Absolutely central to pike conservation is the early detection of a 'run' or a 'take' and the more precise the rig you choose, therefore, the better the chances of detecting a 'run' before the pike swallows your bait. This always assumes, of course, that the angler is sitting close enough to the rod(s) to see or to hear the take, is awake, alert even (and always be alert, remember, your country needs lerts!) and not two hundred yards away chatting with other anglers
Good run detection does not require an expensive electronic alarm (though it can help), I fancy drop-off indicators, swingers and the like. In fact, certain of the swinger-type of indicator can positively detract from early bite indication because of the inertia built in to the system. Drop-off indicators tell you too little about what is happening after the initial take is registered.
The most immediate form of indicator is the surface-fished float of course, though there are a number of fishing conditions when a surface float is not entirely practical. These include extreme range fishing in certain conditions, fishing in flowing water with a strong current, fishing anywhere the water is shared with boats and when fishing a new venue when you don't want other anglers to realise you are pike fishing! Additional benefits of using a float, quite separate from bite detection, include the fact that a float holds the line above snags and the like although, it goes without saying this means additional drag on the line in flowing water or with a heavy undertow.
For these and other reasons you may find the only course of action is to fish a sunken float but then, it is not a lot of use as a run detector. In this article I should like to describe a thoroughly reliable system that, in my opinion and after many years of use is as foolproof as any and probably better than most by offering a sound and immediate method of run detection.
Central to just about any good bite detection method is knowing exactly what is going on beneath the surface whilst giving the angler the earliest possible indication that a fish is mouthing the bait. In pike fishing, 'mouthing' the bait means engulfing the bait in most cases (and in just about as many cases swallowing the bait) and this latter is precisely what we don't want to happen.
I've never been able to predict when pike will swallow the bait quickly and when they won't - it varies from water to water, day to day, season to season so the only approach is to assume that every pike that takes your bait intends to swallow it quickly. To ensure safe hooking you need to know as soon as possible when the pike has picked up the bait to enable you to wind down quickly and to strike solidly.
Rule number one therefore is that you must be seated (or standing) close by your rods.
Rule number two that your tackle is set up in such a way that you can detect minor movements of the line.
Rule number three that you act upon any sign no matter how slight that might indicate a 'take'.
If you assume that a slight slackening of the line is due to a change in the wind direction, or a fish swimming past and brushing the line, you'll endanger very many pike - and be sure that too many pike are deep hooked. If you cannot be bothered to take up the rod and feel for changes in pressure on the line (which may be caused by pike ever so gingerly mouthing the bait) you are fishing with a lazy approach and it might be best if you went home for a sleep! It is imperative that all line movements are investigated.
Most takes, of course, leave you in no doubt but can you be sure what has been going on before the run develops? Unless you can be sure you cannot afford to leave the run for a second longer. If, on waters where the pike do, genuinely, need a bit longer to 'pouch' the bait than is usual (and such pike-waters do exist) you need to know that the pike has only that moment picked up your bait, otherwise you'll be striking too soon! These things are important and you need to know what you are doing and how to react.
Early detection of a take requires a balanced set-up centred about a tensioned line, a buoyant float, sufficient lead to tether the bait against each of these things and a sensitive indicator that acts as soon as possible once the bait is picked up. These factors apply whether you are fishing a live bait or a dead bait, whether you are fishing a paternoster or a bottom fished bait - the principle is exactly the same. Balance and counter-balance need to be built in to your tackle so that any line movement acts against one, the other or both.
As much as I like to watch a float (and few angling sensations are more satisfying than seeing a float glide away and beneath the surface) a balanced pike rig is suited to a sunken float rather better. This is because the sunk float is constantly trying to bob to the surface and in so doing, any slackening of the line (such as when a pike picks up the bait) is taken up by the float rising in the water. By doing so, the 'bobbin' positioned on the line, between two rings, has to react in some way.
A surface-fished float, unless set to exactly the depth of the water (and in which case you'll be forever checking and re-checking the depth almost every time you recast) can shift position without necessarily moving the line at the rod which means that the very early stages of a run might just be missed.
To maximise the effectiveness of a sunk-float system the lead/bait combination must therefore be heavier, or must create a drag greater than the buoyancy of the float. If the lead only just counters the buoyancy of the float it is perfectly possible for a pike to run with the bait without any indication at the rod.
