"I envy not him that eats better meat than I do, nor him that is richer, or that wears better clothes than I do, I envy him, and him only, that catches more fish than I do." ~ Izaak Walton, 1653
The Pike
The pike - often described as the freshwater shark or water wolf - does not seek the company of others preferring instead to lie in ambush and bide its time waiting for the moment its prey - whether furred, feathered or scaled - betraying itself with a fatal error of judgement swims within range of its explosive acceleration and cavernous jaws. To discover where to fish for pike in Scotland click on the pike.
Spawning, Growth & Capture
Appearance, Habitat & Behaviour

Its appearance is quite unlike that of any other freshwater species with large eyes set high upon a distinctively long and flattened broad head and whilst its lower jaw is heavily armed with canines used for catching and holding its prey - before being turned and swallowed alive - the inside of the mouth, including the tongue, is adorned with a myriad of small needle sharp teeth almost all of which point backwards down the pikes gullet affording little opportunity for escape to any once engulfed by this top predator.

The elongated almost torpedo like body is beautifully streamlined with the dorsal fin set far back and symetrically opposite the anal fin which when allied to its broad muscular tail allows the pike to propel itself towards its target at great speed whilst its capacious and heavily armed jaws are designed to easily accommodate sizeable quarry.

The pikes colouration is truly a wonder of nature subtly harmonising as it does with its surroundings sporting an often dark olive back with greenish grey flanks with an almost silvery sheen most handsomely marbled with highlights of primrose yellow. Both the dorsal and anal fins are light olive often speckled with black whilst the pectorals and ventrals sport a russet orange hue with a broad and powerful tail displaying light olive and striped black detail. As the Pike ages their colouration may mature and darken somewhat with browns, olives and greys frequently dominating in its latter years.

Although the pike is predominantly a sight hunter it is also equipped with extremely sensitive highly tuned sensors situated at various points on the head and along the lateral line allowing detection of both minute vibration and pressure variations which can be used to home in on its potential prey during periods of low visibility. When you consider that allied to this radar like quality they also possess an acute sense of smell easily capable of following a scent trail for considerable distances then you will perhaps begin to understand and appreciate why Esox Lucius has survived on planet earth for more than 60 million years !

Indeed early fossils of the species Esox Lucius have been unearthed from the Cromer Forest, West Runton, Norfolk, dating as far back as half a million years which illustrates very well how the voracious pike is not only a highly evolved top UK predator but also the ultimate survivor.

In Ireland however this story differs with strong evidence suggesting pike were only introduced there by monks as recently as the fourteenth century.

Being opportunist feeders they are well able to take full advantage of whatever food source is most readily available to them throughout the season and whilst many a migrating trout or salmon smolt may have reached its final resting place in the stomach of auld esox it will be - on the vast majority of waters at least - the other resident coarse fish, its own brethren included, that suffer far greater predation.

Sadly, due mainly to the many unfounded myths, legends, fairy stories, tall tales and utter damned nonsense that have surrounded the pike for generations, they have often found themselves a much maligned and persecuted species with many a highland ghillie blaming the presence of pike for a perceived decline in game fish stocks. The truth of the matter is that the pike plays an extremely important part in the waters ecosystem preying as they do mainly on those fish which are already sick, wounded and dying and when man intervenes, mistakingly believing that he can improve the game fishing potential, what follows is often disastrous with the previously existing delicate balance between the species which had evolved over many many years being destroyed.

This arrogant meddling with nature by man usually consists of the removal of the largest pike in the water by netting and culling. With this removal of the larger specimens - the very pike that had previously actively fed on the smaller jack pike and kept their numbers under control - what follows is often an explosion in the numbers of the remaining small jacks which can now set their sights on coarse fry, trout fry and salmon parr with a vengeance now freed from the fear of predation by larger fish. It is then perhaps not hard to understand that with the proliferation of small jack pike in the water the future stocks of trout and salmon can be decimated. Perhaps the morale of this sorry tale should be . . . don't go messing and meddling with nature and she will find her own naturally sustainable balance.

