Handling Pike

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beaten and readyLots of people are now trying fly fishing for pike. This is great news as more people grow to enjoy and appreciate the sporting possibilities of fishing for this species. However it can be potentially bad news for the pike, as people arrive at the waterside ill-equipped to safely handle this delicate fish. Remember, pike are an apex predator. We need to maintain healthy populations of these fish (where they already exist) to maintain good balanced fisheries, and so it's essential that we learn how to return pike to live and fight another day.

OK, so you've got a pike on your line, beaten and ready to land. What next?

Handling pike is nothing like handling trout.

The most damage a pike will suffer if caught on fly (assuming the fly is well inside its mouth and can't be flipped out while it's in the water) is if the angler doesn't get firm control of the fish, allowing it to thrash around the boat/bank.

The best way to get control of a pike is to slip a (gloved) hand under the gill cover, taking extreme care not to get fingers inside the gill rakers. Insert your fingers (with the thumb still outside, and pointing towards the pike's chin) via the soft part of the gill cover on the UNDERSIDE of the fish. Then slide fingers towards the chin until they stop. As you start to lift you can have a quick check that you are definitely clear of the gill rakers. If all's clear execute the lift.

...the padded bottom of the boat...Gloves aren't absolutely necessary but they increase confidence which is a great help. On a biggish fish there's plenty of room in there to avoid doing damage. (Obviously this is a big no-no with small headed fish like trout). This grip can be used to lift the fish out of the water, (although I think if I'm ever lucky enough to get one over 15lb I'll go for the landing net!).

If it's a big fish find somewhere soft to lay it down. Gravel, or a hard boat hull are not good. (Smaller fish can be held clear of the ground). Don't release your grip.

Assuming the fish is on soft bank/in the padded bottom of the boat, you gently lift its head off the ground. Nine times out of ten its jaw miraculously opens as you do this. You can use the thumb of the gloved hand to gently prise open the top jaw if the fish isn't being cooperative.


...You can maintan this grip...This way you still have your other hand free to wield the forceps or pliers. With a monster pike you can kneel astride the fish (NOT ON IT!)to provide additional control if it decides to have a thrash. Smaller fish can be simply lifted clear of the deck temporarily.

Use barbless hooks and the hook will drop out easily.
You can then maintain this grip, supporting the pike gently with the other hand somewhere between the ventral and anal fins, to place the fish back in the water. This handling method is commonly used by the specialist pike fishers who are 100% C&R. It's proven to be safe for both pike and angler alike.

In practice this is much easier to do than it sounds. Have confidence and work quickly to get the fish back in the water as soon as possible. Make sure you have everything handy before you start fishing. Glove in pocket. Forceps clipped to coat. With fly-caught pike, this is easily a sub 20 second job. If in any doubt, and you plan on releasing the fish, get a book on pike fishing which explains it in more detail. Failing that please don't go pike fishing at all.

© William Shaw