Pike Fishing Tips: How To Catch The Northern Pike

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Pike Fishing Tips
Pike Fishing Tips

Rookie anglers looking to hone their skills find the perfect nemesis in the Pike.

Also called ‘The Northern Pike’ or just ‘The Northerns’ in many parts of America, these Holarctic fish are found in large numbers in most parts of the world.

This means that you don’t have to travel far to catch one, particularly in the UK and throughout North America and Canada.

To make things even better, Pikes are usually overlooked by discerning anglers and trout snobs, which makes it very likely that you can find a relatively quiet spot on the lake, where you have the waters all for yourself.

Moreover, they are relatively easy to catch, provided you know when to look for them and what techniques to follow.

But they can give you a fight as good as any, which makes it an intriguing contest while you are at it.

All said and done, there are some basic rules to ensure that you don’t spend the day cooling your butt on the boat.

Here’s a brief primer on Pike fishing.

Understanding the Pike

Understanding Pike to Catch Them

Just like any other species, you can maximize your chances of a hit by understanding more about the Pike and its behavior.

Pike is an aggressive predatory fish that sits at the top of the food chain.

It has a slender, slimy body designed for stealth and ambush.

Often, you’ll find it lying motionless in the water with its gaze locked upon its prey, which can be pretty much anything that moves, including fish, amphibians and birds.

In a split second, it accelerates towards the prey, clamps it down with its strong jaw and often swallows it whole.

Pike Behavior

The basic principles of pike fishing are pretty simple.

  • If the pike are on the hunt, expect a ton of bites within no time. They are most active at dawn and dusk and they will be in open waters looking for food. During the rest of the day, they hang in shallows with thick undergrowth when the surface water temperatures hover around 18-degrees.
  • On the contrary, if the temperature is high and the pike are sluggish, even the best of baits and techniques may not entice a hit. For this reason, anglers must be prepared to cover the water and try out a variety of techniques to see what works. Read the tips section below for more details.
  • Pike have strong senses that it uses to detect prey and to avoid potential threats. Some of these are more powerful than the rest and it is this that gives it an advantage over its prey. Their hearing sense allows them to detect vibration such as the flutter caused by feeding prey fish or the sounds emanated by dying fish. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Most experts believe that the hearing sense in Pike is very acute and a lot stronger than what it gets credit for. However, it is the vision that the Pike is best known for. It has two large eyes with telescopic vision that allows it to spot prey even in dark and murky waters. It is known primarily as a visual predator. While pike do have two nostrils, it is the least effective sense and is best used for sniffing out dead and decaying fish when it scavenges.

Pike Habitat

Pike prefer deep, cool parts of the water with tons of vegetation that it can use to stay camouflaged from potential prey.

This makes water weeds and lily pads a good place to begin looking for these sneaky predators, especially if you are fishing in a river.

River mouths or swampy inlets, where the river carves a still water pool into the banks as well as other areas with a slow stream, are also ideal pike hotspots as the fish generally prefers to conserve its energy and would rarely fight a full current.

Even if you have rarely fished in rivers, you can easily land a catch, especially if you have hungry pike on the move. These fish are voracious eaters and if they are on the hunt, then you almost have a guaranteed catch irrespective of the bait or the lure.

The Best Season to Catch Pike

Best Season to Catch Pike

Often, you will find experienced anglers fishing for pike all through the year. That’s because the behavioral traits of the fish tend to overcome seasonal changes that occur at different times of the year.

Pike are hungry and aggressive 24/7. They spend a lot of time hunting and eating. And even in winters, when their metabolism slows down and they generally eat less, they would still go hard at a potential meal.

It’s hard coded in their morphology which is as primitive as that. Make them an offer they cannot resist.

Spawning usually occurs from February to late April or even May, depending on the water temperatures. Spawning areas include shallow bays, reeds, weed beds and other areas of dense vegetation. And pre-spawn periods are fueled by an aggressive eating frenzy which makes it a great time to catch Pike. (Please ensure that you check state laws regarding pre-spawn fishing)

This brings us to the best time of the year to catch Pike, which is mid spring to late Spring. If you are fishing in Northern United States, that’s usually Mid-April. May, if you are fishing in Canada.

This is the post-spawn period where the females are ravenous and even prey on their male counterparts. Almost any lure will get you a bite and chances are that you will land the big females during this period.

The Best Time of the Day to Catch Pike

As we mentioned earlier, Pike are constantly looking out for their next big meal, which means that you can catch them any time of the day.

