Live and dead baits

Nick Baggaley, one of our environmental scientists and very skilled pike angler, gives us his hints and tips on what bait to serve up to hungry pike.

My favourite peg: Nick Baggerley My favourite peg: Nick Baggaley

Live bait

Fishing for pike with livebaits has most likely happened since man first realised the pike was a predator. As the staple diet of a pike is live fish, it seems logical to fish for pike with a live bait.

Livebaiting is a contentious issue, so it is up to you to decide whether to use the method. Remember, the controlling club on the fishery will also have rules about livebaiting. If it's allowed at the fishery you'll only be allowed to use baits caught from the fishery. This is to stop disease being introduced to the fishery from another water.

Any coarse bait can prove successful in catching pike. Gudgeon are small but are favoured by many predator anglers. The most commonly used bait is likely to be a roach or skimmer bream. This is probably due to their bright, shiny flanks and the fact they can be caught in most waters.

As with deadbaits, livebaits can be fished in a variety of methods. Either under a float or ledgered on the bottom. Take a look at these standard live and deadbait rigs.

Dead baits

Live and dead baits

Fishing with deadbaits for pike has been in use for centuries. It was known to be used as a method for catching pike as far back as 1496 when referenced in the first fishing book reputedly authored by Dame Juliana Berners.  At this time the baits would not have been left static on the bed but would have been worked back by twitching the bait or by putting a kink in the bait allowing it to be spun back to the angler in an enticing manner.

Of course, these methods are still employed today, however the most common method of presenting a deadbait is static on or just off the bottom of the bed, although they can be suspended, drifted or trotted under a float.

Types of bait

When it comes to using deadbaits there is plenty of choice. Any coarse fish bait will catch pike. Roach and skimmer bream are popular along with perch, and because of the cannibalistic nature of the fish, even small pike will catch.

Please remember to check your local fisheries rules regarding baits. To prevent disease entering their waters they may stipulate coarse fish baits cannot be used. 

Sea fish baits

Sea fish baits are often the first choice of the pike angler. These baits are easy to get and you can buy them frozen from tackle shops or fresh from a fishmonger or supermarket. There's a great variety of sea baits including mackerel, sprat, herring, sardine and smelt.

Mackerel

Mackerel is a fantastic bait as it is tough skinned and withstands repeated casting. Its oily flesh is also appealing as it readily releases an attractive scent for the pike to home in on. If you can only get large 30cm long mackerel from your local supermarket don’t worry, you can cut them in half and use both ends.

Tip: Cut the bait in half using a diagonal cut. This releases more of its attractive oiliness and allows the bait to be cast further as it is more aerodynamic. 

Sardines

A classic pike bait. They're typically 10-15cm long so are ideal for pike fishing. This is a soft bait so does not withstand repeat casting and must be hooked when frozen. This bait is very oily and will attract pike from some distance towards your peg. The bait will also lose scales when cast into the water so can often create a shower of shiny scales which may draw an interested pike to your bait. 

Smelt

Smelt are not an oily sea bait but are very popular due to their colour and their unusual scent – they smell like cucumber. These are relatively small baits, which makes them perfect for fishing whole. These fish are only available frozen from your local tackle shop.

Tip: You can buy fish oils and dyes from your local tackle shop. You can use these to colour or add extra scent to your deadbaits.

Sprat

This small soft bait is a relative of the sardine. Although they are not the first choice for many pike anglers currently they should not be discounted as they have accounted for many fish over the years. This oily little silver fish could be the bait which would fool a pike on hard fished waters that have seen all the usual pike baits? Give them a try, they are cheap and easily found in your local supermarket or fishmonger.

Lamprey

Lamprey are eel like fish, are migratory and spend much of their life in the sea and only come back to freshwater to spawn. They're not an oily bait but due to their parasitic nature are full of blood, as they feed off other sea fish. This means that when they defrost they ooze blood, which is highly attractive to pike.

This tough-skinned bait also means it stays on the hook and can be cast great distances.

Tip: Prick your baits with the point of your scissors or a knife to pierce the skin. This allows more of the juices and scent to leave your bait making it more attractive and easier to locate.

Other baits

Nick Baggerley with a good sized pike

The fish above are tried and tested baits. There are however different baits you could try to mix things up.

How about squid? This tough bait can be recast several times. Its white flesh will also stand out on the bed of the river or canal you are fishing.

Dab is a little flatfish that could be a game changer on hard fished waters. You can get this fish from a fishmongers or supermarket. Its distinctive smell could be the difference between catching or facing a blank.

Please remember that pike are delicate creatures despite their fearsome reputation. Attention is needed to make sure pike are not deep hooked and you need to be careful when handling them. Make sure you have the right tackle to successfully catch, land and unhook a pike for its safe return to the water. That small pike you safely return to the water unharmed my one day, be a specimen 20 pound fish or your next personal best!

Last date edited: 27 February 2019