Are you unsure of which pike baits will work for your waters? Our article focuses on pike baits, including scented attractants and pike hunting styles. Discover valuable insights on how you can improve your catch rate. In this article, predator hunter Daniel O’Neill, who has caught over sixty double-figure pike, discusses the best pike baits for your fishing season!
Pike fishing is a thrilling form of angling however catching a pike may be more challenging than one would first think. Most beginner pike anglers are unaware that this species of fish are extremely selective when hunting prey. If the bait is presented poorly or the scent is tainted a pike will not strike. Learning how to successfully entice the fish to take the bait is one of the most important factors of pike fishing.
Understanding Pike Behavior
Pike behavior differs depending on their size. Standardly, female pike are typically larger than males. In lakes, rivers, and estuaries, larger females tend to stay in the main body of water, while smaller pike, called ‘jack’ pike, prefer the reeds at the water’s edge.
Understanding how pike position themself within the water is important for bait placement. When employing top-water lures or floating baits, pike tend to strike in close proximity to reeds due to the shallower depths in that area.
Pike feed more in the morning. From sunrise onwards, pike are more active. Targeting pike in the morning will greatly increase your chances of successfully landing more fish. Almost all of my successful outings have been at sunrise. I find the pike to be significantly more lively. During my latest dead bait session, my goal was on targeting the larger bottom feeding females.
Our setup involved pitching a tent by a nearby lake and implementing a simple yet effective deadbait alarm system. Throughout the night, not a single bite came our way, but as the sun began to rise, a sudden uproar erupted from our alarms. Hastily unzipping my bivy, I instinctively reached for my Abu Garcia Beast X 12ft rod and executed a swift and forceful strike. After a fierce battle that seemed to stretch on for a lifetime, I ultimately triumphed, reeling in an enormous 24.7lb pike.
Understanding the feeding habits of pike is key when selecting the correct dead bait. When targeting smaller pike, baits such as roach and rudd can be more effective towards the waters edge. I’ve had many pike up to 4lb nail a well placed roach. Whereas a much larger bait such as a lamprey could prove more successful in deeper water where larger females are abundant.
Factors to Consider When Choosing Pike Baits
When selecting the perfect pike bait some factors to note include the season, water conditions and size of the pike.
The season in which you target pike may alter your choice in bait. In warmer seasons pike feed more aggressively. When a pike feeds aggressively it can swallow the bait and treble hooks into its stomach before the angler has time to strike. When the pike has time to consume the entire bait, the angler will gut hook the fish as they strike.
Gut hooking drastically reduces the survival rate of the pike. Therefore, it is recommended to fish with larger baits such as mackerel and lamprey to increase the time frame in which the pike needs to consume the entire bait before the angler strikes.
On the contrary, in colder seasons it is recommended to use smaller baits such as sardines and trout. Pike become more picky and less aggressive when the temperature decreases. As pike become more selective, it is necessary to reduce the size of the bait and focus on improving your bait presentation.
Improving your bait’s presentation can be done by injecting the fish with air using a syringe or utilizing a large hi-density foam ball to prop the bait upright.
About three years ago I came across this great video by angling direct. It demonstrates three ways in which pike baits can be propped upright. The air injection mentioned above is demonstrated using a lamprey.
When water conditions are poor some anglers will use a pike bait spray. Pike bait sprays are usually a vibrant color such as yellow or red. These striking colors will increase the pikes’ curiosity, making them more likely to consume the bait.
When I fish for pike we like to use a sonar device by the company named ‘deeper’. This device enables us to find and target fish. On one of our outings we casted out baits sprayed with a vibrant purple color. We noticed that the sonar picked up extra readings moving towards the bait. I believe that this extra curiosity may have been because of the bait spray.
