APA012: Canal Pike Fishing

Canal pike fishing is the subject of this question from Mark Brady.

I was chatting to fella in a fishing tackle shop who said I should find out what depth the pike are swimming at in a canal. How can I find this out while fishing?
Mark Brady

Thank you for this question Mark. I must admit it has puzzled me a bit. First of all, I assume you are referring to fishing from the bank and not from a boat. This means a depth finder will not be an option.

Secondly, there are lots of terms that can refer to what pike might be doing, such as swimming, laying up, resting, stalking or actively chasing fish. Whatever they are doing, unless you can either see them or catch them I can’t think how you will know what depth they are at.

What really has me thinking is, would knowing the depth they are swimming at affect where they will take a bait?

You might catch a pike with a bait on the bottom of the boat channel but they could have swum to it from anywhere and any depth. The same is true with with catching a pike on a surface lure. The pike could easily have been laid up on the bottom before chasing it.

Whether you are fishing with static baits, wobbled baits or lure fishing, you should always vary your bait presentation, including fishing at different depths. You might find the pike want a bait presented in a particular way on your water, or on that day, or at that moment. The truth is, when we catch a pike we will never know if we would have caught the same fish at the time if the bait was presented in a different way. Here is an example…

Two pike runs at the same time


A couple of weeks ago I had two runs within 30 seconds. Both were on dead baits. One was on a ledgered roach fished hard on the bottom in 5 foot of water. The other was on a smelt drifted at trace depth, 18 inches from the surface.

The common factor was that both runs were at 15:55 and the sun set time was 15:57. Now, I am not a moon phase follower, but I am sure sunrise and sunset are prime feeding times. If you only have a few hours to go piking, you should try to fish through dawn or dusk.

    The uncommon factors were:

  • Depth: One bait on the bottom, the other near the surface
  • Bait: One on a roach, the other on a smelt
  • Location: The baits were 30 yards apart
  • Presentation: One bait was static, the other was drifting

Although I had two baits presented very differently, I suspect the pike switched on to a feeding spell and took what they found. There are many factors that might have prevented these two pike picking up my baits, but I doubt the depths they were swimming was one of them.

By all means you should experiment with your bait presentation. Concentrate on presenting your baits to features like reeds, marginal shelves, boats and bridges. You should also keep a record of your results to see if a particular presentation or location is more successful than others. However, always be aware of confirmation bias. This is where your results suggest a pattern, but this is skewed because you spend most of your time fishing to that pattern.

When pike are feeding, all things being equal, they will feed on a fresh bait that is well presented, whatever depth they are swimming.

Thank you for an excellent question. Best of luck with your pike fishing.

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