Introducing The Northern Pike
Northern pike is predominantly a fresh water fish though they are also found in the brackish waters of the Baltic Sea. They are a carnivorous fish that will eat anything from frogs, insects, leeches, the occasional duckling, and other pike. Females tend to grow larger than the males, and the largest pike can grow to a length of five feet, with weight in excess of 50 pounds.
The Northern pike derives its name from its spear shaped head. Other physical characteristics include an olive green color with shades of white and yellow along the belly.
The dominant yellow striping that is featured of the younger pike disappears into mottled yellow spotting. The silver pike is not a subspecies but is simply a mutation that occurs within pike populations. Smaller pike are sometimes referred to as “snakes” because very small pike can have a somewhat elongated snake-like appearance.
Anglers in America, Britain, and Europe love the Northern pike for its fighting ability. Northern pike are largely a bony fish so many people consider them inedible. Baking Northern pike instead of frying them can dissolve a number of bones that are missed in the filleting process.
Northern pike are a relatively controlled fish since the overpopulation of pike can distress native fish populations such as bass, trout, and salmon. Some government agencies have resorted to poisoning the waters to kill off Northern pike, but certain advocacy groups such as the Pike Anglers Club in the British Isles insists that removing pike from its waters can cause an explosion in the numbers of smaller fish species and stress the water even more.
To control the population of Northern pike outside their natural habitat some states have passed laws that require their head to be removed if they are caught. This eliminates much chance for a successful catch and release scenario, but there are other ways to damage the fish as well.
Handling Northern pike with dry hands can damage the mucous membrane of their skin leading to death from infection. Take care also to remove the hook as gently as possible. Loved by some, hated by others the Northern pike deserves its place as a large freshwater angling fish.
Staying Safe While Northern Pike Ice Fishing
Pike fish are fairly easy and fun to catch any time, and pike ice fishing has been a popular winter sport for many years. In the process of catching pike, it is important to follow certain rules of safety on the ice.
The most critical rules to follow while ice fishing require proper equipment and preparation. Pike fishing during the winter requires specific tools including an ice drill and an ice house, various rods and lures, and a fish locater. Various fishing specialist like to give advice regarding favorite techniques for catching pike in an icy lake.
Many experts recommend using an ultra light model of jigging rod about two feet long. The test line should be at least a four-pounds with a jig and a wax worm. Drop the bait down to the bottom of the lake, then pull it up six inches from the bottom. Move the rod around a little to attract a fish.
Fishing equipment preferences, such as line weight and leader size, depend on the clarity of the lake being fished. In many northern lakes, pike are abundant because of spawning and the number of fish stocked in the lakes.
One positive feature of fishing for a northern pike is that they are especially active in winter weather. Use a fish locater to find schools of fish under the ice.
Always use caution when driving on the ice. It is not always clear from the surface how thick or strong the ice is in any location. Be sure to check the thickness before committing to the fishing site. Once a site is determined to be safe from thin ice patches, it is recommended to set up an ice house and drill two holes in the ice to get started.
Six inch holes are recommended, but for safety, be sure not to drill holes in the ice larger than ten inches. The fish finder should save time so as not to drill unnecessary holes in the ice.
Dressing in layers will keep the fisherman warm, allowing for comfort in varying temperatures throughout the day. As with any type of fishing, movement is discourage, but when ice fishing for pike, it is an important safety factor. Give the selected spot about fifteen minutes.
If nothing is caught after that amount of time, move to a new location. Using the proper tools combined with safety factors will make pike ice fishing successful and satisfying.
Pike Fishing Tips: More On Fishing For Northerns
While pike fishing might not be at the top spot of many angler’s prime quarry, pike fishing does enjoy a storied tradition, dominant numbers, a fighting temperament and many other qualities that make pike angling an enjoyable sport. As far back as Roman times there are documented accounts of angling for pike. Pike can be found in large numbers in several freshwater lakes and rivers in the northern United States and Canada. Large pike populations can also be found in Europe and there is also one saltwater population of pike in the Baltic Sea.
