Dead Baiting for Monster Northern Pike

Updated on August 23, 2017

Using Dead Fish as Bait to Catch Pike

The most active way of catching pike is to use lures; however if you want to kick back, relax and wait for the monster pike to come to you, dead baiting is the fishing method for you. As its name suggests dead baiting involves using dead fish as hook bait. So, if you are looking for some tips and advice on using dead baits to catch large pike, read on.

The Fishing Tackle You Need to Dead Bait for Pike

Pike are ravenous fish and can eat fish almost as big as themselves, so in order to catch big pike you are going to need big dead bait. Fish two to three pounds in weight are often used to hook those monster pike. If you use small dead bait, you are likely to be plagued by the small and ravenous jack pike, and whilst it is good to catch the target species jack pike aren't really what we are after here.

In order to cast out big dead bait you are going to need a powerful rod that is at least twelve feet in length with a test curve of at least two pounds. Anything lighter than this is not going to be able to blast dead bait to the horizon. A typical spinning or lure fishing rod is not man enough for the job, so when it comes to using dead bait you need to put the spinning rod away and get a proper pike rod. A heavy duty carp rod or cat fishing rod will also make an excellent pike rod.

As well as a strong rod you will also need a large fixed-spool reel, such as one of the big pit variety, loaded up with strong line. The line should be a minimum of fifteen pounds although you can go stronger should you wish. A thinner alternative to monofilament line is braid, however you need to take care with braid as it doesn't stretch like monofilament will.

In order to safely land the pike, unhook it and return it to the water, you will need a large landing net, an unhooking mat and some forceps. Other tackle you need for dead baiting includes wire traces, treble hooks, barrel swivels, beads, sinkers, split shot, crimps and bobbers.

Dead bait fishing works better in cooler weather.
Dead bait fishing works better in cooler weather.

What is the Best Time of Year to Use Dead Bait?

When the water temperature is high, i.e. during the summer months, pike are very active and will often chase small fry fish around. During this time of year the pike prefer catching live food, however they will devour dead bait if they are hungry when they come across it. During the summer months lure fishing for pike is better than dead baiting for pike.

When the water temperature plummets, the behavioural pattern of the pike will change. During the colder months pike will conserve energy and become lethargic. During these times pike will prefer to scavenge for food as opposed to chasing and catching it. It is this time of the year when dead baiting becomes one of the best methods to catch large pike.

Fish That Make the Best Dead Bait

Common sense would say that pike would only eat fish that are native to the water in which it lives, i.e. fresh water fish, such as roach, eels, carp and the like. However, like all species of fish, pike will devour almost anything they can find and that includes species of fish that are native to the seas and oceans and are not found in freshwater. Saltwater fish, like mackerel, herring, sprats and smelt, are common dead baits used to catch pike and all of them have accounted for some exceptionally large specimens.

Salt water fish are notoriously oily and smelly, which makes them a favourite with many pike anglers. When you fish with dead bait you are relying on the pike's sense of smell to locate and find the bait, therefore the smellier the bait the better, which is the primary reason why sea fish are so popular. Mackerel, herring and smelt are also readily available from super markets and fishmongers so if you can't get to a fishing bait store you can still get hold of some bait. How many times have you seen roach or tench on the supermarket shelf? As a result of the abundant supply mackerel, herring and smelt are cheap so there is a saving to be made in using them.

Even though saltwater dead bait is oily and smelly, readily available and cheap many anglers prefer to use freshwater fish that are native to the waters where the pike lives. If you break the skin of the freshwater fish its natural juices will seep out when the bait is in the water. Another way of boosting the smell of freshwater fish is to inject them with fish oils, which are available from all good fishing tackle stores. The funny thing is the fish oil additives are made from sea fish, so why not choose a sea fish as dead bait in the first instance?

All things considered I would recommend sea fish as dead bait over freshwater fish every time. Even though sea fish is not native to freshwater and the pike don't come across sea fish on a daily basis the pike will still eat sea fish. The fact that sea fish is good for catching pike, readily available and cheap simply makes using sea fish a no brainer. So, forget about using a roach and get a smelt on the hook instead.

What Fish Do You Use for Dead Bait?

With so many different fish that can be used for dead bait many newbie pike anglers find it difficult knowing what dead bait is best. Every one has their own opinions and here is your chance to put in your two cents worth. So, come on people please let the world know what fish you prefer to use as dead bait.

What is your preferred dead bait for pike fishing?

