In his own words Barrie preferred to pre-bait when the pike were off feed (presumably hoping it may bring them on to feeding). Writing on the same subject, this time in 1985 (Big Pike, Rickards, A&C Black 1986) and with the benefit of 15 years further experience Barrie was in no doubt of the value of pre-baiting for pike. It is a positive benefit he said.

I have known and fished with Barrie since 1971. Amongst the very many subjects we have discussed I have seen Barrie develop his (pre-) baiting theories, and have also been able to compare his approach to my own. Even to this day I sit on the fence where pre-baiting (for pike) is concerned although quite frequently, and on certain waters, I do throw in small quantities of chopped fish pieces, so I’m not entirely ambivalent myself!

It’s worth asking the question why we pre-bait, why we throw in fish pieces on the day of fishing and why do we sometimes use more traditional forms of ground-bait laced with fish smells on the day of fishing? Do we hope it will induce pike to feed that otherwise might not have done so? Do we hope it will introduce pike to our baits when they might otherwise not have recognised them as food? Do we hope that pre-baiting will create a hotspot where otherwise such would not have existed? Or do we hope it will help them grow fatter and heavier? Or is it all of these?

In the last 30 years or so we have learned a great deal about pike feeding habits and feeding patterns and perhaps the clearest indication of all is that pike, on most waters, and for much of the time, come on to feed at predetermined times most days. Weather conditions, more especially the barometric pressure reading, perhaps the phase of the moon (whether it is waxing or waning) and certainly the time of year each play a role in this. If anglers are not fishing the water on the day under study, pike feed just the same as if anglers are present. In other words the presence of bait is immaterial to their willingness to feed (which is brought on by hunger).

The regular throwing in of chopped fish pieces almost certainly does nothing to induce the pike to feed though may help the pike to locate your bait, to attract them to your area and to keep them there for a while. So, clearly, there may be benefits here, more especially if other anglers are not doing the same. However, I would suggest that, providing you first locate the pike accurately, matters such as pre-baiting or baiting up on the day take second place.

If we trace the fossil record we find that the ancestors of todays pike fed in salt water. This may explain why salt water dead baits reign supreme over fresh water dead baits for most of the time, though it stretches ones imagination to fully believe that their powers of recall are that good! In any case, if this were true, it must also be true that pike feed on salt-water fish in preference to anything else. I am beginning to think that the oil in salt water baits act as a feeding stimulus, a response not unlike carp and other cyprinid-species anglers use to their advantage in some of the more refined HNV baits. Yet, I still remain unconvinced of the benefit – in angling terms – of pre-baiting for pike.

Unless, that is, the purpose of pre-baiting is to introduce a new food source, food that adds to the food chain and specifically targets pike. Here I am in full agreement. We have plenty of evidence that pike respond very well to regular pre-baiting, not only putting on weight, and growing physically but also repairing damaged tissue more efficiently and much quicker than might otherwise be the case.

Pre-baiting will not create pike hotspots for anything other than the short term, that is almost on the day. Hotspots are not formed because of food availability and I am far from convinced that pike can be ‘trained’ to frequent areas and to confidently feed in areas which otherwise are unnatural to them. In the short term you may be able to hold pike in an area where they are already willing to feed though such areas are not hotspots.

Perhaps the final and most important benefit is that it gives the angler-increased confidence.

Changing the topic a little, we are witnessing a ‘rediscovery’ of a couple of methods which have been kicking around in pike angling circles for many years (I have been able to trace them back to 1937) and which occasionally get brought out and dusted off.

The first of these is the popped-up dead bait. Thirty years ago, a small group of successful and influential anglers fishing the north London reservoirs developed a very sophisticated and refined method of fishing small dead baits off the bottom. This involved injecting freshwater dead baits with air then counter-balancing the bait with just sufficient lead (usually split shot) to cause the bait to sink ever so slowly to the bottom. Over the intervening years anglers have experimented with balsa inserts, polystyrene inserts and so on with much the same effect. These refinements have resulted, today, in small coloured balls of extremely buoyant material, usually coloured red and which are tied to or threaded on to the trace close to the bait.

The use of this new approach to old methodology has grown very popular amongst the modern pike angler spurred on by the recommendations of well-known advocates. Popped-up dead baits (live baits too if you so wish) are popular and are catching fish though we don’t yet know if it has long term sustainability. My guess is that, given time (a couple of years perhaps) the novelty value will wear off and we’ll be able to see, for the first time just how effective it really is. Anglers often hang on to new methods longer than fish do!

