An Irish Anglers World

Playing the Pike Percentages

When it comes to pike big fish make the headlines, that is a given. A twenty will cause the ears to prick up, while a thirty pounder will make the front page. Run of the mill fish between eight and twelve pounds rarely get a mention, but it is these fish that make up the bread and butter catches for most anglers. In Ireland we are blessed with top pike waters, from the Erne and the Shannon systems to the lakes of Cavan/Monaghan, from the River Barrow to the Inniscarra reservoir in Co. Cork. Twenties are the target, not easy to get but definitely in reach. A thirty however, now that is a special fish, an aspiration, a once in a lifetime catch, but not beyond the bounds. “The right place at the right time” comes to mind, and that is the key. By identifying and fishing a particular venue that produces large pike one is reducing the percentages and increasing the chances of catching that fish of a lifetime.

Fly caught pike for a delighted French guest, image courtesy Jim Hendrick, Wexford.

Rarely fished small waters with a good head of rudd, roach, and bream, or managed trout fisheries are excellent places to target large pike. Invariably these waters are located in private estates, or are open to residents and club members only. Regarding trout fisheries the members do not fish in the close season and in most cases are not interested in pike. Some clubs hold a couple of winter pike competitions and liaise with the local fisheries staff to have any pike landed removed safely to other waters. In the case of estates a meeting with the landowner establishing your bonefides is often enough to gain access. One such phone call to the marketing manager of Castle Leslie Estate, Co. Monaghan, produced such a result.

Glaslough is a small water covering 37 hectares located within the Castle Leslie estate close to the castle itself. More or less oval in shape with depths in excess of twenty meters, it is classic big pike water. There is a large supply of fodder fish, a good head of pike, and the water is lightly fished due to it being open to residents and guests of Castle Leslie only. Five boats are available which can be booked through reception. The lake has produced fish to thirty pounds in the recent past along with a run of twenties. With a view to targeting large Irish pike a date was arranged and the troops were mustered. Local pike anglers Peadar O’Brien and Chris Grzegortz, Co.Wexford based bass and pike guide Jim Hendrick along with visiting French bass specialist and lure maker Eric Le Guyader and his friend Philippe met me beside the boat house at Glaslough on what was a warm, still, cloudy, autumn morning.

Pike fishing off the boathouse shore, Castle Leslie, Co. Monaghan, Ireland.

The plan was to use a number of fishing methods ranging from surface and sunk lures to fly fishing to float drifted dead baits. Two boats were booked, one to concentrate on lure and fly fishing captained by Jim Hendrick, and the other with Peadar O’Brien at the helm to major on lure and dead bait fishing. Glaslough was to get a thorough testing over the following six hours with interesting results. Eric Le Guyader, proprietor of Orion Lures, concentrated on surface fishing with his range of hand made poppers and walking the dog lures. Jim Hendrick fly fished while Peadar O’Brien stuck to the tried and tested method of float drifting dead baits. With the rest of the party mixing and matching we were confident of catching fish and hopeful that at least one would be a lunker.

Departing the boathouse at about 10.00am Jim motored to a deep drop off straight across the lake while Peadar headed to the shallow northern end. The shore of Glaslough is predominantly lined with reeds with very few access points other than the quay beside the boathouse or along the northern shore so bank fishing is limited. Hence boat angling is the traditional way, although there is a hole straight off the wooden jetty built for Paul McCartney and Heather Mills wedding which is productive and also a spot 40 meters off the willow tree at the back of the boathouse that produces. Try popping up a dead bait. Chris Grzegortz cast a small fresh rainbow trout off the jetty during lunch which within five minutes was snaffled by an eight to ten pounder. Stopping for sandwiches always delivers the goods.

Down on the jetty, pike angling in Co. Monaghan, Ireland.

Morning on the water was slow with a few jacks and one ten pound+ fish all on lures to Peadar’s boat while Jim’s crew remained fishless. However using an eight inch perch pattern fashioned around a single barbless Ad Swier hook Jim did connect for a short spell with a serious fish, possibly the same one, twice within ten minutes. On each occasion as evidenced by the state of the fly the back end had been grabbed while the business end remained free. As a rule Jim doesn’t employ a stinger. He feels that these increase the risk of deep hooking a fish, something which he tries to avoid.

Sport picked up immediately after lunch, Chris’s jetty caught fish in retrospect being a precursor as to what followed. The morning session had revealed that there is a continuous contour circumnavigating the lake at roughly three meters deep, which then steeply shelves to ten meters or more. On the boathouse shore this line lies about 40 meters off shore. On the far side and at the southern end the depth drops away close to the reed beds. Armed with this information and targeting areas that showed concentrations of bait fish our fortunes improved. Float fished dead baits did particularly well for Peadar O’Brien, especially off the boathouse and Heather Mills jetty.

A fine county Monaghan pike for angling guide Peadar O'Brien.

Peadar fished two rigs comprising eighteen inch wire traces connected to snap swivels above which were threaded a couple of beads and enough drilled bullets to cock a sliding float. He controlled the fishing depth by incorporating a moveable rubber stop on the main line above the float. Baiting up with dead roach, in this instance suspended four meters below the surface in eight meters of water, Peadar chose a drift line about fifty meters off the boathouse shore, suddenly a float bobs and slides away, the fish is let run and then bang, the hook is set. Deep runs away from the boat and head shaking cartwheels ensue as the pike throws itself skywards. In prime condition and averaging twelve pounds, the crack was mighty.

Meanwhile Eric Le Guyader was persevering with his surface lures, landing one fish, and enticing on at least two occasions’ savage attacks which in the quite of the afternoon sounded like depth charges going off. Walking the dog was the method using his own design “Mister Joe” slider lures. His friend Philippe drew the biggest cheer of the day when he boated his first fly caught pike, while top man was arguably Chris who was using soft plastic paddle tail jig lures to great effect.

Medium sized pike always bring a smile.

Practicing catch and release, at session end when scores where tallied, thirty pike were landed ranging from eight to fifteen pounds. A few jacks were caught also but these were surplus and not included in the overall returns. No monsters boated, but recent records show that they are still present. All agreed that it had been a productive day afloat with some fine pike landed, the biggest to dead baits. The general consensus was that it is far better to fish waters that provide quality sport and a good chance of a specimen, as against dour waters that hold huge fish but only deliver once in a blue moon. Between now and early spring with a couple of frosts to sharpen the pikes hunger, Castle Leslie will be worth a return visit and who knows, maybe a lunker? It’s called playing the percentages.

Ashley Hayden © September 2012

Click on: Peadar O’Brien, Pike Angling Guide.

Click on: Pike Hatrick in Co. Cavan.

Click on: Dave’s First Pike.

Click on: Trigger Happy Pike.

Click on: Irish Pike Fishing Memories.