Because pike are dominant in the food chain conservationists are hesitant of introducing pike to lakes outside their native habitats and care must be taken by pike anglers to obey any specific rules and regulations for any fishing municipality.
The northern pike can live for up to 30 years but their typical life span ranges from about 5 to 15 years. In terms of spawning, pike generally reach reproductive maturity in a year, and pike spawning begins as soon as the water reaches a temperature greater than 48 degrees Fahrenheit. Since spawning season is prime time to for pike anglers to snag one out of the water, May through June are the prime spring months in most lakes for pike fishing.
During spawning season both male and female pike will frequent warm, weedy shallows of lakes, as will the bulk of the fish they feed upon. The weeds provide natural protection for pike eggs and the attraction of prey fish allows female pike to quickly regain their strength after spawning.
In terms of pike fishing gear, many of the lures that work well for bass will also work for pike. Pike will eat anything from insects to leeches, small aquatic invertebrates, fish such as minnow and perch, even frogs and ducklings. If a pike can fit it between their jaws, it’s fair game for them.
Pike are primarily solo ambush hunters, but will congregate to where their food source is. Thus its not uncommon to find them in clusters, though they are not a school fish. Pike will attack their prey (or your bait) by catching it sideways in their mouth. When their prey is disabled they will spit it out to take it in head first.
Knowing about how pike eat and what their primary food source is in a particular lake or river will increase your likelihood of a catch. During the months of May and June, spawning season, the pike will be in the weedy shallows.
As the months move on they will move into deeper waters and will follow the migratory patterns of their prey fish.
Again they prefer weed beds, rocky outcroppings, and narrow channels such as between the shore and an island in the middle of a river. Basically any place that provides them with cover to create an ambush is a good place to look for them.
When selecting your pike fishing gear durability is a must. Choose spinners and lures that work well in the weeds because that’s likely where you’ll be fishing. Colors such as red, black, or orange work well and sunny days, whereas metallic colors such as gold and silver tend to work better on overcast days.
While these are guidelines never be afraid to rely on gut instinct to deviate from the norm. Pike fishing is as much an art form as it is a science. Experiment with bait presentation as well. Speeding up or slowing down your recovery as well as pauses and jerks can make your lure more closely emulate a potential food source such as a crippled minnow.
If you have the opportunity to see the pike you are casting to be sure to cast three to four feet beyond the pike, let your line settle, and reel it back towards the pike.
Continue with your recovery even if the pike isn’t biting. Often times a pike may wait until just before your lure breaks the plane of the water before striking. If nothing seems to be working for you, talk to other anglers on the water and find out what’s working for them.
Otherwise move to another spot on the lake. Angling pressure can force a change in pike behavior.
For the pike angler content on catch and release fishing being gentle with the pike will ensure that you and others will have the opportunity to fight with it again. Needle nosed pliers and a fish gag can make hook removal much easier and safer for both you and the fish.
Handle the fish in the water as much of the time as possible and take any pictures quickly. Additionally protect the mucous lining of its scales by not touching it with dry hands. If fishing from shore do not drag it through sand or mud as this can damage their gills.
For the pike angler content on a tasty meal, larger pike can be filleted fairly easily, and baking the pike rather than frying can dissolve many of the smaller bones that can make eating a pike difficult.
Regardless of what you do with your catch be sure to obey whatever fishing regulations are in place for a particular pike lake or river. The rules are in place to maintain a balanced ecosystem of pike and their prey without pressuring out other native stocks such as salmon or trout while ensuring the thrill of pike fishing will continue
The Best Northern Pike Fishing Nets
When you’re fishing for more than just another series of “snakes” after the first ice break and you really want to go after the giant northern pike out there, then it’s important to make sure that you’re using absolutely the best equipment that is available to you.
This goes without saying for things like the rod and reel, but then what about the net? Finding the best fishing net for northern pike is critical if you want to net in that monster pike.
