Pike fishing is known for its intensity and the excitement that comes with catching these large freshwater fish species. Most of the techniques you use during summer to target pike aren’t possible during the winter due to the extreme cold that typically grips areas of the upper North American continent. If you’re an avid pike angler and are wondering what tactics and lures you should use to catch these fish on the ice, there are some specific things you’ll need to keep in mind.
Northern pike can be as much fun to catch during the frigid winter as they are in the summer for most anglers. Ice fishing involves a special amount of patience and concentration to take advantage of a vastly different fishing environment, but pike are easily one of the most sought-after fish among ice anglers in The United States and Canada.
If you’re looking for a few good tips, techniques and advice when it comes to ice fishing for pike, we’ve compiled this list of points that you should keep in mind.
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Northern Pike Overview
During the warm summer months and into the early fall, the behavior of northern pike is usually very predictable. These fish can grow to massive sizes and will feed on just about any other type of fish that they can chase down and devour. During the summer, pike are well-known for their aggressive feeding habits and the ferocity with which they chase after certain lures like spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, and anything else that you can retrieve at a rapid pace.
In the winter, however, things change dramatically. You no longer have the ability to make long, sweeping casts that will bring your lure right next to a certain structure or cover where you might typically get a strike. Now, you’re forced to settle in and work to figure out just what the pike in your chosen lake are looking to feed on. As the water temperature takes a sharp turn toward the freezing mark, the metabolism of pike will slow down significantly, as will their aggressive efforts to hunt for prey.
Pike are often surprisingly docile during the winter months compared to their summer behavior. They will slowly swim through lakes and take advantage of any prey that is opportune for them, but they won’t typically expend much energy doing so. You also will see a massive change in the way pike fights if you do happen to catch one. The freezing water makes them more calm and you won’t typically expect them to dive and run hard away from your position on the ice like they will during the warm weather months.
1. Understand Your Lake
When it comes to ice fishing for pike, the most important thing you can keep in mind is paying attention to where the bait fish are likely to be. Pike are not looking to spend as much energy hunting down their next meal and they will lazily hang out very close to their chosen food source, which is often schools of small bait fish. Some of their favorite bait fish are whitefish and tullibee, but they will also seek out small bluegill as well.
There are multiple types of bait fish that will spawn during the winter when ice fishing is just getting started. During this spawning ritual, they can usually be found near shallow water, where their eggs will be more protected. Pike will follow these fish close to their spawning areas, so you might have success by searching in shallow water areas for pike early in the ice season.
2. Be Versatile
When it comes to ice fishing for pike tips, one of the best bits of information that you can get is to vary your approach to these fish and try different locations and methods to see what they are biting at certain times of the season. Have the same mindset that you might if you were fishing out of a boat and you fished an area that was totally unproductive for about 30 minutes. It’s a good idea to pick up your gear and relocate to see if you can find where the pike are.
Having an ice fishing fish finder helps considerably when you’re searching for fish and looking at potential locations where bait fish might school up. Most of the gear that is used in ice fishing today makes it much easier to be more mobile and relocate when you need to.
3. Less is More
When it comes to the type of movement you need to display in order to entice a northern pike to bite your lure or bait, it’s often recommended that you take it easy and not move your hook too much. Most of these fish are very lethargic and might not have an interest in something that’s moving at a more rapid pace than anything else in the frigid waters.
It’s good to keep in mind that nothing that is living in the freezing-cold waters of northern lakes and reservoirs will be moving very fast at all, especially if you’re fishing in deeper water. By moving or jigging your lure around less than usual, you won’t spook any fish that might be hanging out nearby, thinking about whether or not they want to take a bite.
4. Pay Attention
Some ice anglers make the mistake of being too eager with their approach and will set out several lines in a specific location. This might be a good way to catch some fish, but when it comes to northern pike, you really should pay close attention to your line and your lure to feel the most subtle bites.
There are many times that a pike will bite a baited hook and won’t move away from the location. The angler doesn’t realize they have a fish until they attempt to reel in their hook to reset or move to another location. It’s a good idea to fish with fewer lines out and pay very close attention to each one to make sure you don’t miss any potential bites on the ice.
5. Go Small
In recent years, many professional anglers have done away with the ‘go big’ approach to pike fishing on the ice. While it’s been customary for most anglers to use larger-sized minnows during the winter to catch big pike, you might be surprised with the results you get from using smaller bait like wax worms, grubs, and other little creatures.
Pike are opportunistic feeders and usually won’t turn down an easy meal, even if it’s a small worm on the end of a hook. If you’re not having much luck with the strategy that involves using bigger bait, try going with something smaller to change things up.