In fact thereís probably little doubt that the very best pike fishing in the entire world is to be found along the fringes of the Baltic sea. I, myself, have witnessed the capture of one forty-seven pound fish. Iíve lost a fish that was at least seven or eight pounds larger. Iíve either seen or caught at least a dozen more Baltic fish over thirty pounds. Twenty pounders are considered normal. In short, the Baltic is the place for big pike.
The reasons arenít hard to find. Firstly, as we know, pike fishing thrives on neglect. Put it simply and the more a pike is fished for, the more likely it is to be caught, suffer stress and perhaps either die or have its growth rate slowed down. The less a pike sees a fisherman then the happier it is likely to be and the bigger it will probably grow. This is a huge advantage of fishing the Baltic: there are so many bays and inlets and fjords that many, many of them have never seen an angler in recent history.
Secondly, the Baltic has a huge variety of prey fish for the pike to wax fat upon. Roach and perch shoals are huge. Bream are plentiful and if this were not enough, there are constant influxes of herring and immature cod and bass. Yes, this is pike heaven all right and it wonít be long before one day somebody banks that magical sixty-pound fish.
WHERE AND WHEN
We are talking about a huge area of pike fishing here. There are, for example, pike in the seas around Copenhagen but things get very interesting indeed when you start looking at the area on Swedenís south coast around towns like Karlskrona. The fishing becomes dramatic as you move up the eastern seaboard to Stockholm and beyond. Vastervik is a top centre but anywhere there are fjords, bays and offshore islands then youíre in with a good chance of some sensational pike fishing.
Piking does begin as early as March but most local experts tend to take things very seriously from April and May when the big fish come close into the shallowy reed beds to think about spawning. Itís around this time that the really huge females can be located more easily and at this time of the year they can weigh very heavy indeed.
Perhaps the most exciting fishing, however, is during the early summer. June and early July is considered a prime time, especially a bit out from the shore where rocky islands thrust up from the deeps. Itís around these points that the pike lie in wait hoping to ambush passing herring shoals. In fact, a live herring on float tackle is possible the favourite bait of all. Later summer and autumn is also considered a good time as big fish often move back again into the bays to pursue shoals of perch and roach.
What you must absolutely realise is that this type of pike fishing demands the use of a boat. You just cannot get to the right areas from the bank and, anyway, mobility is a really important key to success. Fortunately, Sweden is a nation of boat lovers and virtually every village has its own little boat yard where craft can be hired reasonably cheaply.
Youíll also need an echo sounder of one sort or another. These are important, not to find fish so much as underwater islands and plateaux in deeper areas just off shore. Itís these sort of places that attract the bigger fish like magnets. A powerful, reliable motor is also a huge advantage. The Swedes themselves will often travel many miles during the course of a dayís pike fishing. If they donít hit lucky around the bays then theyíll be off looking for the offshore islands. The best Swedish pike fishermen donít give any areas more than half an hour or so fruitless fishing. If theyíve made a few casts without any response at all then the engine will be fired up and theyíll be off to the next hotspot.
Most Swedish pike fishing is done with artificial lures. Ideally, youíll use a relatively light spinning rod between eight and nine feet in length with either a fixed spool reel or a small multiplier. Lines should be around ten to fifteen pounds breaking strain and braids are considered excellent. All manner of plugs and spinners will attract pike. There is hardly a single one in the Rapala range, for example, that doesnít have its supporters. Generally, however, plug fishermen tend to go for bigger sizes, especially in blues, silvers, greens and yellows. A lot depends on the depth of water youíre fishing over: sometimes youíll need a deep diver whereas on other occasions even a surface popper will be called for. The obvious answer is not to stint on your armoury. If youíre considering a trip over to Sweden it doesnít make sense to save money on this most vital part of your equipment.
The Swedes themselves are very keen on using jigs for their pike fishing. The jigs are generally simply rubber fish between four and seven inches in length that are mounted on wire and a big single hook, cast out from the boat and then retrieved in an erratic fashion. The great thing about a jig is that it looks and feels much more like a real fish than any creation of metal, wood or plastic can ever do. Plugs, of course, are not made redundant but it certainly pays to consider taking some jigs across with you.
Live and dead baiting is practised. The problem is catching your fish baits in the first instance. Sometimes youíll find shoals of roach and perch in streams running out into the bays. These make tremendous baits. The really professional Swedes, however, think that small herrings cannot be beaten and theyíll catch these on tiny jigs, pieces of worm or even on fly tackle.
The obvious options are either ferry or flying. The obvious route is to fly into Stockholm and then to hire a car to get you to the fishing centres both north and south. If you want to take your own car Scandinavian Seaways will sail you to Gothenburg Ė a most entertaining passage in itself. You can, alternatively, drive up through Northern Europe to Copenhagen where a bridge is just nearing completion to take you over into Sweden itself. Doing things this way would mean you could take your own boat on a trailer if you donít like the idea of hiring.
You donít need a visa for Scandinavia but donít forget your passport. Also if youíre driving, check with your insurance company for any extra documentation.
Scandinavia is expensive but the strong pound makes this a good time to think about a journey. Itís a good idea to pick up some cash before you set off but virtually everybody accepts credit cards just as happily as they do in the UK.
The sea, generally, is free for anyone wanting to fish in it so you donít need a permit by and large. However, always check that you donít enter private bays by mistake. Some of these exist on large, privately owned estates where the fishing is prohibited.
Doís and doníts
Always keep an eye on the weather forecast and on how things develop during the day itself. Always wear buoyancy aids or lifejackets. Make sure you have enough petrol with a spare can stowed away safely. Always take oars and rollocks.
If youíre any distance from the coast, keep your eyes open for bigger passenger boats or trawlers. Itís very difficult for them to see you and to take evasive action.
Always make sure that the welfare of the pike comes first. Have an unhooking mat on the floor of your boat and make sure that all your pliers and forceps are easily to hand.
Always check with locals that there is no local ban on live baiting.
Always check that the bays that youíre aiming for are not out of bounds. Remember that youíre a guest in a foreign country and always behave accordingly.
If you are hiring a boat, always leave it clean and tidy with no rubbish left over at the end of the day.
Occasionally you will see nets strung out close to the shore. Do not interfere with these. They are placed there by local farmers hoping to catch a few fish for the table. We might not see this on pike waters back home but we have to respect local customs when we travel.