29 Northern Pike Fishing Tips You Need to Know

I love fishing for pike. Most of my pike fishing has been done in Minnesota, Ontario Canada, and Alaska, but these aggressive fish are a lot of fun wherever you may find them. Even almost caught a muskie in Wisconsin once, but that’s a story for another post!

Even though northern pike are aggressive freshwater fish, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to pick up on extra skills to be a good pike angler. Especially if you want to catch a trophy-sized fish!

29 Pike Fishing Tips to Be a Better Angler

A few small changes can make all the difference when it comes to locating those hungry pike. Or between successfully netting them or losing them by the boat.

The best northern pike fishing tips are going to be molded around the area you’re pike fishing in. If in doubt, focus on picking the best fishing rod, net, local pike lures, and seasonal pike patterns to give yourself the best chance at catching a trophy pike.

These are great tips for catching more pike, catching bigger pike, and keeping all the fingers on your hand as you do it!

pike ice fishing catch
Pike fishing is great in all seasons!

#1: Grass Is Your Friend

While I certainly understand the dread that can pop up with throwing a multi-treble hook lure towards the weeds, if you want the big pike you need to be ready to take that chance.

Whether looking to pull a big pike out of the rivers in the upper Midwest or heading to the huge lakes of Ontario Canada, you can always find pike around grass.

Northern pike are ambush predators and they tend to like the additional shade and cover that weeds, reeds, or cattails provide. There’s more bait fish, which leads to more food-sized fish for even large pike.

If you’re hitting a new body of water, when in doubt look for those grassy areas. There will be pike around those sections of water!

#2: Adjust Your Strategy for the Season

Are you pike fishing in the spring? Summer? Fall? Ice fishing in winter? Regardless of where you’re pike fishing at, you need to adjust your strategies based on the season.

The common behaviors of northern pike in every area are going to change based on season. This means where they hang out, how much they eat, when during the day they eat, and more.

This will affect your lure selection, where you go looking for giant pike, as well as the specific fishing techniques that are more likely to land you success when fishing for monster pike.

Unless, of course, you hit them just after spawning in which case enjoy the insane fishing as big pike hit everything that moves.

#3: Skip the Heavy Action Rods

While it is undeniably fun to catch a 7-12 pound pike on an ultralight rod with ultralight line meant more for panfish or small walleyes (I have some seriously great memories along those lines), that’s not the best way to give yourself an honest shot to bring in a good haul.

While low action rods might be a bit sturdier, that takes some of the fun out of it, doesn’t it?

Medium action is the way to go – lightweight and ultralightweight rods might give heavy action, but you don’t need extra action with pike. They will give you all the fight you can handle!

Medium action gives you the feel you need to react and the bend to keep fighting with big pike fun and give you the best chance of landing them in the boat.

#4: Don’t Forget the Wire Leader

There’s not much point in fishing for northern pike and muskellunge if you’re not going for the giant trophy-sized fish, is there? Muskie and pike are tough fish and they can easily inhale your lure or bait and bite the line clean through.

Even if the line is braided or relatively strong test. A wire leader isn’t a guarantee to prevent this, but it definitely stocks the odds in your favor. Especially during the initial hit.

Fish with a wire leader so if a giant 30 lb, 40 lb, or even world record 50 lb fish hits, you’ll at least have a chance to keep it hooked and bring it into the boat.

#5: Learn to Fish with Spoons

Look I’m a huge fan of crankbaits myself, and they work. Especially magnum-sized crankbaits. Northern pike are incredibly aggressive, and in many places will hit anything that moves.

However, there’s a reason that spoons have such a reputation as a great pike lure.

Among veteran anglers who have made a habit of frequently pulling in 25-30 pound plus pike every single year, almost all of them have a favorite spoon, if not an entire section of the tackle box devoted to spoons for big pike.

Considering that many spoons are also designed in a way to entice muskie, it’s not hard to see why they are so popular. If you grew up basically using a bobber and worm, jigging worms, or using crankbaits for everything there can be a bit of an adjustment but it’s worth it to master these lures that seem to put big pike into a frenzy.

#6: Use Braided Line if You’re Fishing for Trophies

Northern pike are known for being hard hitting fish that grow to large sizes and have some really nasty teeth. Many a pike angler has faint, and not so faint, scars on the fingers or hand from when an angry pike managed to get a piece of the angler’s hand while they were getting the hooks loose.

