As we are now well into the Winter months and the pike season is in full swing, the pike at your favourite venue will – like it or not – have received a bit of angling pressure by now and may also be a bit lethargic in cold winter conditions. So it’s time to think about giving yourself an edge over fellow anglers and give the pike just a little more persuasion to be interested in your deadbaits. Over the years I’ve experimented with various ways of enticing pike into the swim and pricking up the senses of any fish already in the vicinity. Pike, as with all underwater predators, have an extremely complex range of senses and it’s these we need to appeal to. There are various ways of improving the looks of your deadbaits nowadays, with things such as bait flags and “paint-on” additives, which are great in clearer water, but the senses a pike must rely on in all conditions are smell and taste. Whether the water is clear or murky, whether it’s sunny or dark, a pike always has these senses as means of locating food; these two senses are also – very conveniently – closely linked, so these are what I concentrate on targeting when looking to really boost my baits.
I have had plenty of success injecting oils & flavours into my baits and I’ve found that often flavouring a bait with an aroma not usually associated with that bait (e.g. injecting a roach with mackerel oil) can be a worthwhile venture. I always save any deadbaits used in a session and chop them into chunks before freezing them when I get home. This means I always have a ready-to-use mixture of chum to throw in on my next session. By leaving the chum bag out of my cool box on my way to the venue, it’s usually defrosted enough to use as soon as I arrive at my swim and alleviates the problem of throwing in still-frozen chum, only for it to float and drift off elsewhere before it sinks!
After trying out various sponge contraptions doused in fish oil as additional pike attractors (and even witnessing a pike take an oily sponge in preference to a deadbait, just inches away!), I thought long and hard about a method of dispensing a fine chum & oil mixture directly into the swim. Finally, whilst browsing swimfeeders in a tackle shop last year, I had a flash of inspiration when I spotted some Fox inline pellet feeders. These have a weight at one end and a foam cap on the other; with the theory being that as the feeder falls nose-down through the water, the foam cap rises up, releasing pellets as it descends. It didn’t take me long to figure out how to adapt this to deposit fine chum instead of pellets. By adding a swivel and snap link to make it clip-on instead of in-line, I could use it with pike rigs. I’ve since designed my own cheaper version of this, replacing the feeder with a film canister, which I’ll attempt to explain how to make below. It’s simpler than it sounds and it works, believe me!
The bits and pieces you need to make one of these feeders are as follows: A 35mm film canister, a wine cork or balsa dowel, 7-8 inches of 8lb to 12lb powergum (I’ve found the Browning powergum to be particularly good, as it’s extra-stretchy), 3.5 inches of 3mm rigid rig tubing, one large swivel, a couple of 5-6mm beads, a snap link or “Genie” lead clip, a couple of drill bits and a stringer needle.
Firstly, in the centre of the bottom of the canister, drill a hole of around 2mm diameter. Drill a further 3 or 4 larger holes around this one (These outer holes are to let the water in and force the chum out). Slice off a 1cm-thick piece of cork or balsa and stick this to the inside of the canister lid, once this is dry drill a 4mm hole through the centre of the lid & cork/balsa. Next, double over a length of powergum, lay it alongside the rig tubing and tie to make it a single loop, making sure that the finished loop is slightly shorter than the tubing. Next fasten your snap link onto the loop and thread on a bead to trap the snap in place. Thread the other bead onto the stringer needle, followed by the canister lid, then pass the stringer needle through the tube, place the tubing inside the canister and thread the needle out through the canisters centre hole. Hook the powergum loop onto the needle and draw it back through until the first bead is tight between snap link and the bottom of the canister. Slide the canister lid down the tubing then push the second bead off the needle onto the powergum, tight against the top end of the tubing. To finish, carefully fasten on your swivel – in a similar way to attaching a hooklength – “loop-to-loop” style. Clip your chosen lead onto the snap link/genie clip and voila! One finished DIY pike feeder.
