Starting Pike Fishing - by John Howard


It is not my intention to cover lure fishing in this article, as this would require a book in itself.
I also believe that the question of live baiting is a personal issue and should be left to the individual to make that choice.


To avoid unnecessary expense when starting pike fishing.  A lot of carp tackle can be used, for example carp rods having a test curve between 2.5lb and 3lb as can any carp sized reel.  I strongly recommend line having a breaking strain of 15lbs be used.

It is not necessary to use an audible alarm but it does help if you have one.  An indicator of either of the drop back or fox swinger type can be used when legering dead baits.  The intention is to give as early an indication of a take as possible to avoid the bait being swallowed and deep hooking the pike.


A drop back indicator and audible alarm combined, shown in use with a bait runner type reel.

If a run occurred the line is pulled from the clip and the indicator drops down.  If a drop back bite occurs the line stays in the clip but again the indicator drops down indicating a take.




This set up is the normal set up for carp using optonic type alarms in conjunction with bait runner type reels.


Both types of indicators can be used with out audible alarms.  If a non bait runner type reel is used then the indicator must be set up as the top photo with an open bail arm.

Alternatively a float can be used.  The use of a float can give advantages over legering.  It is obvious where the bait is and in the event of a take the direction the pike is going.  The use of a float also allows all depths to be fished from near the surface to the bait being laid on the bottom.


From left to right, Top: sliding poly ball, sliding poly ball for sunken paternoster

Bottom:  Two sliding  floats, loaded dead bait pencil, drifter fox type, and drifter dart flight type.
Sliding dead bait pencil and a homemade slider with sight bob.


The dumpy type floats would be used for either a live bait or suspending a dead bait.  The slender pencil types when laying on or legering.  One mistake commonly seen is a failure to correctly shot the float, its not uncommon to see a float lying flat. Swan shot or pierced bullet legers can be used to shot the float.  This is particularly important when suspending dead baits to minimize resistance to a taking fish.

When using a float, having a floating line is very important, I am now using a floating braid for this task. The alternative is to grease nylon so it floats.  Not only does it help to pick up the line off the surface but also avoids the line tangling around the bait or trace.

To work effectively a drift float must be used in conjunction with a floating line.  Here braid is the line for the job as its low stretch helps when setting the hooks at distance.  A drift floats limitation on distance is restricted only by the amount of line on the reel and by your eyesight.  It can be used up to and over 200yds(m) when using braid.  I have used binoculars in the past when a big chop was on the water.


When using a float I find it best to fish it sliding.  My set up is as follows.

A small diameter sliding bead followed by the float then another bead. A rubber bead then I tie on a link swivel to which I attach the trace. To finish I tie a stop knot above the top bead using power gum or a length of nylon leaving tails of approx. 1.5inches(35mm)


Top: drop off indicator
Middle:  snap tackle
Bottom: Leger with a low resistance run ring


A wire trace is a must as nylon can and does get bitten through by a pikes teeth.  A 7-strand trace of 20lb breaking strain wire with either size 6 or 8 semi barbless trebles is the standard set up.  By semi barbless I mean 2 of the 3 hooks are barbless the remaining hook is left barbed and its this hook that goes into the bait.  Any traces that are kinked for whatever reason should be scrapped immediately as a kink can severely reduce the braking strain of the wire trace.  Always check the condition of the trace before use and before every cast.

It is very important to ensure all hooks are sharp if needs be sharpen using a hook sharpener. A pikes mouth is full of bone and toothy pads and a sharp hook is needed to penetrate this.


Un hooking tools.  Top: deep throat disgorger, 12-inch forceps, wire cutters (handles extended),
 8-inch forceps, small wire cutters and a pair of long nosed pliers. Unhooking mat.



Whenever a pike is being played and its ready to be netted look to see where the hooks are. One may be loose and care will have to be taken as the landing net is used, to avoid the hook fouling the net.

Unhooking a pike calls for different methods. Lay the fish on an unhooking mat kneel astride the fish with the tail between your legs. This helps prevent the fish thrashing around. A glove on your left hand if right handed is advisable until you become proficient in unhooking pike. Carefully slide a finger under the gills and as you gently lift the finger you should slide it forwards towards the front of the jaw.  Avoid any contact with gill rakers.  As you lift, the pike's mouth will open allowing you to see the hooks, using forceps remove the hooks.

I would always advise a newcomer to piking to go with an experienced piker so that these techniques can be fully explained and demonstrated.

Pike are a very delicate fish and will not withstand rough handling.
Treat all pike gently and with respect.
If necessary using the wire cutters cut any hooks or the trace.

Striking a run should be done as quickly as possible.  Pick up the rod and either wait till the line tightens or wind down to the fish. Strike firmly and maintain a firm pull on the fish for a few seconds.  As pike have such bony mouths and may be holding a large bait very firmly the hooks may not be immediately set.  Its only as the bait is released that allows the hooks to find a purchase.


There is a wide choice of bait available either from a fishmonger or a tackle shop.  Both have advantages and disadvantages.

I find buying sprats and sardines cheaper from the fishmonger. Look for one that sells 1-kilo bags of blast frozen sardines.  Buying these from a tackle shop works out expensive. Mackerel and herrings bought from fishmongers are normally to big, but in a small size may be ideal cut in two.

The bait purchased from a tackle shop comes in packs of 3 or 4.

After buying bait I wrap each fish in cling film and place in to bags.  These are then stored in the freezer till needed.  This helps to prevent freezer burn.  They are then placed in a cooler box with an ice pack when Iím going fishing.  An insulated boilie bag could be used as an alternative.  This normally keeps the bit frozen all day and I take home any bait left in the cooler box.  I do not refreeze or re use any used bait.

Sardines, sprats and herrings are very soft and are easily thrown off the hooks when casting. I always use these frozen allowing them to thaw out in the water.  Do not worry about them still being frozen I have taken pike within seconds of frozen bait hitting the bottom. Try to ensure the size of hooks and the spacing between the two hooks matches the size of bait being used.

Due to sardines and herrings being so soft I would not use these when suspending bait under a float. The best baits to use are smelt, sprats, joey mackerel, trout and any of the coarse fish. One problem with using coarse fish is that their swim bladder is intact and they tend to float naturally. If used when legering this will in effect pop up the bait.  I do allow all coarse bait when used with a float to thaw out and by stabbing the bait with a needle burst the swim bladder allowing the bait to sink.

It is advisable to carry a selection of baits and vary them through out the day.

Baits available from a tackle shop include Trout, smelt, herring sardines, sprats, mackerel, lamprey sand eels, and a coarse pack.  Spratts can be bought already dyed to.


A sprat rigged for float fishing


I use different hooking set ups for legering and float fishing. On a lake all legered baits are hooked so the head hangs down, this is because a pike takes the fish crossways first, turns the bait and swallows it head first. When using a float the top hook is hooked in to the muscle of the dorsal fin, the bottom treble going in by the gills.  This allows the bait to be presented as if it was swimming normally.  On a river I normally hook the dead baits the opposite way when legering.  Doing this then allows the bait to be retrieved as if it was swimming.


A sardine rigged for legering


And finally, it just remains to welcome you to the world of predator fishing,

John Howard


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