A small net designed for 5 lb bass or walleye is not going to cut it once you hook a 20, 30, or even 40 lb northern pike. And one thing is DEFINITELY for sure – you don’t want to reach your hand down there into a big mouth with treble hooks sticking out of it.
So what is the best fishing net for pike fish? Well you want one made from very strong materials, both in netting and in the metal which must take a lot of weight and pressure when lifting the fish out of the water. If the metal bends, that could let a trophy or even world record northern pike get away after a long fight and after doing all the work to get it there up to the boat.
So when trying to track down the ideal net, you might have to go for bigger and more expensive. These aren’t 10 pound and under northern pike we’re talking about: we’re talking about heavily constructed and big time nets like the StowMaster TS94X Tournament Series Precision Landing Net.
This is what I use, and it’s never failed me yet, and I’ve had to lift up some 20+ pound pike and some very weird angles. I’m not going to lie – it’s expensive, but it’s worth the money if you’re going after the really seriously sized fish.
Then for those of you who love the handyman aspect of any truly good hobby, let’s talk about:
Making Your Own Pike Fishing Net
If you’re looking for information on how to make your own fishing net, then you are definitely a hard core angler and it’s important for you to understand that building an excellent fishing net from scratch for pike fish is going to be a far different thing than building just a basic fishing net for pan fish or small trout.
These nets must be strong, and one of the hardest parts of creating a good diy fishing net is choosing a strong material that can still be thin and interwoven into a solid net while still managing to cut out the lengths of string you need. While something like Kevlar sounds ideal, try cutting it into strands. Disaster city.
The majority of nets are hoop nets, so finding material to secure the hoop is important first, and if you’re into wilderness survival then I advise learning to use small branches which give the strength and flexibility to make a decent hoop fishing net.
The best designs I’ve used involve having a long string once every inch, and these are what are tied and knotted together in order to make a fully functioning pike net.
This is not a butterfly net, so having an inch or two gaps between the strings isn’t bad at all, and having a good length with your net is important, so if in doubt keep the gaps between knots slightly larger in order to have a longer total area of nettage.
This is much better than the alternative of ending up with a net too small to handle a large fish. If you want some video instruction, here’s a pretty good video I found on YouTube on this topic:
Iowa Pike Fishing: 2010-2011 Northern Fishing Report
While northern pike might not be the first fish that jump into your mind when you think about sports fishing in the state of Iowa, but for the angler looking for a big fight in a state not traditionally known for trophy sized fish, there are some good northern spots to be found.
Northern pike can generally be found throughout the upper 2/3 of the state, and are stocked in several lakes in addition to being in several river systems, including the Mississippi River. In fact, the upper Mississippi River (especially north of Clinton, Iowa, according to the Iowa DNR) has areas where the pike populations thrive in abundance.
The key is finding where they’re biting, and figuring out how to adjust when high waters, flooding, or natural movement of prey causes them to move elsewhere.
One major example of this is around the Yellow River in far Northeast Iowa by the Effigy Mounds. Where the Yellow River meets the mighty Mississippi has long been known by many locals as an excellent place to fish for northerns, but over the past year many local anglers have found the pike harder to come by.
There has been a lot of very fast and high water, which can definitely help explain why these problems are popping up. Pike tend to like slower and smoother water, which explains why this area might see a drastic drop in pike caught while there are high and fast waters.
Other rivers in the state of Iowa which have a great reputation for pike fishing include the Des Moines, Wapsipinicon, and Iowa Rivers, along with their tributaries which display calm but deep water, plentiful vegetation, and plentiful food. When flooding causes fast moving water, this is when pike populations may move or have an off year spawning.
This is part of the reason why some areas may be finding it much harder to find the normal number of pike in rivers and river tributaries over the past year while in many lakes the northern pike fishing remains as good as it has ever been.
If you have access to DNR river maps, traditionally on the Mississippi River the best pike fishing in Iowa can be found in Pools 9, 10, and 11. For the last several years these areas have been rated as excellent for pike fishing, and although some patterns of pike seem to have changed during the recent flooding, there’s no reason to believe that good pike fishing won’t return to those old areas or to similar habitat nearby that’s favorable for these predatory fish.
