Northern Pike Fishing Tips and Tackle

Northern Pike Fishing Tips and Tackle

The topic of this article will be northern pike fishing tips and tackle. Northern pike are an apex predator and are one of the most popular freshwater species in the northern portions of the United States and Canada. These fish grow quite large, with the record in North America being 46 pounds. However, specimens 270 pounds have been caught in Europe. In order to be successful, anglers need the correct northern pike fishing tackle.

northern pike fishing tackle and tips

The best northern pike fishing tackle is a medium heavy spinning or baitcasting rod and reel. Pike grow large and are often caught in heavy cover. They also prefer larger baits and lures. These factors combine to require anglers to use stout tackle and large lures when fishing for northern pike.

Northern pike are perfectly suited for their environment. The best They are long and torpedo shaped with a color pattern that camouflages perfectly in the weedy areas that they feed. While pike have a varied diet, they feed primarily on smaller fish. These include but are not limited to suckers, sunfish, yellow perch, shad, and more. They will take amphibians such as frogs off of the surface and will even eat small mammals including mice and ducks.

top 10 northern pike fishing lures

Pike are most active in fairly cold water. They are a top species for anglers ice fishing. A comprehensive article on ice fishing for northern pike can be found in this link. Northern pike and be caught by anglers using a variety of techniques. Some anglers prefer to fish with live bait. Many cast artificial lures in search of pike. Trolling with either live bait or artificial lures is a good way to catch a trophy pike as well.

Best fishing rods and reels for northern pike

As in all forms of fishing, anglers must have the proper rod and reel in order to be successful northern pike fishing. The two basic choices are spinning and bait casting tackle. Spin casting, or push button reels, really have no place for this type of fishing, the reels just are not strong enough.

pike fishing in Minnesota

Spinning tackle is certainly a fine choice for anglers chasing northern pike. The rod should be a bit longer and a bit more stout than what is normally used for fishing for bass and other species. Not only are the fish fairly large, but so are the lures used to fool them. A 7 foot to 7 1/2 foot medium action spinning rod with a 4000 series reel is an excellent all around combination.

Click these links to shop Amazon for KastKing Perigee rods and KastKing Megatron reels

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bass fishing

While spinning tackle is the most often used type of tackle in freshwater fishing, conventional, or bait casting outfits are used by more serious anglers pike fishing. Bait casting reels have a couple of advantages over spinning reels. They provide more power, since the line does not have to turn 90° when it hits spool. The retrieve ratios are usually faster too, which helps on a long day of casting. Finally, the drags are a bit higher in quality. A rod that is 7 feet long with a medium heavy action and a matching reel is a good choice for pike fishing.

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Fishing line and leader choices

Anglers have a couple of choices when it comes to fishing line. While monofilament line is a good choice in many fishing applications, most anglers opt for braided line when northern pike fishing. Braided line has no stretch, which allows anglers to horse a heavy pike away from cover. Braided line also cuts through grass much better than monofilament line. In most cases, northern pike are not line shy, so 40 pound test braided line is a good choice.

top Michigan species

Anglers will need a leader when northern pike fishing as well. Pike have a mouthful of very sharp teeth. For that reason, many anglers use a 12 inch steel leader. These come with a swivel on one end and a snap swivel on the other, which makes lore changes fast and easy. When fishing very clear water or when pike are fussy, anglers will exchange the steel leader for a fluorocarbon leader. This will almost certainly result in a few and lures lost, however the trade often bites might be worth it.

Northern pike fishing with live bait

Northern Pike can certainly be used by anglers fishing with live bait. The number one bait for pike by far is a live minnow. A 4 inch to 6 inch sucker is the preferred bait in many areas. However, each region has different bait fish that are effective as well as being legal to fish. It is important to check local fishing regulations to determine if treble hooks are allowed and also what types of bait fish are legal to use.

