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Live baiting for monster northern pike
Using live fish as bait for northern pike
As its name suggests, live baiting involves using live fish as bait to catch predatory fish like northern pike. Live baiting is a controversial method of fishing and with many anglers all for the method there are just as many anglers against the method. There are just as many arguments for live baiting as there are against live baiting and it is an argument that has been ongoing for many years and is one that is unlikely to be settled. Whatever your thoughts and opinions on live baiting it is a proven method to catch monster pike. So, if you want to know about live baiting or want to have a go at live baiting but didn't know where to start, you need to keep on reading this lens.
The fishing tackle needed for live baiting
Live baiting involves using small bait fish therefore your spinning rod and lure fishing tackle should be more than adequate for fee lining and floating live baits.
If you want to ledger live bait you are going to need a large sinker, and the combined weight of the sinker and the live bait is going to be too much for your lire fishing tackle. Instead, you are going to need a strong rod of at least twelve feet in length with a two pounds test curve. You are also going to need a large fixed spool reel loaded with some heavy line of at least fifteen pounds breaking strain. In these circumstances your dead baiting tackle is ideal for live baiting.
As well as your pike fishing tackle you are also going to need some general coarse fishing tackle to catch your live baits. You have to remember this tackle is only needed to catch small bait fish so there is no need to go over the top. A cheap and cheerful telescopic rod and small fixed reel combo is ideal. In fact, the smaller the better as it is less weight for you to carry and it can be easily stowed away in your fishing box when not in use.
Catching live bait to use to catch northern pike
When you use live bait, it is important to use live baits that were originally in the water where you are intending to try to catch pike. Under no circumstances should you catch your live bait in one river and then use it to catch pike in another river. Introducing live fish in to a river from a different river may create serious ecological problems with cross contamination, disease and the like. This could have catastrophic consequences and may even end up wiping out fish stocks. So, when you are going to go live baiting to catch pike catch your live bait in one part of the river and then move to another swim to try and catch the pike.
In an ideal world you would catch a bait fish and then put it on a hook immediately to catch a pike. Once that bait had been used you would then catch another and use it, and then another and so on. This would mean you only took what you are certain to use. In reality, it doesn't work like this and anglers catch a number of bait fish to last them the session and then move on to using them to catch pike.
Another thing to remember when catching live bait is to only take out as many fish as you are going to use in the session and not a single fish more. It is far better to run out of live bait and have to fish for some more than to pack up after a session with a bucket full of bait you never used. The left over bait is going to be in some distress, if it is still alive that is, and will almost certainly die if you return it to the water.
The best way of catching live bait is to use light fishing tackle, small hooks, small baits and bobbers. You have to remember that you are only fishing for bait here, not to try and catch some specimen roach or whatever so use the lightest tackle possible. Small fish are greedy and will devour a piece of bread or a maggot as soon as it is seen. Catching live bait should not take too long.
I have seen many anglers set traps to catch live bait, such as minnow traps, however there is no need to do this. When you use a trap you are likely to end up trapping more fish than you will ever need and whilst you can always return the surplus fish to the river there is a chance they will be in distress and will die. Instead of putting the bait fish through this it is far better catching live bait using a hook and line.
The best species of fish to use as live bait for northern pike
When you use dead baiting techniques to catch northern pike the best bait fish is sea fish, such as mackerel, sprats or smelt. It is not possible to purchase live sea fish, and even if you could it would not be suitable for live baiting because you would be introducing a foreign fish species in to the local eco system, which is potentially dangerous.
Pike are a ravenous predator that will try and eat any species of fish it can find, so almost any bait fish you catch can be used as pike bait. Some species of fish have spiny dorsal and pectoral fins that protect it from predators so if you catch one of these when bait fishing it is best to return these to the water. The main species of fish with spiky dorsal fins are perch and ruff.
The most popular fish used for live bait are small silverfish, such as roach but then this is because they are plentiful, greedy and very easy to catch. If you end up catching another species of fish like a trout or bream for example, these can also be used providing they are the right size of course.