Those sharp teeth are why braided line is a very good idea if you are going to catch monster pike (or muskellunge or tiger musky). Now full disclosure: I’m actually not a huge fan of braided line so I don’t use it as often as I should.

Which is why in Ontario I lose a LOT of lures because the line gets bitten off. Or snaps.

If you’re going after big northern pike then you should have at least one fishing rod that has braided line on it.

#7: Use a Gripper

This isn’t as much for catching the pike as much as keeping your finger and avoiding injury. But if you think those two things are important (and that’s something I definitely think is important – based on the sheer number of gnarly hand injuries I’ve seen) then make sure you use a gripper.

This isn’t as much for catching big northern pike as it is for making sure you keep your hands and fingers safe while retrieving those lures that giant trophy sized pike like to inhale.

#8: Try Out Bigger Lures

Pike like to eat, a lot. Generally they are happy to hit anything that is around 1/3 of their length/size assuming they can eat it. There are also plenty of angling stories, and pictures, of baby pike hitting a lure that’s the same size as they are.

You want to catch bigger pike? Use a bigger lure!

You are going to cull out a lot of smaller fish when you switch to much bigger lures and get the attention of bigger pike who aren’t going to bother with eating something much smaller.

While this isn’t a guarantee it’s a simple piece of advice that surprisingly gets overlooked a lot. Especially from anglers who use crankbaits for pike. I can tell you from experience in Canada, we had a lot less hits using Magnum sized crankbaits versus the small bombers or regular sized Rapala crankbaits, however the hits we did get were from bigger pike.

Both in what we landed and what bent the fishing rod in half before biting through the line. Which would have happened less if we followed tip #6 on this list.

#9: Study How Classic Colored Lures Work Locally

Different areas will have different bait fish, and that means in all likelihood that different colored lures will have different levels of success depending on your location.

In many of the places where we fished black & silver and blue & silver were the go-tos. These were some of the best crankbait colors for pulling in big pike (and a lot of them) during out fishing trips to Canada as youths. While everyone who fished up their went to blue and silver lures, that’s not the case with other places.

We talked to many long-time pike anglers in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin who talked about orange perch colored lures being killer, or green with black tiger stripes.

Or that one of a kind rainbow trout lure, which got one bite in 12 years of use. (Sorry, Dad, couldn’t resist)

There are always going to be color combinations in areas that do better than others and keeping on top of those will lead to better results when you go chasing trophy sized pike.

#10: Have Gaudy Change-Up Colors for Lures

Usually there are a couple two or three colors that are known in an area for really being the “go to” colors when you’re fishing for big pike. Favorite colors end up that way because they actually work.

However, despite their reputation for being aggressive predators big northern pike, much like their muskie cousins, can have long stretches where they are surprisingly picky.

One way to get their attention is to have your gaudy change up color. For us that was the orange “Tiger muskie” crankbaits or chartreuse. I don’t know if that was the name of the lure or just referred to the fact it was orange with black stripes (it definitely wasn’t because the lure looked like a muskie).

When nothing else was working at all, this garrishly bright lure would often create a mini-feeding frenzy and break the skunk.

Have some gaudy change up colors. When nothing else works, “annoying” a pike into striking your lure works just as well!

#11: When In Doubt – Annoy

Musky are known for being weird, finnicky, and very particular or outright strange when it comes to feeding. Northern pike are not.

Pike are the short tempered boxer in the Esox family who believes every problem can be solved with an underwater punch. So if they don’t seem hungry, don’t seem interested in feeding, use your lure to annoy the hell out of them.

Yes, even many big pike will eat something simply because it annoys them. Have a lure or two to break out with rattles, lights, odd jerky movements, or all of the above.

When nothing else seems to be working, see if you can annoy those big pike into hitting your lure. You might be surprised just how often this works!

#12: Be Ready to Move

Pike aren’t trout. Long stretches of patience in a very small area isn’t needed. If there are hungry pike in the area, it won’t take too long to figure out.

Depending on the time of day, what the baitfish are doing, and the season, the right decision might be to move to another spot. Even small amounts of movement can sometimes make a huge difference when it comes to getting those pike to strike!

