Gravel Pit Piking
Topography and History
Gravel pits offer the best access for anglers to stillwaters, they are extremely common in certain parts of the country, and the last ice age combined with the road building program is partly to blame for their existence.
Gravel pits are usually full of features and these are usually as a result of the gravel extraction process. Features which normally put in an appearance as are follows.
Access Ramps - These are gradually sloping ramps which gravel lorries used to drive up and down into the pit. They tend to run alongside a bank running out from a corner. These are rather infrequent as pits tend to be dug by cranes from the bank .
Bars - These are ridges of gravel left over from from the digging process. As machines tend to work in lines, left overs from caterpillar tracks, and digger shovels can cause ridges to form.
Plateaus - These are areas for some reason or other the gravel extractors have decided not to excavate as much. It may be that the gravel deposit is not as deep, or that it was just a pile of gravel that never got cleared away.
Islands - This are clearly bars and plateaus above the water level, and occasionally the gravel extractors leave an island for conservation or other reasons. Very often an electricity pylon or something is left on the island.
The other interesting feature about gravel pits is that they are usually in close proximity to a river, and share the same water table. In periods of wet weather when the river is in flood, gravel pit water levels rise. Some pits can rise a metre over a period of a week, influenced by the water level in the local river.
Gravel pits when flooded can be a bit bleak to start with, but within a few years, they will have developed an invertebrate food supply, and usually pike will have found their way in waiting for the first stocking of coarse fish. Theories abound as to how pike get into lakes, the accepted theory is that they spawn early with sticky eggs. These are picked up by bird legs and feathers, which hatch out at a later date, hopefully when the bird is on another lake. I have fished lakes that have never been stocked, and appear not to have any coarse fish at all apart from pike. The pike get by on cannibalism, frogs, birds etc, they may not grow into monsters but seem to peak at about 10-15lbs.
Three factors seem to influence where pike are, features, weather and food supply. I will deal with each of these but clearly a combination of these factors have to be accessed and a decision of where to fish made.
Features - Pike will be influenced by features, they are predators and as such will want to position themselves in places which afford them ambush cover. Or in a place which avoids being eaten themselves. Bars are used as features which food fish travel along, pike will hide on the drop off of a bar, hoping to grab a fish as it passes over the bar. Jack pike will very often sit in very shallow water, on top of a bar, they avoid being eaten but also take a share of the small fry that frequent these warm and sunny areas. Weed beds are pike's favourite places to hide, and many pike that are caught are covered with leeches and lice, which indicates that these parasites have attached themselves from weedbeds. Do not be put off by fishing weed beds, just work out rigs to overcome them. Always fish a feature, and don't forget the ones under your feet, the bottom of the shelf, can be very productive. The diagram below summarises the best places to fish on a typical gravel pit.
From the diagram above, suggested holding places are rapid drop offs, i.e. the West bank, weedy corners, the long bar, both on it and on the side off, on the East bank, and around islands.
Firstly, lets not assume that pike fishing has to happen in the winter, the best fishing is to be had in the summer, especially in the close season months. Pike, spawn early, and then go about finding the other coarse species, which are bunching up to spawn themselves. In the summer pike will be in the weedy, shallow areas as well as their usual haunts. But also lets assume that most people don't bother to fish for pike until the Winter. No matter what the weather is, pike are always caught, but some conditions in my experience are superb, where as others are very slow. The best weather is 12 degrees C, Westerly Wind, and rather windy, fish right into the teeth of the wind, the pike will be off of the foam line that forms. If the temperature is below about 5 degrees C, it is probably too cold to bother fishing. Flat calm, bright sunny days are usually slow, where as over cast days or broken cloud are better. Foggy Days are slow and those cold damp damp days called anti-cyclonic gloom are as bad. Infact low pressure or falling pressure, is the weather to go for, plenty of wind and cloud cover, and even a little rain does no harm.
Pike have a varied diet, and generally for a rule of thumb will go for food sources that offer them the greatest food intake for the least effort. For instance during a typical year the diet of a pike may follow the following pattern.
The main thing to think about when gravel pit fishing, is think like a pike.
What time of year is it?
What are pike likely to be feeding on and where will they be?
What is the weather, is a mild wind howling into a corner?
Where is a good place to ambush prey or patrol, how will features effect this?
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