Minnesota Pike Fishing
The fact that Northern pike inhabit virtually every stream and lake in Minnesota lends itself to the appeal of Minnesota pike fishing. Beyond that, Northern pike are willing eaters of many baits and lures, as their diet and temperament indicate them to be connoisseurs of virtually anything that they can fit between their jaws.
Their chunky, white meat fillets rival that of walleye, according to many anglers, and baking the fillets tends to dissolve some of the smaller bones that make it an otherwise unappealing fish. Minnesota pike fishing boasts trophy size fish of around 20 pound every year while the average sized pike angled from their lakes and streams is around 2 or 3 pounds.
Over the years the popularity of Minnesota pike fishing has led to a decline in the numbers of trophy fished produced by Minnesota lakes and streams. Additionally, public access roads and easier access to virtually all their lakes have opened up pike populations that were previously protected by environmental isolation.
In recent years the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has stepped up to the plate and begun investigating the causes of this downsize and implementing solutions. In brief, they have put protections on medium sized pike ranging from 24 inches in length to 40 inches in length.
The hope is that by preserving this segment of the population that Minnesota will make its return to the glory days of northern pike trophies, such as 45 pound, 12 ounce pike landed back in 1929. That falls a mere 6 ounces shy of the American record pike.
By placing limits on Northern pike fishing in Minnesota lakes and streams, the DNR hopes to alleviate angling pressure on lakes that have the potential to produce large pike. The lakes they found most suitable for producing these trophy pike are lakes that have an abundance of a food fish called ciscoes, as well as deep water.
The larger a northern pike grows, the cooler the water they need. The warm shallows lack the oxygen they need. As well the fish they target prefer deep water. Minnesota lakes with strong populations of ciscoes produces trophy sized pike (greater than 20 pounds) virtually four times faster than lakes without. To put size into perspective, a forty in pike weighs in at 15 pounds.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources features a website dedicated to posting frequent updates to their policies, regulations, and restrictions in order to make things less confusing for the vacationing angler.
They also offer links to buy your Minnesota State fishing license online. Furthermore they commonly update closures and post health advisories against fish consumption from certain waters.
Note that while they do offer site specific advisories not all waters have been tested, and those tests are primarily for contaminants such as mercury or PCB.
With keeping the regulations in mind there are still a number of Minnesota lakes that boast large quarry for Minnesota pike fishing. As a general rule, Northern pike in the 24 to 36 inch length range are to be released immediately, though some lakes up the restriction to between 30 and 40 inches.
It is important to check with local fishing authorities as this is an ongoing study, with several lakes under consideration. But if you are in Minnesota looking for the thrill of Minnesota pike fishing, Mille Lacs, Lake of the Woods, Basswood, and Leech, among others still boast pike longer than 29 inches, meaning that in a few years’ time they can grow to be the trophy pike that Minnesota was once, and will be known for.
Fly Fishing for Pike
If an angler of any skill level determines they want the fighting thrill of fly fishing for pike there are a few things to keep in mind that will lead to a better fishing expedition.
While some describe the pike as a nasty looking fish with the face only a mother could love, even they would agree that the northern pike makes up for its less than desirable appearance with a bad temperament, razor sharp teeth, and opportunistic feeding habits.
Many of the flies effective for bass fly fishing are also effective flies when fly fishing for pike. When selecting the kind of flies to use for a particular lake or river, try to learn the specific food sources (insects, small marine life, baitfish, etc) that pike will be keyed into.
When fly fishing for pike one thing to keep in mind for your pike fishing tackle is heavy duty. The powerful jaws and razor sharp teeth of pike can weaken and eventually bite through stiff leaders and tippets.
A sturdy 9’ or longer fly fishing rod with an appropriate reel will withstand most pike you’ll encounter. Because pike put up a good fight on the end of the line, keep a strong backing in your spool, about 50 yards worth of 20 pound test or stronger. After fighting a pike regardless of whether or not you landed it, it is a good idea to check your leader and tippet for any signs of weakening. If in doubt just tie on another tippet to be on the safe side.