If bait fish are in abundance by the grass then moving 20 feet down the shore might make all the difference. After all, why should pike move if there’s plenty to ambush right there?

#13: Study Local Food Sources

The local ecosystem matters. You may occasionally hear stories at local likes of how a certain bait rigging or a certain lure works really well, even if it’s not what you would usually call normal pike bait.

For example, in areas where bluegill and pike are found in the same area often times anglers swear nothing drives pike crazy like bait fishing with a small bluegill.

In other areas rubber frogs work amazingly well, especially in the southern range of a pike’s natural habitat, but that’s not what you ever read as being a normally good lure for pike.

Look at what pike feed on locally and adjust your pike fishing strategies accordingly to bring in even more fish!

#14: Understand Local Geography

Weeds are a type of shelter that ambush fish like pike love, but there are other underwater areas that tend to attract pike…especially the large ones.

See a bunch of cattails near shore? Some very weedy areas? Bays, coves, and even underwater rock shelves and drop-offs are great locations to find pike.

This is because pike love to wait in ambush and then strike. So these areas that offer shelter and are going to attract smaller local fish, minnows, and small animals that can be food for northern pike of all sizes.

Understanding the geography of a local lake or river area will help you focus most of your time on the places where you’re most likely to find a lot of hungry pike.

#15: Get Better at Setting the Hook

No light touch needed with these guys, and that can throw you off if you’re used to fishing trout, jigging for tentative walleye, or other fish that are less traditionally aggressive.

With pike as soon as you feel that hit you want to go with a hard set. This isn’t as simple as just jerking your hand. Like learning how to be patient with trout or feel for the right nibble when going after a walleye, you need to train your reflexes to set the hook hard and fast with pike.

So you need to practice because many pike are brought in or lost based on how the hook is set.

#16: Make Sure You Have a True Pike Fishing Net

Yeah, if you have ever fought a 25 lb or 30 lb pike and then watched the guy whose boat you were in bring out a small walleye net, you know the feeling of anger and disappointment I’m talking about with how that situation most likely turned out.

Big pike are just that: really big. Your average fishing net isn’t going to do it, especially if you’re focused on small to moderate walleye, smallmouth bass, or god forbid, panfish.

Make sure you have a great pike fishing net.

My Recommendation: Frabill Power Catch Net

While there are many great fishing nets out there, in my eyes none top the Frabill. The biggest Frabrill power catch net is built for really big fish like pike or musky, and built to take the beating these fish can dish out.

You can read this great article on the best pike fishing nets if you want more information.

#17: Don’t Forget the Needle Nose Pliers

This is important to get your hooks back, save your fingers from getting slashed, and if you fish with crankbaits, you don’t want to try to mess with treble hooks in a pike’s mouth by hand. It’s just not a god situation.

Getting used to using needle nose pliers is a great way to make sure you have the dexterity and movement needed to keep your lures, your fingers, and make sure you bring those big pike all the way into the boat.

#18: Jitterbugs & Dare Devils Are Great for Surface Hits

There are certain lures that just tend to do really well with pike and have a well earned reputation for being a great option when it comes to getting northern pike to strike.

Jitterbugs and Dare Devils are two surface lures that have this reputation. Whether it’s the movement, the flash of color, the combination of both, these are fishing lures that are renowned for causing pike to hit them, and hit them hard.

If you want those great looking surface hits as pike go nuts for your lure then you want to look at what a Dare Devil fishing lure or Jitterbug fishing lure have to offer.

Check out these Jitterbugs for pike fishing on Amazon (affiliate link – thanks for supporting the website!)

Check out these Dare Devils for pike fishing on Amazon (affiliate link – thanks for supporting the website!)

#19: Match Your Rod with Your Lures

Look, I have a great story about using the “so small it looks like a toy” ultralight fishing rod with 4 lb test line that a rapala fishing lure bent 1/3 of the way down while trolling for pike, and having the fishing day of my life.

(Five passes on the backside of Boy Scout Island and pulled in pike of 12 lbs, 8 lbs, 7 lbs, 6 lbs, 6 lbs, and 4 lbs). My arms and shoulders hurt for two days and God only knows how that rod and line didn’t snap like a twig.

Enormous fun – but not optimized. Over the long run if you want to go after the real trophy pike and not rely on once in a lifetime fishing luck, you need to make sure to match your rod with your lures.

