Northern Pike enthusiasts about winter fishing and you’re likely
to hear a lot about the strategy for catching or spearing them
during the early season. Pike devotees are always the first to
arrive on the ice when it is scarcely thick enough to support
their own weight, let alone a spear house. But they know the
secret; Pike fishing during winter is all about location and the
relationship between the Pike and their food.
In early season, larger Pike remain in the shallows as
long as the fall spawning Tulibees and/or Whitefish inhabit the flats
and adjacent drop-off areas. These soft body fish provide a
healthy meal for the Pike and so the big rush for savvy Pike
anglers is to get there before the food and therefore the Pike,
move out. For a lot of winter anglers the story ends here as they
move on to fish Crappies, Perch or Walleye. If that’s the way you
like it, great! But if you’re willing to make a move or two, you
can stick with these Pike as they move into mid winter territory.
Let’s stop here for a second. Before you start packing
up all of your gear and rush out the door for Lake Picklethese,
let me add that knowing whether or not your lake contains larger
Pike is your first priority. Not all lakes are equal and Pike
living in lakes with prime habitat and forage will grow larger
than their cousins in lakes that provide less ideal habitat will.
If your goal is to locate larger fish, do a little research first.
Paying close attention up front to the forage species available
and size structure of the Pike in a lake will pay off big time
when you start fishing it.
An awful lot of this information is already available by taking a
look at the “Lakefinder Section” of the DNR website. If your goal
is action, not size, you probably already know about a handful of
lakes that fit the bill. In either case you can make an educated
guess on Pike location by having a handle on the food that your
lake has available. Whether the majority of Pike in your lake feed
on Tulibees, Suckers, Crappie, Whitefish or some other game
species, knowing the habits of the forage is just as important as
learning the Pike’s feeding habits.
Many of the forage fish that fall into the preferred
food category for Pike move into deeper main lake areas in mid
winter. Soft bottom areas located in or near deep-water “holes”
tend to contain insect larvae and small minnows that attract
forage species like Tulibees (Northern Cisco), Whitefish, Suckers
and Crappies. With the proper food chain in place, you have the
makings of a good Pike fishing spot. So that’s it, there you have
it, just find the deep water and start fishing right? We’re not
quite ready to start fishing just yet. Locating the Pike’s food
source is just one of the key pieces of the puzzle. Understanding
how Pike arrange their kitchens is another important part of the
No matter where you locate them, Pike are still ambush
feeders. Even though they might not be located in what we think of
as classic ambush territory like a weed bed or sunken log, they’ll
still find some type of hideout where they’ll lay and wait for
unsuspecting prey to come close enough to strike. Structure in
open water areas could be anything from an inside corner along a
steep drop off, a rock pile or if you’re lucky, maybe even a deep
weed bed close to a deep hole. Sharp breakline (drop off) areas
are a nifty starting point because they’re easy to figure out.
Start your search by taking a look at your lake map and identify
two or three areas of the deepest water, then narrow your choices
by finding the steeper drop off areas. Once you have a couple of
good steep breaklines singled out, looks for turns (corners) or
dips that interrupt the drop off. As schools of baitfish move
along these steep breaklines, these interruptions force them to
stop. Turn or slow down and for a brief moment they’re vulnerable
to attack by the waiting predator. With a little practice, you’ll
be amazed at your ability to guess the “sweet spot”.
Once you’ve picked a couple of good-looking areas, it’s
time to get started. I believe in drilling lots of holes because
this will really increase your odds of finding that one perfect
spot. It’s like entering a sweepstakes, the more you times you
enter, the better the chance of winning. Try to drill your holes
in batches with a several of them out over the deeper water and
some of them up on the breakline. It’s nice to be able to move
from hole to hole almost as if you were trolling along the drop
Fishing tackle and presentation isn’t all that
complicated, but you should have least three basic rigs with you.
First, a good tip up rigged with freeze resistant, coated line. I
like to set mine up with a ½ ounce egg sinker that I slide
directly on to the main line, then tie on a good snap swivel to
use as a sinker stop. You can rig up a nearly bite-off proof
leader using 17-pound test monofilament or better yet, one of the
clear fluorocarbon lines. Tie on a 2/0 to 4/0 plain hook, then tie
a loop on the open end and attach it to the snap swivel. You can
use wire if you like, but it’s not as handy to work with and
you’ll have to re-rig if a fish puts a kink in the steel.
Rig up one or maybe two spinning rods with 8 to 10
pound monofilament. If you plan to fish inside a shelter,
Berkeley’s Fire Line is nice, but outside in cold weather,
freezing causes some trouble. If you really like the Fire Line but
still plan to fish outside and want to slow down freeze up
problems, spray it with the same silicone line dressing that the
fly fisherman use. That helps shed water and reduces freezing (it
also really makes the line spool out easy). Use the same kind of
mono leaders that I suggested for your tip up. You’ll want good
live bait for the tip up. Large Golden Shiners, Creek Chubs,
Suckers or Redtails will all work. I like to tail hook the minnow
with the hook running parallel to the dorsal fin.
Lures I like for the jigging rods include the flashier
jigging spoons like Northland’s Airplane Jig, Swedish Pimples in the
silver or copper colors, Nils Master’s Jigging Shad, or Jigging Rapalas.
Another great jigging trick I picked up from buddies who like to fish for
Lake Trout is a 3-inch White tube with a ¼ or 3/8 ounce jig head stuffed
inside. All of the jigging baits can be tipped with a head or tail cut
from a minnow. For this you could use fatheads, shiners or about anything
you have on hand. In a pinch, even frozen minnows work okay for this.
Start by setting the tip-up first. Set your bait about
two feet off the bottom in one of the holes that are up higher
(shallower water) on the breakline. Once the tip up is set, grab
one of the jigs and work in one of the deeper holes, but still
reasonably close to where you set the tip-up. Pike are curious, so
jig aggressively anywhere from the bottom on up to about 5 feet
below the surface. Allow the jig to rest occasionally giving the
nosy fish time to strike. A great trick for triggering a hit is to
let the jig sit for several seconds, then give it a slight twitch
before you start jigging again. That little twitch helps put ‘em
over the edge.
By now I’m sure that you’ve figured out that you move
your setup from one hole to another as you troll down the
breakline. When you find a “hot” area, linger for a while and when
you don’t, move on. Incidentally, this is a great system for the
kids because it keeps them occupied almost full time as you search
for the active fish. To me there’s just something really neat
about watching a youngster running for that flag when it goes up.
If you’re willing to move with them, you can stick with giant Pike as they move into mid winter territory. Targeting open water areas where they feed is the key.
Once I get to an area that I like, the first thing I do is drill a line of holes to "troll". Drill some deeper, some shallower. Work your way from one to another with a variety of baits. It's not unusual to drill a hundred holes, maybe more so in mid winter, a good fast cutting auger like the Strikemaster Lazer will make moving a lot more efficient.