Leapfrog To Pike Success
Posted Predator Tactics at Nov 17, 2010
Predator ace Mick Brown explains how to get the most out of low, clear venues using a tactic pioneered by the late Barrie Rickards.
One of the most important lessons I ever learnt about fishing for pike and zander is that they are rarely evenly spread throughout a water system, especially in the colder months when they are mostly targeted by anglers. It seems like common sense to suggest that the essence of successful fishing for these species is to search the water for them. Yet so many anglers decide to stay put and fish just one swim or area all day long, whether they are catching or not. Lack of success is often attributed to the weather conditions or the pike not feeding, but in reality, it is more likely that they are not ‘on fish’ – as simple as that! Even in adverse conditions, there are often swims which will produce fish simply because they are present in good numbers. For example, in gin-clear water conditions, they might have moved into deeper water until it gets dark. They might still fancy a meal, though, while they are waiting!
Whatever type of venue you are fishing, provided the bank space is suitable, you would be best advised to keep moving along the bank, taking in new water with each move. You can simply reel the rods in and walk along a short distance and recast them or ‘leapfrog’ the rods. Leapfrogging simply means bringing in one rod and recasting ahead of your other rod/rods. With each move you make progress along the water in front of you, potentially covering a great deal of it depending on how long you give it in each swim.
This style of fishing was first brought to my attention by the late and great pike angler, Professor Barrie Rickards who sadly passed away last November at the age of 71. His beloved Fenland drains, which he popularised in his book Fishing For Big Pike back in the 1970s (Press, co-authored with Ray Webb), were the perfect venues for leapfrogging. When I read about his tactics and great catches in that era, it set me on a lifetime’s journey of searching for pike in a more methodical and logical manner. It now just seems to me to be the right thing to do. To keep moving around or along a venue in this way to track down larger groups of pike and zander, rather than wait for the odd one to pass through one swim. I would like to dedicate this piece to Barrie’s memory. We owe so much to him – far more than modern pike anglers will ever realise in that much of what we take for granted today is developed from his early writings on the subject.
Leapfrogging is a very mobile way of fishing, so it is vital not to over burden yourself with loads of heavy and cumbersome tackle. It pays to plan ahead and give careful consideration to every item of tackle, so that you actually enjoy the experience rather than finding it a chore to move each time. Taking the essentials is important – keeping it to the minimum is the key.
Take rods, for example. You’ve probably got a set of 12ft rods, but I feel that many pike rods today are over heavy for most situations. I have tried to get the trade to make shorter and lighter rods for years. Fox finally introduced some in its new range, and also Greys, which has shorter rods in its new Prowla range. If you mainly fish small venues like drains, these are more than adequate. In fact, I personally like to use my 9ft 6in boat rods on such venues.
Reels can be over heavy too. I would much prefer to use 7000 size reels than 10000 size simply to save weight, and the fact that they hold more than enough line for most venues anyway.
Early season line
Reel lines are a personal choice. I do like the reliability of 30lb braid these days, but in the early part of the season, when pike (and particularly zander) are very lively, I have dropped quite a few lightly hooked fish off due to the unforgiving nature of braid. So in the early part of the season I now use mono and where casting distance is not an issue, and it isn’t on most venues, I’ll opt for the safety factor of 20lb breaking strain. It isn’t that much thicker than 15lb mono and the pike and zander don’t seem to mind and, believe me, it takes some breaking. When I snag up, I can nearly always get my rig back with 20lb mono because the trebles usually bend well before it breaks.
Stick to deadbaits
Leapfrogging is at its simplest when carried out with deadbaits. If you feel a need for livebait, you have to consider the burden of dragging a bucket of water and a pump along with you. Also, due to having to keep recasting and damaging the bait, you’ll find you will get through more livebaits than you would wish to.
When I’m on the move in this fashion, I nearly always float fish, because I don’t want to carry heavy banksticks, alarms and leger weights, which are needed to rig up. I usually cast out the float, tighten down and engage the free spool. I then lay the rod on the bank with the rod tip under the water to sink the line. If the water is shallow and clear, I try and keep away from the water’s edge. I watch the floats from a distance and at the first sign of interest I will scamper down the bank to the rod and open the bail arm well before the spool gives line. If you aren’t there in time, it’s rare for the pike to drop the bait at feeling the slight resistance of the Baitrunner, but with zander you might need to be more alert.
A very basic rig
The float rig I use is as basic as it gets. To make it you first slide onto the line a rig stop, a bead and then a sliding float. The actual type of float doesn’t matter in all honesty, but the best is the very sensitive unloaded pencil type, which can be tightened down until it stands up. A pick-up sees it lay flat before sliding away and is very obvious.
