Pike Trace and Rig Basics ( what you need to know)

Whenever you are fishing for pike a wire trace MUST be used. Even small pike have razor-sharp teeth that will cut through ordinary nylon lines. For the safety of the pike, should it swallow your bait too deeply, your wire trace should be at least 18 inches long (45 cm) whenever bait or lure fishing? As you will see in the rig diagrams we show you here, we also recommend the use of a wire up-trace of at least 24 inches long (60 cm) to which you will attach your hook trace.

This up-trace will provide additional security and safety for the pike as on odd occasions your bait may tangle with the line immediately above the leger weight during the cast or when using live baits, these can often swim up towards the surface and should a pike take the bait at this point or with the trace tangled during the cast there is every chance the pikes teeth will cut through the nylon line, if you are using a wire up-trace this can be prevented!

With the ultra-thin wire traces that are available today, there is no need to drop below 20lbs breaking strain. For speedy unhooking it is preferable that barbless, semi-barbless, or crushed barbed hooks are used when bait fishing.

Always ensure the traces you use have good quality swivels to which you will attach your reel line, cheap swivels can break and a plain looped wire trace will cut through your line, Although pike anglers are always dreaming up rigs to deal with specific situations or to overcome particular problems, there are a couple of simple rigs that are easy to set up without more than standard items of tackle and are both successful and safe for fishing for pike.

They will almost certainly work well in most circumstances! Two of these rigs involve the use of a float which will remove the immediate need for expensive bite alarms to detect any takes, you must however keep an eye on the floats! (1) Float Paternoster

Rig The first rig (1) is a float paternoster that can be used with both dead and more usually lives baits. The live bait is free to swim up and down and around enticingly with the up-trace providing a means of preventing a bite-off if the bait is taken whilst above the swivel or if tangled on the cast. The weight and float should be matched to the point where the weight is greater than the buoyancy of the float to ensure it stays where you cast it!

Float Leger RigKeeping with the principle of keeping the rigs simple and retaining the optimum of safety for the pike the float leger rig illustrated incorporates both elements successfully and will provide the anglers using it with the ability to fish both live and dead baits successfully. You will note that this rig incorporates a 24 inch (60 cm) wire uptrace of at least 20lbs BS to again provide the security from bite off’s should the bait be taken whilst close to or tangled with the reel line above the leger weight should there be no wire uptrace in use.

Whilst on many occasions the bait doe’s not tangle or the bait is not taken whilst beside the reel line we recommend taking preventative action, as that one bite off you do eventually experience, will likely result in the pike suffering unnecessarily, so please do use one at all times. The availability of large eye run rings from many tackle manufacturers make this rig practical as the ring is large enough to pass easily over the top uptrace swivel should there be a need to do so, it also retains the free-running capabilities of the rig, allowing minimal resistance to a pike taking your hook bait.

The leger weight and float should be balanced to the point where the weight is heavier than the floats’ buoyancy to keep the bait in place in choppy water and undertows. (3) Leger Rig By removing the float, the beads, and the ‘Powergum’ stop knot from the float leger rig, as in (2), you can create a ‘straight leger’ rig. In very windy conditions or deep water that might make float legering difficult, you may find this way of fishing will prevent the wind or undertow from pulling your rig and bait away from the area you are trying to fish.

The leger weight can be increased to two or even three ounces, with no loss of sensitivity of the rig as despite the added security of the uptrace, it remains free running. If the bottom you are fishing over is snaggy you can add a short weak link of nylon between the swivel and bomb as was done in the float paternoster rig in (1) above.

When fishing with such tackle always use a reliable drop off indicator to alert you that a pike has picked up your bait, combine this with an audible indicator (Optonic, Fox or Delkim type or Backbiter ‘all in one butt indicator’) for a clear indication that should help prevent much of the opportunity for the bait to be swallowed before you are aware the bait has been taken. Always use good strong wire traces of at least 20lb BS cabled wire and reel line of a minimum of 15lb BS mono or braid.

Fixed lead rigs have become common in carp fishing and other circles in recent years, and their use is now widespread in pike fishing, too. However, care must be taken to ensure that the lead is not attached in such a way that it cannot be dislodged from the rig should the baited trace break off from the line. Rigs like this have become known as ‘tether rigs’ or ‘death rigs’ and must never be used.•Do not attach bomb weights directly to trace swivels using snap links. Use an intermediate link of weak nylon. Better still use one of the many purposely designed safety bomb links or in-line leads that are designed to be a safe push-fit onto a trace swivel.•When paternostering ensure that the bomb link is of weak nylon (6-8lb breaking strain) which a pike will be able to snap if the bomb snags. Further weakening this link by tying overhand knots in it, and using a blood knot to attach the bomb, will help the link snap more easily.

