Our Top 10 Best Baits for Pike Fishing

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The bait options available when pike fishing is vast. This makes it easy, particularly as a beginner, to become overwhelmed with choice when preparing to set out and catch your first Esox. With a wide variety of places to source your bait, you should not have to look very far. You can visit your local tackle shop, supermarket or even fishmongers to purchase all the bait that you will need for a successful day’s predator fishing.

The first rule when it comes to pike fishing is to buy the freshest bait possible. Keeping it in a freezer at home will ensure the freshness lasts right up to the point that you need it. Wrapping your baits individually in cling film is a practical way of storing them in the freezer and also helps keep them fresh on the bank. It also allows you to only take what you need for the session ahead. Pike have ravenous appetites and an aggressive nature making them unable to resist a perfectly placed deadbait whether it’s still thawing or fresh from a supermarket.

Wrapped up pike baits straight from the freezer and ready to go!

When on the bank, a small cool bag with a freezer pack inside is the perfect way to carry your baits around all day and still keep them fresh. If at the end of your session you have any leftovers in your cool bag, do not consider it a waste. A few of options to get the most out of your left over baits are:

  1. If you are likely to visit the same venue again, you can use them as pre-bait in a couple of spots that are likely to hold pike.
  2. Chop the baits into smaller pieces to use on your next session as a chum/freebie
  3. Fresh bait can be expensive, so if you don’t like the idea of throwing it in as pre-bait or chum, simply take it home and re-freeze it to use on your next session!

Some of the most popular baits used in pike fishing include:

We’re going to run through our top 10 baits:

1. Sardines

At top of our list is our favourite bait and one that has banked us many great Esox over the years. Sardines are a very oily, soft-skinned bait and they perform best when cast out frozen. If fishing close in, a thawed-out bait will work just fine, but you will be lucky to get more than one cast out of them once completely thawed out.

The soft skin of the sardine allows hooks to pull through with ease on the strike, leading to a high hook-up ratio. Whilst this is a positive a lot of the time, their soft skin does make them a poor choice for sink and draw or wobbling techniques.

Thawing sardines

2. Roach/Skimmers

What better way to entice a pike into taking your bait than using a natural coarse fish that is already part of the pike’s diet? Great for hooking whether you are using single hooks or trebles, due to their tough skin. These babies will last a good few casts depending on the distance that you aim to fish at.

When fishing roach/skimmers, you may find that your bait is not sinking properly. If you find yourself in this situation it may indicate the swim bladder has not been punctured, which you will need to address.

Roach on ice

3. Sprat

Sprat are small silver sea fish with soft skin. Do not let the size of these fish fool you into thinking they will only catch jacks. Pike of all size can be tempted using sprat. As with any soft-skinned baitfish, they are not ideal for long casts or sink and draw techniques and we do not recommend leaving them in the water for long periods of time.

One of the main advantages sprat offer is their price, as they are usually cheap as chips from any good fishmonger or supermarket fish counter. So buying bulk is often very cost effective, especially if you plan to use them in your pre-baiting.
Due to their small size, hooking them up can seem like a challenge, but a single hook through the top lip and out through the skull will be more than adequate.

A bunch of frozen sprat

4. Herring

You can pick up herring in a range of different sizes. Large herring is great when targeting big pike – although small jacks are known to attempt baits much larger than they are. Alternatively, you can chop them in half and use either end. This can give you an edge on tough venues due to the fact that herring is very oily and these oils act as a great way to attract pike into the area.

Due to its profile, herring is not a great bait when casting far, but it is fantastic when fishing over weed or silt, as pike can pick them up with ease.

Freshly frozen herring waiting to be chopped up

5. Smelt

Smelt is a very bright fish which makes it the go-to option for many pike anglers. It is a great visual bait that you can deploy on days where the water is coloured due to poor weather.

Smelt have a very different scent to other commonly used pike baits, which why many anglers believe it to be so effective. These fish are tough and make a good choice if you’re going to be casting a fair distance. They are ideal for the sink and draw technique or trotting down a river on a float, and they can be hooked with a single hook through the skull or by using trebles.

Smelt on display at a local market

6. Mackerel

Mackerel are another favourite of ours. A very tough-skinned fish that can last a long time on the hook as well as being able to survive being cast pretty much any distance. Be careful not to hook them too deep though, as the hooks may not pull through the tough skin when striking, resulting in a lost fish.

You can pick up mackerel in lots of different sizes – a fish about 8 inches long is a good size for pike fishing. As with herring, if you can only find big mackerel, slice them in half and use either the head or tail, to make them more appealing to pike. Mackerel are often used as a winter bait, when pike fishing can be at its most challenging.

A freezer box full of large mackerel

7. Lamprey

Lamprey exist naturally in some (not all!) rivers and make up part of the pike’s natural diet. This explains why on the right day, they make a great pike bait. Lamprey are a high protein food source, which can give you the edge on a natural lake or river. Their shape makes them brilliant for distance fishing.

Usually too large to be fished whole, you will need to cut them down to about 6-8 inch sections. These creatures are parasites in the natural world and so are full of blood, this attribute boosts the chances of a pike finding your bait.

Spotted: a live lamprey in a slow-moving river

8. Trout

Trout is a very underused bait that can make a great alternative when your favourite baits are not producing fish on the bank. Trout is a somewhat tough fish that can withstand fishing at distance. They are very oily and naturally buoyant, making them perfect on a drifting float or if using a sink and draw technique.

Large trout on ice at a local fishmongers

9. Blueys

Blueys, also known as pacific saury, are often used on venues where pike are partial to mackerel but have become wary of taking the bait or have just switched off for whatever reason. Blueys are very oily and very bloody. They tend to sink slowly making them a good choice when trotting on rivers.

However, they are quite soft and commonly attacked by nuisance fish. This is a problem that can leave you wondering how much is left on your hook after you’ve left it fishing for a certain length of time.

10. Live Baits

Controversially, some anglers prefer to use live bait if the venue permits their use. You must catch your bait first, as transferring fish between different waters is banned. Catch a few in the morning and store them in a bucket with an aerator to keep them alive. A single hook through the top lip or in the back behind the dorsal fin will be a sufficient hook hold.

Using live bait can be extremely effective, and it is very exciting to watch your float dancing around the water. A take on a live bait is unmistakable. Rather than your float slowly bobbing like it would with a deadbait, they tend to kite off straight away, so don’t stray too far from your rods!