Hard Fishing - Avoiding Blanks

When it seems like every fish in the river or lake has emigrated, or fallen asleep, and every lure comes back unbitten, what can you do to save a blank? I seem to fish on a few days when a response from a fish is like a miracle, I also hate blanking, so here are a selection of ideas that sometimes save a blank for me.

Usually it is pike that cause all the trouble, they are moody, like a different species every day. Some days they seem like the easiest fish in the world to catch, and some days they are all but impossible.

Having spent most of my fishing time on rivers I will have a look at flowing water first. Coloured water is the number one curse of the river lure angler, badly coloured water nearly always kills sport. If you can check on the level and colour of the river before you set out, you can save yourself a wasted trip. Try to cultivate friends who live near the river, give them a phone call and ask them if the river is up or down, coloured or clear. You can also ring the local water authority who may have an 0891 number with the latest river levels, water temperatures, and change in each of these over the last twenty-four hours. If you know it is going to be horrible you can find another venue.

Even if the river looks perfect, it is still not uncommon to find that the pike have temporarily disappeared. In summer and autumn chub can provide very reliable sport. Note the location of accidental chub captures that you make, good chub swims tend to stay good season after season. Always take a few chub sized lures. I have saved many blanks over the years by switching to chub, a Manns 1-, a Big S and a couple of bar spinners take up little space and are well received by fast water chub.

Look at the swims you are fishing, if the river has some variety in pace, depth and weed growth make sure you try all possible swim types. After an hour in deep water swims without a take it makes sense to look for a shallower swim.

A good memory can help, remember the swims that have produced fish before. I know loads of good looking swims on the Severn that have never produced a pike to my lures, yet apparently similar ones have been good producers. When the fishing is hard it is not the time to experiment with swims that are useless at the best of times.

My final piece of advice on river pike is to take some spinnerbaits, they are easy to use in all types of swim, and are just about the best blank-saving lure for most rivers.

Water colour and level are less often a problem on stillwaters, but some small estate lakes can colour badly following storms, when soil is washed off farmland into the feeder streams. Algal blooms can be a problem in summer, but they seem unpredictable in their occurrence and intensity. I have found that green water is not good for lures, I would try another venue.

To someone reared on the murky river Severn a clear-water gravel pit looks most inviting, at least the pike will see the lures. It seems inconceivable that you could fail, but even in an apparent lure angler's paradise the pike can be just as awkward.

Good water clarity is a two-edged sword, pike can see the lures, and they can also see you. Pike do not like people, they fear the tall silhouette on the bank, so be careful, use every scrap of cover to disguise your outline. With a good breeze blowing and a strong ripple this is much less of a problem, but when it is flat calm every movement on the bank is clearly visible to the pike.

The pike vote with their feet when windless conditions prevail, they move off, further from the bank, or perhaps sink into weedbeds where they are not going to be threatened by the strange moving shapes on the bank. It seems to me that the longer the wind speed stays low, and there is no ripple, the further out and deeper the pike move, or the more reluctant they become to move from cover. All the bankside disturbance from walkers, dogs, birdwatchers and anglers combined with low flying birds contribute to the pike's nervousness. Fish deep and far off to put your lures near some pike, heavy bankside cover and deep water close in probably offer you best chance for success, if you get to know a water well you may discover an area that does produce fish under these conditions. Sinking lures seem to do better than deep-diving, floating crankbaits. Slow moving glide baits and jigs will offer the best chances. Fast retrieves should be tried, but fast actioned crankbaits are nearly always poor in these circumstances. These conditions are hard, fish carefully, try smaller lures first, don't scare the pike even more with huge, rattling, flashing monsters.

In these flat calm conditions your best chance of a fish often comes as the light fades into dusk. If any pike are going to move now is the time. Large slow-moving crankbaits will be the best bet in cold water but in the summer a topwater will often be better. A slow wobbling surface lure wriggling gently across the surface will do better than a splashy crawler, prop bait or stick bait. A crankbait fished very slowly in the surface film will work.