  • Dawn: One of the best time to catch pike is just before dawn. You will find these toothy predators active and on the hunt in the shallows at this time. Why you can even land a catch in the open as the Pike try to land their first meal of the day. Open water lures are more successful at this time as are spinners and top waters. We will talk more about lures in a bit.
  • Noon: As the water temperatures rise, Pike will move from the shallows to deeper, cooler waters and their activity takes a lull. This means that you just need to find a weed bed and throw in a spinner or a trolling spoon to entice the fish into taking a bite. Deep diving stick baits also work phenomenally well if you are fishing in deeper waters.
  • Sunset: As the water temperature drops again, the pike will move from the shallows to open waters and the same lures that you used at dawn will be most effective at this time. While some anglers suggest that pike slow down as the sun sets and the light fades, there are others who tend to differ. Pike are visual hunters and are known to go after bait even in colored waters in pitch darkness.

Weather Conditions

Inclement weather, that would force trout and bass hunters to retreat into the cozy confines of their cabins, bring out anglers targeting pike in droves.

That’s because windy conditions, cloud cover and even a light drizzle are known to bring out large pike from the shallows into the open. You can either park near a weed bed to target the fish that are moving out, or check the nearby open waters to find pike that are already on the hunt.

On the other hand, you might find the going tough on a bright and sunny day when bass anglers are having a field day.

The Top 3 Techniques to Fish for Pike – Techniques, Lures and Setups

We hope that by now, you have a much better understanding about the Pike and its behavior.

Now let’s dive deep into the most interesting part that most of you have been eagerly waiting for.

Live Bait Fishing for Pike

Pike are particularly receptive towards live bait and if you are not squeamish about using it, then you greatly increase your chances of landing a monster. What makes live bait fishing so successful is that it comes in a whole range of shapes and sizes which can be handpicked depending on the size of the pike you are targeting.

The rule of thumb is that the larger the size of the lake, the larger the pike. So, carry the bait accordingly. For smaller pike, you can use fathead minnows, roach, perch, gudgeon, creek chubs, shiners and toads.

But if you are after the bigger fish, go for ciscoes, frogs, suckers, shads, Alewives, bluegills and yellow perch. Almost every large freshwater game fish, including muskies, walleye, crappies and bass love to gorge on these live baits and even if you don’t find hungry pike on the move, chances are high that you will come back with a trophy fish to show.

The method of baiting the hook is pretty simple. Use two hooks to one leader and add an additional line to strengthen the setup. Thread through the head of the bait as Pike like to strike their prey aggressively at the midsection. They then drag the prey forward and then spit it out to go at the head. Once you feel a bite, wait for a while until the line goes again. Pull now to hook the fish.

Oh, by the way, Pike are scavengers and this setup will work equally well with dead bait. Just attach any dead bait, cast the line and allow it to sink to the bottom. If there’s Pike actively hunting, then you will land a hit in no time.

Spoon Fishing for Pike

Pikes love the shiny wobble of a spoon as much as a trout likes an in-line spinner. It can be cast a distance, it sits just right in the water and the flash is too irresistible for both large and small pike that are feeding or on the hunt.

At times, Pike tend to follow the spoons but refrain from going for the bite. This can be useful in determining the areas where the fish are hanging out. You can perhaps return at another time of the day or try a different bait to see if it lures them into biting.

There are different types of spoons that you can try for pike fishing. Wide Wobblers like the Lindy Gator are perfect for covering a lot of water quickly. These are slightly heavier than a conventional spoon and can be rendered ineffective if you do not have a fast retrieve though. Do not even pause momentarily while using these.

If you are looking for something that can be retrieved slower, go for the single-hook weedless spoon with a plastic trailer thrown in for good measure. This slows the spoon down and creates a very unique action that typically entices an aggressive strike.

You can also carry two rods, one with a heavier wide wobbler spoon like the Len Thompson and one with a lighter John Silver Minnow or a Doctor Spoon.

While spoons are available in a whole array of bright colors, the general rule of thumb says that the more vivacious patterns in white, chartreuse and orange tend to have better success rates.

Fly Fishing for Pike

If the initial investment into fly fishing equipment doesn’t deter you, then this is one of the most exciting and rewarding ways to catch pike. It does take a lot more time, skill and expertise as compared to spoon and live bait fishing though.

But the additional time is more than compensated with some of the biggest trophy catches that you can land.

To start off, you need a heavy rod with which you can throw a 7-8-inch fly easily and consistently. Think an eight or nine-weight just to be safe.  Match it with a quality line, like the Rio Powerfly, pair it with a good bite tippet and you are good to go.

Fly fishing can be done off a boat but is best done from the water’s edge. Certain states impose restrictions on the locations where fly fishing is allowed. Ensure that you are aware of the rules.

For the uninitiated, the fly is a bright, floating bait that needs to be constantly bobbed on the water surface. This technique is called stripping. It is perfect for shallow waters which is precisely what makes it so effective for catching pike.

Often you’ll find the pike breaking the surface of the water to go after the bait. So be patient.

Lure Fishing for Pike

Lure Fishing for Pike

Along with live bait, spoons and flies, there are some other types of lures that are equally effective while catching Pike.