Keeping the live bait alive
One of the most difficult things when live baiting is keeping the bait fish alive and kicking. You will obviously have to keep the live bait in a bucket of river water, although the fish will soon use all the oxygen and start to perish. To keep the fish alive longer you need to change the water in the bucket every couple of hours or when the fish start to look lifeless. You can buy aerator pumps designed to keep the oxygen levels up, but these are expensive and require a power supply to work which is even more gear to carry around so they really aren't worth it.
If you are keeping live bait on a hot day you will need to change the water in the bucket even more regularly. Small fish are more active in warmer temperatures therefore the fish will use up the oxygen quicker. During hot times the important thing is to keep the live bait as cool as possible so make sure the bucket is kept in the shade and out of direct sunlight.
One obvious point, but one which many anglers forget, is to make sure the bucket is plenty large enough to hold the amount of live bait you want it to.
Live bait bucket for sale on Amazon
Of course you can use any old bucket for holding live bait however you do need one with a lid to ensure the live bait remains fresh, which is something many conventional buckets don't have. The best way to over come this is to use a specific bait bucket, as highlighted here.
Live bait pump for sale on Amazon
To keep your live bait fresher for longer you need to keep the oxygen levels up, and this is best achieved using a live bait pump.
Once you have the live bait bucket you need a live bait pump to keep the water full of oxygen, which will help to keep your live bait nice and fresh ready to put on the hook. There are many different types of live bait pump available although this version is, arguably, one of the better ones. A live bait pump is an essential purchase for all pike anglers.
Baiting the hook with live bait
When you use live fish as bait one of the most important things is to keep the fish alive as long as possible, therefore you need to be careful when you hook the bait. If you simply impale the live bait on the fish hook it is likely to die very quickly.
When using live bait you need to use a two treble hook rig and the hooks need to be barbed, otherwise the bait is going to wriggle off the hook and swim off. One of the treble hooks should be placed through the live bait's mouth, i.e. lip hooking it, and the second treble hook should be passed through the anal fin. It is important not to bury the hook in to the bait and leave some points of the treble hook exposed so you can get a proper hook hold. Remember, pike have bony mouths so leaving a couple of points exposed will help in hooking the pike.
Hooking the live bait in this way is by far the best way. You need to remember that when a pike takes a fish it will turn it head first and then swallow it. With one hook in the baits mouth the pike will swallow one of the hooks when it turns the bait head first. The second hook is for a bit of extra hold and to keep the live bait hooked. The anal fin is strong, and since the live bait will still have use of its tail it can swim around on the end of the rig in a natural way to entice the pike.
Hooking the live bait using the method above will ensure the live bait remains alive as long as possible, which means you don't have to use as many baits during the session, so it's all good.
How to put a live bait on the hook
This video demonstrates how to put a live bait on the hook. Whilst the video isn't specifically about pike fishing the same principles apply when baiting a hook for catching northern pike.
The best time of year to use live bait
Unlike lure fishing (which is a summer only activity) and dead baiting (which is a winter only activity) live baiting is a method that is great all year around.
A live bait is mobile and will have a bit of movement that will attract pike when they are in the mood to chase and eat their prey, however a live bait is restricted to a particular area that will keep a pike’s interest when it is more lethargic and prefers to pick off sick and injured fish that can’t move too far or too fast.
Using live bait is successful all year, which makes it a very versatile bait.
Fishing methods with live bait
There are only a few methods you can use to present a live bait to catch pike, which include;
i) Free lining live bait
When free lining live bait all you have on the line is a wire leader, two treble hooks and the live bait. Hook the live bait in the way described above, gently cast it out and let the live bait do whatever it wants to do. When the live bait is in the water it is free to swim around and behave as naturally as possible and since free lining is considered a natural way of presenting live bait it is one of the most popular ways of fishing with live bait.