Whilst it's undeniable that on rare occasions the voracious pikes attention may well be drawn to the surface commotion caused by ducklings, rats , amphibians or water voles and indeed will be tempted by such creatures these will make up only a tiny proportion - well under 1% - of the pikes annual dietary requirements.

Just for continued survival - in a stillwater environment - the pike is required to consume something in the region of between one and one and a half times its own body weight in prey flesh annually whereas to sustain a normal increased growth rate something in the region of x2.5 and x3.25 of its own body weight must be consumed. This ratio unsurprisingly increases in pike that inhabit rivers and here, dependant on strength of current, up to x5 its own body weight must be consumed each year for growth.

These dietary requirements compare quite favourably with the Brown Trout which requires up to seven times its own body weight for growth.

Normal pike growth in ideal circumstances shows a weight conversion rate of prey fish to pike flesh in the region of between 1:5 and 1:10 which equates to approximately a one pound annual weight gain for every five to ten pounds consumed.

Being the apex predator a healthy pike population reflects very well on the waters ecosystem and within such an environment esox lucious will generally be found in well oxygenated water wherever best affords the opportunity to ambush passing prey. Their adopted lair varies depending on venue from reed beds, sunken trees, sudden depth changes causing channels or depressions, mill ponds, canals and rivers, slow moving back eddies and at the confluence of side stream and main flow. All of these situations allow the well camoflauged pike to lie patiently in wait for an unsuspecting meal to swim past and although pike, apart from when actively engaged in spawning, may be considered solitary fish they do on rare occasions form small groups which drive shoals of fry into bays or other cul-de-sacs where they are more easily taken.

Although the current official UK record is the one taken from Llandegfedd, Wales by R.Lewis in 1992 it is my own personal belief that a great injustice has been perpetrated and that the true holder of this accolade should in fact be Tommy Morgan with his fish of forty seven pounds eleven ounces taken from Loch Lomond in 1945. This fish was regarded as the UK record for 20 years before a highly dubious and arguably political decision was taken, entirely unjustifiably, to remove it from the records on a previously unrequired technicality. However I will allow you reach your own conclusion as to where the truth might lie after you have read the following verified data regarding the authenticity of Tommy Morgans Pike.

Spawning takes place in shallow weeded areas, flooded meadows and in the margins of swollen rivers during spring with the actual timing of this event being dictated largely by the water temperature which requires to be a minimum of 43 degrees fahrenheit / 6 degrees centigrade. This generally means that the majority of spawning activity usually occurs during March and April though some activity extends either side of this period which allows a greater opportunity for the survival of at least a proportion of the years stock should any catastrophic event such as flooding or extremely low water conditions occur.

The actual spawning itself is a fairly laid back affair with the large female swimming sedately alongside up to four male consorts depositing simultaneously both milt and eggs as they travel. With the males being considerably shorter than the females the released milt forms a cloud just in front of the females vent which ensures a high rate of fertilisation - with 50% success frequently being achieved.

As is so often the case nature has a trick up her sleeve to ensure that these large females are afforded the best opportunity to survive, thrive and return to spawn in future years - at a time when she finds herself in very poor physical condition - she is surrounded by a larder of amorous jack pike from which she can select an extremely high protein meal and satiate her appetite. Another factor in their favour is that with their spawning taking place ahead of most other fish they will be in an ideal position to feast on these other species when it is their time to spawn and in so doing rapidly build up essential muscle tone and condition for the year ahead.

The same advantage is afforded the young pike fry as having hatched earlier they will have grown to sufficient size to feed on the fry of other species as they themselves hatch. Though pike may become sexually mature in their second or third year it is primarily size rather than age which is the relevant factor with a 3 lb pike being able to produce something in the region of 35,000 eggs whereas a 28 pounder is well capable of laying 300,000. The time from egg fertilisation to actual hatching various quite dramatically and once again this is dependant on water temperature, as an approximate guide they will take somewhere in the region of 25 days at 43 degrees fahrenheit to hatch and as little as 5 days at 65 degrees fahrenheit.

