DEADBAITS FOR PIKE
As you can imagine I watch quite carefully the writings of our modern pike anglers, not least because they are making new discoveries all the time and I like to learn. In addition there are a few hoary old chestnuts come up from time to time and it is of great interest to see how they deal with them.
Take the matter of pike preferring one deadbait over another or going 'off' a particular bait. One of my favourite baits is the half mackerel - not the small joey mackerels, because their insides don't stay intact for very long. I use hefty mackerel, take off the tail and the head for bait and then disc-up the middle section for groundbaits. I also use the middle sections as a hefty lump sometimes, and it works well. I've been told many times that mackerel does not work on such and such a water, but all I can say is that I have never yet experienced this.
Barrie with a big Fenland pike
There's no doubt at all, however, that pike will have preferences on particular days. On one water I fish regularly and have studied closely, taking numbers of twenties to 27 lbs, I find that one day they'll only touch smelt, and the next day it might be sardine, or mackerel, or pollan. Some days they'll take anything you offer them. But they can be very selective for a day, or more.
So why don't they go 'off' a bait? Probably because I feed them just about every deadbait going (and a few other things like cod, mackerel, plaice, salmon heads and tails, etc). What is more, at the end of my session, I don't leave unused baits in the margins as so many pikers do. I throw them out into the swims so the pike can not only get used to them, but also grow fat on them. What on earth is the point in leaving them in the margins? Unless you like seagulls! If there's a cormorant problem on the water I'm fishing then I cut up the throw-in bits so that they are quite small.
Another thing I do with throw-in bits is chuck plenty in right at the start of the day. That way I can guarantee that the cormorants will not get near them for eight hours at least. Although I tend to concentrate my throw-in bits in particular areas, I don't put them all there. There's a good reason for this: I don't know where all the pike are all of the time, even on waters I fish a lot, so I spread the baits around a bit, even into places I might not chuck a bait. I'd rather the pike were induced into actually searching for offerings, moving around a bit. I'm sure that's why I sometimes see pike I never knew existed.
The matter of whether baits should be fresh or 'off' has come up several times recently. I prefer fresh baits for two reasons: one is that they are more pleasant to handle, and secondly is the fact that they usually give off more oil, especially mackerel. In fact, although I always carry frozen baits with me - and use them - I usually try to have a few freshly bought, unfrozen ones too. That is my personal preference, but it must be said that there is some evidence that really pongy, slimy deadbaits do work on occasion. Perhaps it is best to think of them as just another bait, so you could try 'off' mackerel or fresh mackerel or frozen mackerel. Just another arrow to your bow really. If you try them you will find that they work. As well as fresh baits? I'm not sure about that, but maybe.
Ron Clay with a 23lb Hornsea Mere pike (click for bigger picture)
Kippers I have used since the 1960's, mostly as additives to deadbaits (tied to a treble with a bit of cotton) but during the last decade as whole baits. They really do work quite well, and on some days all my runs have come on kipper. There are in fact quite a variety of kippers and bloaters in the shops so it's a good idea to try several - some are genuinely smoked, whereas others are merely dyed. On more than one occasion I have fried up my kipper deadbaits for myself, so if I can't resist them at times, maybe the pike can't. I have only once tried to use cooked kippers and I couldn't get them to stay on the hooks! It seemed a good idea at the time.
I'm very keen on using floats when deadbaiting, preferably on the surface rather than sunken, and I remember reading a recent debate as to whether floats on the surface 'spooked' fish. I'm sure they can in some circumstances, in others the pike attack the floats! When Ray Webb, Ron Clay, Jon Neville and I were fishing Hornsea Mere in East Yorkshire, Ray Webb completely convinced us that floats were detrimental to getting runs - the results proved it conclusively. The swim we fished was very shallow indeed, and the same worry might apply to fishing some broads with deadbaits. In other waters, such as shallow fenland drains, it doesn't seem to matter and where this is the case I prefer them to the straight legers.
Finally, night fishing. Deadbaits at night work just as well as during the day. It depends only on whether the water in question has night feeding pike, and most do. I know from my own trapping experiences that pike rove around a lot at night. However, one conclusion some anglers draw erroneously is that night feeding pike only do so on hard-fished waters. This simply is not the case. I know several private waters where daytime runs are few, and night time runs the norm.
All I have written in this piece about deadbaiting shows just what an open and active mind you have to keep when deadbaiting. It really is not just a case of chucking it out and waiting as the anti- deadbaiters claim.