MANY FISH species are taken for granted, and anglers rarely put much time into targeting them. This is usually because the species lacks a healthy sportfishing or culinary reputation, or because it is so prolific that it hardly seems like a worthwhile target. The sea pike is one such fish. Pike are readily available, are great fun on light line and are surprisingly palatable, yet few people target them.
Striped sea pike (Sphyraena obtusata) can be found in a variety of locations but their liking for small fish and prawns often sees them inhabiting harbours, canals, weed beds, inshore headlands and shallow reefs. Pike are extremely aggressive predators which often travel in schools of similar-sized fish, so if you can find one you can rest assured there’ll be plenty more nearby. They will attack almost anything that moves, especially small baitfish and prawns. They are the wolves of the estuary and cruise along in packs, waiting for the chance to attack a potential meal.
Sea pike can be used as bait or table fare. Their soft white flesh has a similar texture and taste to tailor. Just roll the de-boned white fillets in flour and grill in lemon butter for a few minutes. You don’t get much from a single fish unless it is one of the larger specimens, however, like diver whiting, you can usually catch enough for a feed. Sea pike can grow quite large (55cm-plus) and I have caught them to a little over 50cm in the Moreton Bay area. The average fish is around 35cm, although many pike encountered inshore will be less than 25cm.
These smaller fish, rigged whole, make great baits (dead or alive) for a host of species including mulloway, tailor, sharks, shovelnose rays, cobia, longtail tuna, and many more. Pike fillets will catch a broad array of species, from bream to snapper. The fillets can even be salted to toughen them up before freezing.
Whole pike can be rigged up to swim for targeting Spanish mackerel, wahoo and others while trolling. Pre-made troll rigs, like those used for pillies and gar, also work a treat for trolling whole fish. Pike can also make a hardy substitute for gar as skipping baits, which will entice everything from mack tuna to billfish when rigged correctly.
All in all, the humble old pike is definitely a worthwhile target.
It’s not hard to find these fish; they’re most often found in areas with small baitfish and prawns. Pike are mainly inshore hunters and they like rock walls, headlands and weed beds. All of the canals along the coast contain good numbers of pike, making it easy for land-based anglers to target them.
These fish are most often found in areas of good tidal flow or turbulent water, where a meal is likely to come their way. They like to catch their prey by ambushing it, so they’re often found in the calmer water adjacent to faster flowing water. This ambush site allows the pike to dart out and easily grab a passing morsel. Areas of turbulent water where two currents converge, or where a rock bar creates upwellings, are prime sites to target sea pike. Shallow reefs and weed beds also hold good numbers, and we regularly encounter them while trolling the shallow flats and banks with small minnow lures for flathead.
Pike eat a wide variety of offerings but they definitely prefer a moving presentation. I have never caught a pike on a still dead bait but have had excellent success with active presentations. A soft plastic fished on a light jighead (1/32oz to 1/4oz) works well, even on the small specimens. The fish repeatedly grab the plastic until they get hooked, as it is soft and feels more lifelike than a hard lure.
Bait jigs catch pike of all sizes, and you’ll often get a pike on each of the six hooks; these fish are very competitive and will dart around grabbing anything that moves when they get excited. Small minnow lures, chrome slices, jigs and a broad array of other offerings can work. Flies such as Clousers, Crazy Charlies and small baitfish presentations all produce hits from sea pike, but only small hooks consistently produce hook-ups.
Whichever approach you choose, remember that your offering must be moving, preferably darting. When retrieving a sinking lure or fly you’ll often get numerous hits which often don’t hook up. Pause to allow the presentation to sink after a hit and you’ll often get a barrage of more aggressive hits, as the pike thinks it has wounded the prey. These fish will usually hit a minnow lure only a couple of times, as they quickly realise it’s not a food item. The larger fish generally hook up fairly quickly, but the smaller ones will tear a soft plastic lure to bits in their aggressive attempts to eat it.
Pike don’t grow very large so you can’t expect them to be much fun when caught with heavy gear. Targeting them on the average whiting gear, around 2-3kg, will produce a lot of fun and more strikes than when you fish heavy. Fly rods to 5wt with 1-3kg tippets make for a good fight, with the larger pike often jumping from the water, shaking their heads in an attempt to dislodge the hook. They thrash wildly when they surface, like small flathead do, so many are lost at the bank or boat.
If you want to keep the pike for livebaits or decide to release them, try to just shake them off the hook instead of handling them as this causes less damage to the fish.
While sea pike may not be the most glamorous sportfish or the best eating fish on offer, they are still a lot of fun to target. They are highly underrated as a tablefish and are definitely a great source of bait for a host of species. They can be found in a broad array of inshore areas and are plentiful throughout the year, especially in the canal developments. For someone new to lure- or flyfishing, they are probably one of the easiest species to catch on small presentations. Get your light gear out and have a go at these mighty little wolves of the estuary.
1) It’s easy to see why pike are called ‘the wolves of the estuary’.
2) This pike was taken while trolling for flathead along a Jumpinpin weedbed.
3) A good haul of pike from the Raby Bay canals. These fish are destined to be offshore troll baits.Reads: 1310