What is predator fishing?
Predator fishing is a type of fishing which specifically targets the predatory species of the British waters, both fresh and salt water. it can be fun to try your hand at these species if your mainly a carp angler looking for something different, or just starting out and looking to get your hands dirty. The UK has some of the best predator species in the world, from the humble perch in its dank, dark waters to the heft wels catfish coming in at 50lb+. Growing up, I spent a lot of my time behind a large supermarket which had the overflow from one of the large lakes nearby, This place was 3 foot wide and 6 foot deep and was essentially just a drain but it was packed full of perch up to 2lb, jack pike and countless silverfish. all contained in this mini ecosystem. ot taught me to never overlook a place based on its looks (or smell) and to stalk my prey as it were. being a small place with little cover, learning to place your shadows as you walked the steep bank was critical.
I went with a friend who was the pike man, he carried a 6-foot spinner rod, a handful of multicoloured spinners, a net and a mat and that was all we needed for a fun few hours. I was the traditionalist, finely tied knots, perfectly balanced floats and neatly presented baits to tempt the biggest perch from the depths, it was a fun time for sure.
Predator fishing isn’t just looking for little canals and drains, some massive pike have been caught dead baiting out in the open water, and some huge catfish have been had by accident when carp fishing. there are no hard and fast rules for predator fishing but it can be a bit daunting the first time you visit the tackle shop looking for a lure and you see the wall of colour that holds all the spinners and plugs and jelly baits. So we have written this short intro guide to how to get started with the basics of predator fishing, what you need as essentials and what you don’t need.
We hope you find it interesting and gets you geared up for a few hours spinning or dead baiting for your preferred species.
So what can I catch in the UK?
we have half a dozen freshwater species which fall into the predator category and a couple in salt water but this is not an exhaustive list, this is more of a common species guide.
The European Pike is the poster child of the predator fishing world, Built like a torpedo with its elongated body, reptilian snout packed full of sensory organs and teeth that would make a rottweiler shy, They really are a beautiful species of fish. Commonly found on the outskirts of weeds and other underwater features, they lay in wait pulsing the 4 paddle-like fins along its length waiting for a meal, typically an ambush predator which lends itself well to lure fishing, a hungry pike will smell a dead bait from some distance away and seek it out. The sensory organs they have around the snout and along its lateral line are highly tuned to the electrical interference in the waters around it which is why many silverfish get ambushed as the anglers are reeling them in, a fish in distress will throw out all kinds of electrical signals in the water because of the excessive muscle movements which most predator fish are ‘listening’ too. If you’re into your fish being big, bold and dangerous then the European Pike is the one to look out for.
Zander, or ‘Pike-Perch’ as they are sometimes called are a very pretty species, not as widespread as the Pike are, you often come upon these by chance unless you go to a lake or river which specifically has them. They can live alongside pike happily but as they are smaller than pike, they often get eaten by the bigger pike when they are juveniles.The Zander has a beautiful colour range, from the deep olive green of the perches stripes to the silvery flank of a pike. they have an elongated body similar to a pike but have a hump on the upper back which gives rise to 2 spiny fins along its length of its thick back. the first set of spines by the had are sharp and pointy like a perch, whereas the second set is less sharp and pointy but can still catch you out if your not careful, Like the perch, they also have a pointed gill cover so be careful. The Zanders mouth is home to some pretty fearsome teeth, very similar to a pikes arsenal, slightly larger gapped and fewer total teeth. When you hook a Zander the first thing you will feel is the thick tail beating away in the water in an unexpected burst of speed, this is where most anglers snap off so don’t forget to set your drag. Targeting Zander is difficult in a location holding both species but if you think of them more of giant perch then you may have a chance, look for weeds and long tall bushes poking out the water, or large islands of lily pads and target those areas rather than open waters. Zander are much more ambush predator than scavenger but will still take a dead bait if offered.