Mackerel is a large pike bait, and in my opinion, one of the best dead baits available. They are extremely effective for pike fishing, due to their tough skin and oil content. The mackerel’s tough skin enables the bait to be repeatedly casted. Softer baits such as herring and sardines are not as durable as mackerel and overtime will break down. Furthermore, the oil content present in mackerel makes the bait much more effective. Pike are more likely to smell the scent from a mackerel bait than less potent baits such as trout.
There are many benefits associated with mackerel being used as pike bait. Mackerel can be easily caught in large numbers, using simple spinning methods such as feathers or lures. During hot summer months in Ireland I like to go down to my local rock mark and catch a bucket of mackerel to take home and put in the freezer for winter pike fishing.
Furthermore, mackerel are abundant at most fish counters in local supermarkets and are relatively cheap in comparison to other fish. However, mackerel may not be ideal in colder seasons since its large size may take too long for a pike to consume when it is less active.
A simple solution would be to chop the mackerel into smaller bait sizes. When cutting the mackerel into smaller pieces it is important to ensure each piece of bait has a hook hold. A hook hold is a sturdy part of the bait that the hook can be placed into, making the bait more secure for casting. On a mackerel the three main hook holds are its lower jaw, caudal fin joint and spiny dorsal thin.
Herring are silver in color with large eyes. Similarly to mackerel, herring have both a tough skin and high oil content. Therefore, they work very well as pike bait for larger female pike. Herring come in many sizes, I personally recommend purchasing a 9 to 10 inch herring, as I feel this size works best for hook placement and presentation purposes.
There are many benefits associated with using herring as pike bait. Herring are a medium sized fish which can be easily purchased from fish counters or online bait shops. Furthermore, herring have silver scales making them very noticeable when presented to pike in the water. As herring is a medium sized bait it can be used in both cold and warm seasons. I’d recommend hooking herring in its tail joint as this is the most sturdy section and will make for easier casting.
Smelt is a long brown and silver fish. Smelt have a distinctive scent, which differs drastically to other commonly used baits. I frequently fish at least one of my bait rods with smelt. This is because some days, I notice that pike show little interest in smelt, while on other days, they solely focus on devouring the smelt and ignore all other bait options.Therefore, it is a must to have smelt readily available for your pike fishing session.
There are many benefits to using smelt as a pike bait. Some of which include its shiny silver scales, which are great for days in which the water is cloudier and baits are less likely to be spotted. Furthermore smelt can be easily injected with air for floating setups and can withstand multiple casts without the need of bait elastic.
Roach are a silver bait fish with red tipped thins and vibrant orange eyes. Roach are very buoyant baits, and therefore can be great pike baits when fishing in weedy lakes or rivers. If you want a roach to sink to the bottom of the water, you will need to cut into its swim bladder and push out all of the air inside. A roaches swim bladder can be found at the base of its body. To cut the roach’s swim bladder you can use a needle or a standard fileting knife. Gently pierce through the base of its body and apply pressure until no air remains.
The main benefit associated with using roach as a pike bait is that in many locations, roach make up a large portion of the pike’s primary diet. Therefore, pike are used to consuming them and are more likely to find the bait to be naturally enticing. Many anglers will not use pike dyes with roach, as they want to ensure the bait remains identical to the local fish that inhabit the pike’s domain.
Lamprey are eel like fish with a ferocious set of teeth surrounding a sucking dish, with a rasp like tongue, they are very slimy and have a potent smell. Out of all baits for pike, lamprey is my favorite. If you slice a lamprey in half and cast it into the water, its blood will seek out for up to two hours, creating a trail of scent throughout the body of water you are fishing in. This length of time that the bait holds the blood drastically increases the likelihood of receiving a bite.
There are two major issues with using lamprey as bait. They are not usually found in fish mongers or grocery stores, making them very difficult to purchase. Furthermore, lamprey are very expensive, usually due to their size and lack of abundance. However, lamprey can be purchased online at bait stores specifically tailored for pike. My personal go to bait suppliers are bait box and online baits UK. I have linked them below for your convenience.
