Pike-man Joe Bednar has some great advice
about equipping yourself with the basics, both in
gear and in fishing knowledge, to become a better Piker.
In our never-ending search for more and bigger pike or whatever the species, it’s probably safe to say most of us concentrate on finding out what is new and exciting when it comes to tackle, techniques, lures and the like. Pike-ManNothing wrong with this ofcourse, but in constantly searching for what we haven’t learned or heard of before, it’s easy to not stop and think about the basics of our sport. I know I am guilty of this, always searching for new info and trying to write about it, and forgetting about the very essential elements that I (we) seem to take for granted. So I submit it’s time to take a good look at the basics of pike fishing, namely tackle and some other fundamental information, using the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle.
Rods and Reels – No startling revelation here but buy the best you can afford. I bet I’m not the only one who has a basement cluttered with cheap rods and reels getting dusty after being replaced by better versions. Sure wish I had bought good stuff to begin with. And in my opinion quality equipment need not cost a fortune, there’s a point of diminishing returns as you go up the quality and price scale, a $200 baitcaster doesn’t really offer that much more than a nice $50 – $90 version if you ask me. But the $50-$90 job is probably twice as good as a $29.95 bargain with plastic gears.
Assuming you catch my drift on getting equipped with a certain minimum level of quality, what do you really need as far as basic outfits? That of course depends on where and how you do most of your fishing but assuming many of you fish in a variety of places using a variety of tactics, I really believe you could do quite well with not more than 3 or 4 basic yet versatile set-ups. I’d vote for a 6 1/2 to 8’ medium heavy spinning rod and reel with 10 or 12 lb. test, a medium/heavy baitcasting set-up with about that same rod length and 12 to 15 lb. line, a heavy baitcaster with 17 to 20 lb. test or more for bigger baits and fish, and a 9 or 10 weight fly rod and reel if you choose to use that method as well.
This might seem too limited but let me briefly explain. The spinning rig is extremely versatile, handling many live/dead bait applications and essentially any light to medium/heavy pike lures. The medium/heavy baitcaster is nearly as versatile. Though not as suitable to lighter lures and baits, it’s a better trolling system, a great caster and a fine live/dead bait set-up. The heavy baitcaster allows for big baits and lures for big fish, trolling and casting them better than a spinning rig or lighter caster any day in my opinion. And the fly rod, though perhaps not as versatile, gives you one more rig which allows you to handle that approach as well, if you choose too. Yeah you can use many more than these 3 or 4, in fact I regularly use 8 (and have 16 others lying around) but I submit that the above will fit most any situation very well. My extras are mainly back-ups of the main types plus a couple shorter and lighter casters and spinning rigs that I prefer in close-quarter river environments for accuracy and room in my small river boat.
Line – This was already mentioned but let me add again that it pays to buy the best you can afford. I prefer bulk spools of my most-used tests, namely 12 and 17, which makes good line relatively inexpensive. I normally prefer not to plug specific brands because there are several excellent ones in my opinion (and even more great makes of rods and reels). For what its worth I’ve been very happy with bulk spools of Trilene Big Game for my casters, and am currently using XL on the spinners though I’ve always liked Silver Thread on them too. And I’ve used Stren lines and found them to be top quality as well. You’ll note I didn’t mention anything lighter than 10 lb. line. My philosophy is why risk killing fish and losing tackle, especially when today’s lines are so incredibly strong for their diameter. Even if you never break off a fish on light line, having to tire them out too much to land them simply leads to more post-release mortality.
Leaders – Leaders may well be the most neglected part of pike fishing tackle. My observations from being out there basically every week all year long indicate many folks are still using shark leaders and perhaps worse, many are opting to go without leaders. Those going without leaders seem to think they get more strikes without them due to better lure/bait action and less visibility to fish, but I submit this is because many were previously using shark leaders.
My advice is don’t use the cheap, heavy leaders you still find almost everywhere that have all the stealth of a phone cord at the end of your line, yet don’t risk killing fish and losing lures by going without leaders. Uncoated 18. lb. test Sevenstrand has less diameter than 10 lb. mono and provides even better action to your lures. It’s dirt cheap in bulk spools and though you may have to replace the wire fairly often, the snaps and swivels can be used again and again. Using 27 lb. or better for heavier applications still offers less diameter than the line you’ll be using in these situations and if the uncoated gets snarled up too quick for ya’, the coated is more resilient but it is much thicker. Of course titanium leaders are the best of all and though they are expensive, I’ve found that if you don’t lose them they are as cheap as others because they are so incredibly durable. Other new impressive leaders are available as well, see my other article on this web site (Leaders Among Leaders) for more information.
Other Fundamentals – With most that is written about pike or any other gamefish tending to focus on what is claimed to be new, just like with equipment it’s easy to overlook the very basic information that should form the foundation of your fishing. Read up on or watch videos of basic tactics. As I’m sure you’ve heard before, the more techniques you’re proficient at the more pike catching enjoyment you’ll experience. Take the time to learn all you can by really applying yourself to your trolling, casting, jigging, live/dead bait fishing, flyfishing if you desire, and of course winter tactics if you partake during the hard water season. Though usually no single tactic is best on any given day, consider really focusing on a certain method for a while to really get to know it and gain confidence in it. You’ll might catch less in the short term as you learn a given approach, but in the long run you’ll have better success because it will become a strength in your arsenal.
What’s even more lacking with many anglers besides solid equipment and a good understanding of basic tactics, is a sound knowledge of the biology of their favorite gamefish. At first this may sound silly in this day and age but think about it, the phrase “Know thy quarry” is famous for a reason. If you take the time to really study pike, for example, your understanding of their habitat needs and preferences, seasonal and weather related movements, feeding tendencies and forage, spawning process and on and on, it will all start to fit together and be more easily applied to a variety of situations. It’s one thing to know that gold jerkbaits near the edge of an immense weed flat worked in June on whatever lake because someone told you so and you tried it with success, it’s another to understand just why it worked so you can more readily apply it or something different in a different situation.
In conclusion, get equipped with quality rather than quantity in tackle, learn all the basic information, including fundamental tactics and even the science behind pike themselves, and you’re going to become a better pike angler. So much of this is available on the web, in books, magazines and videos these days … it can be overwhelming, so I’d recommend limiting it to just a couple solid sources. One shameless plug I would like to sneak in while I’m at it is Esox Angler magazine. If you ask me the best all-around source out there for pike (and musky) information, though of course there are other fine sources as well (this website being among the best of them). Just don’t spend too much time getting prepared with all the information available, or you won’t have enough time left to actually fish!