Of the humble perch, the stripy Yorkshire terrier of the lakes edges, I love these guys, The school up nicely and when you hook one they keep on coming, varying in sizes and will always fight back. Often caught by kids and teenagers and very often the first fish a new angler will catch. they are gluttonous creatures and will eat anything from giant lobworms twice the size of there body to individual maggots. no bait is too big, well, at least they think so anyway! the juveniles are the most confident, zipping a float under the surface or tugging the quiver tip round without a care in the world but the bigger they get, the more difficult they get to catch. perch can get up to 3-4lb with no problem and the fight like a fish twice the weight, they are a deep-bodied species with dense muscle running the length of its chunky body, bright orange fins give it away as well as its characteristic stripes along its flank, their mouth is huge, it expands as it opens so it can quickly suck in the bait, or prey its after and are most often deep hooked around the throat, if your quick then you can lip hook them but the lips are similar to a hard bone rather than soft and rubbery and have tiny sharp pins along its upper and lower jar. they carry some defence so be careful when handling, they have a sharp spike on the gill plate as well as on the fin on its back, the skin is very rough to the touch and can scare young children as they don’t feel nice to touch. Perch can sometimes have a bad wrap for bait robbing but despite all of this, they have a special place in my heart and hopefully, yours as well.
well…erm. Frankly, these creatures freak me out. Essentially they are all muscle, a very large mouth and strength! they will actively hunt for large prey as well as scavenge and can be caught on dead bait, flavoured boilies, maggots and worms. Not so much on lures but it has been known but I wouldn’t specifically target them. predominantly a night hunter, they can be caught on the bottom of lakes and rivers during the daytime and if you were to groundbait a large area for silvers, then a catfish would generally show up around the perimeter to help. Like I said, these amazing creatures are all muscle, from the gummy mouth with the large crushing plates inside to the slick skin and tiny eyes. They often hunt by smell and not by sight which lends them perfectly to dead baiting. They can get into immense sizes requiring 3 men to lift them out the water and some of the specimens abroad could swallow a child whole. If you are targeting these guys then step up your gear slightly, big sharp hooks, thick traces and a rod with some grunt to steer them away from snags. Catching the small ones can be a great afternoon, and up to 10lb they really are fun, but once you get to the 20lb+ range then you need to set some time aside for each catch, being all muscle, they use a lot of energy quickly and will often fight in waves with the initial wave a strong run, and once they see you and a net, they will be off again. but keep calm, play them well and don’t force the fish, remember, as strong its fighting you, its because it’s scared so the last thing you want to do is start winching it and stressing it more.
Oh the Eel, ok so let’s get it out of the way straight away, These are not nice to catch. Not because of what they are, but because of the amount of mucus they can generate will make you feel violated. You will need an excessive amount of clothes and towels to wipe your hands down afterwards, the rig you used will probably need to be changed and your rod handle will be slimed. They are a great little addition to the UK predator list and although not specifically a predator in the traditional sense, they are an active part of the ecosystem, eating most things, dead or alive and often go unnoticed around you. targeting eels is pretty easy, use any strong-smelling bait, a long shank hook and a simple rig, Eels can be found in lakes, rivers, both fresh and salt, and can put up a nice little tug of war, if they get into the snags then you have to wait as you will not budge it so keep mindful of whats in the water and steer them away, once caught they tend to knot themsleves up around your rig which often results in you strategically cutting your rig away from there slimy bodies to make sure they dont hurt themselves. I once caught an eel from a saltwater river which had nearly decapitated itself by the time I landed it. luckily he survived but after few minutes and I don’t think he would have. If you have never caught one then you’re missing out, and if you have caught one, it’s doubtful you will go looking for more unless you’re crazy! or own a laundrette to wash your slimy towels afterwards! Eels are snake-like tubes of muscles, very highly developed sense of smell and taste and pretty good eyesight too. they have a row of sharp stubby teeth lining there jaw and a rough tongue. normally light grey/silver to olive coloured on the flank and top and white on its soft belly. it has 2 pectoral fins near its head and the tail has a fin on the top and bottom like a paddle.
Summer Bass fishing is an experience you have to try at least once, They fight hard, take bait hard and will make you work for your catch. You may have heard about the current ban on Bass around the UK at the moment, just to clarify on these points, catch and release is fine but you may not keep any to take home until ist July 2018 and then you can only take 1 Bass which is over 42 centimetres. If you land a big bass coming in at 40cm, then please put it back, I know its only 20mm but we all have to respect the law as well as these creatures. personally, I don’t take bass home to eat, They have. a great flavour and very nice flesh but I don’t fish for food, its just pleasure.
You can find out more information about the rules of UK Bass fishing here. Anyway, back to the fish, Like I said bass are powerful creatures, thick bodied and muscle all over, There mouths are huge relative to the size of the fish and can take baits much larger than what you would initially think. Generally a very reflective silver colour due to the hundreds of scales adorning its body, the fin colours vary from light/pale colours to a translucent grey colour. They have a large spiked fin on there back as well as spikes on their gill plates, these are the ones to look out for as when caught, the gill plates are the first thing to jab in your hand as you lift them from the net. Although they don’t have teeth in the traditional sense, they do have a row of fine sharp teeth on both jaws. overall a very fine fish to catch (and release).
