Popping Up Pike Baits

Posted at Dec 27, 2010

Mick winter head shotPredator ace Mick Brown looks at how to make a popped-up deadbait and some variants on the ways to use them...

Using popped up deadbaits enables anglers to fish effectively in weedy swims and whilst I use a small polyball on a solid plastic kebab pin when fishing with kebabs, there are other ways to pop up deadbaits that I prefer when fishing with whole or half deadbaits. In particular, the use of a balsa stick for baits up to five to seven inches, or half baits of a similar length.

Buoyant Materials
In the early days of popping up, through trial and error, a few valuable lessons were learnt. For many years polystyrene chunks, pushed inside the bait with forceps were used, but they would often come out of the bait and litter the environment. There was also the risk of them being swallowed by the pike or any other creature that came across a discarded bait. Very soon, most of my friends turned to using balsa wood inserts instead, which were more environmentally friendly.balsa deadbait sticks

There is always a chance that a pike taking the bait could possibly swallow the buoyancy material. Balsa wood, however, is quite easy to retain on the rig using a simple wire link attached to the hook trace to ensure this doesn’t happen. Naturally, wire is used so that the pike doesn’t bite through it.

Believe it or not, when money was tight I actually used a piece of dried-out willow twig instead of balsa wood, and I must say that this did the job admirably. Nowadays, purpose-made balsa sticks, which feature neat eyelets for tying to the link, are readily available from several manufacturers. There’s room here for experimentation – matching different sizes of sticks to different bait sizes.

The Wire Link
You have to make the wire link yourself, but it’s pretty straightforward. You can use any type of wire you have available. For durability, something in the 20lb to 30lb breaking strain region is about right, and coated wires do last a bit longer.

The link is a length of wire with a crimped loop at one end, and a small clip at the other end. It’s important to get the length right. If it’s too short you will struggle to apply it to the bait, and if it’s too long it will make the rig look untidy and potentially cause it to snag and tangle. With this in mind, I have worked out that the optimum length, for the bait length I have mentioned, is about 15cm overall. The loop is approximately 1.5cm long, and as I go on to describe how it is applied to the trace, you will see that this length of loop is ideal for traces with treble hooks up to a size 4. The clip can be anything you have available, but for neatness I like the smallest one that is still practical.

Float Or Leger
Popping up using the wire link and balsa stick is equally effective whether using a float or leger rig. With the float rig, you can pop up to the length of the trace, but with the leger rig, you can pop up much higher from the bottom by using a long leger weight link. With my leger rigs, the weight link is six inches longer than the trace. Once I have tightened down to the bait, I can slacken off slightly to allow the buoyant bait to rise a little higher off the bottom, or above the weed.

Rigging Up
To start, you need to attach the wire link to the hook trace. To do this you need to feed the loop end over the Mick and popped up deadbaitpoints of each treble, one at a time until it is past the upper treble.

Next you need to prepare the bait, by using your forceps to hollow out the inside and creating a cavity for the balsa stick. With a whole fish, you go in through the mouth, and with a half bait, through the end which has been cut. Do so very carefully, ensuring that you don’t split the fish open in the process. This is best carried out with baits that are almost thawed out from frozen. Doing so with fresh baits can be a bit messy, as they aren’t firm enough.

With the body hollowed out, pierce through the underside of the fish, at a suitable point that is approximately the length of the balsa stick from the point of insertion. This is normally just past the vent on a whole fish.

With the forceps very slightly opened, grip the clip of the wire link and carefully pull it through the fish to expose it ready for clipping on the balsa stick.

By a careful process of alternately pushing and pulling, eventually the stick can become completely inserted inside the bait.

All that needs doing now is to apply the treble hooks in the normal way with the upper treble in the wrist of the tail, and the lower treble in the flank. You are now ready to cast out.

The correct depth
When using a sliding float rig, the normal practice with a conventional bottom bait is to set the stop knot just a little more than the depth of the water. With a buoyant bait, though, you must consider that there is the possibility of the bait catching around the main line, and with this in mind, I will set the stop knot a little more overdepth to allow for this. For example, for a swim depth of 10 feet, set the stop knot to 14 feet.

