The first question that we have to ask ourselves is - livebaits or deadbaits? Given the choice I will always try to fish both deadbaits and livebaits. This would usually be one livebait rod and two rods with deadbaits. Some waters respond much better to one or the other though. The quickest way of finding out the pikes preference is to offer the pike a choice! If it soon emerges that one method is more effective than the other then we can concentrate on that method in subsequent trips.
As an example, a few weeks ago I started fishing a small, shallow and coloured drain not far from my home. For the first few trips I fished both deadbaits and livebaits. It quickly emerged that the pike showed a definite preference for deadbaits, the livebaits only producing a couple of abortive jack attacks. For the next couple of sessions I concentrated all three rods on deadbaits. The result was a succession of good pike to 23 pounds all taken on a variety of static deadbaits.
In contrast, one Yorkshire river that I fish has proven to be almost a complete waste of time with static deadbaits. In fact, to date I have not had a single run to a static deadbait fished on the bottom on that venue. Some pike have however been caught on deadbaits fished on a paternoster rig. Fished with the head up-trace, a deadbait on a paternoster rig will wobble and move with the flow of the river. A very useful technique for river piking and one that I see few people bothering with.
As a general rule of thumb I have found that coloured and shallow venues respond better to deadbaits. The theory being that in coloured water the pike hunt mostly by smell rather than visually. Clear waters and particularly rivers often prove to be better livebait venues. There are though always exceptions! By fishing both live and deadbaits wherever possible we will hopefully find what the pike want on the day.
A look at the angling weeklies would clearly show that more big pike are caught on deadbaits than any other technique. This is not surprising though because the method is far more widely used than any other!
Years ago when I started pike fishing it was necessary to scour local fishmongers for a decent supply of deadbaits. Nowadays we are spoilt for choice with most tackle shops having a freezer full of assorted deadbaits. Personally I buy some of my deadbaits from the local tackle shop and smelts and various others are bought in bulk from Lucebaits at the Tackle Shop at Gainsborough (see last months article for details). Sardines are bought frozen in bags from the local Tesco.
So what deadbaits are best, I hear someone ask? For what it is worth, here are my favourites in order of preference:
Half mackerel (tail half of a medium size mackerel)
Choice of deadbait is not, I suspect, of great importance. Most pike that take a deadbait would, I believe, take a different deadbait if they came across it first. I usually fish a different deadbait on each rod, then I will soon hopefully see if the pike have any preference for one type or the other. On the small coloured drain that I mentioned earlier, lamprey section is currently producing more pike than any other bait. Since they became available a few years ago, the lamprey has really proven to be a special bait. A lamprey section casts extremely well, hooks pike well and oozes blood into the water, something which I believe that the pike find extremely attractive.
Normally when the Angling weeklies and the like run a feature on deadbaiting, it is at this point that the subject of bait flavouring crops up. This generally takes the form of a picture of a smelt being injected with a few mils of flavouring and a caption along the lines of "on hard waters, flavoured baits can give an edge".
"Oh really?" would be my response. Having experimented with flavoured baits quite a bit over the years I am now firmly of the belief that it makes no difference at all! Save your money and buy a couple more packets of lampreys instead!
So what about rigs for deadbaiting then? Well, my choice of deadbait rig depends mainly on the type of venue that I am fishing. For probably around 80% of my deadbait fishing I use the basic float leger rig illustrated in Figure 1. This will be fished with the float set around one third greater than the depth of water. The float keeps the line up out of the way of weed and snags and also gives us an extra visual indication of a take developing.
My rig comprises an eighteen inch trace with two trebles, float leger boom with a lead attached, Drennan Zepler float sliding on the line and a power gum stop knot. The float leger boom (see Figure 2.)is made out of around four inches of Solar Quick Sink tubing. A Drennan or St Ivel leger bead is then slid over the tubing and glued into place and a one inch length of silicone tube locks the boom to the trace swivel. A lead, normally of 1 to 1.5 ounces is attached to the leger bead with a small snap link.
The float leger boom has several functions. It prevents tangles, protects the knot from damage, protects the line from damage from the lead and also allows us to fish a safe fixed-lead set-up. I much prefer a fixed-lead set-up for float legering. The pike certainly don't object to towing an 1 ounce lead around. The silicone tube that locks the boom to the swivel is of a diameter that will easily pull from the swivel in the event of the lead snagging.