The spring and early summer months are considered the best times for fly fishing for pike. During this time the pike are spawning and they congregate in the weedy shallows where the water is the warmest. The advantage of this to the angler is that with a good pair of polarized glasses it’s often possible to see the pike ensuring greater casting accuracy.
Aim your cast about three to four feet behind the pike and let the fly settle. During retrieval, strip the fly in a somewhat irregular pattern of short strips with long pauses. If you see a pike following the fly, experiment with the presentation to find out what the pike wants. Patience can sometimes be a virtue as a pike might wait until the fly is just breaking the surface of the water before it finally strikes.
If you are content with a catch and release policy then there are some helpful tips for maintaining the health and safety of the pike and yourself. Handle pike as gently as possible. To help with this, a landing cradle comes in handy if using a boat. If you are fishing from shore take precautions not to drag the pike through mud or sand.
This debris can cause serious damage to the gills and cause injury. Try not to handle the pike with bare, dry hands as this can damage the mucous membrane protecting the pike’s scales. Those dry spots can lead to infection and death for the pike.
Needle nosed pliers are especially useful for removing flies if they are hooked deep. Keep the pike in the water for as much of the time as possible including when removing the hook. To make this safer for you, the angler, invest in a fish gag which will prop the jaw open.
The fighting spirit of the pike has been recorded as far back as Roman times and trophy pike have been documented at over fifty pounds. Whether fishing in the northern United States or angling for their larger brethren over in Europe, fly fishing for pike will challenge any angler’s skill with a fly rod.
Canada Pike Fishing
Due to policies of catch and release, in recent years there has been a boom in Canada pike fishing as pike are growing both in number and stature. In Canada pike are abundant, but some of the best lakes are found in the Yukon territories, Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. While some of the pike hotspots can be driven to, as is often the case the only choice is to fly in or boat in.
These out of the way fishing holes have very little angling pressure as well as strong populations of walleye salmon which serve as a mainstay food source for larger pike. Abundance of food, large lakes, little angling pressure and catch and release tactics are the perfect recipe for catching trophy pike. As proof Ontario has shown to produce 40 and 50 pound pike in the past few years.
Canada pike fishing offers some distinct differences from normal fishing conditions, especially when it comes to water quality. Some lakes boast water clear enough to see 80 feet down. Other lakes can be cloudy and muddy with virtually no visibility for days at a time after a storm passes.
Still other lakes exhibit a reddish hue to high concentrations of dissolved iron in the water. Each of these waters requires different lures for successful Canada pike fishing. In clear water lakes red and silver colors tend to work well. For the muddy or red waters a yellow and red Five of Diamonds daredevil works well, or rattle baits to help the pike hone in on sound.
Toward the end of the season for Canada pike fishing, generally in August the lakes will change. Northern lakes have great warm weather for most of July and the early days of August, but colder arctic air sweeping down from the north will push the warm water deeper down the water table towards the middle or the bottom of the lake while the surface temperatures are much cooler.
As the baitfish migrate to the warmer depths, so do the pike. When deep fishing for pike slow trolling techniques work the best. Some anglers insist that back trolling allows better control, but it comes down to preference.
The pike will be on the bottom of 30 to 60 feet of water and a common rig for getting down that for is a three-way swivel and a non-sinking lure. The typical setup is to run three feet of lead from the swivel to a one or two ounce sinker, and five to six feet of line from your swivel to your lure. Use 6 pound test for your leaders, as denser fishing lines don’t find the bottom so easily.
After you cast, let your sinker find the bottom. Start a nice, slow troll and reel your sinker up about a foot. When a pike bites you will have to reel in hard and fast to set the hook as there will be slack between your line and lure because of the sinker. This technique is adapted from trout fishing.