•Do not fix bullet weights onto traces in such a way that they cannot pull over the trace swivel. If you must put weight directly on a wire trace use the sort of weight that is interchangeable without breaking down the tackle as this will have some chance of coming free should the worst happen?

•To avoid losing rigs, and hooked fish, always use the sensible strong mainline – minimum of 15lb mono, or 30lb braid for bait fishing and 50lb braid for lure fishing.

ANY rig, however good, is potentially a death rig if it is left unattended, or fished without good bite indication.

There are other rigs and items of tackle which can prove fatal to pike:

•Stainless steel hooks should not be used for pike fishing as they will never corrode should they become left in a pike.

•Always use good quality swivels for trace construction. Swivels with twisted wire eyes should be avoided. The use of swivels that have a stated breaking strain is highly recommended in selecting reliable components.

•Snap links that open up accidentally can result in the loss of lures or baited rigs. Avoid snap links that operate like a safety pin, and those which have a ‘hook and eye’ closing mechanism – these are fine for attaching bombs or floats to rigs but should not be used for trace or lure attachment.

By general consensus, a gassed-up pike is one that, instead of swimming off underwater when returned after capture, swims just under the surface and attempts to dive. Sometimes it fails to dive and then starts to wallow on the surface. This may be so bad that the pike rolls over onto its back. At this stage, it is clear that the pike is in trouble.

There appear to be two types of gassing up one in which the pike appears very obviously inflated, and a second where the pike is simply unable to maintain its equilibrium and remain upright.‘Gassed-up’ pike are often associated with deep water venues, where pike are caught close to the bottom and raised quite quickly to the surface.

Anglers have reported seeing pike coming up from deep water emitting bubbles from their mouths, which suggests that pike can release the excess gas from their swim ladders if they need to, but perhaps under some circumstances they are unable to do this and become gassed up.‘Gassed-up’ pike caught from shallow waters are more likely to be the result of exhaustion and the build-up of lactic acid as a consequence of the energetic and/or prolonged fight.

The problem with lactic acid is that lots of it can in fact be dangerous, affecting the chemical balance of the exercised fish. Some anglers have released pike only to see them swim out a few yards and roll on their side on the bottom. Clearly, these pikes have not been gassed up, but overtired.

For a pike that has been over-exercised by someone trying to land it using light gear, a period of recovery is required, when plenty of oxygen is essential.Keeping the pike out of the water too long, and high marginal water temperatures with low oxygen levels can increase the problem.

It seems likely that the two phenomena of lactic acid build-up and excess gas could be connected. Dr Bruno Broughton suspects that the act of playing a pike, especially if the fight is hard, can cause a malfunction of the duct between the swim bladder and the foregut, although quite how this occurs is open to conjecture.The key to avoiding pike ‘gassing up’ in the first place seems to be to use tackle which will land the pike quickly.

A mimimum15lb line and rods with test curves between 2.5lb and 3.5lb will ensure that no pike should take longer than ten minutes to land. Don’t play your fish for longer than necessary. Don’t keep the fish out of the water for more than a couple of minutes otherwise, you may have a fatality on your hands. Rest it in the landing net in-between unhooking and photography. Then get it back quickly. Six photos are more than enough for anyone!

If you should be so unlucky to have a pike in difficulty you need to find a shallow, sheltered piece of water and stake the fish out using all your rod rests, or anything you can beg or borrow to form a ‘cradle’ to keep the pike upright, then simply leave it alone for as long as it takes the fish to recover. This might be minutes or hours, but the more you mess the pike about the worse things will get. If you can find an area of oxygenated current, such as an incoming stream, place the pike in this area facing into the flow.

Various ideas have been suggested regarding releasing excess gas from the swim bladder. Indeed the Americans have had some success using a syringe to remove gas from the swim bladders of walleye. Unfortunately, this is a skilled technique that we don’t recommend untrained anglers attempt.

Some anglers have reported some success in releasing gas by holding back the gullet wall with a landing net handle. Others recommend bending the fish to force the gas out. However, all these techniques seem risky and uncertain – but in extreme cases, they might be worth trying.

A staked out fish, once it has metabolized its excess lactic acid should be able to rectify the balance of gas in its swim bladder, keep itself upright and swim strongly away.

Despite your best efforts, you might still occasionally hook a pike further back than you would like, you might find yourself fishing near someone who has deep hooked a pike and needs assistance, or you might land a pike that has someone else’s lost trace down its throat.

