Northern Pike Fishing, a Complete Guide!
The topic of this article is northern pike fishing. Northern pike are an aggressive and popular game fish that are found in the cooler portions of North America as well as the UK and eastern Europe. They are a very popular fish that are caught on lures and live bait as well as through the ice.
Northern pike, Esox lucius, are an apex predator. They are found in shallow weedy bays in cold water lakes throughout the cooler parts on the United States and Canada. Northern pike can be caught using both live bait and artificial lures.
Anglers throughout the northern part of the United States and Canada pursue northern pike with great enthusiasm! They are also found in the UK and Europe, where they are simply called “pike”. Northern pike are an aggressive predator fish. They grow quite large; the record pike is 55 pounds, being caught in Germany.
Anglers catch northern pike using both live bait and artificial lures. Lures appeal to the aggressive nature of this ambush predator. Large flashy lures that vibrate will draw a strike from an angry northern pike. Live bait is also used for northern pike fishing, though less so than lures. Ice fishing for pike is also very productive!
Best northern pike fishing tackle
Anglers northern pike fishing have two options when it comes to choosing the best rod and reel. These are a spinning outfit or a baitcasting outfit. In both cases, the tackle needs to be on the heavy side. Anglers will be casting large lures and baits in search of big fish.
Most serious anglers fishing for northern pike opt for baitcasting tackle. It has the advantage for several reasons. Baitcasting tackle gives anglers more power, due to the reel design. The drags are stout as well. Most lures and baits cast out in pursuit of pike are heavy, which suits a baitcasting outfit. A 7′ to 7 1/2” medium heavy rod with matching reel works great.
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Anglers can certainly use spinning tackle as well, particularly when other species such as smallmouth bass are an option. Smaller lures will often be used in this application. A 7 ½’ medium heavy spinning rod with a 4000 series reel is a good combination.
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Anglers also have a choice when it comes to fishing line when chasing northern pike. In both cases, braided line is the best choice. Northern pike grow large and are almost always found in vegetation or around structure. Braided line gives anglers the advantage of dealing with these conditions and having the power to handle a big pike.
Read more about the best northern pike fishing tackle
One look at the teeth in the mouth of a pike will let anglers know that some type of leader will be required. In most cases, a 12” black steel leader is best. This will have a snap for easy lure changes. In very clear water, a flourocarbon leader of 40-50 lb test can be used, though some cut-offs will still occur.
Fishing for northern pike; top spots
One great aspect of northern pike fishing is that they are relatively easy to find and catch. They are so aggressive that anglers fishing for other species (such as in bass tournaments) actually consider them a nuisance. Their aggressive nature makes them fairly easy to entice. As in all fishing, there are certainly times when the bite is tough. However, in the overall scheme of things, they are fairly easy to catch for a big fish. This is certainly one reason for their popularity.
There is one classic “spot” where anglers will find northern pike in most bodies of water. That spot is a shallow weedy cove off of the main lake or river. Pike love weeds! Their body coloring gives anglers the clue that this is where they hide in ambush. That is also a place where forage is plentiful. Generally speaking, pike prefer sluggish water over faster currents.
Northern pike will also relate to deep structure. This includes bridges, points, channel edges, main channels, submerged islands, and other cover. This is particularly true in the warmest and coldest parts of the year. They are more difficult to catch in this situation, but the fish are often larger.
Be careful when handling northern pike
A quick note on handling northern pike needs to be included. Pike have a mouthful of razor sharp teeth. Not only does this require a steel leader, anglers need to be very careful when landing and handling a northern pike. This is especially true with lures that sport treble hooks, great care needs to be taken! Serious pike anglers use special landing nets, though a standard net in a large size will be fine.
Northern pike fishing techniques
Both live bait and artificial lures are used to catch northern pike. Lures are used more often, however live bait will certainly catch them as well. Live suckers or shiners are most often used. Both techniques will be covered in detail below.
