Fishing with lures for pike and perch can be viable around the calendar, but for reliable sport, autumn and early winter take some beating. The water temperature is ideal to get them chasing and much of the summer's weed growth will have died back, making snagging less likely. It can be a frustrating method though because simply casting and retrieving any old lure is rarely going to produce much success.
You do need to come up with the ideal lure for the swim you are tackling and must work it in an appropriate manner. Over several decades of lure fishing for these species, I have come up with my own magic formula, which I work to religiously whenever, and wherever I fish. My five simple rules are derived from a logical approach that rarely lets me down. First of all, I would advise any newcomer to lure fishing not to think that lure fishing is a simple method just requiring casting and retrieving. Any degree of success can only come from extensive experience and experimentation.
To be able to experiment with lures, one will obviously need a good selection to choose from. Buying wisely, by only purchasing suitable lures for the venue you are tackling, is essential to cut down costs and to have any chance of success. Many anglers do this the wrong way round. They buy a box full of lures and then try to find somewhere to use them. Not surprisingly they find that many of them are totally unsuitable, and many are prone to getting snagged and lost because they work too deep.
A better approach is to consider the venue you are about to tackle with regard to its depth, clarity, the type of prey fish it contains and the water temperature. This will be quite bewildering to newcomers, but my five steps to success with lures will prepare them to not only choose the best lure for the swim, but also to buy wisely in the future when fishing different types of venues. Let’s look at what the five steps are.
Without doubt, the depth that the lure is worked is the most important factor. Get this wrong and you could be totally wasting your time. You need to present your lure within in the strike zone and, at the same time, not snag up on any underwater features or weed. In milder conditions, predators will often come up from quite a depth to attack lures but as the water temperature falls, the distance they are prepared to travel is reduced considerably and you will need to work a lure very close to the bottom where they tend to lie at this time.
Knowing precisely how deep your lure will run will avoid snagging, and a degree of trial and error will be needed to assess each swim. Spoons and spinners can be useful at any time and can be worked at different depths by counting them down progressively deeper with successive casts until contact is made with the bottom. The negative side to them is that they snag easily and they work too fast for colder conditions when predators are less likely to chase. Crankbaits are then a better option as they can be retrieved very slowly at a predictable depth.
The floating diver type of crankbaits are a good choice in snaggy swims as they will return towards the surface when you stop reeling, something you would do if feeling a snag during the retrieve. This type of lure will have its own inbuilt maximum working depth as specified by the manufacturer and can be reliably used in water of a known depth. When the fish are tight to the bottom, a jig would be another good choice if there are no snags or weed present.
Although I rate speed after depth, it can still be a vitally important factor, especially in cold water when predators do everything very slowly. As a general rule, the lower the water temperature, the slower you need to work the lure. In mild conditions, it often takes a fast-moving lure to get the predator's attention and, within reason, it’s unlikely at this time that you can work a lure too fast. When working lures fast, it’s important to ensure they run true and don’t start spinning round or loose their action. For fast retrieving, I’ve always liked the Rapala Magnum crankbait range, which is specially balanced to run true at high speed.
When minimal speed is required, I use suspending crankbaits like the Rapala Down Deep Husky Jerk which has close to neutral buoyancy. When cranked to their working depth, they suspend momentarily before attempting to return to the surface at a snail's pace. This means they can be inched along at a fairly constant depth. This keeps them in the predators’ strike zone for long periods of time and gives them plenty of time to make their minds up.
If suspending lures do not work in this way and they sink when paused, it is likely that your wire trace is too heavy and will need fine-tuning. Jigs can be worked very slowly too and can be brought to a halt on the bottom if it is snag free, where predators are likely to scoop them up if skilfully inched along. Once again, there is great scope for experimentation.
With the lure working at the ideal depth and speed, success may still not come if the angler has not chosen an appropriate colour. It would be a very wise angler who could tackle a new water and get it right first time and I would never try to ‘second guess’ what colour will work unless I know the venue intimately. I have so many times seen a particular colour turn the predators on that I work through a good selection of colours before giving up. With this in mind, it is a good idea to have several colours to try out ranging from natural looking patterns to bold attractor colours. As a rule of thumb, I start with naturals in clear water and bright attractors where clarity is not so good. I stress though that this is only a starting point and the outcome is never clear. I do know though that there will often be a colour which is better than all the others in my tackle box.
Lure action can range from very subtle to extremely wild and it all depends upon the mood of the predator as to what will make it react. There are times when a very gentle action is appropriate, typical of cold water fishing conditions. Then there are other times when the lure needs much more movement to get a response from uninterested fish. Sometimes it is provided by the action built into the design of the lure, but any lure can be worked aggressively using rod action to make it dart and keel. Whichever lure you are using, and at any time, it pays to vary its action during a retrieve to see whether working it in a particular way brings success. For example,floating diving lures can be speeded up and then slowed down almost to a halt, making them work with more action for a while and then rising slowly with little action. There are endless permutations to how a lure can be worked to vary its action, and the same lure in different hands can see totally different results, confirming to me that the skill that comes from experimentation and experience is invaluable.
Although I’ve mentioned this point last, the profile and size of the lure is still extremely important. When all of the other factors have been taken into consideration, the size and profile of the lure can and does make a difference. Fortunately predators are opportunists and will snap at anything they think they can get easily. This I’ve proven many times by taking very large fish with small lures and had small ones attempt to take very large lures. It’s just in their nature to attack anything that they think they can eat or find threatening.
There will be times though when they are fixated on a particular size of prey and I’ve found this especially applicable to perch. It is not necessarily a smaller lure either and they will sometimes show a preference for lures that would seem impossible for them to swallow. Conversely, pike will often respond better to small lures for no apparent reason. There is no family of lures with such a variety of profiles than the crankbaits.
Crankbaits can cause some confusion to beginners as they come in so many shapes. A simple overview finds that there are three main shapes: minnows, shads and fat bodies. They are intended to represent different prey fish profiles which makes it possible to ‘match the hatch’ where required, but once again it is never that straight forward and you need to offer different shapes to see whether there is a preference.
It is quite likely that at this stage your head is spinning with confusion. Even if you work through these steps, there is a lot of trial and error involved. I can’t stress enough the need to experiment and practice. To be a successful lure angler on a variety of waters and under different water and weather conditions requires logical thinking and dedication.
I don’t mind admitting that I’m still learning after 40 years of casting lures. It’s a wonderful journey of discovery though as your success and skill grows. This can only come through an approach which starts with selecting the ideal lures for the venue and continues with chopping and changing them to work out which one in your collection will get the best result from the day. You do need a large collection to have the best chance of success, but this can be built up over time. Wise buying means not wasting money on lures you won’t use, and understanding how deep they work will avoid losses through snagging. In the long term it is a lot cheaper than bait fishing too!
I would suggest that you start with half-a-dozen lures and get to know them well, their shortcomings as well as their benefits. When purchasing another handful of lures, you will have that experience and knowledge to build upon. It takes time, and there are no shortcuts to success with lures for pike and perch, but you will have great fun along the way!