When the eggs hatch the tiny pike are around 6 to 9 mm long and at this time they remain largely inactive suspended from aquatic plants for the first ten days or so surviving on nutrients from within their yolk sac. After this period their body elongates and the mouth and gills form and with the first stage of their development now complete they adopt a horizontal orientation in the water and begin feeding on plankton. Shortly after this the fin development of the now recognisable young predatorial pike is complete and it begins feeding on aquatic invertebrates, tadpoles, caddis and dragonfly larvae whilst at the same time being alert to the dangers of being eaten itself by larger fish or predatory water beetles who's voracious appetite can see the demise of up to five small pike in as little as two days.

Growth rate at this point is fairly rapid and after the first three weeks the perfectly formed young pike can expect to have attained a length of 3 cms and by four weeks this will have increased to 4 cms or more dependant on food supply.

With the young pike now spending most of its time hiding among weed beds utilising its stripey camouflage to good effect a fair degree of cannibalism - predation on its own kind - will have occurred. By the end of its first summer it will have grown to somewhere in the region of 15 cms - approximately 6 inches - and this rapid growth in length will continue for the first three years of its life at which point it will reach sexual maturity and whilst its weight will continues to rise the rate at which its length increases begins to slow down somewhat, to have survived this long the pike can consider itself to be a very fortunate fellow indeed with only an estimated 0.1% of eggs laid surviving to maturity.

The ability of the pike to attain considerable size is largely dependant on the quality and abundance of food and the competition for that food within any given water. Though pike may live as long as 25 years it will likely only be able to sustain significant weight gain during the first 12 or 15 of those. The male is much smaller than the female and grows only to between 50 and 80 cms whereas the female can reach up to 130 cms in length. Male pike as a rule generally do not grow heavier than 10 lbs so any pike captured above this weight is highly likely to be a female and will be well capable of consuming fish up to 5 lb in weight with ease.

It is absolutely essential that the welfare of the actual fish itself is the number one priority at all times and anglers must never forget that this point is of paramount importance. When dead baiting, to ensure the avoidance of deep hooking, do not endanger the pikes life by allowing it to make a second run and instead time your strike when it is apparent that the bait, whether it be ledgered or float fished, is on the move. Far better to strike early and perhaps fail to hook the occasional fish than to find yourself involved in a life and death scenario struggling in a frantic race against the clock to extract both trace and trebles from the gullet of a deeply hooked pike.

Apart from the actual timing some care must also be given to the manner of the actual strike which should be done in a confident fashion by winding down with the rod tip pointing towards the fish until some resistance is felt when the rod should be swept backwards firmly to set the hooks, thereafter it is essential to maintain continued constant pressure on the fish at all times as this will allow a firm hook hold to be secured should the pike subsequently release the bait, any abrupt jerking of the rod at this moment or during the ensuing battle could very well result in the bait being pulled from the pikes jaws.

As for the actual tackle itself, more detailed information follows, but the following guidelines will suffice as a general starting point for those with a mindset to engage in battle with mighty esox lucious.

* Rods for bait fishing should be of between 2.5 and 3.5lb test curve and somewhere in the region of eleven and thirteen foot in length as it is essential for the pikes welfare that it is captured and returned safely to the water without unnecessary delay, light rods will most likely simply prolong the battle, exhaust the fish and subsequently endanger its life.

* For spinning with lures, to allow a reasonable chance of gaining a decent hook hold in the bony jaws of the pike, a stiffish rod in the seven to ten foot length would be fine.

* Fly fishing for pike requires a fly rod capable of handling large flies and heavy lines, a dedicated pike fly rod would be the best option here, nine foot or thereabouts in length and able to handle a number ten line.

* Whatever the favoured type of reel may be for any of the above methods the one constant is that it must be reliable and large enough to hold sufficient line with an absolute minimum of 100 metres being required and in certain circumstances considerably more.

