So if I manage to hook a big pike, how do you land them without using a net. Do you just use a leader and pull it out of the hole hoping the hook doesn't dislodge? I know some people use a gaff/hook, but I have to think that is not going to be good it I decide to release the fish.
I've seen guys fishing for big pike or musky through the ice who will bring the fish up to the hole and once they have the fish just below the hole someone will stick their arm down the hole and grab the fish by the gill plate and direct the head through the hole and lift it up.
Once its starting to come out of the water the other hand is then used to help support the weight of the fish so they aren't holding it just by the gill plate.
It seems to work but you'd end up with one cold arm.
I'd surely advise a leader of some sort, I think there is also some luck involved in big pike fishing through the ice. Getting the fish through the hole without losing it takes some luck and some skill.
If you are targeting them then you can use leaders which will probably hold up till you can get enough of the fish out of the water to grab, but occasionally you will get one that hits while you are fishing for something else, like we did last year when we were fishing for crappies w/4 lb. line (what a blast it was to hear the little reel scream). My friend has a small gaff that, if used carefully, can hook the fish in the chin area w/no damage till you get it far enough out of the hole to grab the back end. Ours was about 12 lbs. and went back into the water angry and frisky w/no visible signs of damage, so I think, if used properly, the small gaff can be utilized w/o hurting the fish.
I still use a net. Pulling on a leader will deepen the hook set and could do even worse damage if the fish should shake with all its weight out of the water. I've tried to get them in by grabbing under the gill plate but it usually takes a few tries because they run when they feel you trying. And when they run they can get off. If you don't watch it the gills can cut you too. So I still use a net but be careful so they don't roll in it, I'll grab them out of it instantly. I think there is something like a "cradle" they use for muskie.
I did the reach through to the bottom to grap a nice pike once and endded up sticking my fingers in its mouth and got some nice cuts to show for it and you could also get the hook(s). I have found once at the hole play the fish slow to turn its head int the hole once the head is in they come up quite easy and then grab by gillplate just before it is about to come out of the water as this is when they will really start shaking. Slow and light pressure are the key. I think you have just as good chance this way as putting your arm all the way down the hole.
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If you've got short, stubby fingers and wear reading glasses, any relaxation you would normally derive from fly fishing is completely eliminated when you try to tie on a fly. ~ Jack Ohman, Fear of Fly Fishing, 1988