de-classified, no longer secretive tactics, perhaps even an angling press that wasn’t obsessed with sponsored ‘star’ anglers.
Having witnessed these guys’ attitude to young newcomers during the match, who knows, we might even have a large increase in kids taking up the sport.
On this particular Sunday there were another three British Pike Championship qualifiers around the country so I rang the organisers and asked how their matches went and who was through to the final.
Finch Farm Fishery, Maidenhead
Michael Delaney reported:
“It was very windy on the lake today but Eric Bailey took first place with a tremendous 24lb 8oz fish which he caught on float ledgered roach. The weather’s been mild since the turn of the year, not exactly good piking conditions.”
Langold Lakes, Worksop, Nottingham
Tony Stevenson said:
“We had a pairs match today and the winning pair were locals L Bear and T Knighton with two fish for 18lb 3oz, both caught early in the match on ledgered dead roach fished at distance; we need some proper winter weather for the pike to start feeding up.”
Wellington Country Park, Reading
Steve Parker reported:
“We had 15 anglers here today with the very mild weather and the wind causing problems, very noticeable though was the fact that most of the fish caught came from the sheltered, colder, areas of the lake with Jason Woods (10lb 4oz) and Graham Exhall (6lb 3oz) both through to the final."
The British Pike Angling Championships
The British Pike Championships were set up over 30 years ago with the aim of raising valuable funds for the ACA, which has now been renamed Fish Legal and is the legal arm of the Angling Trust in England.
The British Pike Championship is the largest predator competition in Europe.
Regional qualifiers are held at fisheries all over the UK during the pike season by volunteer organisers, with those who qualify being eligible to fish the final, held the following November. The final usually sees over 200 anglers competing for the coveted winner’s trophy and Pike Championship title.
Each year the British Pike Championships raises funds to fight pollution and protect fisheries. The money raised helps support Fish Legal’s in-house legal team, which takes on legal cases against big businesses on behalf of member angling clubs.
For further information contact Sandra Drew at firstname.lastname@example.org
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