Pike can be found in most water bodies provided it is well oxygenated and is not too acidic, being found in freshwater lakes with plenty of vegetation, rivers (including brackish water in tidal rivers) and canals throughout the UK. They are found throughout northern Europe and the USA.
Whilst Pike are believed to actively grow for between 10 – 15 years, of a possible 25 years, the maximum age is difficult to accurately know, because as they approach maximum size their growth slows down and eventually stops. They have always been the source of ‘fishy’ tales, folklore and rumour, with the maximum weight achieved having long been the subject of great debate and speculation.
Whilst the current British record in currently 46lb 13oz, a 47lb + fish was caught in Scotland but was later struck from the record lists, although fish to over 50lb are caught in continental Europe, with the largest authenticated being one of 58lb 6oz from Grarup Lake in Denmark. It is believed that due to more settled winter weather conditions, the Pike are able to maintain winter feeding: the unpredictable British weather does not allow this to happen.
The Pike is the perfect predator, with no need for evolutionary change, with fossils providing clear evidence of it remaining in its present form for over 60 million years.
Both their Latin name and the name for the small males, Esox lucius and Jacks respectively, provides interesting insight into human views of this species of fish, with Jack being a name for the Devil !
Pike are clearly predatory, both in nature and appearance. They are very well camouflaged, with a green back with green flanks overpaid with yellow to cream stripes when young that break up to form pale cream spots along its flanks, that lead to a white belly: its fins being orange in colour.
The elongated and streamlined body of Pike have both their large anal fin and single dorsal fins set well down its body, close to the powerful tail fin to generate explosive speed. Combined with a strong duck-like snout set on a powerful head with large eyes giving binocular vision. The strong jaws are armed with a considerable array of sharp, inward pointing teeth to disable and grip prey fish before swallowing headfirst. The Pike is a highly evolved ambush predator, added to which it also possesses the ability to change its body colour after a period of time to suit a changing environment.
The Pike have a number of sensory sources to aid its effective hunting skills with its large eyes sited providing binocular vision, it has a groove stemming from the front of it’s eyes running along the snout which acts like a rifle sight, aiding pin point accuracy when striking at it’s prey. Added to which, it has situated along its snout and the lower jaw, sensory pores that are part of the lateral line: these pick up scent and vibration from its aquatic environment mottled fish being found in weedy environments and yellower fish living in brackish waters. Older fish tend to turn brown and sometimes grey as they age.
Pike spawn early in the year between February and late April, this being dependant upon water temperatures reaching 6 –12 degrees C, so may start as early as February in a mild winter or end as late as May following a cold Spring. Spawning usually takes place in fairly shallow water, with single females often returning to preferred spawning sites, accompanied by 2-4 smaller males, known as ‘Jacks’.
As a result of the Pike spawning around 4-weeks before other fish, the juvenile Pike have a head start and are able to quickly feed on smaller fry of other fish species later in the year. This allows hungry spawned out Pike to feed on both fish and other species such as frogs, which are pre-occupied with spawning themselves. This in turns allows the Pike to regain peak condition and fitness through easy meals being freely available.
The whole spawning process may last several weeks. A really well conditioned female Pike are able to produce up to 30,000 eggs/kg of bodyweight, with a struggling fish producing only 15,000/kg. So whilst a young sexually mature 3lb Pike in very good condition is able to lay 45,000 eggs, a 20lb fish up to 270,000 eggs, a 30lb fish some 400,000 eggs and it is possible that a large well conditioned 40lb female could produce nearly 680,000+ eggs. Considering that the much smaller males are believed to often be attacked after spawning, it would take some brave suitors to approach such an impressive female if aware of their potential fate !
Depending upon water temperature, the eggs can take between 5-26 days to hatch, after which the 10mm long larval young adhering to aquatic plants and surviving on their yolk sac for up to 12-days. During this short time their body lengthens and their mouth and gills develop, they begin to feed on plankton before the fins fully form.
Although the chance of survival from a hatching egg to an adult Pike is extremely low at just 0.1%, their initial success rate is quite high with a hatch rate of approximately 50%. However, considerable predation from other fish seeking peak conditioning themselves prior to spawning, waterfowl and water beetles such as Diving Beetles, Water Scorpions and damsel and dragon fly larvae reducing their chances drastically, and that’s before the Pike start to devour each other.
At just 5cm, Pike will begin preying on other fish larvae/ fry and tadpoles, with cannibalism being very common, they quickly learn to hide in weed beds from both their own siblings and other predatory fish.
If they survive, and its clearly a big ‘if’, the juvenile Pike grow quickly and can reach 2lb in 3-years with males sexually maturing at just 2-years old and females at 4-years old.
Pike of 2-years old will feed almost exclusively on fish, although clearly this is dependant upon the availability of prey fish and competition within their habitat. Pike can feed on prey over half it’s length and will often turn cannibal. Despite popular belief, Pike do not need to feed often, as they only need to consume around 1.2 – 1.5 times their body weight a year to survive, however Pike consuming 2.5 to 3 times their body weight a year will clearly have improved growth rates and are likely to by healthier specimen.
The striped pattern of the younger Pike only remains for the first few years as this later breaks up to leave the mottled pattern of the adult fish, although occasionally the stripes remain and can result in very impressive looking, but quite rare specimens.
