When it really is that cold, and I do mean Siberian, only a couple of species of coarse fish can be relied upon to feed with gusto, that's grayling and pike. I left home at 4am, headed north and east, aimed in the direction of the top of the East Anglian 'bump' as I think of it. This area has something of a shortage of grayling rivers so - no prizes for guessing that we were after some pike. (Besides I bet you've already peeked at the pix). Despite Arctic driving conditions, after two hours driving I met up with my partners for the day and was pleased to discover that I was only fifteen minutes late. We lost no more time and left immediately for the venue at 20 mph, slipping on the sheet ice at every bend.
Gordy Howes and his pal Dickie were my partners for the day. They guided me in on the home run through the worst freezing fog that I have ever experienced to our final destination. A gate, beyond which was a white wall of fog, and beyond that, water. It was a drain, or dyke, slicing in a straight line across the countryside with, seemingly, no apparent features. Yet underwater features of some sort there must have been. Gordy said the pike were usually packed into a short 100 metre stretch here, and so it was this day. I can only assume that this is where the bait fish assemble for some reason, bait fish being the only real feature that pike (and pike anglers) are truly interested in. Apart from sex of course - that could be something to do with it. The guys didn't look that frisky though.
Setting up was a swift operation, we all had rods already assembled in our holdalls, and just as well, it was bitter! Threading up a pair of rods in that cold would have taken me an hour. We were ready to cast as the daylight arrived. Looking thirty foot to my left along the bank, I watched as Gordy flipped a coin through the fog into the water, studying it as it disappeared into the murky depths.
Mutter… "Coloured up" he cursed.
Dickie approached the waters edge. He too flipped a coin in but turned his back straight away, taking no notice of it's decent. I sensed a ritual and asked him, "Do you always do that then? Pay for your fish?". Yes, he did. Dickie had spent some time living in Scotland where some wily Scot (probably one with a diving outfit) had finally worked out one of the worlds greatest riddles, how to part a Yorkie with his brass. I waited until both the others were otherwise occupied before I too flipped a coin in. A French ten centime piece. I doubt that the pike would notice but the rivergods would at least be assuaged. I'm superstitious, but not that superstitious!
First fish went to Gordy I think, a low double. Then Dickie had one about the same size, then Gordy had another. Then it was my turn. And again and again. Loads of fish. We took turns on the runs until we got bored or forgot and took between us a shedfull of pike. We were using deads, seabaits. Gordy started out ledgering, I had floats and paternosters. Later in the day I switched on to a roving, trotted bait. Dickie had one rod on a float and another on a lead. The fog was so thick that we could only just make out the last rod from one end to the other of the stretch; at it's worst we had trouble making out the floats in the water.
It was interesting at the end of the day to compare the results that our different set-ups and approaches had brought. One thing stood out. The takes, though there were many of them, were each and every time very gentle ones, so it was interesting to see which rods produced the most fish. Virtually every rod had a different deadbait style applied to it but no matter how tight the line or heavy the lead or bobbin, whether it was on mono or braid, using a drop-off indicator, an open bale arm or tight bait-runner or whatever - and I think between us we tried just about the lot - nothing gave us such good bite indication as simply watching the floats. On that day, the three rods with the floats produced most of the fish. Perhaps it's just that we all automatically watch a float, no matter if there is a buzzer on that line or not, our eyes are always drawn to that piece of red on the water, so a take on a float is noticed long before an audible take on a leger. Or perhaps the float rods were being fished where the greatest concentration of pike were?
We also had a lure rod on the go. Gordy took a few fish on his Christmas prezzie lure rod/reel set-up, later switching to Dickie's short US style lure rod for the hell of it. I too tried something different. I tried to fly-fish. I had my doubts, thinking that it would be too cold and that my hands would seize up. In fact that wasn't the problem. The venue had too little space to cast in a social sense, plus the light trout rod and line I had with me were not really suited to casting whopping great pike flies and heavy traces. I need to gear up a little. But the real problem was, it was so cold that I couldn't aerialise the line - it became too heavy mid cast. I've heard of aircraft wings icing -up before, but never a fly line! Ice was forming on the wet fly-line in mid-air! Now, that was a first for me. I gave up after five minutes.