Even when hooks are out of sight the pike can generally be unhooked safely provided you take care and follow the guidelines outlined here.

On some occasions, the act of pulling on the trace will result in the bait (which is almost always still attached to the hooks when a pike has swallowed it) simply popping out of the pike’s throat – hooks and all. This is not always the case, but in any event, if you can see the bait it is always a good idea to grip it with a pair of strong forceps and try to pull it out before starting to remove the hooks.

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Getting the bait out of the way makes it much easier to see what you are doing when operating on the hooks. When there are two of you one opens the pike’s mouth using the fingers under the gill plate technique while the other pulls the trace using any line attached, or if necessary gripping the swivel with another pair of forceps.

The pull should be firm and sustained until the pike’s stomach starts to emerge into the throat. Once the first hook on the trace becomes visible – working with the forceps either down the throat, or very carefully through the gills – it can be inverted and un-hooked.

If necessary, bits can be cut off the hook using side cutters in order to remove it with minimum damage to the fish. Carry on using exactly the same approach with the second hook – assuming that it is a standard snap tackle. Once the hooks are removed the stomach will normally retract itself. If the problem trace is not yours it is unlikely you’ll have a clue where the hooks are if none are visible but you should still try the above procedure. If the trace has already been cut pull the cut end with forceps.

If this is not possible, cut and remove as much of the hooks/trace as you can and release the fish. It is reasonable to conclude that hooks left in a pike will eventually disintegrate by a combination of digestion and rusting (assuming that stainless steel hooks have not been used – and for this reason, they should not be).

Whenever possible, attempts should be made to remove any and all hooks. Should you be fishing alone, pull the line or braid with your teeth to raise the hooks up.

If there is no line attached to the trace then a piece of leather, or a pad of other material, can be attached to the swivel by means of something resembling a paper clip and this again pulled using your teeth. Be ready for any sudden movement of the fish though!

Do not forget that you are dealing with a living creature and time is of the essence. It may even pay to interrupt proceedings by putting the pike in the margins to re-charge its batteries before continuing. The fish should not be out of the water for longer than two or three minutes at a stretch.

To summarise, the best way to avoid deep hooking pike is to use good bite detection, to pay attention to it, and to strike as soon as you can. Placing the hooks towards the rear of the bait will further reduce the chances of a pike swallowing them. The use of barbless or semi-barbless hooks will make unhooking much easier should this happen.

However, barbless hooks should not be used as an excuse for leaving pike to swallow baits. You might also like to consider using double hooks rather than trebles, especially when fishing with dead baits. Always carry adequate unhooking gear – two pairs of forceps and a pair of side cutters. Try wherever possible to remove all hooks – but don’t over-stress the fish in the process.

When it comes to landing pike, a large, knotless landing net with arms of at least 36 inches, or a round frame of at least 30 inches, should be used. Ensure that the mesh of the net is well sunk before drawing the pike over it and lifting the net sufficiently to retain the pike. Holding the net by its frame will take the strain from the spreader block, and allow you to carry the net, rod, and fish safely together to the prearranged unhooking area. If necessary, gather up the mesh to raise the pike further from the ground.

If fishing with a friend you can keep the pike in the water in the landing net while they ready the unhooking equipment. Never lay pike down on hard or rough surfaces, always use an area of soft grass or better still a well-padded unhooking mat. When lure fishing many experienced pike anglers prefer to land their pike by hand. This is a method best used on small fish, and only when hooks are clearly visible and avoided. At all other times, a net is to be preferred. With your pike safely in the net and carried ashore, place it on a large, padded unhooking mat.

Look to see where your hooks are before proceeding to handle the fish. Turn the pike on its back and insert one or two fingers under a gill plate, keeping them well away from any hooks. You might like to wear a gardening glove on the hand you do this with, although some sensitivity is lost doing this and if possible get used to not using a glove. Lift the pike’s head carefully and its mouth will usually open. Maintain this hold while you use a pair of 10-12 inch artery forceps to grip and remove the hooks – top hook first, then the lower.

It is now that you will appreciate the use of semi-barbed hooks. If the hooks are in deeper near the throat, insert the forceps through the gaps in the gills below your holding hands. Please do this with great care and preferably under instruction if for the first time. With lively fish it is often easier to unhook the fish by kneeling astride it. When fishing with lures, which tend to have bigger and thicker-wired hooks fitted, you will benefit from the use of pliers as opposed to forceps.