The conger eel is a magnificent creature. As much as I’m not a fan of its smaller cousin, a Conger Eel isn’t just another eel, it’s like hooking a bicep, if you have never seen a conger eel (see pic) then boy are you in for a treat. Like a regular eel, it has long elongated body, small pectoral fins near its large head and a paddle-like tail, except its huge, they can regularly grow to be 60cm+ although your far more likely to catch a smaller one of 5-25lb around the common shore marks such as piers and inshore wrecks, it takes a long time to reach the 50lb mark for these guys and they will be found at larger wrecks with more food and away from as many disturbances as possible, during daylight hours they will be hidden away or at the very bottom of the ocean floor which is why you will commonly find them in wrecks. at night time they are a bit more confident and will look for food. Once they have food they will quickly consume it and if unsure, they will retreat to somewhere safe. This is where the problem lies with catching these hefty lumps of muscle, if you let them get amongst a snag, hole or any place they can hide, you will be there for hours waiting them out. impatience will just make them hide longer and will often result in you snapping off and them having a hook stuck in their mouth for a long time, not good for anyone. if you do target conger, scale your gear up for the heavy side, thick lines, strong hooks and strong hook lengths, rotten bottoms are a great idea so you can get snagged with your weight then and once your into the fish, keep the pressure steady and keep its head pointing up away from snags.
I hope by now your getting a bit excited, seeing the range of predator fish we have in and around the UK just waiting for you to get the right gear and head out to try your luck, but wait! you cant just head out with a can of sweet corn and few size 6 hooks, oh no, keep reading to see what bait to use, when and how. Trust me, it will help you use the right bait at the right time and give yourself the edge when targeting these amazing specimens of fish.
dead baits, lures, plugs, spinners, live baits, American jigs, there are so many varieties of baits and alternatives to use, it can be daunting when you first look but don’t worry, read on to see what baits to use, when and how.
fishing with lures is a favourite summer sport, it has very little mess, no storing of baits and your ready to go fishing all the time, When fishing with lures you have a few options of what you do, for example, with a spoon type spinner, which creates lot of vibrations for pike, zander and bass, it can be more favourable to stay in one position and work the area throroughly to give the fish a chnace to first identify where your lure is and then to strike it, To work an area, its quite normal for your first cast to be on the left of where you are and with each cast, aim more right until you have covered the water in front of you. you can do this 3-4 times and then move on to a new area. the benefit of lure fishing is that you’re always moving so very good for kids who can’t sit still, and adults too. sometimes you dont want to sit in one area and watch a float.
Lures can come in many shapes and sizes, from highly prized handcrafted Japanese models which look like mice and rats to the more common plastic bodied fish-shaped lures.
American style jigs
American style jigs can look intimidating when your first come across them, they generally have a large spoon and hook on side of an arm and a muppet-type jig lure on the other, the idea is to create a heavy vibration in the water and a visual hook for the predator fish to strike at, be it the spoon or the jig. they are very effective, especially in the more commercial waters as they have little use over in the UK so it can catch the larger, more shy fish who have experience with the more traditional designs.
The humble spoon is a very traditional lure, We used to make these as kids by stealing the spoons from mums cutlery door and bending the handle off until it breaks, very similar to the American jogs in its practice, it creates a large wobble vibration in the water and the wobble also allows light to flash off its shiny surface creating a look of a struggling fish. strikes on spoons can be very explosive as a hungry pike or zander will not pass up an injured silverfish making that much disturbance in the water.
fish shaped lures
This is where it goes a bit crazy with the choice, fish-shaped lures can be a minefield of colours, shapes, designs, sizes and even scents on some! its very easy to get excited and buy all the colours just in case but stop. most of these designs catch more anglers than fish, so put your wallet back in your pocket and take a step back. this is what you need to know.
if your targeting pike or zander, stick to a lure which is no longer than 10cm, if your targeting perch, then no longer then 6cm, if you’re after Bass then go for a lure up to 15 cm, you will need to the extra size and weight to get to where the fish are. although this is used only as a guide, feel free to try different sizes for different fish once you have more experience with them.