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Dead Baiting Methods

There are many different ways you can fish dead bait, however the most common methods include:

1. Free-Lining Dead Bait

Free lining is the where the only thing that is on the line is the wire trace, the fish hooks and the bait. When free lining dead bait you simply cast the bait out and allow it to go wherever the water takes it, hence making it look as natural as possible to the pike.

When you free line dead bait the bait will sit on the water's surface or just below the water's surface unless you break the air bladder. Breaking the air bladder is easy and all you have to do is gently stand on the bait prior to using it. Standing on the bait will also help break the bait allowing the juices and natural oils to seep out, resulting in a nice fishy trail that leads the pike directly to your bait. You do need to take care when you break the air bladder to ensure you don't do too much harm to the bait.

When free lining dead bait there is no resistance to set the hooks during the strike, therefore you need to let the pike take the bait and run away with it before raising the rod and striking. By letting the pike run with the bait you also give it a chance to turn the bait head first and swallow it.

When a pike takes the bait it takes a great deal of self control to wait a few minutes before striking and it is all too easy to get carried away, strike too soon and drop the pike.

2. Floating Dead Bait

Floating dead bait is basically suspending the bait below a float or bobber. In order to remain upright and not get dragged under the water by the weight of the bait pike floats are very big, as you'd expect. If you use a locking pike bung you can vary the depth at which the dead boat is suspended, which means you can place the bait at any depth you want. In order to keep the dead bait at the desired depth it is best to break the air bladder to stop the bait floating up towards the water's surface.

As with all dead baiting methods you can create a nice smelly trail for the pike to follow by scoring the flesh of the bait before you cast it out or by injecting the bait with some fish oil. For the maximum effect you can add more fish oil and score the flesh.

When floating fishing for other species of fish you strike as soon as the bobber dips under the water, however this is not the case when using a pike bung. You have to remember that a pike will take a fish and then turn it head first before swallowing it. The pike bung is likely is dip under the water when the pike is turning the bait therefore you will not hook the fish if you strike instantly. In order to ensure the pike has turned the bait and will get hooked you need to let the bung dip under the water, slowly count to five and then strike to set the hooks. If you have previously missed bites by striking too soon follow this method and you will see an increase in your catch rate.

3. Ledgering Dead Bait

Ledgering dead bait involves pinning the bait on the river bed. Alternatively, you can 'pop' the bait just off the river bed by leaving the air bladder intact or injecting the dead bait with some air to give the bait a bit of buoyancy. Once again, in order to create a nice, smelly trail that is going to lead the pike directly to your bait you can score the flesh of the bait, inject some natural oils in to the bait or do a combination of both.

When ledgering dead bait you need to let the pike run with the bait before you strike and set the hooks. Letting the pike run will give it a chance to turn the bait head first and swallow it, which means you will be able to set the hooks properly.

4. Wobbling Dead Bait

Wobbling dead bait involves mounting a fish on a wire trace, tying on a treble hook and then using the dead bait as if it were a lure, i.e. you cast out the dead bait and then retrieve it, before casting it back out and reeling it in once more, and then repeating the process over and over until a pike bites.

When wobbling dead bait it is important not to use bait that is too big and heavy. Casting out large baits put a strain on the rod, the reel and the line. The greater the number of casts the greater the strain and the greater the strain the more chances of snapping the line, damaging the reel or even snapping the rod.

So, when wobbling dead bait use small bait, such as a sand eel or a sprat. With smaller baits you may get plagued by small jack pike but this is one of the things you have to deal with when wobbling dead bait and you will have to out fish the small pike in order to get to the monster pike.

On their day and in the right circumstances, all the dead baiting methods described above will catch pike. The precise method you use will depend on the actual situation. For example, you may be fishing a shallow river where floating or ledgering dead bait isn't viable. In these circumstances free lined dead bait would work best. Alternatively, you may be faced with a very deep lake. In these circumstances ledgering dead bait is likely to be the best option.

Dead Baiting for Pike on YouTube

For some excellent advice, tips and tactics on deadbaiting for monster pike check out this youtube video. Whilst it may be quite long you really do need to make sure you see it to the end to get the most out of it. This is definitely one of the better ones I have found.

Northern Pike and Muskie: Tackle and Techniques for Catching Trophy Pike and Muskies (The Freshwater Angler)
Northern Pike and Muskie: Tackle and Techniques for Catching Trophy Pike and Muskies (The Freshwater Angler)
Some additional reading will give you some ideas for pike rigs to try out. This is a good buy.

If you have any dead baiting tips that you wish to share and help out all the readers of this article, please feel free to add them to my guest book comments.


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    • profile image


      8 years ago

      WOw - this sounds like part science and part art!


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