Minnesota walleys and pike fishing

Most anglers fishing with live bait fish for pike simply fish them under a float. Since pike are almost always found in submerged weed beds, the float can be used to suspend the bait just above the top of the weeds. As it struggles against the float to get down into the weeds, it will attract a hungry pike. Depending on local laws, anglers can use a large J hook or a treble hook. There are special harnesses available that consists of a wire leader and multiple hooks as well.

Fishing for northern pike with artificial lures

While northern pike can be caught by anglers fishing with live bait, the vast majority of those targeting pike do so using artificial lures. There are several reasons for this. Lures allow anglers to cover a lot more water than they can when using live bait. Secondly, lures take advantage of the aggressive nature of northern pike. The flash and vibration will often trigger a strike. Finally, lures are just a lot of fun to fish!

pike fishing

Anglers can read more about the best northern pike fishing lures here

The most productive northern pike fishing lures are very similar to those used by largemouth bass anglers. The primary difference is that they are a bit larger and that the hardware, including hooks is a bit more stout. As mentioned above, pike grow quite large, have a lot of teeth, enter hard on artificial lures. The top artificial lures for northern pike fishing will be listed below.

Fishing for pike with spoons

There is little doubt what the top artificial lure for northern pike fishing is; a spoon. Spoons are simple lures which are basically curved pieces of metal with a hook in them. The shape and design of the spoon will determine the action that it has. Wider spoons put out a slow rhythmic wobble while narrow spoons put out a tighter vibration. These are versatile lures that can be both cast and trolled. They are also very effective when vertically jigged both in open water and through the ice.

pike fishing

Spoons are very easy to fish. This makes them an excellent choice for novice anglers to use. Basically, the lure is cast out, allowed to sink a few seconds, then reeled back in. It really is that simple. Anglers can add some short twitches and pauses to increase the flash and vibration.

The Eppinger Daredevil spoon is a legendary northern pike fishing lure. It has been around for decades and has accounted for untold numbers of northern pike. It continues to be effective to this day. Red and white and five of diamonds are two proven color combinations. However, the spoons are offered in a variety of colors and finishes.


Click this link to shop Amazon for Daredevil spoons

The Johnson Silver Minnow is another very effective spoon. It differs from the one above and that it is a weedless spoon. It has a single hook with a weed guard. In the water, it runs with the body side down and the hook writing up. This combination makes it relatively weedless that can be fished in very heavy vegetation. Anglers will often add a soft plastic trailer of some sort to add both bulk and vibration.

Inline spinners are effective lures

Inline spinners have been around for a long time. They are a favorite lure for many freshwater fishing anglers. In-line spinners work well for northern pike, too. They are an especially good choice for anglers chasing northern pike where weeds are not so thick. Fishing in in-line spinner and thick weeds can be frustrating, as it will hang up often. The number one in-line spinner for northern pike fishing is the Mepps Musky Killer Spinner.

musky killer

Click this link to shop Amazon for Musky Killer spinners

Spinnerbaits for pike

Spinnerbaits are very effective on northern pike as well. Like spoons, they are easy to use and are an excellent chance for anglers of all skill levels. A spinner bait has a wireframe with the blades on the top and some type of body on the bottom. The design results in a bait that is fairly weedless and will bounce over and through structure. It can be worked at all depths from the surface all the way to the bottom.

spinnerbait fishing for pike

The number one spinner bait for northern pike by far is the BooYah Pikee Spinnerbait. The main thing that sets this apart from other quality spinner baits is the hardware. Pike are tough on artificial lures. This spinner bait will hold up better than most others for anglers northern pike fishing.


Click this link to shop Amazon for Booyah Pikee spinnerbaits

Top plugs for northern pike

A plug is a hard body lure, usually made of plastic, but sometimes carved from wood. Most are designed to mimic bait fish. They come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, and colors. Some plugs float on the surface. These are called top water plugs. Others float on the surface and then dive down to a determined depth, based on the shape of the lip on the plug.

top pike lures

Noisy top water plugs are very effective when fishing for northern pike, particularly when the water is a bit warm. Pike will rise up out of the grass beds and blast a top water bait. Poppers will have a concave face which puts out a distinctive noise when twitched. Some baits have propellers which put out a lot of commotion on the surface. The Rapala Skitter Prop and Rapala Skitter Pop are both excellent top water lures for northern pike.

