A nice looking jack pike

Beginners in pike fishing often struggle with how to unhook a pike safely and how to handle a pike. Inexperienced Anglers can be a bit wary whilst unhooking them due to their large teeth, large mouth, and the sheer size of the Fish.

But if the correct Pike fishing techniques are applied and the fish is handled correctly, confidently, and carefully, the unhooking procedure will go more smoothly. Hopefully without too many complications. It is highly advisable to take someone experienced with you if you are unsure of unhooking a Pike safely or if it’s your first time Pike fishing.

First Things First Whilst Unhooking Pike

Before you even think about casting out a lure/bait for Pike, you need to have the right unhooking equipment. This will consist of:

An unhooking mat: When pike fishing, it is highly advisable to take an unhooking mat with you. When on the bank, a pike is notorious for thrashing about and wriggling about a lot. Without the padded mat, there will be a good chance it will end up injuring itself.

Long-nosed forceps: Long-nosed forceps are a good bit of kit for general hook removal. I prefer the curved ones, you can get more leverage on hooks that are proving awkward to get out.

A strong pair of long-nosed pliers: pliers are generally a lot stronger than forceps. These are to be used when you need a bit more grip on stubborn hooks.

Some decent side cutters: Side cutters are to be used on cutting hooks or wire traces. These are only to be used when the hook is embedded so far down that you need to snip the trace or hooks. This is only to be done in extreme cases when you may cause more damage to the fish by trying to remove the hooks.

All of these play an important part in unhooking pike, so please don’t go Pike fishing without them.

Going pike fishing without these items will almost certainly result in an injured or dying fish. So please think carefully and check your kit before heading off for a day’s fishing.

All the above items are available at reasonable prices from your local tackle dealers.

A pike swimming upright
A nice pike returned safely

Landing The Pike

Always make sure you have a big enough landing net for the job at hand, a 42″ triangular net with a good sturdy handle should do the trick. Summer piking, although not illegal is frowned upon by a lot of people in the Piking community down to the fish gassing up due to low oxygen levels in the water. If you can, it is advisable to wait until the weather cools down a bit.

Use Heavier Gear In The Warmer Months

If you do have to go Summer Piking, be sure to use slightly heavier gear so you can get the fish in quicker without tiring it out too much. In the colder months when landing the Fish be sure to have your net lowered well in the water and only when the fish seems ready (you’ve tired it out), glide it over the net. Do not stab the net at the Fish, you have more chance of spooking it and distressing it, therefore missing it altogether.

Keep The Pike In An Upright Position Whilst Unhooking

Once in the net, sometimes it’s worth letting the Fish recover a bit by keeping it in the net at the water’s edge. Just take care in making sure that the fish is in an upright position and don’t leave it too long.

Once recovered, take the Fish over to your unhooking mat, which should be placed nearby on a nice level bit of ground. Be sure to have all your utensils within arms’ reach.

Handle The Pike Confidently

If it is a small Pike you can lift it just above the unhooking mat. To do this steady the fish and slide your middle finger and forefinger up the inside of the gill plate until you reach the bony part at the top. Once you reach this, grip the Fish and gently lift it off the ground. You will find by doing this the Pike will naturally open its mouth, and reveal the lure or bait inside. With your other hand, you can then use either your pliers or forceps to dislodge the hooks.

Do Not Put Weight On The Pike While Unhooking It

If the Pike is too large to use this technique, instead of lifting the Fish, lay it on the unhooking mat on its back and carefully straddle the Pike. Do not put weight on it, just stop it from thrashing about with your knees

Run your fingers up the gill plate then grip and gently but firmly open the pike’s mouth. By doing this you should see your lure or bait and be able to unhook it with your pliers or forceps. If whilst you are unhooking it the gills begin to flair, it usually means the fish is about to thrash its head. So be ready to hold it nice and firmly.

On the odd occasion, you may get a fish that has been deeply hooked. This can be a bit of a nightmare even for the most experienced of anglers. If this situation does occur you may end up going through the gills with your unhooking utensils and removing or cutting the hooks. This is a tricky procedure. One of the reasons why I advise going with someone experienced if you are new to pike fishing.

Also, this is the main reason I like to use barbless hooks or circle hooks. Getting barbed treble hooks out of a pike’s throat can really end up a time-consuming nasty affair.

Recovery After Unhooking A Pike

Once the Pike is safely unhooked it is now time to return it to the water. Always, if possible return it in a weigh sling or landing net. The last thing you want to do is drop it on the hard ground and damage the fish. 

The chances are the fish will be tired by now and will need a helping hand recovering. This will mean holding the Fish upright in the water until it is ready to swim off on its own accord.

Managing Deep-Hooked Pike:

Deep-hooking is a situation many anglers hope to avoid, but it can occasionally occur, especially with aggressive feeders like the pike. When a pike takes the bait deep into its mouth or throat, it can be a challenge to remove the hook without causing harm. Here’s a guide on how to manage and safely unhook a deep-hooked pike:

1. Stay Calm:

  • Panicking can lead to rushed decisions that might harm the fish. Take a moment to assess the situation and gather the necessary tools.