The mono line should be of no less than 15 lb breaking strain and if rocks and heavy weed are anticipated then this should be uprated to 20 or even 25 lb breaking strain, if braid is used then this figure can rise yet further to 30 lb breaking strain. The use of semi barbed trebles is highly recommended or at least trebles with the barbs flattened as this will allow for much easier and speedier removal of the hooks which themselves should be no larger than size 6.

Apart from the above there is also the following requirements to ensure that when captured the fish can be returned to the water without injury to fight another day. A suitably large micromesh landing net, an unhooking mat, long handled forceps, strong wire cutters, weigh sling , scales and some form of bite detection or alarm system used.

The net should be somewhere in the region of 30" to 36" and of sturdy construction. An unhooking mat is essential so as to ensure the pike sustains minimal damage whilst being unhooked and on no circumstances should a pike be laid on a rocky or abrasive surface, soft grass is acceptable an unhooking mat much preferable and when boat fishing a foam sheet can be deployed to protect the fish and help subdue it lest it should thrash about and damage itself, you must not forget you are dealing with a surprisingly delicate creature so great care must be taken at all times to ensure its safety.

Long handled locking forceps, wire cutters and light bolt cutters should be at hand during unhooking and there should be no hesitation in using these to cut wire and hooks to facilitate their quick removal.

Traces should be approximately 15 inches in length and whether shop bought or home made top quality materials should be employed in their construction, a breaking strain of 28 lb should suffice.

The weigh sling and scales can then be utilised and if all has gone well a quick photograph can be taken as required, there is absolutely no place in todays pike fishing for the barbaric practice of hooking the weighing scales under the jaw of the pike and suspending it for weighing. If the unhooking has taken longer than anticipated and a photograph is still deemed necessary then please take the trouble to get the fish back in the water and nursed back to health before a photograph is even considered.

Whether live baiting or dead baiting correct placement of the hooks in the bait is of paramount importance so as to ensure that the pike is not only successfully hooked but to minimise the likelihood of deep hooking so please be mindfull of the earlier advice regarding striking on the first run. In general, when live baiting, the top hook is placed in the dorsal fin and the second behind the pectoral. When ledgering with dead baits the top hook goes in the tail root and the second no further along the bait than the dorsal fin. Successful deadbaits come in many guises, with smelt, eel section, mackerel, roach, trout, sardine and herring either fresh or frozen being favoured at certain locations, the larger baits can provide two baits by being halved. With the pike responding best to different baits at different venues it is only by trial and error on any given day that the best option for success can be established with any certainty.

When live baiting remember that the removal, transportation and subsequent relocation of live fish from one venue to another is entirely illegal within the British Isles and should not under any circumstances be contemplated. Therefore please ensure that any live bait used has been captured from the actual venue being fished to do otherwise is not only illegal but also extremely irresponsible as there is a very real threat of infection and disease being introduced to an otherwise healthy and thriving fish stock.

Furthermore it should be noted that livebaiting itself is entirely prohibited in Scotland.

When spinning, once again it is essential that a trace is employed, and it is well worth periodically checking the last few feet on mono to ensure that rocks and snags have not caused it to wear or otherwise deteriorate, if this occurs simply cut off a few feet of line and dispose of it in a responsible fashion by snipping into short two inch lengths and taking them home.

The actual lures themselves often come ready armed with some seriously heavy duty trebles and so it is well worthwhile investing in a pair of long handled light bolt cutters so these hooks can be efficiently removed if a pike has engulfed your lure.

Fly fishing for pike, as already mentioned, requires not only a powerfull rod to subdue the pikes searing runs but also to effectively turn over the heavy leaders and large flies. Weight forward, shooting head and special pike taper fly lines are now widely available to choose from and these allied to short leaders of about 6 foot in length and 15 to 20 lb breaking strain should suffice. On a safety note it is strongly advised that you should employ some form of eye protection when fly fishing for pike as it can become rather dangerous at times especially when the wind blaws.



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