Live bait is the best bet for pursuing early pike

>What are the best techniques to use for pike? Ask five veteran anglers that question and chances ar

What are the best techniques to use for pike? Ask five veteran anglers that question and chances are, four of five will say live bait. You just can’t beat the real thing, espec­ially early in the season.

It has been proven that live bait will catch more pike than artificial lures in spring. I’ve fished a number of pike tournaments and attended weigh-ins of others, and the top money winners always credit live bait for their success. In addition, the majority of those anglers who report catching northern pike for publication in the Daily Gazette’s weekly Fish Tales report also said they used live bait.

The final proof is the bait shops. The proprietors all say that their best day of the season for selling live bait is the first Saturday in May, the opening of the New York state pike season.

“My biggest sales for big live bait are always the first three or four weeks of the pike season.” said Bill Parry, proprietor of the Lake Lonely Boat Livery.


When I say live bait, I’m referring to either shiners or suckers, and I strongly recommend calling or stopping by a local bait shop prior to your fishing trip this Saturday to check on their availability. As for size, get the biggest that they have. Simply put, the bigger the bait, the better your chance of catching a trophy northern pike. And to keep them “live,” invest in a decent-sized bait bucket and a battery-operated aerator. Both are inexpensive and a good investment. Let’s take a look at three live bait rigs that work for pike.

The first and most popular method is bobber fishing. There are several types of bobbers that will work, but the best is a six- to eight-inch slip bobber — for two reasons. One, it allows for easy depth control adjustments of your bait, and two, its slim cigar shape offers very little resistence to the fish when it grabs the bait and heads off with it. Those tennis ball-sized bobbers offer a lot of resistence when the fish pulls them under. This resistence can cause the fish to release the bait before getting hooked.

To rig the slip bobber, begin by sliding a line stop, followed by a red plastic bead with a hole in the center, onto the main line. Be sure the stopper is bigger than the hole in the bead, but small enough to easily fit through the rod guides. Next, tie on an eight-inch, 30-pound-test steel leader and a No. 1 red treble hook to the end of the line.

The best place to hook the bait, both for a good hook set and letting the bait swim naturally, is right behind the dorsal fin. Hook the bait with only one of the three barbs.

The depth at which the bait should be presented must be determined by the type of structure being fished. For instance, when fishing a defined weedline in eight feet of water, set the bobber stop so the bait is about three to four feet down. For a submerged weed bed, the bait should be just above the weeds.

New York state regulations allow the use of two rods when fishing, and it’s a good idea to take advantage of this. After tossing out the bobber-rigged bait, set up a bottom fishing live bait rig. This is a fairly simple setup and could help determine where the fish may be holding and will double chances for success. The real fun begins when you get pike on both rigs at the same time.

Begin by tying a one-ounce bell sinker on the end of your line. About 12 inches above that, attach the eight-inch, 30-pound-test steel leader with the No. 1 red treble hook. Next, attach a one-inch diameter round bobber about 18 inches above the hook. You do not want the bobber to float on the surface. The purpose of the bobber on this rig is to keep the line between the sinker and the bobber vertical once it’s on the bottom. With the line held off the bottom by the bobber’s buoyancy, the bait can now swim more freely.

The third live bait rig for pike is really similar to the Carolina rig used by bass anglers. The difference is, bass anglers use plastic artificial baits and we will be using live shiners/suckers.

Begin by sliding a one-ounce egg sinker onto the line and then attach an 18- to 24-inch, 30-pound-test steel leader with a No. 1 red treble hook to the end of the line. The ball bearing swivel on the top of the leader will stop the sinker from sliding down to the hook.

When the sinker is on the bottom, the bait will be able to swim freely, and when the fish grabs the bait, you can feed out the line, eliminating any resistance.

Several years ago, I started using Spike It Garlic-N-Glow bait coloring in chartreuse. I dip the tail of the shiner/sucker into this coloring, and it adds a little extra flash to the bait. I have had very good success with it.


Casting a large shiner/sucker with or without weight requires a special technique that will not pull the hook out of the bait. Rather than holding the rod straight up, begin your cast with the rod parallel to the water. The bobber or sinker, depending upon the rig being used, should be about five to six inches from the tip eye of the rod. Use a side casting motion to cast/lob the bait gently. The fewer casts made, the longer the bait will stay hooked.

There are many ways to set the hook, but the way I was taught years ago is to first let the fish move off with the bait with the reel free spooling line, offering no resistance. Then, after about five to 10 seconds, point the rod tip at the fish, engage the spool, take up the slack and set the hook in an upward motion.

To make casting, hook-setting and to take control of a hooked pike, it’s best to use a six- to seven-foot, medium-heavy-action rod.

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