Tackle, Tactics and Experience

How It Used To Be

Anyone who has taken up lure fishing in the past three or four years do not realise how lucky they are, the Lure Anglers' Society and the many specialist lure suppliers help to make life a lot easier than it used to be. It was not always so, allow yourself to drift back in time to 1989, things were very different...

I had read everything I could find about lure fishing and all the writers obviously felt that they had a mission to convert others to their passion, so they only mentioned the good bits. Here are some of the not-so-good bits that the newcomer might have encountered then.

Buying the lures is the first problem, very few provincial tackle shops carry much of a range, even fewer have any staff that have actually used a lure. The conversation in the tackle shop goes something like this...

You (the customer, hoping in vain for some advice from an experienced angler) say: "Good morning, would you mind showing me your range of pike lures, please?"

He (the tackle shop proprietor, failed match angler, desperate to sell you as many plugs and spinners as possible, he has had them in stock for four years and has only ever handled them to change the price label every twelve months when the new lists come around) replies: "Ah, yes, I have just what you need."

You eagerly reply: "I am only a beginner and really need some advice". (A very stupid thing to say.)

He helpfully reassures you with: "Of course, I'm delighted to help you." (Trying not to smile too much.)

He then proceeds to show you his entire selection, eleven Toby spoons, seven Rapala Countdowns and a couple of number two Mepps Comet spinners.

Now it's down to business.

Him: "You really must have a striped Toby spoon, - the pike think they are perch, you know."

You: "Right, thank you."

Him: "The plain silver ones are good, as well. The pike mistake them for dace."

You: "Good idea, I'll have one of those as well."

Him: "These Rapalas are very good" and (warming to his task,) "every one has been tank-tested."

You: "That sounds impressive, I think I ought to have one silver and one blue, please."

Him: "The red spots on these Mepps spinners remind the pike of red roach fins."

You: "You've nearly sold out of those, I'd better take them both."

You pay the man, a ridiculously large amount of money and depart with burning enthusiasm, while he makes himself a cup of tea and tries not to spill it from laughing.

Now to the river. You've never caught a pike before but you have read the books, they like deep, slow water, especially near sunken trees, where they can hide and ambush their prey.

You settle for a spacious swim with plenty of room to cast. You tackle up, tying on the shiny new wire trace and select your silver "individually tank-tested" Rapala countdown. You have a short cast to see what it does in the water, it looks more like a fish than real fish! Marvellous, it's bound to catch a pike; it does sink rather quickly though.

Now for your first proper cast, out it goes, quite a distance, about three-quarters of the way across the river. You've checked the instructions so you let it sink for six seconds and start the retrieve, in no time at all you are casting again, counting, retrieving, - this is easy. You cast all around the swim, feeling the action of the plug and watching the rod tip nod in sympathy. Perhaps the pike are deeper down so you increase the count to ten and on the second cast you feel a gentle knock through the rod, is that a take? You continue reeling and the rod arches round suddenly, you strike and the rod takes on a promising curve... but whatever has the plug is not moving. The split second of excitement is replaced with the sickening realisation that you are snagged up on the bottom, and whatever you have hooked is not going to be moved easily.

You pull but nothing happens, the brand new ten pound line just keeps stretching. It is strong stuff though, and you are confident, but after what seems like ages you have to end the stalemate, you pull harder, then harder again, suddenly the line is slack. For a moment you think the plug has come free, but no, the line has broken just above the trace.

You are quite shocked and sickened to find out how easily you can lose a fiver's worth of tackle, but you must fish on. You move to the next swim, tie on a new trace and decide which lure to select from your reduced choice. Perhaps the Mepps, it is lighter than the Rapala so more effort is needed on the cast. With a splash out of all proportion to its size the spinner hits the water about three yards from the bank. A mallard sounds like it is laughing under the far bank alders as you realise the line has bedded into the spool because you pulled directly from the reel when trying to free the Rapala.

A few minutes later you have calmed down a little, sworn a little and aged a lot. The mallard has watched you recompose yourself and has swum off to a safe distance.

The spinner is cast, allowed to sink for only a couple of seconds then reeled in smartly, you can feel it buzzing through the rod. With confidence slightly improved you begin to let the spinner sink a little deeper, occasionally as much as four feet! A few of the deeper swims are tried without success so you move on upriver until you come to a shallower swim where lots of fry are topping.

Your first cast lands in the middle of the river and, conscious of the shallow water, you only let it sink for a second before reeling it in briskly. You see a great horde of fry following the spinner back to the bank. You cast again and are mesmerised by the number of small fish that accompany the lure, you look closely and can recognise minnows, dace, roach and perch all following the rotating blade like the rats followed the Pied Piper. After a dozen or more casts the novelty of watching the procession of fry begins to wear thin and is replaced by the irritating feeling that they are all taking the mickey.