Male fish rarely grow in excess of 10lb in weight, it is the females that grow into the specimen fish of 20lb +, and it is these fish that are so highly sought after by specimen Pike anglers. But it s often the small Jack Pike that non-Pike anglers first encounter by accident whilst fishing for Roach, Bream Rudd and Dace.
Once adult, the only enemies that they have are larger Pike and the parasitic Lamprey, that can attach themselves whilst they lay waiting in ambush, and reduce the strength of the fish whilst remaining attached to its host.
Pike are probably the coarse anglers’ most sought-after predatory fish and although Pike look aggressive, they are a delicate fish when being targeted by anglers, and as a result there are special byelaws drawn up to protect the Pike – See the Pike specific Byelaws under 4.s. in the handbook.
ONLY Farnham Angling Society members that have attended a Pike Teach In and have an appropriate stamp in their handbook may fish for Pike on Society waters. Guests may fish for them, providing that they themselves have attended an FAS Pike Teach-In.
When tackling up for any Pike fishing on FAS waters, you must fish with a minimum of quality 15lb mainline and it is recommended that a 60cm nylon coated wire trace of at least 25lb breaking strain be used, remembering that all hooks, whether treble or single, must be semi-barbless or barbless.
Use more powerful than normal 2.5 -3lb test curve rods coupled with fixed spool reels, unless 3.5TC rods are required to cast large deadbaits at long range: remember to use shock leaders to avoid breaking off when casting and leaving a bait with treble hooks that will be come a death trap for any Pike unfortunate enough to swallow it.
Fishing for small or Jack Pike with light spinning rods can be great fun, but you can never be sure when a larger fish will strike, so be prepared !
The use of float fished livebaits (must be caught on the fishery that you are fishing at), can be very exciting and will often find smaller Pike willing to take the bait. By suspending a small livebait between 10cm – 20cm in length, (Roach and Dace are ideal, Perch, Gudgeon and Rudd are OK, but skimmer Bream are often weak and do not cover much of an area), beneath a pike float the bait will naturally send out distress signals that will attract your own intended prey. A speeding up of the float followed by it disappearing out of sight or an immediate disappearance of the float should be struck quickly to avoid deep hooking.
The use of dead freshwater (caught fresh on the fishery being fished or transported to the fishery when frozen) such as lamprey which are high leakage but long lasting baits, or sea baits can be very productive with the latter providing an excellent source of natural oils from mackerel, sardines, herring and sprats. Either legered or float fished, they can often produce the larger female fish which are more likely to scavenge. They can also be cast out and slowly retrieved, hooked to produce a ‘wobble’ that Pike find difficult to resist as it passes them or if they see them in clearer water.
Medium to large spinners, surface floating and diving plugs or jelly lures such as shads will all produce takes, especially if cast toward snags and likely lairs or feeding fish that are striking at prey fish causing them to scatter in all directions.
Currently, the Farnham Angling Society fisheries that offer the larger specimen Pike are undoubtedly River Valley and Frensham Little and Great Ponds with the River Loddon at Sindlesham Mill & Carters Hill and the River Wey at Elstead offering considerable potential. Both Mill Lane and Tarn Pond can also produce some good fish.
|Llandegfedd Reservoir, Wales
Pike lead solitary lives, lurking patiently under cover of snags, weed and reed beds, often in the warmer margins where smaller fish are plentiful, although they retreat somewhat deeper in midsummer. They wait for prey fish to swim close enough, their stealthy approach requiring tremendous acceleration from a static start to catch the fish quickly by surprise, avoiding a prolonged energy wasting chase. Adult Pike will take most small fish with Roach, Rudd, Dace, Perch & Trout commonly consumed. They will also take Frogs, Newts, Crayfish, young ducklings and small mammals such as Water Voles and Water Rats.
Pike consume large numbers of small-medium sized fish – about 99% of their diet – but appear willing to supplement this diet with other animals that they can swallow, including frogs, crayfish, waterfowl and rodents. Whilst Pike appear to prefer fish up to one third of its own size, they have been known to choke to death having attempted to eat other Pike of too large a size almost the same size as themselves. The larger female Pike often scavenge and take diseased, dying and dead fish, which provide an easier source of food, and in so doing undertake a scavenging role and assist in the maintenance of a healthy and well balanced fishery. Like all top predators, Pike will not eat more fish than would be sustained in a natural and healthy aquatic ecosystem, or they would simply perish themselves.
Human intervention can bring about imbalance and a breakdown in balance of predator and prey, usually bought about by the culling of larger Pike, leaving numbers of small Jacks (the word here if often used to describe small Pike of either sex), suddenly able to exist without predation by the larger Pike, explode in numbers over just a few years: remember that both sexes become sexually mature within 4-years. They in turn hit the numbers of prey fish and in time they are depleted, as time passes, a few of the largest females will start to once again feed upon the smaller Pike. However the numbers of male fish above edible size would have increased above normal levels and until the number of smaller and larger males eventually reduce through age and lack of food, the population of prey fish will only increase slowly and gradually increase over time: this cycle could take many years before the ecosystem regains its natural balance.
It should also be remembered that the Pike within a fishery ensures a healthy balance through the removal of smaller and weaker fish, reducing the numbers of smaller fish and allowing those remaining to achieve better average size in each year class resulting in healthier stock and avoiding outbreaks of disease in unbalanced stocked fisheries: it also avoids the stunted populations that are often the result of having a water without predators.