Naturally though you might consider taking a fishing trip later in the year and Canada pike fishing can be done even when the lakes are frozen over. If you do decide on ice fishing for pike there are a couple of safety tips to consider. The first one is the thickness of the ice. Never walk on ice that is less than four inches thick.
The second consideration is to dress warmly. Layered clothing insulates better than single layers. Additionally you can shed layers if you are too warm and better regulate your heat. Also bring a change of clothes if you get wet, especially socks. Waterproof and windproof gloves, hats and boots come highly recommended, as does layering wool over cotton. A shelter or bivvy to stay out of the wind is a nice accessory as well.
Many lodges build tourist packages around Canada pike fishing, including ice fishing and may well have equipment or gear to rent or buy once you get there if you don’t have everything you need. No matter what the season or what the venue, you are sure to find a memorable fishing adventure with Canada pike fishing.
Favorite Pike Fishing Lures
If you’re an angler who loves pursuing trophy sized fresh water fish who put up a fight and taste delicious out of the frying pan, then you’ve got to be a big fan of the northern pike. These game fish are among the most popular in the world for very good reason and even better, there are a variety of different lures which can be effective for snagging these hard fighting fish. Whether you are a fan of the classic crank bait, or you like the smaller “bombers” or the larger “magnums,” many anglers absolutely love using crank baits for northern pike, and it can be an extremely effective method. I use these both with the cast and reel technique as well as the trolling techniques in larger lakes. I’ve caught dozens of 8+ pound pike using both of these methods.
Because of how I grew up always using crank baits in both Minnesota and Canada, these are some of my favorites. In fact, Rapalas and crank baits were interchangeable synonyms in our house when I was growing up. This personal preference was even further reinforced from years of bass fishing in the Midwest, and once again crank baits were excellent lures when it came to those aggressive sports fish. However, this doesn’t mean that only crank baits are used in order to fish for trophy sized northern pike. There are even pro anglers who choose to go with a different choice of lures.
Some of the most popular lures for going after pike include:
- Crank baits
- Spinners and spinner baits
- Jerk baits
- Jitter bugs
- Rattle baits
One thing that many of these lures have in common is that they make noise, jerk through water, and in short get the attention of anything in the area. There’s not a lot of subtlety to them, and northern pike tend to be extremely aggressive and territorial. Even if they’re not hungry, just annoying them enough could be enough to get them to strike the lure and thus allow you to land the pike.
What lure will work best depends greatly on your location, the time of day, and the season as well. From specific colors to good technique, there are many different situations where one lure will work better than another. However big pike tend to be aggressive and want to fight and so using a wide range of different lures can work very well.
While picking out the right pike equipment is important when it comes to fishing line, reels, and rods, but when it comes to fishing lures you have a lot more options and that should help give you confidence when it’s time to hit the water.
Who Am I?
So who am I? Well I’ll give my nickname, and plenty of friends call me by that handle of Big Alaska, or you can just call me Alaska if you’re feeling short and friendly about it.
Why make a website on fishing for northern pike? Because I’ve been fishing for pike for over 15 years and fell in love since the first strike. During that time I have spent many hours on the lakes and rivers of Ontario, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Alaska fishing for that elusive trophy. Ironically while chasing some pike, my Dad accidentally caught a world record grass carp, but even getting a certificate from the Fishing Hall of Fame isn’t enough to sway him away from pike fishing.
One of the best moments of my life was an exhausting 4 hours trolling the backside of Boy Scout Island in Lac Des Mille Lacs in Ontario, Canada, and catching 6 pike in the 8-14 pound range on an ultra light fishing rod (it looked like a toy for a 6 year old) with 4 pound test line. I’ve never been so happy to not lift my arms in my life!
Through this page I’ll share from my nearly 30 years of northern pike fishing experience and hopefully give you some tips or advice that will help you on your pursuit of these wonderful freshwater game fish.
I might not be a professional, but I’ve caught hundreds of pike and have learned from my father who has been pike fishing for 45 years and counting. I’ve caught many pike and will keep on catching more. See ya’ on the waters!