Well funnily enough it's quite appropriate for this piece for a variety of reasons. What I want to tell you about is a technique for pike fishing that I've been using for several years now. One which, like the old Spike Milligan song from which I took the title, is a little bizarre but which is highly effective and which overcomes a number of problems that are faced in one particular angling situation.
Now, I do quite a lot of pike fishing. Whenever possible I like to pike fish on huge, windswept waters with breathtaking scenery and big wild fish that have never seen a hook before. That's all very well, but living in the industrialised North West of England, waters like this are very few and far between indeed. In fact there are none! Consequently I have to make the most of what I have. Ponds, reservoirs and pits all feature in my pike fishing - along with canals. Now canals aren't everyone's cup of tea but it's a fact that some canals offer very good quality pike fishing and one such canal is the Bridgwater which runs from Runcorn in Merseyside to Manchester.
The Bridgwater is quite a good fishery and has turned up some really big pike over the years, none to my rods I might add. Most of the canal is controlled by Warrington AA , the membership of which is quite modestly priced so the water is accessible to me in more ways than one and I do fish the water from time to time. Canal fishing is okay, but if you've ever sat on the banks of a canal, pike fishing, you soon realise how limiting they are. You can only fish the little piece of water just in front of you, some ten yards square really. If there's a pike or two in that square then you're likely to catch it but if there isn't
Most canal anglers like to try and give themselves some kind of an edge to improve their chances of picking up a fish. Fishing to features like basins, moored boats and canal junctions are the best known dodge. Leapfrogging the rods, and moving frequently are another while some people rely on heavily flavoured or scented baits to try and attract old Esox into the swim from a distance.
I wanted a method that covered the water much more than these however, a method that meant I could fish miles of water rather than merely yards and after taking a leaf out of the boat anglers book, I found one.
Boat Fishing Inspiration
My experiences with boat fishing for pike, and in particular trolling, brought me into contact with a piece of equipment known as a side planer. Side planers are used to troll lures and baits well out to the side of a moving boat. They are very effective instruments, riding out fifty feet or more and allowing the angler to present a bait well away from the boat. This means that two or even three lures can be trolled with little risk of them tangling and covering far more area that would otherwise be possible.
Having taken a few fish while trolling using a planer, it struck me that it could be adapted to suit my particular situation on the canal. If I could troll out to the side of a boat, I could troll out to the side of a towpath - and I wouldn't need a boat!
There are many proprietary makes of planer on the market but they are all basically the same. They consist of a rectangular board, usually plastic, of around eight inches in length which is weighted so that it sits on one edge when in the water. There are usually two attachments for the line, one fixed and one running. The fixed attachment is set in the side of the board, often on an extension arm and is designed in such a way that the line will detach from it under tension. The other attachment is simply a clip which can be fixed to the line but allows passage of the line through it.
The planer I use is called a 'Side-liner' and is made by a company called Wille. I bought mine from Cabela's in the US but I believe one or two tackle shops in the UK sell them also. I paid around $21 for mine and have had it for some years so it's not a purchase that's going to break the bank. This particular model has a useful feature in that, since the weights are internal and are able to shift (by simply tipping the thing up) it can be used as either a left-handed or a right-handed planer. That is, I can troll either East or West from the north bank of the canal - the only bank open to anglers.
The fixed attachment on mine is held away from the body of the planer by a rigid metal arm and the line clip itself consists of a pair of soft pads, which will not mark the line, forced together by a small spring. The tension on the spring can be adjusted using a wing nut so it can grip the line tightly or loosely, whatever the fishing situation demands.
Using The Planer
The actual mechanics of using the planer to troll a canal are quite simple. The bait, usually a livebait, is attached to a standard free-roving type rig incorporating a fairly ordinary float and enough weight to keep the bait from rising up to the surface. I find a weight of around one ounce is quite sufficient for this. There is no need for fancy trolling floats since the trolling will be carried out at a very slow pace incorporating frequent stops.
The livebait should be fished head-up on an ordinary trace but be sure to use an uptrace. This will prevent a bite-off should the livebait become entangled with the line above the weight. The weight should, of course, be positioned at the junction of the hook trace and the uptrace.
Don't try to fish this too deeply. The total length from float to hooks should not exceed the depth of the canal or you will be certain to start picking up plastic bags and other debris as you move along.