In-Line Spinner Fishing for Pike

Come early spring, when Pike season is at its peak, weed growth is not as much of a challenge as it is in Winters. Most anglers would focus on covering a lot of water during this time which makes big spinners very effective. These are heavier which allows you to cast them further and the blades on them have enough flash to keep the pike interested. Focus on a steady retrieve that doesn’t let it sink to the bottom. You can pick any spinner that’s 1/6th to 1-ounce in size.

Spinnerbait Fishing for Pike

A white spinnerbait with a rubber trailer is an infallible choice for pike fishing in weed beds. You just need to pause the retrieve for a couple of seconds as you reach a potential pike hideout. Get ready for some really aggressive strikes. White of course is only a tried and tested suggestion. There are no dearth of colors and models to pick from. A chartreuse skirt seems to be another highly recommended option.

Jig & Worm Fishing for Pike

During peak summer, the water temperature in the shallows rise to unpleasant levels for pike which forces them into deeper drop-offs. A jig works best in such a scenario with 2 to 3-foot hops. It does take some getting used to though as the pike tend to strike the jig as it falls and many a time, it may just feel like a nibble more than a hard hit. Bucktail jigs up to 1-ounces works best.

Minnow-Imitating Plugs for Pike

Crankbaits as well as minnow-imitating plugs are a surefire way to entice a strike when Pike are active. Go for the larger-sized models in colors like blue and white, blue and silver, crawdad and other natural finishes. Rapala, Berkley, there are tons to choose from.

Some Tips to Maximize Your Chances of Catching Pike

Tips for Catching Pike

Sometimes, even the best of techniques, rigs and lures fail to produce a bite. The weather conditions are right, you know that there are fish hanging out in the area. What gives?

Here are some tips that may prove to be helpful in such a situation.

Know the Area Where You Are Fishing

Are you fishing in a lake or a pond? Or is it a river? Researching about the waters beforehand will give you a good idea of the potential hotspots for Pike. If you are in a particular hotspot, like a shallow bay with tons of weeds which usually produces hits, but the fish aren’t biting today, move on. Cover the water. Just switch to a moving bait, put the trolling motor on high and get going. Don’t get limited. Be prepared to try out a few things.

Select the Right Bait

You should analyze the turbidity of the water before deciding on what bait and technique to use. Oligotrophic lakes are deep and have clear waters but are nutrient poor and hence lack vegetation that the pike can hide in. So, it is important to use a fast retrieve method with flashy lures, like a spoon.

Mesotrophic waters can be 35-40 meters deep with a visibility of up to 25-feet. These have reasonably good vegetation which allow the Pike to stay hidden and lurk up to their prey. Almost any bait and lure setup should work in such waters.

Eutrophic waters are nutrient dense and crammed with vegetation. However, visibility is extremely poor and you should use lures that produce a lot of flutter and wobble as it is likely to attract strikes.

Get a Leader, or Not?

If you are fishing mono, you risk losing a 20-pound catch because Pike can easily bite through monofilament. A lot of fishermen believe that a good quality leader, a 20 or 30-pounder, 12-inch one can dramatically reduce bite offs.

But there are some others who believe that while leaders can be effective in preventing bite offs, they tend to interfere with the natural wobbling action of the lure, particularly, spoons.

Heavier fluorocarbon lines make great alternatives. You can tie them directly to the main braid line using a double knot. This allows you to cast without tying a heavy leader on the rod.

Get a Fish Finder (If Possible)

A fish finder greatly increases your chances of landing a catch, as it gives you a visual representation of the topography of the riverbed and takes guesswork out of the equation. You get a clear picture of the drop-offs and the underwater vegetation, which allows you to decide which bait and lure to cast.

Be Prepared for the Monster

A lot of pike anglers are caught unaware with a lightweight rod and reel, when they land a 25-pound monster pike that makes a power run. Don’t make that rookie mistake. Always upsize and aim for that 40-incher fish. More often than not, you will be landing much smaller pike. But when and if you catch that big trophy, you will have enough rod, line and reel to control and reel it in.

Entice With Some Smell

Fish scent gels produce an enticing trail of scent in the water that can bring out large predatory fish from the depths. There are tons of brands to choose from. Pick any gel that sticks easily to hard baits and stays on the lure for at least 20-30 minutes on each application. Not only does this increase your chances of landing a few extra bites, it will also help mask any unnatural odor that may be deterring a curious fish.

Learn How to Handle Pike

Handling pike out of the water is a whole new subject that would be impossible to summarize in a short paragraph. But to give you a gist, use a net when handling large fish. Maintain necessary distance, weigh the fish and get a photo as soon as possible before letting it go. Take a good look at that row of razor sharp teeth backed by extremely powerful jaws, and you know that you’ve got to be doubly careful while handling a pike. Pike can have up to 700 teeth. Use forceps or pliers to handle the fish. If you are inexperienced, do it under the guidance of an experienced angler the first few times.

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