By now your casts are getting shorter as the spinner inexorably twists the line ever tighter, causing coils of line to catch in the rod rings. You remember the spare spool of line you brought with you, just in case, and tackle up again, planning to sort the twisted mess out when you get home. With the fresh line comes a fresh thought: amongst the fry you had spotted some perch so perhaps now is the time to try the striped Toby spoon, imitate the prey species, good idea.

Toby spoons cast very well, and with a cast that would have got the Mepps to mid-river, the spoon fairly whistles into the bushes lining the far bank. A few initial pulls on the rod move the spoon a little but it really needs a steady pressure. You have already learned the perils of pulling directly from the reel so you wrap the line around your sleeve to protect your skin and begin to walk backwards. The renewed line stretches so you need two goes before you start to put any serious pressure on the spoon. The willow branch opposite is very springy and bends right out across the river as you pull. You are certain the line can take the strain so you pull harder, and are proved right as the spoon suddenly tears free of the clinging foliage.

The new line, however, possesses considerable elasticity, and the spoon now catapults back rather more quickly than when you cast it out. In the split second that the Toby is in flight you seem to have an age to consider the consequences of rapid evasive action. The nettle bed to your left? Or the brambles to your right? You choose the brambles and the flying Toby misses your head by inches as you dive out of its way, and you discover that there are plenty of nettles in amongst the brambles anyway.

You extricate yourself and your tackle from the vegetation and notice how much warmer it has become. You are pleased to get the spoon back, which goes some way to ameliorate the pain from the bramble thorns and nettle stings. Not surprisingly you feel a change of swim is called for so head on upstream.

The weather has definitely turned warmer, you remove your pullover, but find the overgrown banks painful to negotiate with bare arms. And the landing net keeps getting caught up in every bit of protruding greenery, it is beginning to resemble camouflage netting that the S.A.S. would be proud of.

You try a few casts here and there with the Toby, being careful not to overdo it, but it is too heavy for the depth and flow of the water, so you go back to the Mepps. To avoid line twist you pinch on a swan shot above the trace, it might make it easier to cast as well. Yes, its gone right across the river, but why is the line slack? Oh, no! It's come off. You check the trace and find the clip is open. Did you forget to close the clip? Or is it one of those that opens on its own sometimes?

Despondent, chastened, and sweaty, you move to a more open swim that you know well from your roach fishing days, a little weed growth along the margins but not enough to be a nuisance. You are using your second Rapala countdown, the blue one. You know this swim had no snags last time you trotted it for roach so you are fairly confident that you won't lose the plug on the bottom.

After three casts you are astonished to see a small pike dash out from the marginal weeds and grab the plug, you feel the jolt on the rod and the late strike is unnecessary as the pike is firmly hooked on the front treble.

It is only two pounds or so and does not put up much of a struggle on the strong tackle. It waits patiently in the water under the rod while you wrestle the landing net from its resting place against a hawthorn bush. Into the net the pike goes and you lift your prize from the water.

You are lucky, the pike is nicely hooked in the side of its mouth on two points of the treble. You hold the pike carefully with your gloved hand and attempt to grip the shank of the hook with your new forceps. Alas, by now the pike has lost interest in the proceedings and starts to thrash about. In your terror of slashing teeth and flying trebles you drop it straight back into the net, still thrashing. The pike's burst of energy subsides and you see the hooks have somehow come out. You gratefully grip the pike and after a brief admiring look you return it to its home, where it rests just long enough for you to be concerned before shooting off in a puff of silt as you reach down to check on its well being.

Twenty minutes later you extract the final treble point from the mesh, your delight at your first success somewhat tempered by your ineptitude at dealing with the captured fish.

You decide to cast again, to see if any more pike are lying in wait among the weed. Seconds after beginning the retrieve you feel a strong and sudden pull; no snag this, a powerful fish is felt moving out across the river as the strike goes home. Despite its initial power the fish is soon subdued and comes towards the net, you see it is at least three times as big as the first one and for a second your concentration lapses as you enjoy your success. With impeccable timing the pike tries one last shake of its head and you realise in horror that the free treble has caught on the outside of the landing net mesh. You are paralysed as the pike, caught yet uncaught, pauses before thrashing itself free of the lure.

You shake with excitement, you curse your inexperience, you throw the rod onto the bankside grass and fifty yards downstream a mallard sounds as if it is laughing.