It’s worth taking a closer look at this ‘in’ method and to examine what we think it offers.

Because anglers are quick to jump on to any trendy method, the pace of monopoly sometimes clouds what is really happening, and precisely how effective the ‘new’ method is. If the majority of anglers adopt the method, or use it on each rod to exclusivity then proper quantifiable results are impossible to see. Only by using the ‘new’ method, with the same baits, fished in the same areas and fished over many sessions (ideally for a season or two) are we really able to tell its efficacy. Too few anglers seem to be interested in experimental data so we are left with questions and doubts.

That pike willingly take dead baits is beyond dispute. That most dead baits are found comatose on the bottom is also without question. That some dead fish drift on the current, or are wafted about off the bottom and are taken by pike is also well known. What we are still unsure of, however, is whether a dead bait deliberately fished off bottom is more effective, equally effective or less effective than one fished hard on the bottom and the reason for this is precisely what I have said above. Too little quantifiable fishing is done by anglers who record their catches and then discuss their findings with an open mind.

There is no doubt that a popped-up dead bait is a very efficient method though I doubt that it is more effective than a bait fished on the bottom. Like all techniques pop-ups should be seen as another method, another string to the bow to use alongside other techniques. On ‘the day’ it will catch when another method fails though based upon my observations so far it is no better a method than a ‘legered’ dead bait overall.

An angler recently told me that the pike in ‘his’ pit love lampreys. My own results on the same water suggest the pike also like dead baits, so I queried the statement, only to learn that he had caught just 4 pike from the water in something like 16 trips. I don’t think you can draw any conclusions from such results except that the fishing was slow.

Lampreys, like gurnard, like eel sections, like popped-up dead baits are a ‘change’ method not a sure-fire means to success, not magic baits guaranteed to catch when others fail. They are yet another example of bandwagon jumping.

The second of these rediscovered methods is the adding of colour to bait and/or to the hook rig itself.

Adding colour to a bait is achieved by immersing the (dead!) bait in a vegetable dye, or indirectly by adding colour to the trace with small plastic tags or polyballs. The question is "is it worth it?"

I take a very simplistic view to any of life’s problems. Before we can understand what may be going wrong we have to understand the practice. If we come across a problem the answer is almost invariably found in the original detail. If we look for further problems this not only complicates the matter but takes us further, and further away from the answer. To identify the cause we have to understand the basic principles.

Adding colour to dead bait renders it alien to the natural food upon which the pike feed. Almost all readily available prey species are a shade of silver with or without some green, perhaps gold here and there. Bright crimson fish do not exist in our waters and neither do blue ones. To some extent, by adding colour to dead baits we are incorporating one of the attractors we find in lure fishing, but we are dead baiting….

For at least the past century, pike anglers have maintained that pike are attracted by a dash of red colour. In the past anglers have painted their hook(s) red. These days we thread a red plastic flag on to the hook or trace. If this practice is adopted to the exclusion of a control rig then of course pike like a dash of red – they have no choice unless they reject the bait altogether!

In all my years of piking I have never seen evidence that any added colour makes the slightest difference and I’ve tried it often enough. Indeed, I’ve used it alongside mates with the same thoughts, on the same day yet, despite many pike taken from a huge number of waters over many years conclusive proof still eludes me.

There is probably little doubt that most anglers try adding some (unnatural) colour to their bait in the hope it will add value, be something just that little bit different, catch them a pike or two more than other anglers. In the short term anything new seems to attract a fish or two (presumably out of curiosity) though few, if any gimmicks work in the long term.

There is still plenty of scope for experimentation with colours and there yet may be some real benefit in so doing. You’ll need to consider not only the colour but where the bait is dyed, for example is the head section or the tail section more effective, does it improve it’s effectiveness if the bait is paternostered or (dare I say it) popped up, and if so by how much. Does water clarity make any difference (you would assume it would but who knows) and should colour be linked to smell? By this I put the question does a particular colour trigger a better response from the pike if it smells of pilchard, for example? The possibilities are almost endless; yet the answer may be unimportant.

If anglers put anything like as much thought in to finding the pike, work out where and when they feed, work hard not to scare them, work even harder to get fresh, top quality bait and to refine, yet keep simple their tactics, stuff like coloured baits, bait additives (smells) and even popping them up would make little difference.

On another occasion we’ll take a hard look at pike location. If there is a ‘secret’ to successful, sustainable pike fishing it is this.