Dead bait rigs for river pike fishing

Video rigs for pike fishing

Simple dead bait Pike rigs

Here are a couple of Pike dead bait rigs I use on my local rivers that I thought might be of interest.

The first is a simple running lead link paternoster rig. It’s a strong, easy to tie rig that offers little resistance to a fish, when it takes the bait. If you are not familiar with the paternoster rig then please see my film Paternoster rig. A low resistance rig is better because if a Pike feels any resistance it will get suspicious and reject the bait.

The running link to the lead is made of 6lb monofilament. Usually of a length to have the weight a couple of inches short of the second hook. The trace is 20lb wire 18 to 24 inches long, main line is 50lb braid.

Dead bait running lead rig

This rig is deliberately simple. It offers little resistance to a fish and will cause a bite indication, no matter what direction the pike takes the bait. It’s important that the lead link is much weaker than the rest of the rig. If the lead is caught on something while playing the fish, the link will break leaving the lead behind. The rig can also shed the lead if the main line gets cut or breaks.

Shallow water pike rig

Use this rig at distance or in shallow water. As a rough guide, use it in any swim where the main line enters the water at a shallow angle. Always feather the line down hard on the cast, to ensure the bait is flung out in front. Then trap the line completely just as the rig hits the water. This will ensure the rig does not tangle on the way down to the river bed.


This rig is ideal for fishing downstream of your position. But if you need to fish upstream, the water flow may cause the bait to settle on the river bed close the the main line. To prevent a pike from biting through the main line when it picks the bait up, a wire up-trace will be needed. The up-trace should be stronger than the trace with the hooks, but weaker than the main line. I use a 30lb up-trace with my set-up. Remember to include a link swivel for the lead link within the up-trace. Please use the weakest lead link you can because it can no longer slide off the line, in the event of a main line break.

Deep water pike rig

The second rig is for deeper water or fishing close in. It’s a paternoster rig where the trace is running, not the lead. Start by threading a float stop and snap link swivel onto the main line. Then tie a swivel on the end of the line. For the lead link, tie a length low breaking strain mono to the end swivel. The lead link should be a couple of inches longer, than the hook trace wire when the trace is attached to the snap link.

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Dead bait running trace rig

Use this rig in any situation, where the main line enters the water at a steep angle. Close to the bank or in deep water for example. It is tempting to just drop the rig into the water when fishing close in, but this rig tangles very easily if it’s not cast correctly. Cast out into the river and feather the rig down hard as before. Then trap the line completely just as the rig hits the water and allow the rig to sink down in an arc to the bottom.

Deep water pike rig

Both of these rigs are running rigs to reduce any resistance felt by the fish. The weight of the lead can also play an important part in this. Use a lead that only just holds bottom. If the fish takes the bait far enough to move the lead, it will still feel very little resistance.

Tight lines

Both of these rigs are fished with a tight line to the lead. This is especially important for the close in deep water rig. The bite indicator should be heavy enough, to hold everything up. With the line held tight on either rig, virtually any movement of the bait will cause a beep and a visual indication. I like to use a cheap bite alarm and a monkey climber. You could use a bobbin, hanger or a swinger. Whatever you use, make sure you are able to adjust the weight of the indicator.

A dead bait will not wriggle or try to escape the pike. Because of this a pike can take a dead bait and swallow it down in just a few seconds. Strike when you’re sure you have a bite, if in doubt strike anyway.

To avoid a deeply hooked pike, NEVER leave your rod unattended.

Baiting up

I can’t say I have ever noticed that how I hook the dead bait makes any difference to the number of pike caught. So I attach the bait in whatever way I think is best and most secure. If I’m using a sardine for example, I always put the barbed point of the second hook, through the skull of the sardine. Then two points of the end hook through the flank. By hooking through the bone of the skull, soft skinned Sardines stand much better chance of staying on. Alternative with half a mackerel, I hook through the tail bone and use just one point of the end hook in the flank as mackerel have tougher skin.

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Dead bait for pike

I do most of my pike fishing in the winter. The fish are at their fighting best and are a species that will feed in cold weather. Unlike other fish, pike don’t graze or even feed every day. They will eat their fill and then digest their food a few days before hunting again. This can make pike fishing a bit hit and miss, so don’t expect to catch every trip.

Roving or static

There are two approaches to river pike fishing, roving and static. It is said that pike follow the shoals of silvers, which may be true when a pike is hungry. I suspect though they spend much of their time just holed-up, watching the world swim by. If you drop a dead bait right in front of a slumbering pike, it may just take it as an easy ready meal. But don’t expect a slumbering pike to go looking, this is when roving can be so productive. Roving allows you to try different swims and search for the pike. Although I don’t like to stay in each swim any more than an hour. I feel if the pike are there and interested, they will find the bait in under an hour.

Always creep between swims when roving, heavy footsteps or vibrations through the bank will scare the pike off. As will fiddling with the rig. Cast in once then leave it alone, even if it doesn’t land in quite the right place, leave well alone.

After at least half a million years of practice bred into them, Pike are accomplished predators. Their senses are second to none when it comes to finding food. A dead bait somewhere nearby will be found and happily eaten by a hungry pike. Which is why a static approach can also work. I prefer roving, but if the weather is bad or I’m feeling lazy, I will stay in one swim and hope the pike are hungry.

I have never been one for feeding a swim to attract a shoal of silvers, in the hope that they will in turn attract the pike. This may work in a pond but in a river I’m not so sure. I prefer to feed two or three chunks of dead bait, chumming on a small scale you might say. I like to think all that fish blood and guts being washed downstream will attract a hungry pike.

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Where to fish

Whether static or roving, placing the bait in the right place will go a long way to improve your chances of catching. On a river of more than a few of yards wide, for every pike I have caught in the middle, I have caught three within two yards of the bank. This is because pike like slack areas, not only to holed-up in, but also to hunt from as an ambush predator.

I have caught some of my best fish along plain apparently lifeless, straight bits of river. The straights often have a steady predictable flow, where the pike can find nice quiet areas. Look for quiet water close in to the bank. Look for slack and look for under cuts. A straight bit of river with cover from a overhanging tree will often be home to a pike.

Winter pike

This smaller river is weedy in the summer, so fishing for pike is easier in the winter once all the weeds have died back. I find the best time to fish here is in the new year, after the weeds have died and the floods have washed all the debris away. Being quite narrow, I find it’s less important to fish within a couple of yards of the bank. Instead it’s better to present the bait in a clear area of river bed where the pike can easily find it.

In the end there is no substitute for getting to know the river you fish. Spending time fishing and observing the river at different times of year, is the very best way of working out where the pike like to be.

Occasional big fish

In my experience fishing with dead bait catches pike in the low doubles, with some small stuff, but also the occasional big fish. The 20 pounder below was caught in deep water, literally right under the rod tip.

Pike 20 pounds


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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>