Deadbaits of sea fish are mostly used for pike fishing. The most common are herrings, sardines, smelts, sprats and mackerel. Among the best freshwater deadbaits are roach, small chub, an eel or lamprey section, small trout and immature pike. The best large sea baits are half a mackerel or a whole sardine. Sardines in particular are superb, but need to be frozen before casting, as they are very soft and other break apart. In fact, most deadbaits are easier to use when partially frozen, for then they can be cast further. For this reason, a good cool box is an essential part of the pike angler's armoury.
When freezing deadbaits, always freeze them straight, wrapping each individually in a freezer bag or clingfilm. It also pays to cut them into sections before freezing if you intend using half baits. Cutting a frozen mackerel in half on a frosty morning on the river bank is no fun.
Among the freshwater baits, eel and lamprey sections are terrific baits. Eel tends to be best where there is a resident eel population, as the pike will gorge on them. Lamprey, however, is an enigma. Very few inland pike waters will have seen these creatures, and yet they really are superb baits. They are one of the few deadbaits that zanders take regularly; they normally show a distinct preference for small livebaits.
When pike fishing with deadbaits, it is vitally important to carry a range of baits. There are plenty of days when, for instance, mackerel tail fails to produce a run, but smelts will take again and again. On one occasion a few years ago, it was impossible to get a run with half mackerel, but using a sardine would score success. After a few sessions, the runs on the sardine might stop, and it would become necessary to revert to big chunks of mackerel to start catching again. Size preference is common, particularly when pike are feeding on fry in late autumn. At this time, large baits are often ignored, and you may need to use to small smelts or sprats.
Adding Flavors to Deadbaits
For several years many anglers have been treating deadbaits with various flavors and it can make a significant difference, particularly on big windswept stillwaters where sub-surface currents waft the scent trails far and wide. To flavor pike baits, pack each bait individually in a sealable sandwich bag, having first poured a little of the varies oil into the bag and thoroughly covered the inside walls. The bait is then frozen and the flavor impregnates the surface of the fish.
Before casting, always give the bait a further application with a paint brush so that, as well as being completely flavored, it has an oily surface. This produces a characteristic oil slick on the surface as a pike crushes the bait with its teeth. On a calm day, this gives a very exciting early warning of a take. Try flavoring deadbaits with fish oils such as mackerel, smelt or eel. I have even taken pike on spice-and strawberry-flavored deadbaits. It sounds all wrong, but it works!