The rig is swung out to the middle of the canal where it sits while the angler attaches the planer. To do this, catch hold of the line between rod tip and float, clip on the rear attachment, and clip on the side attachment on the rod tip side of it. The planer can then be lowered into the water and you are ready to begin fishing. The bait should not be fished too far behind the planer or it will be more difficult to control and more susceptible to being blown about by the wind. Neither should it be fished too close to the planer or the drag from the planer may put off a taking fish. On the whole, I find it better to fish the bait close to the planer rather than far away. This aids striking which can be something of a problem - more of that later.
The technique is to draw the planer slowly through the water until it planes out to the desired distance. This distance is maintained by only allowing enough line out and then stopping it by flicking on the anti reverse. At this point, the baitrunner (if you have one) can be applied so that the reel will give line should you get a savage take from a pike. The angler can fish the planer, and the following bait, as far out from the bank as he wishes. It's probably true to say, however, that most features are on the far bank and I invariably find myself planing the bait out to the far shelf and trolling it along there.
It should be fairly obvious that you have to travel light if you're going to do this. I carry all my gear in a medium sized shoulder bag which is slung over one shoulder. This leaves one hand free for the rod and the other free to carry the net. When I get a take, the shoulder bag is easily slipped off and lowered to the ground. There is no room for such things as flasks and sandwiches. I usually leave them in the car, returning every couple of hours for a bite to eat.
It is very important to wear really good quality waterproofs. You might be out there all day with no respite from the weather and a cold trickle of water down the back is really going to spoil your day! Dress as you would for a day's boat fishing and you won't go far wrong.
The degree of control the technique gives is remarkable. It is possible to bump the float along the edge of a line of moored boats or to within an inch of overhanging bushes and trees. Basins can be scoured out by paying out line as the edge of the basin is approached, while shortening the line allows narrows and weedbeds to be negotiated with ease.
I find it best to use a long rod. This helps keep the line off the water - vital if the planer is to work properly. It also comes in handy when there are near bank obstacles such as bushes, boats and pole fishermen to overcome. There is no need to try and hold the line out over the water, the planer is all you need, so the rod can be held comfortably at its balance point with no strain on the arms.
The method can be used with deadbaits as well as lives. I prefer to move a little quicker when using a deadbait to try and impart a little "life" to the bait but I have to say that lives work a lot better.
Try this technique and you'll soon realise that you have to make a decision between walking forwards, relying on the baitrunner and the occasional backward glance to detect a take and walking backwards, watching the float the whole time. The hazards in walking backwards are fairly obvious - you tend to walk into things! This is not so bad as it might seem as the pace of the walk is a very slow one. In fact, the main thing I tend to come into contact with is the leavings of the numerous dogs that are walked along the towpath each day (ugh!) - make sure you wash your boots off at the end of the day.
Walking forwards is, I think, less effective as it is important to detect a take early on so that you can start to prepare for the strike.
I've been using this technique on and off for several years now but there's one thorny little problem which I've yet to successfully overcome - striking. When a fish takes the bait, I react in the normal way, allowing just a moment or two for the pike to turn the bait before striking. There are three methods that I've tried for striking, the first basically involves just winding down and pulling into the fish from where you are standing. The problem with this is that the angle in the line caused by the planer takes most of the power out of the strike and the fish is often lost or missed altogether.
Another technique, one which is slightly more successful, is to flick the line out of the clip on the planer and then walk backwards until you are level with the float, reeling in slack as you go. A firm strike normally sets the hooks but I have found that the act of flicking the line out of the clip is sometimes enough to make the pike drop the bait.
The third technique is to walk quickly away from the bait for twenty yards or so, paying out line as you go, in order to "straighten" the angle in the line caused by the planer. It's then possible to wind down and strike reasonably well. Of course with more line out, there's more stretch so that isn't a perfect answer either.
The jury's still out on the striking problem but I'm sure I'll get to grips with it in the end.
Bank trolling in this way is an excellent method to search out a canal. It's quite surprising how seemingly featureless areas can turn up little pockets of fish on quite a regular basis. Static fishing would never be able to locate these mini hotshots but once they are found using the planer, static fishing can be used to make the best of them until the fish move on. This is particularly important as the weather starts to turn colder in the Winter and the pike start to become more and more localised.
So as December approaches this year, I'll be walking backwards for Christmas once again!