This terrible cannibal

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This terrible cannibal
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As most anglers know practically all of our predators are to a bigger or lesser extent cannibals. None of them, if only an opportunity arises won’t say no to a smaller specimen of their own kind.

Without doubt the pike is the most infamous for this. Is it a deserved opinion?

 

In nature cannibalism among pikes takes place with varied intensity depending on environmental conditions. During the period when small pikes grow up it is, contrary to appearances, a marginal phenomenon. Nature itself protects its favoured ones through the use of simple preventive methods. The first of them can already be seen during spawning. Pike spawning takes place in portions. This means, that when laying eggs, the female moves from place to place multiple times in search of suitable grounds, dropping the contents of the gonads in portions. Often the spawning is halted and the female swims to a completely different spot because of a break in the weather. She is, of course, followed by a sizeable bunch of “admirers” eager to fertilize the laid eggs at any moment. Where have I seen this before… – as one would like to say… Thanks to this the eggs are distributed over a relatively large area and young pikes after hatching have a smaller chance of encountering each other. Another factor limiting cannibalism at that time is the usually high availability of easy to catch food. In sweet waters it is for example the spawning of roach, the spawning grounds of which cover the spawning grounds of pike. In the salty waters of the Baltic nature serves young pikes and even more interesting course. It is the hatching of the Baltic shrimp (Crangon crangon, Linnaeus, 1758). In the period between April and June countless swarms of these crustaceans can be easily seen in the reeds of Baltic skerries. It is a highly calorific and healthy dish. Additionally, it is much easier to catch than the spawn of any fish. Predators often exploit the opportunity and accept that seafood very quickly. Another factor limiting fratricide in the spawning areas is the relatively small diversity of the little pikes when it comes to size. All this, combined with their low mobility results in the fact, that they rarely eat one another.

However, in the conditions of farming things look completely different. It is enough to leave park fry without supervision for a few days and from the thousands of specimens in the tank only a few hundred are left. Undoubtedly also, if we continue to leave the company to its own devices, after a short time there will only be a single, but large, specimen in the tank, which the facto is the most effective killer. Farmers cope with the problem in various ways and it is nothing new to them. The easiest methods are intensive feeding and maintaining constant, low light (cannibalism increases when the light changes). However, the only way of avoiding substantial losses is to let the spawn out into a lake or river as soon as possible.

In the later periods of the predators’ life things are no longer that simple. Pikes still do not wander willingly and therefore rarely encounter each other. During some periods, however, especially during spawning, encounters between specimens of different sizes (males are much smaller than females) and tempers (e.g. mating readiness) are bound to happen. Another such period is late autumn, when submerged plant life dies and small pikes lose their natural shelters. That is when mass acts of cannibalism take place. A completely different case are bodies of water where, for some reason, the pike population is dominating (so called monoculture). There are so many of them, that practically they feed only on their own kind.

Anyone who has at least once fished at fisheries where the population of this predator was high must have encountered specimens with obvious marks of the teeth of their brethren. By the width of the marks one may with a degree of probability attempt to assess the size of the owner of the killer jaws. Cases of attacks of pikes which did not differ much from each other in size are not rare either. If one catches the other “in half” it usually ends with the mentioned souvenir of blood-chilling scars. Another thing, when predators similar in size meet head to head. There are known cases of finding two fish, one of which choked to death trying to swallow the other.

The pike is the “final” predator in most bodies of water. Among fish it can be threatened only by catfish. Therefore, just as with land predators, the phenomenon of territorialism takes place among pikes. If food is plentiful, these predators tolerate the presence of other specimens of their kind even at short distances. However, if there is too little food – a war begins.

OK. – the case is clear – the pike is a cannibal. So what are the –

 

Conclusions for anglers

 

The first conclusion is very obvious – every angler hunting for pike should have imitations of that predator in his collection. Times when it was enough to have a few silver and gold spoons in the box have long passed. Nowadays, in order to catch more and bigger fish than our friends one has to try hard. It is not only necessary to learn new and perfect old fishing techniques. It is also important to test new lures at old, well known fishing spots. Such attempts often yield unsuspected results. I have witnessed practically unbelievable situations many times. In places which seemed fished-through with all lures by a countless crowd of anglers, after a pike imitation was employed, a specimen no one expected to be there “revealed itself”! One such thing took place at a major tournament for the cup of the Polish magazine “Wędkarski Świat” (eng. “Angling World”). A hundred and twenty anglers were fishing at one end of the Szeląg Lake near Olsztyn then. A few dozen pikes weighing 1-3 kg were caught, mainly with soft lures. I managed to take out the largest fish 96 cm long on a pike imitating jerkbait (Salmo Jack 18). At the end of the tournament, when the water was already “quite exhausted” the same lure was followed to my boast by a specimen I have never or after seen in Poland – a fish with a mass of well over 10 kg! The witnesses were the anglers who were fully convinced, that they had turned over every twig and every leaf on the bottom with their rubbers.