The above discussion covers the central issues affecting good bait presentation necessary for accurate and immediate run detection. We'll now take a look at the rig itself and how to set it up.
In essence it doesn't make any difference whether you are live or dead-baiting though for simplicity I'll describe a dead-bait rig with a bait fished on the bottom.
First of all, always use an uptrace. The hook trace needs to be no more than 12 inches in length, and of twisted wire not less than 20 lbs breaking strain. Via a swivel the hook trace is attached to the uptrace which must be longer than the hook trace by several inches (this is to ensure that should the hook trace double back on casting it still falls short of the reel line and cannot therefore come in to contact with the pike's teeth). A second swivel at the opposite end of the uptrace is tied to the reel line. I am firmly convinced that the lead should in some way be sliding on the uptrace for the rig to be properly functional. This is for two reasons.
Firstly, pike will sometimes drop the bait if they feel a sudden and additional weight (or drag) on the line after they have taken the bait and intend to run with it. This can result if the lead is free running on the reel line and may therefore be some distance from the trace (this depends how carefully you have tightened up after the bait hits bottom).
Secondly, with the lead sliding on the uptrace the pike will feel the drag of the lead as it takes the bait and will assume it to be part of the bait itself. However, we don't want the lead to be fixed in such a way that, should you get a break-off, the lead remains permanently tethered to the trace and to the pike. You can use any one of the semi-fixed lead/breakaway arrangements popular with carp anglers to achieve this.
The float is set to run freely on the line, coming to rest against the top uptrace swivel, although I would suggest you set the stop knot at one third to half the depth of the water. This should ensure that, irrespective of the drift, the current or the undertow the float is in direct contact with the bait/lead combination. And shifts its position immediately the bait is picked up. In some ways we are using an adapted lift-method.
Make your cast and 'check' the line as the bait sinks so that all of the line between the float/bait and the rod is beneath the surface. You'll feel the bait hit bottom by a sudden slackening of the line. At this point ensure you don't let go any slack line from the reel; instead very carefully take up the line until you are quite tight to the bait. Place the rod in two rod rests (the rear one merely supporting the handle behind the reel), with the front rest (which ideally should be an electronic bite indicator of the Delkim variety, not a drop-off type) between the butt ring and the next ring up. The second ring should be positioned literally one inch in front of the indicator. Next, put the 'bobbin' on the line between the butt ring and the bite indicator. I use simple plastic cylinders made from discarded spice tubs which I loop over the line. Let out just enough slack line from the reel so that the bobbin is suspended two to three inches below the rod.
There is a simple physical principle in use here. With the line running over the electronic indicator and 'supported' by the ring in front of it, it forms a very sensitive suspended system that can be fine-tuned to the prevailing water conditions. It is at its most sensitive when you pull gently downwards on the bobbin and it springs fairly rapidly back up but doesn't stay up, instead it falls back to its position two or three inches below the rod.
With a bit of practice you quickly become accustomed to the position of the bobbin so that even very slight movements of the line, changing the position of the bobbin up or down, are quickly noticed. You might need to adjust the alarm to a reduced sensitivity if the water conditions constantly cause it to sound and you do this by de-sensitising it to the point when it sounds at a point just less than the pull on the line caused by the current.
Pike running strongly away from the rod bring the bobbin up sharply; pike moving little with the bait usually cause the bobbin to drop, even ever so slightly. Either way, if you remain attentive you'll spot what is happening. I've stressed the value of an electronic alarm because it does give the angler just a bit more notice of impending action and also because it gives us the chance to look around! The sensitivity of the rig/bite-indicator is every bit as good if you dispense with the alarm and use a rod rest designed to give free movement of the line. You'll need to be a bit more vigilant if you chose this system.
That's about it! Perhaps it sounds a bit 'fussy' initially though you'll soon get used to the set up, how to fine-tune it to prevailing conditions and how sensitive it is to a take or run. I've used this set-up for many years and it has never let me down - basically because it can't! Like so many things in life it is the simple ones that work most effectively.
In closing, it is always worth stressing that central to all our activities, we, as pike anglers should do what is best for the pike. A little care, here and there, helps to conserve pike (and every individual pike is entitled to that) and thereby our future fishing.