When you cast out live bait you need to be very gentle and careful. A jerky cast may see the hook pull out of the lip and anal fin and the live bait will fly off in to the distance. A jerky cast may shock the live bait to the point of death, which defeats the objective of live baiting. So, be exceptionally gentle when casting out.
ii) Floating live bait
Floating live bait is simply suspending the live bait below a large pike bung or pike bobber. The advantage of using a bung or bobber is that you can alter the depth at which the live bait is fished to suit you. When float fishing live bait you need to keep the rig as simple as possible so don't bother with elaborate rigs, paternosters and the like. A simple running bobber rig will suffice and is all you need.
Once again, you need to be as gentle and careful as possible when casting out the live bait. So don't go and try to punt the live bait to the horizon as the live bait will simply fly off the hook. All you need is a gentle under arm flick to get the bait in to the water.
When using a bobber to fish for other species of fish you strike as soon as the tip of the bobber dips below the water. However you don't do this when pike fishing. When the pike turns the bait head first in order to swallow it the bobber is likely to dip below the water. Strike during this time and you are not going to hook the pike. However, if you let the float dip and slowly count to five and then strike, you should find you will hook the pike.
iii) Ledgering live bait
Ledgering live bait is where you pin the bait to the bottom of the river bed using a large sinker. When you ledger a live bait you need to use a sinker that is too heavy for the bait fish to be able to move otherwise bite detection is going to be a nightmare.
There are loads of ledger and bottom fishing rigs available however the best one is the simplest and the most easy to tie, which is the running ledger rig. In order to tie this rig all you need is a heavy sinker, a rubber bead, a wire leader and two treble hooks.
Once the rig is tied you hook the live bait using the method described above and, once again, gently cast the bait in to the water. A sinker obviously adds a substantial weight on the line, which increases the likelihood of jerking during the cast. Because of this you need to be even more careful when casting out live bait on a ledger or bottom fishing rig.
What live bait fishing method should I use to catch northern pike?
With a few choices available the question "what is the best method to catch monster pike?" is a common one. The answer to this question will depend on the type of water you are fishing, the depth of the water and your personal preference amongst many other things. Not all the methods are viable in all situations therefore you need to choose the best method at the time. Determining the most suitable method is not something that you can learn from reading a book or watching a fishing DVD, determining the best method is something that you learn through trial and error, experience and getting out there and trying all the methods in a number of different situations.
This learning process is something that is likely to take months, if not years, so it won't happen overnight. Along the way you will enjoy sweet success but also suffer some failures. There will be ups and there will be downs along the way so enjoy the highs and learn to ride out the lows. It is an exciting and mundane journey at the same time but stick with it and you will get there.
One thing is for sure and this is that all the methods above are tried and tested and have accounted for some exceptionally large pike in the past, and the chances are they will continue to do so in the future.
Is it worth using live baits to catch pike?
Live baiting is another great way of catching pike however it is not a method that all pike anglers enjoy. Some anglers find the thought of impaling a live creature on a hook in order to catch another fish cruel. Live baiting is banned in some areas and many fishery owners don't permit it, so before you can and start using live bait to catch monster pike make sure you check the rules first.
To live bait or not to live bait
Using live baits is a very controversial method of fishing. Some anglers are for it, some anglers are against it and some anglers simply sit on the fence. Which one are you? Let's have a poll and find out............
Is live baiting an ethical fishing method?
Do you have any live baiting tips and tricks to pass on? Feel free to note down your experiences, tips and tricks for fellow pike anglers to use to increase their catch rate.
Lures for sale on Amazon
If you don't want to use live bait to catch pike why not use lures instead. There are loads of different types of lure available and the "best lure" is a very subjective thing. If you are looking for lures Amazon is a great place to start. Have a look at the ones below or if they are not suitable for your needs try the Amazon search feature.
For some more ideas on live baiting for pike, rigs for pike and everything else additional reading is recommended, and Amazon is a great place to start.
This one is worth a read
No picture, which is a sham but a good book none the less
If you have comments or anything else you would like to add please feel free to do so here.