2. Necessary Tools:

  • Long-nosed Pliers: Essential for reaching deep into the pike’s mouth.
  • Wire Cutters: In cases where the hook cannot be safely removed, it might be necessary to cut the hook.

3. Assess the Hook’s Position:

  • Gently open the pike’s mouth and see where the hook is lodged. If it’s visible and accessible, proceed with the removal. If it’s too deep or near vital areas like the gills, consider cutting the hook.

4. Use the Chin Grip:

  • Safely control the pike by using the chin grip method. This ensures the fish is steady while you work on the hook.

5. Hook Removal:

  • If the hook is accessible, use the long-nosed pliers to grip the curve of the hook. Gently twist and turn to free the hook. Always move in the direction of the hook’s curve to minimize damage.

6. Cutting the Hook:

  • If the hook is too deep or in a sensitive area, it might be safer to cut the hook using wire cutters. Cut as close to the fish’s mouth as possible and leave the remaining part inside. Most hooks will rust and dissolve over time, and the fish can expel them naturally.

7. Recovery:

  • After unhooking, hold the pike upright in the water, allowing it to recover before release. Ensure it can swim away strongly.

8. Prevention:

  • To minimize the chances of deep-hooking:
    • Use circle hooks, which are designed to hook the fish in the corner of the mouth.
    • Set the hook immediately when you feel a bite.
    • Regularly check your bait to ensure it’s not swallowed.

While deep-hooking is a concern, with the right tools and techniques, anglers can ensure the safe release of the pike, preserving the health of the fish and the joy of the catch-and-release experience.

The Importance of Proper Handling for Pike Conservation and Angler Safety

Pike, as one of the apex predators in freshwater ecosystems, play a pivotal role in maintaining the balance of aquatic life. Their presence ensures that smaller fish populations are kept in check, which in turn supports the overall health and diversity of the ecosystem. However, despite their fierce reputation, pike are surprisingly delicate when removed from their natural habitat. Improper handling can lead to injuries, stress, or even mortality, which can have cascading effects on the aquatic environment.

1. Conservation of the Pike:

  • Stress & Mortality: Improper handling can cause undue stress to the pike, leading to a weakened immune system and increased susceptibility to diseases. In extreme cases, it can even result in the death of the fish.
  • Reproductive Health: Mishandling, especially during spawning seasons, can affect the reproductive health of pike, leading to reduced offspring and potential long-term impacts on the population.
  • Ecological Impact: As apex predators, any decline in pike populations can lead to an overpopulation of smaller fish, disrupting the ecological balance.

2. Safety of the Angler:

  • Avoiding Injuries: Pike have sharp teeth and powerful jaws. Proper handling ensures that anglers avoid cuts, punctures, or more severe injuries.
  • Preventing Accidents: A thrashing pike can lead to hooks getting embedded in the angler’s hand or other body parts. Knowing how to handle the fish minimizes such risks.
  • Building Confidence: For many, especially novice anglers, handling a large predator like the pike can be intimidating. Proper techniques instill confidence, ensuring a safe and enjoyable fishing experience.

Proper handling of pike is not just a matter of personal safety but is intrinsically linked to the conservation of the species and the health of freshwater ecosystems. Every angler has a responsibility to handle fish with care, ensuring their well-being and the continued balance of our aquatic environments.


Unhooking a pike isn’t as scary as you may first think it is. By following these guidelines and getting some experience in unhooking them it will only get easier. Striking early can really help in reducing the risk of deep hooking them and making the procedure a whole lot easier.

Be sure to minimize the amount of time the pike spends on the bank and handle the fish with confidence. Remember, the key is always to prioritize the well-being of the fish while ensuring your safety. Proper handling and quick releases ensure that the pike can continue to thrive in its natural habitat.

The video below is a good one to watch to see the techniques being used. Tight lines and enjoy your fishing.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is it important to handle pike with care?

Pike, despite being apex predators, are quite delicate when removed from their natural habitat. Improper handling can cause them stress, injuries, or even mortality. Additionally, for the angler’s safety, it’s essential to handle pike correctly to avoid injuries from their sharp teeth and hooks.

What should I do if the pike swallows the hook?

If the pike has swallowed the hook deeply, it’s often safer for the fish to cut the line as close to the mouth as possible and leave the hook in. Most hooks will rust and dissolve over time, and the fish can expel them naturally. Using long-nosed pliers or wire cutters can help in such situations.

How can I minimize the chances of deep-hooking a pike?

To reduce the chances of deep-hooking:
Use circle hooks, which tend to hook the fish in the corner of the mouth.
Set the hook immediately upon feeling a bite.
Regularly check your bait to ensure it’s not being swallowed.
Don’t fish for pike in the warmer months when they are more aggressive and oxygen levels in the water are lower.

Can I take photos with the pike I catch?

Yes, you can take photos, but it’s essential to handle the pike with care. Ensure you wet your hands before handling the fish to protect its slime coat. Keep the fish low to the ground, preferably over a soft, wet mat, so if it wriggles free, it won’t get injured. Limit the time out of water and release the pike gently after taking the photo.

How long can a pike survive out of water?

While pike can survive a short time out of water, it’s crucial to minimize this duration. Ideally, keep it under a minute. The longer a pike is out of water, the more stress it undergoes, which can impact its survival chances upon release.

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