Traces. Now, here's the excuse for the trip. A couple of weeks ago our big-game writer Roddy Hays, sent me a couple of very interesting pieces of kit, that looked perfect for the pike angler, or so I thought. This trip was to evaluate the items under test conditions which was why we had driven so far to this prolific but remote location in such appalling weather conditions.
The first item was a knottable steel trace with the highly original name of Knottable Steel Trace from Australian tackle giants (or midgets?) the Shipton Trading Company. Giants or otherwise this company have some very interesting products. Believe it or not, this trace material does exactly what it says on the label. Made in France, it appears to be a multi-strand (similar to the Krystons etc) which has an outer sleeve of finely woven flat steel. The end result is, in effect, an 'armour plated' multistrand. Run it through your fingers and play with it - it feels and acts just like a stiff braid.
I took seven pike to 14lb 8ozs on this trace material yesterday. I also hooked (and lost on the barbless single hooks, won't use those again!) another five fish. Some of those pike were lightly hooked, others were deep hooked. Some came in quietly, others thrashed about all over the place. The point is, the material received a thorough and true testing in a real pike-fishing situation and came through it with flying colours. At the end of the day the trace looked and felt the same as when I started. Even those little jack-pike with the really, really sharp teeth caused it no obvious damage. No kinks either of course.
Oh, almost forgot - and you can tie knots in it. You can! I tried just two knots, because that's all I ever use. A doubled overhand knot to produce a loop, and a uni-knot/grinner-knot or whatever you want to call it. What I did notice is that you shouldn't tie it by going 'twice through the eye' as this does seem to weaken it. Once through the eye is enough and it will then keep its knot strength - more than once through the eye seems to strangle it, but that could just be the way I tie my knots! I used the 10kg breaking strain on this trip but I think it also comes in 8kg and 15kg and maybe others. For safety sake I would use the heavier stuff rather than the lighter when piking. It's pretty thin, comparable to QED thickness.
The lighter grades of this trace material could just be the answer to the livebait anglers prayer, combining the benefits of a flexible braid with a pike-proof trace. Big perch, barbel, chub - all could be targeted using live-fish baits by using this material. And how about those huge but tackle sensitive zander? More testing will be needed to confirm this suspicion. I would like to be able to say that the material would also be suitable for a pike fly-fishing trace but in truth, I haven't been able to try it properly yet. I can't see why not though and will be using it for just that purpose on future trips.
The other item of tackle that Roddy sent me was a gun shaped device made by the cuddly sounding Fuzzy Corporation of Tokyo. (That's in Japan in case any of my kids are reading this.) The gun is called the Releaseman and is designed to be a treble-hook remover.
What can I say. It is clever! You'll have to get one to experience exactly how it works as it's a bit complicated to describe in words. Look at the pictures. This piece of kit is obviously designed for world-wide distribution and seems to be the ideal tool for all lure anglers whether they angle in salt or fresh-water. My one came in a baby blue plastic with a very informative packet. Don't throw away the packaging until you have thoroughly digested the information printed on it.
Now a request. Please Mr Fuzzy Corp, make a Magnum 44 version of the Releaseman. It is such a great little tool but it could be even better if the barrel was twice, or even three times as long. We used it on a couple of occasions with the pike and I'm pleased to say that it worked fine. However it was rejected in favour of traditional forceps with the more deeply hooked fish simply because we couldn't get the barrel deep enough down their throats. Because of this I can't say the Releaseman is the ideal tool for the baitfishing pike angler. But I want to, because (as the actress said to the bishop) for the sake of a few more inches, it really could be.