Livebaits – choosing and keeping

Live fish are the natural prey of any fish with predatory instincts, and are in consequence among the most effective baits when predators are the angler’s quarry. A pike, zander or other predatory fish homes in naturally on the vibrations caused by a live fish struggling against the angler’s tackle. It’s easy to see why a live fish used as bait is second to none when it comes to predator appeal.

Which fish for what?

Which species should you use as livebait? This is a question easily answered – any species is suitable. A predator recognizes any live fish for what it is – a meal.

The most sought-after predators are pike and zander, but catfish, eels, perch and chub are also suckers for livebaits. Naturally, the most popular species for live-baits are those most easily come by. You can catch pike, zander and catfish with roach, carp, dace and bream in the 2-8oz weight range, while eels, perch and chub can be tempted with smaller baits – minnows, bullheads, stone loaches, bleak, gudgeon, tiny perch or roach. Much depends on what is most readily obtainable and bait choice is in fact usually determined by what the angler can find in the waters he intends to fish.

You can catch minnows, bullheads and stone loaches with a net from shallow streams, but the other types of bait fish are collected by fishing for them, using light tackle and float tactics. Best baits for attracting these small fish are pinkies, squatts or large maggots – or bread used for baiting a minnow trap.

Keeping baits healthy

Once you have caught your baitfish, the aim is to keep them healthy so they are in tiptop condition when you come to fish with them. It’s no use going to the trouble of catching fish for use as livebait if you allow them to die before you can use them. Transport them in a bucket with an air pump attached. Use a battery-powered model or one which can be powered from your car’s cigarette lighter. Keeping livebaits short-term If you catch your baits a day or two before the day they are to be used, so much the better, for you won’t need to waste precious fishing time in pursuit of bait.

To keep your baits alive and in good condition for just a few days, put them in a large bucket and cover with netting held in place by an elastic strap. Leave the bucket under a running tap, in your garden pond, or in the lake, pond or river you are going to fish. Keeping livebaits long-term To keep baits healthy for longer periods, they need two things — clean, pure water and oxygen. An air pump supplies the latter, but it is up to you — the angler – to supply the former. Put them in water in a plastic or glass fish tank or a garden water butt. Buy and install an air pump, then leave it running at all times.

Within 24 hours of putting the fish into the tank, siphon out any waste products, replacing the water from the tap. Repeat this daily until the fish have purged all the waste from their bodies.

Keep the air supply constant and watch for and remove any sickly fish. One final point — under no circumstances feed the fish, for this would ruin all you’ve done to clean them up.

When it comes to the presentation of livebaits, there are several general points to bear in mind. The first is that you should aim to ‘hang’ the fish correctly, so that it looks natural and moves in as convincing a way as possible. The second is that you must ensure the bait stays hooked — particularly important if you are liphook-ing it. A third vital point is that you should try to avoid deep-hooking your quarry.

Hooking livebaits

The hook position varies according to the presentation you want. In most cases, a hook in the dorsal area is best. Dorsal hooking ensures that the bait hangs naturally —in fact, it works even when the bait is almost dead, especially when it is suspended beneath a float. But for legering or trolling, liphookingis better.

Always chose a simple rig, regardless of the target species. With small livebaits go for one hook — either a single or a semi-barbless treble. Use two trebles in tandem only with large baits of over 6oz.

Hooking the bait near the dorsal fin or towards the tail helps prevent deep hooking your quarry because predators usually swallow their prey head first. You must avoid deep hooking— it can be fatal to pike, zander or any other fish. But don’t hook the bait in the back when trolling, liphooking is best for obvious reasons.

Predators such as pike have sharp cutting teeth, so attach the hook to a 38cm long trace made from braided wire. swivel

You don’t need wire for any other species, but if there are pike in the water you are fishing, use a wire trace in case one takes a bait meant for another species.

Presenting livebaits

You can present your baits in numerous ways, but float fishing or legering are the most popular and effective. Drifting a live-bait long distances under a float covers a lot of water, giving the angler the chance to offer the bait to many fish. Trolling a live-bait from a boat gives the angler the same opportunity. When you know where the fish are, leger or paternoster a bait there. When you need to search for the fish, drifting and trolling are best.

Each way of presenting a bait has its day, depending on the mood of the pike.

Finally, when it comes to striking, the answer is to strike immediately a run occurs. If your livebait is presented correctly, the hooks should be in your quarry’s mouth. The moment your float goes under or starts to move, strike at once. It is better to miss a run or two by striking too quickly, knowing your fish will be hooked in the mouth, than kill the fish by delaying the strike and gut-hooking it. size 8-12