Nationwide gravel extraction is big business. But once the aggregate extraction stops, these huge holes are flooded, landscaped and stocked, making fantastic fishing environments. Deep, clear and very rich, they regularly produce specimens of all species. And although no two pits are alike, they all have one thing in common – large pike. Here find out what it takes to catch one of these magnificently marked fish...
Where to find pike in gravel pits
Location is all-important when pike fishing. Pike are predators, so to catch them you need to be guided by where the small fish are. Prey equals pike. Finding the prey fish should be foremost in any successful pike angler’s mind and there are a number of items and features that you should be looking out for. Gravel pits have features both above and below the water line and all can be attractive to fish. Some of the most obvious features are:
Gravel bars and plateaus
These break up the topography of the bottom. On large, windswept pits, the sides of bars and the tops of plateaus will build up food deposits, attracting smaller fish. Pike will tend to patrol around the base of such features, ambushing the shoal fish above.
Island margins catch wind-swept food also attracting roach, bream and tench.
The areas in and around these streams tend to be welloxygenated and well coloured as a result of the bottom being stirred up. It’s highly attractive to shoal fish and an ideal place to put a bait.
Pike are very fond of reed beds as they’re ideally camouflaged against the background.
From an anglers point of view these features are very important as they allow you to command a great deal of water. The more water you cover the better your chance.
This is the most prominent feature on any pit and the pike will tend to lie at the bottom of them. Pike’s eyes are on top of their head and so find it easier to look up in order to ambush their intended meal.
Placed by sailing clubs, the attachment ropes collect algae, which attracts food fish, which equals pike. Play hooked fish hard around buoys. If the pike wraps your line round the rope, you’ve got no chance!
Mostly made of wood, they require a stealthy approach to avoid spooking your quarry.
In times of severe cold, deep holes will provide shelter for bait fish as due to the lake’s thermocline the water tends to be slightly warmer deep down.
Snaggy areas such as fallen trees are ideal holding spots for all kinds of species and not far behind is ‘ol Esox’ – the pike.
Key factors when gravel-pit pike fishing...
If the pit you fish is devoid of those aforementioned features there are a few other location tricks you can try. All fish, but especially roach, are prone to following a strong wind. If the wind has been blowing in the same direction for a few days, then it’s a good idea to start in the corner that it’s been blowing into. Sitting in the teeth of a cold wind isn’t pleasant, but it’s where the fish will be. Calm days are a little tougher. The north-east corner would be the best place to start as this is the bank that the warm south-westerly winds blow into.
Atmospheric pressure is another important factor. Low pressure (less than 1000 millibars) is better for dead baiting, high-pressure is better for live baiting. These rules aren’t set in stone, but they are a good rule of thumb. Pressure level changes through the day are also worth recording. If there is a sudden rise or fall of pressure it can stimulate the pike into feeding. It can also just as quickly turn them off. It pays to keep a record of catch times and the level of atmospheric pressure to see if a pattern emerges over the season.
Pike will readily take a bait in even the coldest of conditions, as they need to feed regularly. Times to avoid are periods of sudden change, if there is a sudden overnight frost, for example. As long as the temperature remains stable for a few days the pike will adjust and start to feed again.
Blinded by the light
Another contributory factor is light levels and waters react very differently with many showing marked feeding times. Many pike feed at first light and through the morning depending on how overcast the day is. A secondary feeding spell is often at last light too.
By keeping a record of catch times, temperature, light levels and pressure, you’ll quickly build up a feeding pattern.
Prebaiting for pike will definitely help to put more fish on the bank. Before this feature, Ian had been prebaiting a swim every morning for just over a week.
There is no need to bait every day, but it needs to be regular enough so that the fish get used to seeing and feeding on free bait. Two or three times a week are probably a minimum amount for a prebait campaign.
If you decide to try prebaiting a swim, it’s important that you fish at the same time that you’ve been baiting. If you have been prebaiting in the morning, fish your session in the morning as this is the time that the fish will be used to seeing bait. You can’t catch what isn’t there.
With regards what to use, Ian’s first choice is a good oily fish, such as herring or a sardine. These fish provide good levels of both oily scent and visual attraction via their silvery skin. Ian will take a couple of both species and chop them into two-inch chunks. These he then simply throws into the area that he plans on fishing. As herring and sardine are so cheap, the results will very much outweigh the expense.
Which pike rigs to use...
The decision on whether to fishfloat or leger depends very much on how close in you’re planning to fish. Up to around 30 yards and if the day is not too windy, use a float. For fishing further out or if the water is very choppy, use a leger.
Floats give extremely sensitive bite registration and offer very little resistance to the taking fish. This float set-up is simplicity itself. The float is an unloaded Fox Pencil, which is allowed to slide up the main line. A bead and a pair of float stops control the float’s depth. The bait is fished overdepth and is held in place with the use of either an Egg Sinker or a drilled bullet. Once cast into the swim, the line is slowly wound down until the float hits the float stops. Depending how windy it is, you can wind down slightly more to allow the float to cock, or leave it lying flat on the surface. A floatfished bait can also be presented at any depth. For example, if you want a bait close to the surface or just above a weed bed, it’s easier to suspend it from a float than to pop it up.
The first choice for distance casting on stillwaters is to leger. The advantage of legering a deadbait rather than freelining it is that you can tighten up harder to the bait and so spot runs much quicker.
The set-up incorporates a leger stem. These buoyant stems feature a foam ball at the top that helps to keep the mainline out of any weed.
The stem also has a large bore run ring. Pike, like all predators, dislike resistance and the large run ring will allow free passage of the mainline during a take. It’s important to use a heavy leger weight on the stem, around 2oz to 2.5oz is ideal. When the pike moves with the bait, the leger will be heavy enough to hold the stem in place. A lighter lead could shift during the run and this added sudden resistance could alarm the pike and it may drop your bait.
Go into any good tackle shop’s freezer and you’ll find at least half-a-dozen types of deadbait. So what do you choose? Traditional sea baits are ideal.
Pike seem to love herring. Fish the tail section of the fish, as it’s more aerodynamic than the head, but a head section will work just as well.
Sardines are also good. These again are very oily and salty. They’re a silvery-flanked fish, which helps the bait stand out in clear water, providing a superb visual stimulus as well as a scent trail from their oil and internal juices.
The main problem with both sardines and herrings is that they’re very soft skinned. This makes them hard to cast. The solution is to take still frozen baits to the lake, kept in a cool bag, or tie PVA tape around the trace and the tail root of the fish. If using PVA tape, use a good quality product, wrap it around the trace and tail root of the fish a few times and then cast quite quickly. Once on the bottom of the lake, the PVA tape will melt and leave a perfectly presented bait.
Try a lamprey section on your third rod. A most curious fish, it’s seldom seen, and rarely caught, but lampreys have been in our rivers and lakes since the Ice Age. Resembling an eel, they have no jaw, but a maw, which they use to attach themselves, vampire-like, to the sides of fish in order to suck their blood. This makes lamprey an ideal pike bait as they not only have a very tough skin – great for distance casting – but once in the water they will release their blood for hours and hours putting a lovely rich scent trail into the water.
From left: Herring tail, sardine and lamprey