Location is the key to successful fishing, no matter what sort of fishing you do. No matter how many lures you have, and however well you work them, you can not catch fish that are not there. When bank fishing you are very restricted and can only cover a fraction of the water, it pays to have alternatives in mind, even in the winter a full day's lure fishing will seem endless if no fish are taken or seen, be prepared to swap to an easier venue. It boosts the confidence no end to catch a few after struggling all morning, and I think small fish are better than no fish.

On the subject of location, do you try and cover as many swims as possible, or concentrate in a few swims? Some swims, like where a spit of land sticks out into a lake, offer lots of potential for intercepting patrolling fish even if they are not usually resident. It can pay to stay in a swim like this, by casting systematically around you can rest different areas, effectively giving yourself a new swim to cast at every few minutes. Usually though you will choose to roam around trying as much new water as possible, always searching for a new fish, you know you are going to put a lure near a fish at some time.

How many lures do you take with you? If I'm bank fishing on a familiar lake or stretch of river, I will know what sort of depths to expect and what sort of lures will work there. On say, the tenth visit to a gravel pit I would take every lure that had caught pike there before, allowing for seasonal variations such as topwaters in summer, and a few colour variants of those lures, as well as a few new ones to try that I feel should work there, and the total number of lures might not exceed 40. But on a new venue I would want to cover as wide a range of presentations as possible, expecting to try a lot of ideas to get a feel for the water, I might take over a hundred lures. When boatfishing - without the restrictions of having to carry all the lures - take everything!

We all have our own ideas about what lures and actions are best for pike, this can lead us to build a collection of lures that are very "samey", they all work nicely at the sort of speeds we like to retrieve at. Unfortunately pike seldom share our prejudices about what they like, there is almost no lure or presentation that will not get a take at some time or other, and probably very few lures or presentations that are not going to be the best on a given day on a given water. Learn as many retrieve styles as possible, learn how those retrieves affect different lures, use lures as means of making presentations, forget about what you think the pike like, let the pike decide.

Within the mainstream of lures you have the bodied lures: plugs like crankbaits and jerkbaits, floating and sinking; bladed lures: spinners, spoons, spinnerbaits; and jigs with soft grubs. Learn to use them all and to catch pike on them, they all have their day. If you decide, quite reasonably, that you do not enjoy using a certain type of lure so will not use it, (and I don't much enjoy using spoons,) that is your choice, but remember that on some days you are going to be handicapped by your prejudices.

I like to stop casting for a while when I am not catching. Eat a sandwich, have a coffee, rest and think. You can easily slip into a kind of resigned desperation after too much casting and no fish, just cast, cast, cast... The break will give you time to think clearly without having to concentrate on working the lure. You sometimes have to step back from the water to see the water clearly! Losing a few casts while you take a break will be repaid by the renewed enthusiasm and a new plan when you restart. This is easier when fishing alone, in company the slight competitive pressure can sometimes make it hard to stop for fear of giving your companion some advantage.

Another advantage of taking a break when you are struggling is to conserve energy and let a little time pass. On many waters pike are time-sensitive and are easier to catch at certain times of the day, it might be better later... I also like to have enough enthusiasm left to fish well in the last hour of light, especially in the winter. Giving time for the weather to change is another benefit of a rest, if the pike are not responding to your lures any change in the weather can only make things better.

Another idea that sometimes catches a pike is to stop trying to catch one! Take a lure that you do not have much experience with and pretend that you are not actually fishing with it, merely testing it out with different retrieve styles. I know it sounds daft and I don't think pike are telepathic exactly, but they seem to turn up often when you are not expecting them. Perhaps it is just doing something different that does the trick, but a half hour practising often gets a fish. Try repetitively casting at the same spot, the splashes might attract a fish to come and investigate, it works sometimes.

As in all things, experience tells, a few pieces of luck, or strokes of genius if you prefer, will help build your confidence. Find the fish, don't frighten them, master all the techniques, and learn.