Always carry a strong pair of side-cutters in case you need to cut through the hooks to aid unhooking. When you are a lot more experienced you may want to unhook pike in the water, thus minimizing contact. Despite the awesome look of all those sharp teeth, the pike will not purposely bite you. Don’t be frightened; treat the pike with respect and confidence. If the hooks are difficult to get out, do not cut the trace, unclip it. Put the pike in the landing net and into the water.

Then seek help from another pike angler, do not feel embarrassed, we have all been there. Once you have safely landed and unhooked your pike you might want to weigh it. There are many well designed weigh slings on the market today and one of these should always be used. Make sure that the sling is wetted on the inside before carefully placing the pike in it.To get an accurate weight for your pike, the scales should be zeroed with the empty, but damp, sling in place. Then when the fish is weighed in the sling the weight you read off the scales will be the weight of the fish – no need for difficult maths deducting the weight of the sling!

It is important to ensure that pike are always returned to the water with the minimum amount of fuss and they should not be retained for any longer than necessary. For this reason it pays to be well organized by having to unhook and weighing equipment prepared in advance. Once a pike has been weighed it can usually be released immediately. Of course, if it is a big one you might want to photograph it and your photographic equipment should also be organized before you take the pike from the water.

If you are fishing with a companion this is not a problem as they can take the photographs for you. However, if you are fishing alone you might need a few minutes to set up your camera and the pike should not be kept out of the water while you do so. Obviously the pike will need to be retained in the water, never use keepnets; they are not suitable for retaining pike. The use of a ‘pike tube’ is recommended in preference to ‘carp sacks’.

Sacks can cling to the gills of a pike, and get entangled in their teeth which will affect the fish’s breathing. Pike tubes keep the soft material away from the pike and the fish seem much happier in them than they do in sacks. Wet the tube before sliding the pike into it, stake the tube out horizontally in as deep water as you can. Make sure that the head of the pike faces any flow or wave action as this will improve the flow of oxygen through the fish’s gills and speed its recovery.

Once a pike rolls on its back and is left unattended it will die, so check that the pike is the right way up at regular intervals if it is kept in the tube for more than just a few minutes. Never retain pike for prolonged periods, and overnight retention is strongly discouraged. If boat fishing the tube can be secured to the gunwales, but if you have to move the boat with the tube over the side, you should do this as slowly as possible, and certainly not under motor power.

Don’t move a pike any distance out of the water, either when boating or bank fishing. When removing a pike from a tube always hold both ends of the tube while you allow the water to drain away, lay it on a soft surface and slide the pike out head first. A pike that has recovered its strength while in a tube will be livelier than when you first landed it! Take care not to lose control of it at this stage. Be firm with it until it quietens down sufficiently to be handled easily.

Once a pike has been weighed it can be safely carried back to the water in the sling for a careful release. Slip both sling and fish into the water and ease the pike out into its natural element. Always ensure that the pike can support itself before releasing your grip on it. If it has difficulty staying upright it will need careful nursing to recover. Stay with the fish for as long as it takes for it to maintain its balance unaided. A fully recovered pike will swim steadily away.

It is one thing handling pike when you are on solid ground, but when in a boat it requires a degree more confidence. If netting a fish from a drifting boat it is a good idea to maneuver the boat upwind of the pike. Better still drop the anchor to make boating the pike easier and reduce the length of time it will be played for. Always keep pike away from anchor ropes, strong sound tackle and a firm hand are essential for this.

Some experienced boat-pikers prefer a round framed net, but as these are best used with a scooping motion they are not that easy to use when fishing alone. A triangular framed net is perfectly satisfactory. Once a pike is netted the net can be held against the side of the boat and the pike unhooked in its meshes. With the hooks removed the pike may as well remain in the net over the side of the boat while the scales and camera are made ready.

Either lift the fish out of the net and directly into the weigh sling, or lift the net aboard and lay it on an unhooking mat or some other padded material prior to transferring the pike to the sling. Take special care when lifting fish aboard in rough weather. Anglers with a lot of boat fishing experience often prefer to keep their fish held off the deck at all times as pike often start flapping about when laid on a mat.

On the bank you have more freedom to kneel astride pike to calm them down; in a cramped boat, this course of action is not always practical. One advantage of photographing pike in a boat is that should the fish start to thrash while being held – and run the risk of falling on the deck – it can be safely dropped into the water. In all other cases, pike should be nursed as carefully when being released from a boat as they would be from the bank.

Kneel down and lean over the side of the boat, keeping a hold of the fish by the wrist of its tail until it can maintain its balance and is strong enough to swim off steadily.