Whether float fishing or legering your buoyant deadbait, it’s important to allow the rig to drop into the swim under control when casting, rather than allowing it to fall in a heap. This will minimise the possibilities of tangling, as the rig falls through the water and settles. Cast slightly further than you intend to, and as the bait sinks, draw it back towards you a couple of feet on a controlled tight line, until you feel it hit the bottom.  At this point, put the rod in the rest in the conventional way. For legering, the line is clipped into a rear drop-off alarm with the bail arm open on the reel. 

When float fishing, I like to put the line in the run clip on the rod, after tightening down to the float. If the rod doesn’t have a run clip you can always put a tight elastic band on the butt just in front of the reel. It’s a good idea to sink the rod tip by a few inches, which encourages the line to sink more quickly, and stops it dragging the float in the wind. I also like to use a front carp-style alarm when float fishing, as a secondary warning device. You should be watching the float, of course, but there is nothing wrong with belt and braces, as far as I’m concerned.

Extra weight required
One thing to be aware of when using float fished buoyant baits, is that the normal weight you would use on the trace may not be sufficient to counteract the buoyancy. Even if it does sink the bait, you may find difficulty in tightening down to the float, as it will keep moving back towards you when doing so. If this is the case, you should increase the weight accordingly. For example, I mostly use a 12g weight, but with buoyant baits, I will often go up to 18g or even 25g if necessary.

Add some movement
At this point, it is worth mentioning that popping up is not only used over weed. In fact, popping up can be very effective even over a clean bottom. What is more, a popped-up bait can be ‘worked’ by the angler in such a way that it adds some movement, which naturally is attractive to any pike in the vicinity. You can do this with bottom baits, of course, but you run the risk of picking up debris from the bottom. What I like to do every now and again, if runs are not forthcoming, is to pick up the rod and give the bait a twitch or inch it back towards me. You would be surprised how often this provokes a reaction from the pike, either immediately or a short time after putting the rod back in the rests. It really is exciting when they grab the bait when the rod is in your hand!

Here’s something that’s quite exciting and worth trying in the milder months when the pike are quite active. Mick and pikeWhen legering, try a ‘super popper’. This is where you use considerably more buoyancy in the bait than is necessary. For example, this could be achieved by either using a much larger balsa stick than is required, or inserting two sticks. You have to use your imagination here to achieve super buoyancy. You could try a combination of a balsa stick and a couple of polyballs.

Why do this? Well, often, movement is the key to attracting the pike’s attention. This can be done by twitching the bait, but this keeps moving it out of position, leading to having to re-cast eventually. With the ‘super popper’ method, all you need do is release the line from the clip at the rod. The extra buoyancy will cause the deadbait to rise rapidly towards the surface, and if you get it right, it will even appear on the surface.

Just for fun
If you want a bit of fun, try this on one rod in the milder weather. Let the bait shoot to the surface, wait a few minutes and then gently ease it back to the bottom. For best effect, and to stop the bait from dragging, you might want to use a heavier leger weight. For example, use a 4oz weight instead of a 3oz weight. Expect the pike to hit the bait on the rise, snatch it from the surface or grab it on the way down. It’s often said that deadbaiting can be boring. Have a go at this and you will see just how wrong this view is!

So there we have it, a simple modification to a deadbait, to enable it to be fished much more effectively and make your pike fishing results a lot more productive. You don’t have to rig exactly as I have detailed. Use this as a guide and starting point, and before long, you will work out the best way of doing it that suits the way you prefer to fish. This is the perfect time of year to be out there using this rig, so what are you waiting for?  Good piking!


Mick and PollanMick’s Top Deadbait Tip
If you don’t have any balsa sticks, get hold of some Dynamite Baits Pollan deadbaits. These are naturally buoyant, so they can be used straight from the bag.


User comments
  • Gravatar Conor

    Feb 13, 2011

    i warch your winter pike fishing movies and i caught a 10 pound pike on a peace of macral at the coil river

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