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APA011: Pike holding feature on a river

Here is another reader question in the Ask PikeAngler series.

What is the first pike holding feature that I should be looking for on a river?
Chris Belshaw

This is a really good question because we all have to decide where the first cast will go when we target any venue. There are so many variables to river fishing that selecting a single feature would mean leaving out lots of others.

Let us look at the factors affecting how I will answer this question, and the decisions I am making before casting the first line on a river. I will group them into three areas.

Prejudices

We are all affected by our previous pike fishing experiences, whether they are positive or negative. We will try to replicate our successes and make choices that reinforce these experiences. We will give ourselves fewer chances to repeat our failures and perhaps give some choices less time to succeed. We must accept these as part of our human nature and recognise these as potential failings. Let me give you two examples.

Gary always casts half a mackerel as far he can into a dense weed bed. His advice is to do the same. Why? Gary caught an eighteen pound pike on his first trip to a new water. Guess where he caught it from…

Andy always casts a smelt next to overhanging branches. His advice is to do the same. Why? Andy caught an eighteen pound pike on a smelt cast to an overhanging tree.

Both anglers have confidence in their preferred method and have since caught plenty more pike the same way. Both anglers will give you honest advice with the best of intentions and both will be correct.

Everyone reading this (myself included) will also have their own previous experiences to fall back on that will determine what advice they listen to and what they will ignore. Ask this question on a fishing forum or Facebook and there will be dozens of answers. The hard part is ignoring our own prejudices and actually taking the advice.

Assumptions

    I made a massive amount of assumptions when I read this question. The first assumptions about pike are based on previous experience and reading books and articles written by many others:

  • Pike are an ambush predator.
  • Pike will try to save energy by resting in slack water.
  • Pike are attracted to cover.
    Assumptions about the river could all be totally different to the actual situation you find yourself in. This will highlight just how varied and unique our fishing experiences can be. Here goes…

  • You are fishing the middle reaches of a medium sized river with a few bends.
  • You are fishing with dead baits.
  • You are fishing from the bank.
  • You want to fish with two rods.
  • You cannot reach the far bank.

Observations

    Let us assume there is at least some truth in the previous assumptions. I have arrived at the river with my excitement flowing and eyes and ears open. What am I observing?

  • What is the water level and colour? I might need to find back waters.
  • Are there any other anglers? I want to avoid them.
  • Are there any structures like bridges? Pike like to sit under them.
  • Are there any weir pools? I want to explore the eddy’s below and the slacks and the deep water above it.
  • Are there any reed beds? Bait fish like to hide in them.
  • Are there any sunken trees? Pike like to rest in them.
  • Are there any bends? The inside of bends will flow more slowly.
  • Are there any marinas? They are out of the main flow.
  • Are there any other rivers joining? Lots of eddy’s and slacks.
  • Are there any boats? Boats provide ambush points, food and heat.
  • Are there any land drainage pumps? The pumped water brings food and oxygen.

Summary

This shows why rivers can be exciting places to fish for pike and many other species. They are so varied and offer a wide variety of options and challenges. I can see why Chris asks where to start. There are too many choices!

I think the key to simplifying these choices is that you are using previous experience (without being prejudiced), your water craft and your observations on the day to find bait fish near to ambush points. These will be unique to the day, the river, the conditions and the features available.

Don’t forget, river banks can be very slippery and dangerous places to fish. Be very careful and try to fish safely from sturdy banks and proper swims.

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

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