Trout fisheries, it seems, have finally woken up to the fact that pike anglers are prepared to pay big money for good quality pike fishing and more and more of them are taking advantage of it. Sure, some of these places have a rather one sided view of the situation and only use pike anglers as a means to cull the pike in their waters. There is a growing number, however, that are acting in partnership with pike anglers, benefiting from the extra revenue which pike fishing provides and using the proceeds to improve the trout fishing. This in turn improves the pike fishing still further as extra trout are stocked or facilities are improved and so the "virtuous circle" continues.
In time, as the economic pressure on fisheries increases, the majority of trout fisheries are likely to cotton on and so the pattern for the future will be set.
In the meantime, however, while we all think that pike fishing is having an impact on trout waters, the trout fisheries themselves are having a slow but sure effect on the way we fish for pike.
This effect manifests itself in many ways, some of them, undoubtedly, are beneficial, but others may well be changing the face of our sport forever and for some, not for the better.
In my view, the boom in lure fishing in recent years is, at least in part, due to the opening up of trout waters. There are specific examples which can be used to illustrate this, none more dramatic than the record breaking water itself. Llandegfedd has been a major influence in the promotion of lure fishing - even before Derek MacDonald came on the scene and showed us what can be achieved. From the start, lures began catching fish at Llandegfedd while deadbaits were a failure - and what fish were caught! Those early results stood pike fishing on its head for many people. The tried and tested big fish method, deadbaiting, produced few fish while lures, the "jack" method, was turning up forty pounders!
Of course we all know that there was a certain amount of skulduggery that went on back then, but it was clear too that a number of big fish had fallen to lures. I well remember that the talk of the day was of spinnerbaits, and how they had proved so successful there. The majority of English pike anglers had never even seen a spinnerbait at the time, let alone used one, yet they quickly became established as efficient fish-catchers.
Other waters followed a similar pattern, Esthwaite being an example. Esthwaite anglers like Dave Kelbrick soon discovered the efficacy of lures and used this to great advantage, taking a string of big fish. Once again, this was a water where lures did much better than deadbaits, even for very big pike.
It was the great size of these fish that was the key. Not only that trout waters fished well on lures but that there were really big fish being caught on them. Few people would have taken much notice of these happenings if twelve pounders were being caught - but thirty pounders, or bigger, make big news in the pike fishing world. Faced with the potential for a very big pike and armed with the knowledge about what methods will score, no sensible pike angler would ignore those methods for long - even if it means turning to that age-old "jack" method of lure fishing. People started to switch on to lure fishing in big numbers and the growth in its popularity continues today - ask any retailer who sells the things.
It might be argued that the lure revolution, for that is what it is, would have happened anyway but as an illustration that trout fisheries have contributed to this boom, cast your mind back twenty years or so. There have been aficionados of lure fishing around for a long time. Gord Burton, Barrie Rickards and many others sang the praises of lures back in those days and we all had a few plugs and spoons in our tackle boxes but it never really took hold. No, it was the kick-start provided by the trout water results that made the difference.
On the whole, the lure fishing boom has been a good thing for pike fishing. It's another tool in the piker's armoury, enriching the sport as well as making the pike angler the tackle dealer's friend! There is a slightly more insidious side to this story however. Lure fishing sits well with fly fishing, the similarities between the two methods are obvious, and it's no surprise that a number of pike days on trout fisheries are lure-only events. Lures have gained respect in the eyes of the trout fishery managers but that has been gained at the expense of other methods - and one in particular!
Alive, Alive Oh-oh!
If trout fisheries have had a beneficial effect on lure fishing, their impact on the ancient method of livebaiting has been less than desirable. Trout fishery managers are, quite rightly, terrified of disease. The introduction of any form of fish disease into their waters could have disastrous consequences for their stock and one can hardly blame them for taking steps to minimise that possibility. As a result, in many trout waters livebaiting is frowned upon. Indeed, even coarse deads are banned in some places while a number of fisheries don't even allow the use of deadbaits at all.
