Scottish and Irish pilgrims have had spring pike fishing available to them for aeons but English non-travelling pikers have much to discover. Having said that, I really do hope that the ability to fish for pike on their spawning grounds, right through time they are actually breeding, will not blind those same anglers to the damage they could do to pike stocks.

On some waters, in some winters, male pike begin to group together, not always actually at the spawning site, but close to it, from as early as the beginning of January. The females, attracted by pheromones excreted by the males (and perhaps attracted to the groups of smaller male pike as an easy meal…) begin to show anything from 3 to 6 weeks later. February can provide on the right water and in good weather conditions some of the most prolific pike fishing sport of the winter season.

Unfortunately, not all waters run to form and in some, the large groups of pike are never to be found. In drains, some rivers, canals and even certain stillwaters for reasons which are not always entirely clear, the pike spawn in small groups, sometimes comprising a single female and two or three escorts. Their presence often goes undetected unless you are lucky enough to be in the right spot and happen to notice some lazy swirls and vortices caused by the female as she rolls and waivers her sides being rubbed by the attendant males.

Pike are (not quite) unique amongst the larger species of spawning coarse fish in that their antics are very casual, lazy and not at all obvious, unlike carp, and tench whose presence is obvious in their violent thrashing and cavorting.

Pike anglers often over-look a spawning gathering because, in its initial stage all they catch are the smaller males. Male pike very rarely get heavier than 8 or 9 lbs. and few modern pike fishermen are tolerant of such fish, so, finding a ‘hot spot’ of small pike they move on. If you ever find an area containing a growing number of small pike any time after late December keep an eye on it, fish it progressively until February then make you mind up. Remember my earlier point that the early gatherings of males may not be right upon the spawning site but may be a short distance away. Somewhere in the vicinity, come February and March will be the largest group of females outside of a full-blown ‘proper’ hot spot.

But where should you look?

On still waters (reservoirs, pits and lakes, quarries etc) water less than 6 feet that in the summer months is full of weed is an obvious choice. Areas of submerged trees, margins of dead rushes and if you are lucky enough to have a water with only one shallow area, are each spots to search out. Feeder streams may attract a few pike but they are less of an attractant than you might expect unless the stream is large enough to allow the pike to run up it.

On drains, and rivers canalised by man with mile upon mile of seemingly identical water finding a group of pike is much less likely. On some of these fisheries you might find a short stretch of shallower water amidst miles of otherwise standard depth, there may be beds of reeds or weeds confined to areas where other spots are devoid of such spawning material.

The important thing is to keep an open mind, not to become stereotyped and to watch what is going on. It’s worth repeating – don’t turn you back on an area full of ‘jacks’.

As far as fishing for pike at this time of the season, you’ll likely need rather more bait than perhaps you are used to. You’ll surely need a bit more patience as jack after jack takes your bait before the (numerically smaller) larger female gets to it. Hit it just right, at the time when only the females are feeding and you may make the catch of the season. Just occasionally weather conditions come together that spark a feeding frenzy amongst the larger fish and, wisely at these times, the small ones lie low. A rising atmospheric pressure cell is still the best ‘barometer’ to kick in such a feeding response.

Above all though, pike carrying spawn and males carrying sperm are the future sport of the water. Remove the larger, female, pike from the fishery and you may tip the balance so far the wrong way that its recovery never fully happens. The balance between predator and prey is a very delicate one and needs careful management and very careful angling. Take special care of female pike at this time of the season, and, as hard as it may be at the time, if you are catching a lot, or begin to see repeat captures, give the water a rest. This way, they’ll still be there next season.