Some people might be surprised at my choice of float. The Drennan Zepler floats are ideal. They are highly visual, cast well, are available in a good selection of sizes and above all else are both cheap and very tough! Normally mine last for ages until I either stand on them or a pike bites them so that they sink! The much more trendy bottom end attachment, waggler type float does have some advantages, particularly providing very good bite indication. However, all the commercially available floats of this type have one major drawback, they are both expensive and last about five minutes before breaking! Avoid like the plague, waggler type pike floats that have tiny little swivels glued into the base. You have been warned!
The other deadbaiting rig that I am going to look at is a long range rig (see Figure 3.). This is used for long range fishing from the bank with a large lead and smallish bait. I use this rig where obtaining maximum distance is important, a situation that is not uncommon on a couple of large shallow still waters that I fish. Please note that this rig is not suitable for fishing over weed or snags. In those situations I choose a float leger set up.
The long range rig again comprises of an eighteen inch, two treble trace. Above the trace we have around two feet of Solar Quick Sink tubing. A Solar Tail Rubber is glued onto the end of the tubing and this locks the tubing onto our trace swivel. A large diameter rig ring slides on the tubing and to this a snap link and large lead is attached. The lead is normally 2.5 to 3.5 ounces in size, the ones I prefer being the Korda Distance Leads. This setup is designed to be a free running rig, something that I prefer when large leads are involved. To stop the lead jamming onto the tail rubber a large diameter rubber bead is slid onto the tubing and glued into place at the base of the tail rubber. Hopefully the picture makes this all self explanatory!
The tubing has the main function of protecting the line from any damage caused by the lead. A large sliding lead can cause a lot of damage to line particularly during a cast or when playing a fish. The tubing will also help to protect the line from the abrasive action of weed or snags.
When looking for maximum distance with this setup I will choose a small aerodynamic deadbait. Lamprey and eel sections being particular favourites.
I have to say that this particular rig does work very well. It casts very well, and is just about tangle free in use. One important consideration is that as there is no float, efficient bite indication at the rod end is vital. I fish a drop-off indicator with the rod pointing directly at the bait. The line between bait and indicator is kept as tight as possible. When set up correctly the indictor should drop off as soon as a pike takes the bait.
Before we move on to look at livebait rigs I will just mention the subject of popped up deadbaits. Well, personally I hardly ever use them! Main reason for this is that I have never found them to produce any more runs than a deadbait firmly nailed to the bottom! Pike in my experience will happily root out a deadbait from even very thick weed.
One more last word on popped up deadbaits. Not a single one of the experienced pike anglers that I fish with hardly ever bother with them! Enough said?
I use one rig for just about all my livebaiting. No prizes for guessing that it is the float paternoster! The basic setup is shown in Figure 4. This rig comprises a short two hook trace of around eight inches and a longer up-trace of eighteen inches or so. The longer up trace helps to prevent bite-offs in the event of the bait tangling. Both traces are made from my usual Eustace Crocodile Cable wire in 30 lbs BS.
A crucial part of this rig is the rotary helicopter bead (see Figure 5). This bead makes the rig just about as tangle proof as is possible for a paternoster rig. The ones I use are made by Fox and are sold as the "Helicopter Rig Kit". A snap link swivel is fitted onto the bead and this is used to attach our hook trace. The snap link is sheathed with large diameter silicone tubing to further help prevent tangles. Finally a small length of silicone tube locks the helicopter bead and tubing to the lower swivel of our up-trace. Thanks are due to my friend Gary Ellison for first showing me just how good these helicopter beads are for paternostered livebait rigs!
This rig can be fished with either a surface or sunken float, the choice is yours. I generally use a Drennan Zepler float for surface fishing or a black ET posifoam float for a sunken float rig. Most of the time I use a surface float as this allows you to monitor the actions of the bait. Sunk floats I prefer for water depth of greater than about twelve feet.
The rig is held in position by a weak link of some old ten pound mono. Lead size is normally 1.5 ounce but I won't hesitate to use a lead size of up to 3 ounces if conditions dictate.
Exactly the same rig is used for paternostered deadbaits. As I mentioned previously this can be an excellent choice for river piking. Livebaits are usually fished suspended horizontally, but when fishing a deadbait I will fish it with the head up trace as is shown in Figures 4 and 5.
So there we have three basic bait fishing rigs for pike that between them will cover most of our bait fishing situations. In the next part of this series I will look at lure fishing.
It only remains to wish you all a very happy New Year and a fish filled 2001!