We all know that smuggling livebaits has gone on at these waters in the past. If we, the pike anglers know it, you can be sure the trout fishery people are not too far behind. It seems there is no end to the scams that are used to sneak lives onto trout fisheries. They can be carried in pockets, in flasks, in a variety of sealed containers and even carried in a state of suspended animation by putting the live fish, in a plastic bag, in a bag of frozen baits. People have been known to plant containers of livebaits submerged in the water they intend to fish the day before. Little wonder then that, faced with such imaginative ways of cheating, some fisheries ban the practise of bait fishing altogether. This simplifies the ranger's task considerably. Anyone sitting and not casting a lure is worth checking out and any sign of a float or a line trailing in the water is a dead give-away.
So, while one cannot blame the trout fisheries for being hostile towards livebait fishing, there is, I fear, a more sinister angle here too. The water companies are clearly not in favour of livebaiting, they have pressured us over it for years and since most trout fisheries are leased from them, it's not hard to imagine that they might apply some quiet pressure behind the scenes. What impact is this going to have on our sport? Livebait is beginning to be a dirty word in some quarters and it seems for all the world that this attitude is spreading to non-trout waters too. Couple this new-found hostility with the apparent success of lures and livebaiting is under more pressure than it has ever been. Will it disappear from the pikers' armoury as a method altogether? Time will tell, but it may be that there is precious little time left.
Sadly, a few pikers have let us all down on this one. Get caught translocating live fish on your local pit and, apart from a slap on the wrist and a fine, there are few consequences. Get caught doing it on a high-profile trout water and it's likely to make the headlines. Livebaiting is under pressure like never before and adverse publicity is just about the last thing we need.
One other facet of trout fishery piking is that it has introduced a good many anglers to the joys of boat fishing.
One can always spot the novices to boat fishing. Ill prepared with no proper anchors or fish-finder, they always seem to end up getting the boat into the most awful mess. This is no criticism really as we've all been there, but I wonder just how many pike anglers had their first boating experience courtesy of a trout reservoir. I expect it's more than a few and I'm sure that first taste has whetted many an appetite for more boat fishing.
There are relatively few places where you can fish for pike from a boat on this crowded island of ours and the fact that trout fisheries can offer this is a big plus for my money. It's a good way to learn to boat fish for, being surrounded by other, more experienced anglers, the novice boat fisherman has a great opportunity to learn the ropes. Trout fishery boats are usually well kept and built for the job, and there is always someone on hand to advise about safety and to lend a hand if someone gets into difficulty.
You don't have to be a novice to need help either. On a recent trip, a friend and I were having difficulty mounting the transducer to the sounder. One of the fishery's staff very kindly lent us the equipment we needed to overcome the problem and my friend ended the day with a personal best - a fish he probably would not have caught if the sounder had not been working.
Once you've learned how to boat fish, a whole new range of fishing methods is opened up to you. Not least among these is the deadly method of float trolling with deadbaits, a method which, in my view, rivals livebaiting for success, even in the depths of winter.
Mine's Bigger than Yours!
If trout water piking is guilty of one thing, it's that it creates unrealistic expectations for the average piker. Thirty pounders are really very rare in average fisheries - I don't have any in the waters I would regard as local, but trout fisheries are capable of throwing them up in numbers. I've been present on a few waters when four or more thirties have been caught in one day, along with a good few twenty pounders - exceptional fishing by any standards!
This rankles with the average angler who may not have access to such waters, or who perhaps can't afford the high fees. There is often criticism in the letters pages of the weeklies about the exclusivity that "name" anglers enjoy, gaining privileged access and this kind of sour grapes does cause divisions in the sport which we can do without.
This is a great shame for one has to keep a sense of perspective in these things. A twenty pounder may be a really big fish from your local waters and catching a string of low doubles/high singles is good fishing. I well remember Derrick Amies, when he gave a slide show up here in St. Helens many years ago playing down the size of the fish he had caught.
"If eighteen parnders is all you've got, then an eighteen parnder's a good fish" were his words, and how true they were.
Civilisation at Last
Last, but not least, it seems trout fisheries are starting to make us all a bit soft. With comfortable boats, proper landing stages, toilets and warm boathouses to retire to, pike fishing is taking on a whole new look. The fishing times often have to fit in with the hours worked by the fishery's staff - nine to five even! This makes for a late start and cooked breakfast before fishing. Compare this with the more familiar bedchair and bivvy approach which most of us have been used to for so many years and it seems that our sport is changing almost beyond recognition.
Good Lord, they'll be letting women in next!