As mentioned earlier, most anglers northern pike fishing use artificial lures. This is true for several reasons. Lures appeal to the aggressive tendencies of northern pike and will stimulate them into biting. Lures allow anglers to cover much more water than they can with live bait. Finally, lures are great fun to fish!
Northern pike will take a variety of artificial lures. These include spoons, plugs, spinnerbaits, and soft plastic lures. For the most part, they are fished the same way. Fast, erratic retrieved will almost always produce more northern pike than a slow steady one. This applies to spoons, plugs, and soft plastic lures; spinnerbaits are the exception. However, anglers should always vary the retrieve until a productive pattern emerges.
Read more about the top northern pike fishing lures
Spoons are the most popular northern pike fishing lure. They cast a long way and are easy to fish. They put out a ton of flash and vibration. Weedless spoons can be used in areas of heavy vegetation. Spoons can be used in deep water and even presented vertically. Finally, angles can troll spoons for pike.
The Eppinger Daredevle is a classic northern pike fishing spoon. The red and white and five of diamonds are the two most popular patterns. They are available in several sizes and many color patterns. While an older spoon, it is still very productive to this day.
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Plugs are also excellent pike fishing lures. Shallow diving plugs known as “jerkbaits” are top pike fishing lures. The best models have sturdy hooks and hardware. The Rapala Shad Rap and Husky Jerk plugs are both very good and come in large sizes for northern pike fishing. The Shad Rap has a wider profile while the Husky Jerk is more slender. Plugs can be cast or trolled, but will hang up in heavy weeds.
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Spinnerbaits are excellent lures for pike as well. They are also a great choice for novice anglers as they are very easy to use. Spinnerbaits are also a bit lighter. The best spinnerbait for northern pike fishing is the Booyah Pikee spinnerbait. It is built with very strong components.
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Soft plastic lures can be used for pike, though they are much less durable than other lures. The sharp teeth of a pike will rip one to shreds. Still, they are relatively inexpensive to use. Larger swimbaits are most often used and are rigged on a swimbait hook. The Bass Assassin Die Dapper is an excellent swimbait for pike.
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Fishing for northern pike with live bait
While most anglers fishing for northern pike do so with artificial lures, live bait certainly accounts for plenty of fish as well. The majority of a pike’s diet consists of smaller fish. Just about any smaller fish can be used, as long as it is legal in that particular state. Suckers, chubs, and shiners are top baits. They stay alive a long time and are easy to care for. Panfish are effective as well, where legal. Commercially available bait minnows will work, but are not as good as wild bait fish.
Bait fish are most often fished under a float or balloon. A fairly large hook is used, a #8/0 circle hook works well. These larger bait fish will quickly find vegetation to hide in if not suspended. The best depth will have the minnow struggling just above a submerged weed bed. Anglers can also slow troll live baits as well. Anglers ice fishing for northern pike use minnows as well.
Ice fishing for northern pike
Pike feed heavily in cold water! This means that they are very active when the lake freezes over. Anglers do well ice fishing using both lures and live or cut bait. In many cases, a combination of the two works best. A spoon or jig with a shiner or chunk of cut fish works very well.
Pike will be found under the ice in the same spots as in open water. A submerged weed bed in 10′ of water in a cove is a perfect spot to try. Anglers often use “tip ups” for pike. These are set lines that allow multiple holes to be fished at one time. Pike will move deeper during the coldest part of winter, just as they do in the heat of summer.
Read more about ice fishing for northern pike
Special rods are used for ice fishing. They are shorter, which facilitates fishing closer to the hole. Basically, they are the same as regular rods. Spinning outfits are most often used. Lighter line is required as well, due to the clear water.
Northern pike are good to eat
It surprises many anglers when they learn that northern pike are very good to eat. They do have a lot of bones, including the famous “Y” bones. Anglers can cut these out in strips, ending up with long, loin like fillets that are very good fried, baked, or broiled.
In conclusion, this article on northern pike fishing will help anglers catch more of these terrific game fish!