Featured on Fisherman's Blues - Talksport2
When targeting pike or fishing for most freshwater species it’s almost certain you’ll run into a pike and knowing how to safely unhook, hold and return a pike without getting bitten or causing any unnecessary harm to the pike is important.
Even today I speak to a lot of anglers who are either too scared to hold a pike or see them as a nuisance and treat them badly. Pike are an impressive species of fish but they also have an aggressive character and this oftentimes prevents anglers from wanting to put their hand anywhere near the mouth of a pike. The truth is, it’s very unlikely a pike will bite you and is actually a very delicate predator.
If you’re fishing for pike by design, or you simply want to know how to safely hold a pike whilst angling for other species you’re in the right place. Below we have created a simple 4-step guide on how to hold a pike – without getting bitten!
Step 1: Put the pike on an unhooking mat
Once you’ve netted the pike you’ll want to place it on an unhooking mat to prevent it from harm. Some more experienced pike anglers may ‘chin’ the pike to unhook and then release especially smaller pike, but for larger fish and less in-experienced anglers the mat is the best for unhooking. Generally, a 1 metre / 100cm wide unhooking mat that offers some padding will work nicely. If it has sides – even better!
Step 2: Locate and slip your fingers between the gills and gill plate
Once the pike is safely on the mat you’ll want to ‘chin it’ to control the fish. This allows you easier access to either unhook the pike or hold it for a quick photo. The term ‘chin’ refers to holding the pike by the jaw with your fingers inside the gill cavity.
To ‘chin’ or hold the pike, first, locate the gill flap and run your fingertips just inside until they can no longer go any further forward. Be careful not to go too deep with your fingertips as just behind this flap are the gills which can be sharp. You can also damage the fish by pressing on the gills or being too forceful. If you look inside the gill plate, using your fingers to open the gill cavity slightly you’ll find there is a natural space for your fingertips to rest.
Tip – If the pike head is pointing left on the unhooking mat use your left hand to locate the gill cavity and find a firm grip.
Step 3: Control the jaw of the pike by firming and holding on to the jaw
When you’ve located this space tighten your grip just enough to gain a firm hold on the inside of the gill cavity and on the outer jaw. With your fingertips gently lift the pike head off the mat and towards you. When unhooking pike, especially when they’re deeply hooked you can apply this head lift with the pike on its back, the pike’s mouth will naturally open and allow you to gain access for lure/hook removal.
With hooks removed close the pike mouth keeping a firm grip on the jaw, you can now use your free hand to place it under the belly of the pike and support its weight.
Step 4: Always support the belly of the pike (no matter how small)
For larger or aggressive pike it’s always important to support the weight of the fish with your free hand. Firstly, this takes away any unnecessary further stress to the fish but also it gives you a heads-up before the pike is about to thrash. Not always, but most of the time before a pike thrashes it’s body tenses up and by having your hand on the belly of the pike you can feel this before it happens, allowing you vital seconds to place the pike back on the unhooking mat.
With the pike fully supported, you can now take your photos and safely return the fish back to the water once it has been rested. A pike will let you know when it’s ready to swim away so be patient and when you see it swimming against the net it’s ready to go.
Learning to hold a pike safely for photos or to quickly unhook and return to the water is a vital skill all pike anglers should acquire. The less time a pike spends on the bank the better – they really are delicate fish despite their aggressive looks and big teeth. If we’re going to fish for them we should be prepared with all the necessary equipment required and confident we’re not doing any unnecessary harm to the pike.
Are gloves necessary?
In our opinion gloves are not necessary and can often get in the way or can do some damage to the pike’s gill rakers when inserting your fingers between the gill cavity and jawline.
Is it easier to hold a smaller pike or a bigger pike?
In our experience, we find the larger pike are easier to hold. They have larger jaw lines meaning you can get a better hold on the fish and keep control. With smaller pike the opposite is true and for tiny jacks, you’ll often only be able to get one or two fingers in between the jaw and gill cavity to hold the fish.
Will a pike bite me?
If you put your hand into a pike’s mouth then it’s likely to close on you, we recommend you don’t do this. When holding a pike properly (from the jawline) there’s little chance you’ll get bitten.
Are my fingers near the pike’s teeth when holding the fish properly?
The quick answer is yes but if you have a firm grip on the jaw of the pike it’s unlikely you’ll come into contact with the teeth. What’s more likely is you’ll come into contact with the gill rakers and these are sharp. If this happens you’ll suffer a couple of grazed fingers.