Standard techniques such as early striking, minimum handling and correct unhooking procedure are well documented and passed on to others at RA meetings or on-the-bank fish-ins. Sadly, like most things in life, these conservation measures have been learned the hard way and a lot of fish have suffered due to bad practice which in turn has led to the search for a better way to go about things. As we become more experienced at handling pike however, new problems rear their ugly head and demand a solution. The point of this article is to try and highlight some of the problems I have come across in an effort to stimulate debate within the club and, hopefully, uncover solutions.

Head-Up Hooking

Most anglers tend to hook their deadbaits tail-up. That is, with the upper hock in the wrist of the bait's tail and the lower or end hook in the flank. Livebaiters traditionally place the upper treble in the root of the bait's dorsal and the lower one in the root of a pectoral fin. There are occasions, however, when it becomes more convenient to place the upper treble in the head of the bait and the lower one down the flank. Examples might be float trolling. wobbling, drifter fishing or simply because the bait is a bit on the soggy side and a firm cast would see it fly off the hooks if mounted the conventional way. I have used the head-up hooking method myself many times but I'm becoming concerned about it. I noticed that a number of the fish I've caught have had a hook lodged in the gill area and as a result, bled profusely. For a time I thought this was coincidence but it's happened too often for that and I've come to the conclusion that head -up hooking is the cause. The reasoning is as follows; Pike invariably take a bait head first. With tail-up hooking this orientates the hooks perfectly for a good hook hold on the strike but if the bait is mounted head-up, the points of the hooks are facing away from the angler as he strikes. Thus the hooks have to twist through 180 degrees before they can take hold. Now if the top hook is lodged firmly in the head of the bait, this means that the bait itself will twist inside the pike's mouth - possibly towards the gills! I don't want to abandon head-up hooking as it can definitely give me an edge in terms of presentation but I have to solve this problem. I have adopted a policy of striking immediately when using head-up hooking but I still get the occasional pike badly hooked - anyone got any ideas?

Unhooking

Now this is going to sound a bit daft but I'm going to say it anyway, Waterproof overtrousers are good for pike! For me, the only safe way to unhook a pike is with the fish completely under control. That may sound obvious bat how many times have you seen an angler trying to unhook a fish that's being allowed to thrash around all over the place? The correct way to subdue your pike is to place it on its back on the ground with your knees if the fish tries to "kick" it isn't going to go very far because your lower legs are restraining it. The trouble is, after finding a nice patch of wet grass to lay the fish on, the angler is then reluctant to kneel down because he'll get his knees wet and have to spend the rest of the day with cold knees! The result is that he tries to crouch beside the fish and take the hooks out that way hence the thrashing pike. I usually wear a pair of Goretex overtrousers when I'm piking so I [Image] have no worries about kneeling on boggy ground. I've recently bought a nice big unhooking mat too and while it's handy for when there's no wet grass to lay the pike on, it's great for keeping my knees dry too - think about it! While on the subject of unhooking, it's always been something of a mystery to me why people advocate the use of an unhooking glove. Sticking your fingers under a pike's gill cover in order to open its mouth is a delicate business. The gills are the pike's most delicate organs and any kind of rough treatment in that area can be potentially fatal. That's why I- prefer to use un-gloved fingers so that I can 'feel' my way in without doing any harm but how much 'feel' can you get with a great thick glove? not much I'll bet! After all, the teeth you find so far back in the pike's throat are tiny little things which can't really do you any harm so why use a glove?

Hand Landing and Posing

No, I've nothing against hand landing as long as you know what you are doing but I believe the way you hold your fish can have a bearing on its health. I'm sure that lifting a fish by the gill cover alone is bad practice. I noticed many years ago that on some of the photographs where I was holding a fish vertically, by the gill cover, a streak of blood leading down from the gills was present. I'm no biologist but it seems to me that lifting fish in this way puts undue strain on a delicate area of the fish's body and is likely to cause damage. Indeed I believe that larger fish are more prone to damage from this than smaller ones since while a pike's weight increases by a function of the Cube as it grows, the cross sectional area of the various connective tissues in the head area is only increases by the square. The end result of this would be that if you were to lift a mega pike by the gill cover, you would risk pulling it's head off! Hand landing necessitates gripping the pike under the chin but please, as you begin to lift the fish out of the water, drop the rod and support the pike under the body with your other hand. It doesn't look as macho but it's better for the fish!

Lures

Damage to pike caused by large trebles as carried by many lures is a bit of a poser and causes anguish amongst those who do not lure fish. That large trebles do more damage than small ones is not an issue they do! The trouble is that larger trebles really are necessary on lures because unlike a live or deadbait, the body of the lure tends to mask the hooks. Moreover while a pike will take a little time to turn a bait, getting the hooks inside the mouth, a lure has to hook the fish instantly or it will be rejected as inedible. I know of some anglers who actually remove the trebles on shop-bought lures and install BIGGER ones because the lure doesn't hook well (the super [Image] shad rap is an example of a poor hooking lure). It seems to me that damage limitation is the only course of action when using big lures. I have taken the barbs off all of my lure trebles - an act which I know has cost me fish but which I also know has prevented some fish from getting into a right mess as I've been taking the hooks out. Moreover, I will not use more than two trebles on any lure, no matter how big it is. This makes it less likely that a stray hook is going to catch a fish in the eye. These two things also make it easier to land a pike using a net and reduce the need for handling as I talked about earlier.

Spread it About a Bit

It's all very well to practice good handling and pontificate about the way things should or should not be done but if the guy down the bank hasn't a clue and ends up killing a fish you yourself would love to catch it's all been a waste of time hasn't it'? You see if an inexperienced angler make a botch of it, it isn't his fault, it's yours! Ask yourself this; how did YOU learn'? There are really only two ways to learn things - by your own experience or by the experience of others. As I said at the start of this piece, learning by your own experience can have a detrimental effect on the health of any pike you may catch. As an experienced pike angler you have a duty to help and to educate less experienced people you may meet on the bank. This doesn't mean you should wait until they come to you with a problem - by then it might be too late. You have to approach them - because they don't know what they need to know and they don't know that you can help. I know this approach will be alien to a lot of people but it has to be this way. Secrecy and elitism can only lead to the death of our sport. I know many of you think that there are too many pike anglers chasing too few pike but we will never gain the status and recognition we need if we remain insular. Open your doors to outsiders and let them into your secrets - you never know they might let you into a few of theirs!