Many times during early spring fishing it turned out, that pike imitations surpassed the effectiveness of other lures. In autumn however there aren’t as many attacks on imitations and the difference in effectiveness is less distinct. I however, remain faithful to them, as I know that thanks to that I will sooner or later encounter a remarkable specimen.

Manufacturers are of course aware of the effectiveness of pike imitations. Every company specialising in Esox fishing has something like that in its catalogues. One can therefore find various imitations which better or worse mimic the colours and shape of a young pike. There are soft lures as well as spoons and crankbaits, twitchbaits and jerkbaits. There are single and multi part models among them. There are deep and shallow divers, as well as surface lures. Some are universal, while others are especially recommended for trolling. As usual when choosing the specific type of lure it is worth to analyse the situation from many angles.

The first thing worth thinking over is –

 

The size of the lure

 

Can a lure be too big for a pike? Taking ichthyologic research into consideration it is hard to believe. Ichthyologists specify that the optimal size of prey for this predator is 10% of its body mass. This means, that in order for a, for example, 10 kg predator not only too remain in good health and condition and be able to join the spawning each year but also to gain weight maximally, it must have access to prey weighing at least 1kg. And what about specimens which have a mass of 20kg? In order to continue growing such a monster requires two-kilogram prey aplenty! In natural conditions, of course, it is forced to settle with for much smaller fish, which additionally vary in terms of nutritional attractiveness. A 1 kg bream is of course less efficient in terms of calories than a pike of the same size. Not only is there little meat inside, but also swallowing such a “platter” uses a lot of the energy gained. We can be sure, that even a very big, properly presented pike imitation will not be ignored by a nearby specimen.

Therefore if we are fishing for a specimen of a lifetime, using 20 cm or longer lures is not exaggerated! In practice the size of the lure is limited not only by the anglers’ imagination, but also the physical capabilities of his equipment. It is difficult to imagine casting 40 -50 cm long wobblers. Yes, there are such, but they are used solely for trolling. When planning to increase one’s collection with pike imitations, one should consider the casting mass of the rod first. Of course it is unnecessary to shoot with a cannon right from the start. Many specimens were tempted by relatively small lures. However, sooner or later we will end up in a fishery, where a few dozen strikes a day is not a problem. In such conditions most anglers quickly grow tired of “who caught more” fishing. Such places and times are good for testing a “special” weapon. 16 – 18 cm long lures are a sensible compromise in such cases. Of course in order to think about casting such lures and effective striking of attacking fish one has to have suitable equipment at one’s disposal. A rod doesn’t have to be long. 2.4 m is enough, even 2,1 in case of jerkbaits. However, it has to be very strong and rigid. For lures weighing over 50g a casting set with a multiplier reel is the best. I have already written about its advantages in our magazine at the occasion of the text on jerkbaits (Rybolov Elite 5/2007). With this a high quality braided line and a tested rig, which will protect it from the teeth of the predator. A slightly longer rod – even up to 3 m – is better for trolling. When setting up two such rods from two sides of a boat we can fish through a strip about 5 m wide.

There are many pike imitations, so the key to success is –

 

A proper choice of lure for the spot.

 

 

Let’s think where an encounter between a large and small pike can take place? It is known, that small predators before reaching the mass of 2 kg definitely prefer shallows – places deep up to 3 m. That is exactly where eye to eye meetings with “momma” usually take place. Of course practically all kinds of artificial lures can be used for fishing at such depths – spoons, spinners, soft plastic baits and hard baits – such as wobblers and jerkbaits. My favourite lures are hard lures. It is the easiest to imitate not only the appearance of young pikes with them, but primarily their behaviour. Surely all of you have had an opportunity to watch the distinctive moves of young specimens of the species. It has little to do with the moves of fish such as roach, perch or bleak. Fry of these species constantly moves in search of food. It swims in all directions in all dimensions, ferreting and flashing their silver sides constantly. When mimicking such species one should take that into consideration. The lure should also make similar moves. In case of young pikes, however, things look completely different. They spend the better part of day hanging on the deep, usually under the cover of a clump of vegetation or reeds, awaiting their prey. They usually move very slowly, parallel to the bottom, moving their fins only slightly. Alarmed or scared they flee in distinctive “jumps”, looking for a better hideout. That is why the moments when the lure “hangs” are so important to its effectiveness. Such an action is of course impossible to perform with all kinds of spoons, or spinners, or soft lures. Wobblers and jerkbaits, however, are perfect for this. Regardless of whether they are floaters or divers, with a little bit of skill it is possible to imitate the behaviour of little pikes with them very well.

When considering the version of wobbler for the specific fishing spot one should remember about depth, where one plans to present the lure. The general rule is –

 

 

Better too shallow than too deep

 

An exception to this rule in fishing for pike is only very deep trolling and only in a few cases (e.g. pits in large rivers). It happens then, that the lure which literally “bites” the bottom with the rudder is the most effective.