To ensure the chum mixture leaks out of the feeder it must be chopped quite finely. I find the best way to do this is to put a few chunks of chum into a small pot and chop them up with a pair of worm-chopping scissors. Then add a little fish oil or flavouring (even colouring if you’re feeling adventurous!) and it’s ready to load into your feeder. Because the lid is buoyant due to the cork/balsa wood, the feeder should stand slightly proud of the lake/river bed, which makes it reasonably anti-tangle. To attach the feeder to the mainline, I clip the swivel onto a low-resistance run ring or paternoster boom, the latter of which improves its anti-tangle properties further. The powergum holding the whole thing together acts as a weak link, making this a fish-safe rig too.
Most of the venues where I’ve used this rig haven’t required a very hard or long cast, which could potentially make the lid fly open, spilling the contents mid-flight. The addition of a large-bore rubber bead onto the tube above the lid would allow you to limit the opening of the pot, thus holding the contents within better. I have only used this rig on 8 or 9 sessions, so I’m still developing the design of the contraption, and the ways in which it can be used. For anyone a little more enterprising than me, there is certainly room for further experimentation, but so far I’ve had good results which I think are partially down to the fine fishy cloud this rig leaves as it falls through the water.
The first notable capture I had using this method was back in February; it was special fish because it was something that I’ve wanted for years, but (thanks to global warming) I thought I may never get; a pike in the snow. Photos of anglers with big pike on a snowy bank were commonplace in books and magazines as I was growing up, and I see this as the quintessential pike fishing photograph. So, last winter when the heavens opened and what fell was white, I just had to go pike fishing. With the temperatures suddenly dropping I knew that the pike might be lethargic, so I used the chum feeder right from the first cast. As I was setting up the second rod on the cold bank, only five minutes after casting out the first rod, the line was wrenched from my drop-off and I gleefully reeled in my largest pike of the season, at 16lb 5oz. I finally got my “pike photo in the snow” and it was with a good double to boot! This particular pike must have really liked my chumming method because I caught her again, about 3 hours later, from a completely different spot and on a different kind of bait, but still chumming with my pike feeder rig. As the fish rolled over the net the second time I recognised it instantly, so she was quickly unhooked and returned without even leaving the water. It was the least I could do for her helping to realise my ambition of a photo in the snow.
The latest proof of the pike feeder rig was during my first pike session of this season, in late October on the Lincolnshire drains. I fished three different waters that particular day, and after arriving before dawn and fishing all day, darkness was approaching and I had only two missed runs to show for my efforts. I was heading for a blank and knew it was time to roll out my full arsenal and employ the best watercraft, bait presentation and bait attraction that I could come up with! Earlier, when searching for a venue, I had peered into a junction of two drains which was crystal clear and little over two feet deep. To my surprise it was absolutely loaded with good roach, most of which looked between 6 ounces and a pound & a half! Despite having a good look with my polaroids and despite the presence of literally thousands of roach, I couldn’t spot a predator anywhere. There was little cover or deep water from which a pike could mount an attack and a deadbait amongst all those roach stood little chance of being picked up, so I’d opted not to fish there earlier. Nonetheless, that number of bait fish simply had to be a major draw for pike, and taking the other conditions into account I surmised that the pike would bide their time and move into this area as darkness fell. So I headed back to this junction and set up maybe 150 yards away, which was the closest area of deeper water I could find. Out went two rods toward the drop-off, a float-paternoster rig on one, a pike feeder full of chum on the other. Just as it was getting too dark to see my floats, my alarm signalled that a pike had picked up the bait on the pike feeder rod. I have rarely been so pleased with a 5lb pike in all my life! I let out a nervous chuckle of relief as the fish dropped in the net, as the fears of a blank session evaporated. I was tempted to go home at this point and leave on a high, but because I had some chum mix left, I decided to have another cast to the same area.
I waited forty minutes for the next run, which came on the same rod, this time in complete darkness. The fish put up a good scrap and convinced me I’d hooked a real biggie, then the fish tail-walked right in front of me and I saw it was quite long. Drains fish are usually short and fat, so this got my hopes up still further. In the end the fish was in strikingly good condition, but felt hollow; it weighed a shade under twelve pounds, but was easily capable of hitting 14 or 15lb after a few good feeds. So, my first pike session of the Autumn resulted in a double, and I’m convinced that the fish puree leaking into the water close to my bait was a major contributing factor in tempting this fish after dark. This is a valid extra tool to have at your disposal at a time when the pike might need a little extra incentive to feed and the DIY chum feeder costs pence to make, so what have you got to lose?