Pike really turn it on around Geelong from September onwards. Although some anglers regard them as by-catch, pike can definitely be great sport if you set out to target them.
Long-finned pike (Dinolestes lewini) are often hooked by anglers trolling for kingfish or Australian salmon, cursed, then wound to the boat on heavy tackle. These small but aggressive predators have been known to spear a meter or so out of the water like a Polaris missile as they attempt to attack a surface lure. Long-finned pike can be caught both in open water and over shallow weed beds and reef. They can also be caught as far north as Queensland and are highly regarded in some circles as a top jewfish or mulloway bait due to their strong smell.
Short-finned pike (Sphyraena novaehollandiae) – or snook as they are more commonly known – are a popular target species. They are not big on muscle and rarely put in a 16 round fight, but hit hard enough and grow big enough to provide some thrills. They are popular lure targets because, like their long-finned cousin, they are very aggressive. They are often found in groups of two to six, and several fish can often be spotted tailing a lure.
They are very hard in the mouth and if your hook is sharp enough to penetrate, they have an uncanny knack of shaking free right beside the boat on occasions. They shed scales like barracouta and are as slimy as eels so don’t wear your best dinner suit when fishing for them.
Traditionally, techniques for targeting snook involved trolling a heavy handline with barrel sinkers tied every metre or so to keep the lure down deep – sometimes as deep as 10m or more. Paravanes are also effective at getting the lure nice and deep, but you need a fairly stiff rod as the paravane pulls harder than the snook itself.
Both of these methods work, but you never get to feel the fight of the fish and it is hardly what you could call sporting. In any case, I have found snook around Geelong are commonly encountered in much shallower water, which allows them to be targeted with more modern gear suitable for light tackle sportfishing or even flyfishing.
A rod and reel suited to flicking light lures is more than adequate for a day’s snook fishing and provides a few more thrills than hauling a flapping fish over the side on a 20kg handline. Something that is set up for 2-3kg line and can cast light lures with ease is ideal.
Braided line is fantastic for feeling those subtle takes, but it is not what I’d call essential – especially when they are in a ‘scoff anything that moves’ mood. Monofilament of 3kg breaking strain provides a bit of strength plus fine diameter for casting distance if braid is not in your budget.
Fast taper graphite rods offer sensitivity for casting and hook setting power that fibreglass and those ‘clear tip’ rods simply do not.
These days you can get a 2.1m rod with enough graphite in it to keep it relatively stiff for under $50 and I’ve seen them as low as $20. Sure the fittings were dodgy, but I’d rather have a decent blank on dodgy fittings than Fuji guides over a CB aerial!
Reels on the other hand can be shockers at low prices. I can remember a mate showing me his brand new ‘combo’ and had a small silver trevally totally strip the plastic (yes, plastic) gearing inside on his second cast. Again, hunt for a reel around the $50 mark, wash it after salt work and it will last forever.
Leaders work a treat on braided lines and snook have some fancy dentures so it is worth going up a couple of line classes in order to retain a few lures, even if you use monofilament. They have a smile like a bag of smashed dinner plates, but their teeth are nowhere near as sharp as those of a barracouta, so you can easily get away with a 6kg leader. Just make sure you check it regularly.
These fish are predominantly shallow water predators so concentrate your effort in water of 1-6m and you’ll be in their zone. Sure you can get them deeper but, for me anyway, these depths have provided more snook per litre of seawater.
This is where the real fun starts! Personally, I prefer to cast lures around a drifting boat, let them sink until they are just off the bottom, then begin the retrieve. This takes a little practice and you pull a bit of weed out before you get the knack of it.
This sort of fishing requires relatively calm days with a bit of breeze. Too calm and there is no drift, too rough and you drift too fast and your lures don’t have enough time to get to the bottom. A 5 knot breeze is about perfect, but I’ve still caught them in less than ideal conditions.
Soft plastics really, really work well on snook. They are versatile in that you can change weights and profiles quickly, they look lifelike and they are cheap enough that you can afford to lose a couple. A good idea is to pack a tube of Super Glue, as this will repair the nasty gashes the snook will leave in your softie.
Select a fish profile soft plastic, set the boat adrift and cast away to the horizon. Let the lure sink to the bottom and begin a slow up and down retrieve hugging the seabed whenever possible.
Deep diving lures also work a treat, but snook like ribbon weed and if there has been any wind, it can make trolling impossible.
Pike and snook are absolute suckers for flies. Flies are fantastic because you can work them as slowly or as fast as you like. Both species seem to like a slow retrieve, so fly fishos are in the box seat here too. All bait fish profile flies work and if you want me to name a colour, I owe pink a lot of fish.
Six to nine weight flygear is about right depending on the prevailing weather conditions. Of course, you will need a full sinking line for anything over 4m of water. For fishing the Swan Bay flats, an intermediate works fine, or use a floater over the real shallow stuff.
I’ve never caught a snook with a bait anchored to the bottom with a sinker. The most effective way I’ve taken snook on bait was using a whole pilchard under float in Swan Bay. There is a big population of snook in Swan Bay and they are quite happy to bite all day in relatively shallow water.
Pike and snook can also be taken by using unweighted baits in berley trails or on the drift. Top baits include pilchards, whitebait, bluebait and glassies. Hooks should be super sharp and not too big. Select something around 2/0 as anything bigger just does not penetrate their bony jaw.
Snook are more of a seasonal fish than a time of day fish. I’ve caught them all year and at all times of the day, but from September to about March they seem to be in greater numbers around Geelong, Bellarine Peninsula and Surf Coast.
Plenty of seasoned snook fishos will tell you they are pretty good on the plate, but I’ve never had a good experience with them. The ones I’ve tried have been quite sloppy so would probably lend themselves well to smoking. I’ve heard a few anglers say that they’re great, but you have to eat them that night and they definitely do not freeze well.
Pike are aggressive fish that can be surprisingly hard to tempt on occasions. The can often be seen following a lure all the way in to the boat without committing to the attack. For this reason, quality polarising glasses are essential. Always keep a close watch about 1m behind your lure. Keep a keen eye out for dark shapes or sometimes you can see their white underbelly as they turn away in disgust at your offering. Sometimes, all that is needed is change of lure or a twitch of the rod tip to get them excited. When you do, you can be assured of some pointing and yelling in your boat – even if you are by yourself!
There are two main species of pike available to Victorians, and both can inhabit the same areas. One is the short-finned pike, Sphyraena novaehollandiae, which is also known as snook. This is the larger of the two fish and can attain over 1m in length. The other is the long-finned pike, Dinolestes lewini, which is rarely caught over 50cm.
Larger snook show up in Geelong and off Torquay in about 4-6m of water.
DIZZ PLS USE THE PICS 6 & 7 IN THE FACT BOX
Soft plastics work really well on pike. Getting bitten off is a danger, but more often than not pike will take the lure in their teeth and the line will stay clear of their fangs (photo: Ross Winstanley).