In case of fishing in spots up to 3 m deep we will achieve definitely better results when guiding the lure even under the surface than in the bottom. Usually the ideal way is to present the lure at half depth. So if we are fishing in shallow water (0.5m – 1.5m) we will achieve the best results with floating wobblers with a small or medium rudder or floating jerkbaits. In deeper water – 2-3 m – wobblers with a larger rudder or sinking jerkbaits will be better. The method of lure presentation depends not only on depth. It often happens that shallows are overgrown with underwater vegetation, the tips of which often reach the surface. Then, even if the depth exceeds 3 m, it is worth to use shallow diving lures. There is no sense in risking the lure clinging to the stems, while feeding predators lurk in such places “at half water”.

When choosing the type of lure it is worth to take the kind of fishery into consideration. If we are casting into 0.5-1 m deep water and there is a similar depth under the boat a crankbait in a Shallow Runner version – with a very small rudder – will be perfect. Such a lure, even if we start to reel the line much quicker, will not submerge deeper than 0.5 m. This way we avoid grabbing weeds and, besides, give ourselves a chance of employing an old trick. Large pikes often swim after a lure unable to decide to attack. It happens that they escort the lure to the side of the boat finally giving up the attack. The only solution to such a situation is to greatly accelerate reeling connected with pulling with the rod tip. This way we imitate the behaviour of the prey, which, feeling the “monstrous breath” on its tail attempts to avoid its tragic fate in the last moment. In such a place one can use a wobbler with a larger rudder guiding it very slowly with the rod lifted high. During the moment of acceleration, however, it will always get stuck in the weed ultimately depriving us of the chance to provoke the specimen.

But, if the bottom of our fishing spot slopes down sharply to 3-4 m under the boat, it is much better to use a fast diving model in such a spot. We guide it down to 1.5 – 2 metres and start the fishing itself, a set of pulls and pauses in reeling the line. At all times we try to keep the lure at half depth.

The basic key to success however, is in all cases the presentation of the lure. Regardless of whether it is a wobbler or a jerkbait, it should be guided in jumps between 30 cm and 80 cm. However, the most important in the presentation are the pauses in reeling the line, when the lure floats to the surface (floating) or sinks slowly. It is extremely important to maintain the best possible contact with the lure at all times. If we allow slack on the line to form we may react to a strike too late. In extreme cases (e.g. strong side wind, high waves rocking the boat) in moments of lost concentration it is easy to miss the contact of the predator with the lure entirely. It is even more difficult to control the action of the lure if it offers minimal resistance in water. This is the situation we face when fishing with –

 

Jerkbaits

 

Although they are undoubtedly lures which are difficult to operate and many anglers still can’t convince themselves to use them, it is worth trying. As jerkbaits, because of their construction, are as if designed as pike imitations! I mean the classic jerkbaits – those, which when pulled uniformly do not feel like moving their tail even the smallest bit. Classics, such as Suick, Burt or Salmo Jack 18 have already caught a countless number of large pike specimens in many countries of the world. The best specialists in fishing for the species have no doubt, that among hard lures these are in most cases an almost one hundred percent guarantee of an attack by a specimen of a lifetime. Regardless of the floating characteristics of a model, it is possible, with some skill, to deceivingly imitate the distinctive moves of small predators. In case of Salmo’s Jack, which additionally stands out with the great imitation of pike colours, the result is that it is attacked even by quite small specimens of the species. It is often difficult to say why. One thing is certain – it is a very effective lure, not only for giants. Many times have I proven to my friends in the boat that it can be more effective than any other. Unfortunately classic jerkbaits have one flaw. As they offer almost no resistance in water it is very difficult to control their action. Therefore fishing with them is paradoxically quite tiring. It requires constant focus and control and the tension of the line. I wrote about the fishing technique with these lures in detail in the Jerkbait article.

These lures are big – my favourite Salmo Jack is 18 cm long. Even though they are armed with large hooks, many fish can’t be struck effectively. 90% of attacks take place when the lure is stopped. Smaller specimens – the 3-5 kg ones – after acquiring some skill can be struck quite effectively. Unfortunately those we are the most interested in are in some magical way able to get rid of the hooks often even after the strike. Perhaps it is not worth it to get tired, then? I have no such doubts. I’ve had more giant attacks with Jack than with any other lures. I’ve seen fish caught with it, many anglers can only dream of! I am also certain, that if fate allows me to beat my life record in pike Jack will be the lure!

 

I give my regards to all true HUNTERS! Those, who’ve had enough of catching small fish. Pike imitations are lures especially for you! However, when using them remember to check your equipment carefully – durability of the line and the rig, as well as the sharpness of the hooks. Don’t play with soft sticks for little fish! A giant pike with a maw the size of a bucket must be struck really hard. After that it’s a matter of routine.

Perhaps it is in your lake you know so well, where a dream adventure awaits? Be sure to check it and let me know. Good luck!

 

Piotr Piskorski

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