Sardines are a small silver fish. You can usually purchase them at fishmongers and grocery stores in bulk. Sardines can sometimes prove difficult to use. This is because they are a very oily, soft fish. When using sardines it is necessary to freeze them. Without freezing the sardines, they are extremely difficult to cast and will fall off your hooks.
From my personal experience of using sardines, I place two semi barbless trebles into the tail notch and head of the bait. After doing so, I wrap both the hooks and fish in bait elastic. This prevents the hooks from slipping out of the fish and makes the bait more sturdy. When targeting bodies of water that do not contain larger pike sardines would be my go to bait. The primary reason that I have included sardines on this list is because they are very budget friendly. I usually pick a bag of thirty up from my local Tesco for under £3.00.
Trout have a long oval body, with small eyes and distinctive patterns. Trout drastically differ depending on the species. Brown, rainbow, cutthroat and brook are some of the many trout species that can be used as pike bait. I would recommend using the species that already lives amongst the pike you are fishing for. Similar to roaches, the main benefit of trout is that in many locations, trout make up a large portion of the pike’s primary diet.
Trout lack many of the benefits seen in other types of pike bait. Trout are relatively dull coloured fish, they aren’t very oily and therefore do not produce a lot of scent. However, if there are many local trout in the water you are fishing, the bait is a must have. When pike get used to eating one type of fish they will be more likely to feed on a bait that matches its primary diet. When dead bating I really enjoy fly fishing for the local trout. If I am lucky enough to catch one I tend to put it out as bait.
Tips for Using Pike Baits
Simply selecting the correct bait is not enough to successfully land pike on a consistent basis. The bait must be presented to the fish correctly. In my opinion, the presentation is just as important as the choice of bait. It is essential to vary baits and techniques based on conditions and pike behavior.
When I dead bait for pike, I use a very specific setup for lake fishing. My setup includes three bait rods, all casted at different distances. For the first bait rod, I use a simple dead bait rig, usually with sardines and a Abu Garcia GT 602 6ft rod which is casted two meters from the bank. This bait rod helps me pick up smaller jack pike hiding in reeds and along the edge of the water.
For my second rod, I cast a float ledger rig several meters into the body of water. My Shimano Catana EX 8ft rod usually helps me pick up larger, more active pike. I enjoy using roach for this rig setup as they are naturally buoyant.
Finally, for my third rod, I use a Drennan E-SOX Piker 12ft setup with my largest deadbait rig. I cast this setup as far out into the body of water as possible, usually with a full mackerel or half a lamprey. From my experience this rod tends to pick up the largest fish. Overall, this setup allows me to cover different techniques, water columns and a wider water coverage.
To increase the likelihood of receiving a take from a pike, coarse fisherman will use pike dyes and inject the baits with fish oil. But why do they do this?
When fishing in weedy areas pike dyes are extremely helpful for increasing the likelihood of the pike seeing the bait. The baits are usually sprayed with vibrant colors such as yellow and red. Some anglers suggest that these colors will make the fish more aggressive, leading to striking the bait harder and quicker.
It is also common for pike fishermen to inject the bait with fish oil. This is usually done with a syringe. The syringe is placed onto the center of the bait’s body and squeezed until seeping. This is commonly used with bait species that are not oily. This creates a stronger scent and therefore attracts the pike much quicker than if they were not scented. I personally really enjoy using halibut oil, which I purchase from EBay. I find it to be much more budget friendly than some of the branded scents you can pick up at tackle stores.
In conclusion, there is a wide range of baits available for pike fishing, each offering its unique set of benefits. My personal recommendation is to go with a combination of lamprey, mackerel and sardines. Don’t stick with one bait, make sure to continually experiment and find what works best for you and always remember that presentation is more important than the choice of bait.
This article has comprehensively explored pike behavior, essential bait considerations, valuable tips, and a detailed analysis of various bait options. Good luck and tight lines.