Do pike respond to ground-bait or pre-baiting techniques? Of course they do, quite similar to most predators in fact. When angling becomes tough, and finding a single “run” can be a challenge, sometimes it helps to narrow the odds in the angler’s favour! Throwing a few small chunks of mackerel into the vicinity of your dead-bait may help a little on occasion, but to do it right requires time, patience and a fair bit of effort. I have been lucky enough to land four “thirties” in my part-time pike angling career, all on dead-baits and I must confess two of these lunkers were taken over a prolonged pre-baiting method.
Rivers are a special challenge, particularly through the winter months. Within hours, a favourite hot-spot can be transformed from a sluggish moving, reasonably clear water-way to a raging torrent of chocolate-coloured hell, with absolutely no chance of presenting a bait, never mind managing a “run” or two! Consequently, many hours worth of pre-baiting can be washed away in a blink of an eye. My local water is a classic example of this.
A plan had to be devised, and it involved an onion sack and pre-made bags of finely diced mackerel, herring and added bran, stored in my chest freezer for such an occasion. With the scent trail confined to a fine mesh onion bag, it would be less likely to wash out and away downstream too quickly, and hopefully be able to survive a flash flood.
To avoid having the bulk of the scent and particles being washed away completely, the onion sack was hung on a submerged branch on the edge of the flow alongside slack water. Being handy to reach, it was refreshed on each visit. My theory regarding this stretch of the
river is that it does not hold or support a resident pike population. Any fish intercepted are simply en-route to spawning grounds and happen to stop for a snack on the way through, something akin to pulling off the motorway for a Big Mac on your way to the night club! The aim of the scent trail was not to feed the fish, but simply hold them in the area long enough to tempt them with my own dead-baits.
My angling mate, Glenn Drennan joined in on the plan and the commitment was there to see it through at least ten visits. Our first three sessions proved fruitless, and to be honest, heavy rainfall had resulted in conditions that were far from ideal, although we used these trips to refresh the scent trail. However, on our fourth visit, Glenn broke the duck with a five pound jack, and soon after, lost an extremely large fish that ripped line upstream shaking the hooks free in the process. Glenn stood dumbfounded at the strength and speed of his escapee! Another dead-bait was
quickly attached despite trembling hands from the encounter, cast into the scent trail and back onto the bite alarm. Two runs in an hour were promising to say the least. Normally we would expect two runs in a day on this venue, and that’s on a good day!
Alarms remained silent for several hours. A slight rise in temperature by mid-day brought feeding roach to the surface, noticeably in and around the scent trail. At last, one of my alarms signalled some interest, but shortly after striking into the hard running fish, she was gone! Another fish lost, and a high double by the feel of it. Three runs for one fish landed is bad odds, and I couldn’t help feeling with previous results on this river, that my one and only chance had been missed. Had I struck too early? Maybe, but it’s a personal policy of mine to strike into a fish the instant it shows positive movement. The occasional lost fish is always preferable to deep hooking, although none of this moral attitude eased the pain of a missed opportunity, it has to be said!
A cup of tea was called for to steady the nerves, but before I could finish it, Glenn was in again, and this one made it to the landing net. It was a long, scrawny fish with tumours here and there which is never a pretty sight.
At over a metre long, she should have weighed around the twenty pound bracket, but at over fifteen pounds, a good river fish none the less! While releasing the catch, another alarm screeched out. A busy day for Glenn it seemed, and this time a fighting-fit seventeen pounder safely made it to the un-hooking mat. A cracking, well-conditioned pike at long last, and this was fast becoming a day to remember, and guess what? All the attention thus far was in a direct line to the scent trail.
Starting to feel a little left out, but more than happy to see a few fish on the bank, one of my alarms gave a chirp. Hitting this one hard, she immediately felt like a very powerful specimen, but yet again, within a few seconds of the battle, she shook the hooks. Two lost fish, and good doubles at that. It’s fair to say I was starting to feel a tad cranky!
Something had to be done to alter this bad run. Both my fish were without doubt sizeable, so it was off with the size 4 treble hooks and a step-up to size 1/0 Owner’s. If only I could be lucky enough to find one more fish before the day ended, and make sure it made it to the landing net! The frustration was eating away at me after having put in so much effort and finding that it really seemed to be paying off, only to lose quality fish through bad luck or bad angling!
Only two hours until sunset, and I was beginning to get itchy feet. I had cast one of my dead-baits towards the far side of the river, and decided to twitch the bait back a few feet every ten minutes or so, desperately seeking a stray “croc”. As I twitched it back into the scent trail, I noticed Glenn’s drop off indicator give a lift, then drop back. “You’re getting another run” I called, between clenched teeth and fake smile!
Within seconds, he was into another powerful fish, only feet away from my float-fished dead-bait. With rod still in hand, my float promptly buried and we assumed we had tangled, until the floats parted and mine ran full speed upstream. We now had the dilemma of two fish on at the same time, but I would love to hear complaints like that on every trip!
With Glenn’s fine pike safely secured in the landing net, and resting in the water, he came to the rescue with a second net and finally slid it under the tiring fish. Two cracking doubles, Glenn’s making eighteen and a half pounds and my fish breaking the twenty pound barrier. We couldn’t have asked for a better end to the day.
It was unfortunately getting closer to packing away the gear before sunset, but our pre-baited area held one more surprise. Another run produced a well-conditioned twelve pound fish and finally another cracker at almost twenty two pounds! We have never had a day like it on this venue, and reminded me so much of the by-gone days of the Lower Bann and Lough Beg, prior to illegal poaching, when this quality of pike angling was
considered the “norm”.
It is difficult to say how much of this successful trip was purely down to pre-baiting, and how much was due to perfect river conditions. Certainly, it seemed to have a dramatic effect on our results. Along with my previous thirty pounders taken using pro-longed pre-baiting methods, this recent result of one jack, three lost fish and six fine doubles on a notably tough water will go down in my diary as a thumbs up for ground-bait techniques, and not merely coincidence.