Click this link to shop Amazon for Rapala Skitter Prop plugs

Lures that float on the surface and then dive down are often called jerk baits. This is especially true with lures that have a long slender design. The lure is worked fairly aggressively with hard jerks, which is how it gets its name. The erratic vibration along with the flash and action will often trigger strikes from fish that are not feeding. These are extremely effective when worked over the top of submerged weed beds for northern pike.

The two best subsurface fishing plugs for northern pike are the #10 Rapala X-Rap and the Rapala Super Shad Rap. They are available and multiple colors and finishes. Fire tiger is an excellent all round finish as it imitates yellow perch and other sunfish. Gold works well in stained water while silver is an excellent choice in clear water.

Rapala x rap

shad rap

Click this link to shop Amazon for X-Rap and Super Shad Rap plugs

Soft plastic swimbaits

Soft plastic swimbaits are excellent northern pike fishing lures. They are an excellent choice when the water is cold or and pike are a bit less active. The same applies to days when pike are finicky, such as those days with high pressure in clear sky following a cold front. These lures are a bit more subtle in their presentation. Bass Assassin makes an excellent line of soft plastic baits that can be rigged either on a swim bait hook or on a jig head.

bass assassin

Click this link to shop Amazon for Bass Assassin baits

Northern pike fishing tips

Northern Pike are usually not particularly difficult to catch, once they are located. That is one of the reasons that artificial lures are so effective as they allow anglers to cover a lot of water and trigger strikes from the aggressive pike. Many fishing principles as far as holding locations apply to northern pike the same as they do two most other predatory species.

Find weeds, find pike

Northern pike are ambush predators. They lie in wait in cover then dart out to attack unsuspecting prey. Northern pike love weeds, and this is where the vast majority of fish are caught. One look at the body of a Pike will let an angler no both in color and in shape that it was built to feed in weeds.

northern pike

Coves that have expansive shallow flats and large patches of weeds are ideal spots that should hold northern pike. Pike are not overly fond of waves or current and will seek out these backwater areas much of the time. Also, these are the spots that panfish, perch, and other forage species will seek out.

Rocks and wood will hold fish

Successful anglers do not overlook rocks when northern pike fishing. This is particularly true on lakes that do not have expansive areas of weed growth. Large boulders in water between 5 feet deep and 10 feet deep are outstanding spots to fish for northern pike. Sloping main lake and tributary creek points with rock and gravel are always worth a few casts. Pike will use these points as roads to get from the deeper water to the shallow grass flats.

Northern Pike, like most game fish, will be found around wood. This includes docks and fallen trees or submerged timber for whatever reason, these areas often tend to attract larger fish. Anglers should thoroughly fish the structure from multiple angles.

Best times to fish for northern pike

Like most of freshwater fishing, the northern pike bite is best early and late in the day and on days with cloud cover. Pike have fixed pupils. This means that they cannot adjust to varying light conditions. They are fixed to see best under low light conditions. Periods of extremely bright sunlight, such as the day or two just after a passing front, will usually have pike hunkered down in the weeds and not in the mood to feed.

Conversely, the hours before a front arrives can be magical when northern pike fishing. These conditions will consist of a little bit of when, cloudy skies, and maybe even some light rainfall. Northern pike will since the dropping barometric pressure and will usually feed heavily at this time. Aggressively fishing with large artificial lures may produce the pike of a lifetime!

In conclusion, this article on northern pike fishing tips and tackle will help anglers understand the tactics and tackle required to catch these terrific game fish!


Jim Klopfer

Capt Jim Klopfer has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. He grew up in Maryland, fishing the Chesapeake Bay waters. Capt Jim has been creating an writing articles about fishing for decades, contributing to many regional and national publications. He also lives part time in the North Carolina mountains where he fishes for trout and other species. Capt Jim Klopfer is a wel rounded angler with 50 years fishing experience, and he loves to share what he has learned with other anglers!

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