Next I slide on a sliding weight, normally 12g, but I go heavier if there’s a lot of flow or undertow. A rubber buffer sleeve follows and then I tie on a quick-change clip – size 7.
Less is best
I always arrive at the water with my rods already made up except for the wire trace, which is clipped on when I’m ready to fish. The quick-change system, featuring a clip for the trace, saves a lot of tangles when transporting rods in this way. It’s also very useful for rigging up or changing rigs over with great speed.
Apart from my lightweight chair (optional but nice when long waits are likely) and my landing net, everything else is housed in a small bag. I have an insulated deadbait cool bag, which still has plenty of room left after loading it with enough frozen deadbaits for the session. On top of the baits I have a small tackle box, which has only the spares I might need and nothing more in order to minimise weight. There’s usually a spare float, a few spare rig bits and the parts to knock up a few extra traces if needed. On top of my box is my flask and camera and in the side pockets are my unhooking tools, sling and scales.
Looking at my traces, nowadays I tend to use coated wires, as they are so durable, but there’s nothing wrong with uncoated wires either. If after zander, I am often tempted to use uncoated wires if I’m struggling, but in all honesty I don’t think it ever makes much difference. Use the one you get on with and choose 30lb breaking strain for reliability and minimal chance of kinking.
These days I tend to use one treble hook with smaller baits for the ease of handling and unhooking that it provides. With bigger baits, two trebles are still best, in my opinion, and I generally use size 6 hooks unless the fish are particularly finicky. When they are really on the feed and not rejecting baits, I use size 4s. I find them much easier to grip when unhooking.
Early season when deeper hooking is a possibility, I’ll use semi-barbed trebles, but in the colder months when they are taking much more slowly and gently, I use barbed trebles, as I find many fish are very lightly hooked.
Choice of deadbait is always an issue and unless I know a particular type of bait works well on a venue, I’ll take several different species and try them all. I am a great fan of simple baits like herring and mackerel, but where they are used a lot by other anglers, I find a small bait or even a chunk more acceptable than a larger one. Lamprey is a bait I take to any venue, as I’m so confident in its effectiveness. Natural baits like roach and perch seem especially effective on drains and rivers. I try not to carry too many deadbaits, as it adds to the weight, so I have to judge how many runs I might expect in a session and pack accordingly. If I have doubts about what I might need, I often keep a few spare bits of tackle and an extra supply of deadbaits (in a spare cool box) in the car in case needed.
Making the move
So there you are, all ready to tackle the venue, carrying the minimum of tackle and bait and searching water as quickly as possible. How quickly though – when do you move a rod? Well, I have rule of thumb and it relates to the size of the swim. On a small drain, for example, I expect the pike to come across the baits very quickly if they are active in the swim. Twenty minutes is all I give each rod before moving it further along. On a larger and deeper drain, though, they need longer to come across your bait – if they are there! There might not be any predators in that swim! I’ll give a bigger swim perhaps half an hour. I’m using drains as an example, but you can leapfrog around pits and reservoirs, along rivers or even apply the principle to boat fishing on any water. When boat fishing, I move just as frequently, but it’s a lot easier as I don’t have to carry all the gear!
This is a very efficient way of finding predators, but as always you must be realistic. As efficient as you may be, the weather conditions and pikes’ feeding mood can still prevent you from catching. I have known many days when fishing great pike-holding areas when I just can’t catch much. I’ve proved they are there by inching the baits back slowly and seen pike follow, but show no interest in taking them.
There are no hard-and-fast rules, which guarantee that you will catch pike, but learning techniques like leapfrogging and appreciating the benefits will put you ahead of the game when they are feeding. At the time of writing, I’m really struggling due to very clear water conditions. The pike and zander will only feed after dark at present, so I’m leapfrogging using NIGHT FLOATS! These are home-made at the moment, but I hear that Greys are bringing one out. I can’t wait to have a look at them! This is an interesting development for the more advanced anglers to consider. Barrie Rickards pointed us in the right direction, but there’s plenty more to be pioneered yet! Good fishing!
1 - Lamprey is great for any venue. Baits like roach and
perch are especially effective on drains and rivers.
2 - Mount a large section of Lamprey so that the cut end
is open to allow the blood to leak out of the bait.
3 - By mounting a Roach bait this way the hook in the
muscular tail wrist takes the strain of multiple casts.
4 - To get the fish juices to flow out faster, Mick punctures
both flanks of deadbait with his trace blades.