Although you can get a lure in every colour you could possibly want, this is where you’re going to need to use a bit of experimentation and get some advice based on where your fishing. natural colours work very well in the colder months and in some rarely fished waters, brighter colours generally work better in commercial lakes where the fish are somewhat conditioned to accept bright colours. If your targeting bass then go for bright colours, Bass have very good eyesight and quite often the fish they generally eat have a wide colour range, from bright orange crabs to blue and green striped garfish as well as smaller bass which are bright silver. Most definitely try pink highlights on white/silver and green/blue jewel colours. if you’re after pike and zander or even perch then black and yellow work very well, as well as silver and a striped colour design. in my local waters, the Wensum, natural colours work well outside the city but brighter colours work better the further in the city you go.
Hooks will come installed on many lures so you will not have to change them, what most anglers do, and myself included is actually remove the trebles which come preinstalled on most lures and replace with a single barbless hook, This has a few benefits such as fewer snags, its kinder on the fish and a lot easier to get on barbless hook out of a pikes mouth than 3 barbed hooks. Although this is purely a personal choice I would say at least try it a couple of times and see how easy it is to unhook and release the fish as well as how much cleaner the hook stays when catching the weed.
if you’re targeting a predator fish such as the Pike or Zander, you will have to use a wire trace. These are very supple lengths of braided wire around 6-12 inches long
with a swivel at each end, traces are mandatory if your targeting these species, it will stop them biting through the line which will always happen otherwise, whilstthis is annoying for the angler, it can leave the fish in a dangerous predicament for example if the lure has treble hooks on it and it has gone through both the upper and lower lip, that fish will now be unable to hunt and may die. using a wire trace has a very little effect on the catch rate of your fishing but a direct effect on your landing rate. if your targeting perch with a lure and your unsure if the waters have any larger predators in it, use a wire trace just ot be sure, 9 times out of 10 you wont need it but if you do catch a larger fish then you know you at least have a chance of landing it.
Lure fishing is suitable for Pike, Zander, Perch & Bass
Dead baits are ther more traditional approach to predator fishing. although it sounds morbid it is often the most productive approach for the angler who goes fishing for a lazy day in the sun on a day off from work. at its essence its simply hooking a dead fish to a wire trace with treble hooks and casting out to a nice looking spot, but its a fine art in reality. You can purchase blast frozen fish baits from most tackle shops in handy sized packets. depending on the species your targeting will depend on what baits you go for. for example, if your after the humble pike then smelt and roach baits are golden, but on occasions so are mackerel due to the high oil content. with a dead bait the main appeal is the scent, Roach would be more natural and can be deadly in a commercial fishery, if your targeting a new water, then smelt can be a good choice, to us they smell like cucumber but it does something good for the pike and will often pull in a catch when others fail. if your in a highly fished commercial fishery or you want to have a large scent cloud then go for mackerel, although they are a very soft bait, just a gentle lob with a well secured mackerel will result in av ery powerful cloud of delicious fishy scents which wil pull in pike from a fair distance away. Once the bait is in the water then its time to wait, whether you decided to ledger the dead bait or float fish with one of the many popular pike floats available, occasionally give your line a gentle tug, this helps release more scent and give a curious pike or zander a visual target to stike. it can be the difference between a blank and a personal best. if catfish or eels are your game then its a bit of a different approach, you will want to spill the guts a bit, thes especies are scavengers and will rarely pass up a meal. so just the cut the deadbait in half and let the scent flow, use a single ledger bomb to keep the bait pinned to the bottom of the lake or sea and again, wait for the take. I like to keep my drag pre-set to prevent snap offs and put the reel into freespool mode so the fish has no resistance when taking the bait, it helps get a stronger hook hold when you strike.
suitable for: Pike, Zander, Perch, Bass, Conger, Catfish, Eel
In most commercial fisheries, Live baiting is banned. although it can be very effective, most anglers find this method of fishing a bit cruel and it is generally frowned upon. There are no laws really preventing you from live baiting, I urge you not to, it involves catching a roach or other silverfish, hooking treble hooks into its flank whilst its alive and casting it back into the water again. its a huge trauma for any creature to go through for very little gains. Fishermate does not support live baiting and I can only ask you do not practice it. you can find more information here if its something you want to look into but i provide it just for educational purposes.
I hope this has given you an appetite for predator fishing and has opened your eyes to the lesser known UK predator fish available all over the UK. Part 2 of the predator introduction will focus on rods, reels, end tackle and rigs as well as some tips and trick sot help you catch more so keep an eye out for the future.