If you’re running big magnum crankbaits or heavy 1 lb musky lures then you need to make sure you have a rod with the right strength and action to handle the lures and still allow you to effectively fish for pike.

If you’re using bigger lures with more drag, you don’t want high action rods, you want medium action. Match your fishing road with the right reel, line, and lures.

#20: Make Sure Your Drag Is Set Appropriately

If the drag is too loose then a big enough pike can just keep pulling line. Put enough line out and you have changes for snags, tangles, and other issues that will result in losing the fish.

Have the drag too tight and watch the line snap.

Setting your drag so you have the best chance at pulling in medium and large pike is a crucial tip that far too many anglers completely overlook and don’t even bother with.

The details matter if you’re going to land that trophy fish.

#21: Watch the Temperature

Pike will move based on water temperature. While they are known for really liking weedy shores if the temperature gets high enough they will abandon the weeds to search out deeper water.

Especially if there are rock shelves or underwater outcroppings that provide cover and potential food. In that case the moment the water temperatures start rising to be uncomfortable, they will move towards those deeper water spots.

So pay attention to those summer temperatures. During a hot streak that may be enough to send them to deeper waters. Watch the temperature closely if you want to catch more pike.

#22: Keep Working the Lure After a Miss

Musky anglers already know this because of just how weird musky can be with hitting lures. But pike anglers should take notice. If you miss setting the hook, keep working the lure. Pike are aggressive and there was something that made them strike in the first place.

Keep working the lure, see if you can get an aggressive second chance strike, and might be surprised how often that can work.

Definitely re-cast to the same area and see if you can get it on a second chance.

#23: Re-Cast to Any Area You’ve Been “Tapped”

We’ve all had that weird experience where pike were finicky. Sometimes that means you need to change up the lure color or switch to a different style. Sometimes you just need to be persistent.

If you feel a tap then there’s at least interest. By re-casting to that area where you know something is you’re giving yourself the best chance of pulling in another pike.

#24: Pay Attention to Local Pike Spawning Times

The spawns are a bonanza for hitting pike feeding frenzies. This doesn’t just include small and medium sized pike but also the big ones, as well. While there are general seasonal times when pike are known to spawn, the exact days or weeks can vary based on a variety of factors.

You want to make sure you are fully tuned into what the pike spawning times are so you can go fishing when the action is at its most intense.

#25: Heavy Duty Hooks Only!

Most people don’t know this, but many lures (even the name brand ones) use cheap hooks. Replacing the cheap hooks with high quality ones is time consuming, but it’s not hard and the difference in results can be huge.

If you don’t know where to start, take a look at Gamakatsu hooks. You’ll have to do a little bit of search depending on the type of lure and type of hooks you’re replacing, but these are a great start.

Focus on high quality heavy duty hooks and you’ll find the hook rate on some of those lures can go up a surprising amount, and they are far less likely to bend and let the fish shake them off.

#26: Time of Day Matters

This shouldn’t be a big surprise yet it is surprising just how many anglers ignore this. Whether it is morning or evening, day or night, that changes where the pike are, how hungry they are, what colors to use, and more.

Not changing your strategy based on the time of day is a sure way to miss out on pike that you would otherwise be catching.

The time of day matters a lot, and by adjusting accordingly you will find yourself catching more northern pike.

#27: Spinners in the Spring

Speaking of seasonal strategies for catching pike, there is something about spring that just makes spinners work. Why? I honestly couldn’t say. But there’s just something special about using spinners in the spring.

At least when it comes to fishing for northern pike. So even is you usually don’t fish with spinners (guilty as charged) it’s definitely worth having a few to break out during the spring.

#28: Early Morning & Early Evening

While I’m sure there are areas that are different, a lot of pike fishing in many different places have confirmed again and again to me that when in doubt the pike love to hit early in the morning, as well as early in the evening.

There’s just something about these times where pike are eager to feed, willing to hit, and generally are settled in and not in transition from one location to another.

Make sure you’re not missing out on great pike fishing. Get your lure out in the water during these times!

#29: Mind the Details

If you find you’re having a hard time getting bites from the normally aggressive pike, then maybe you need to mind the details. The problem might be something that doesn’t come up as a pike fishing tip.

An example would be one time years ago in Canada there was a very short time when Kevlar fishing line was being advertised as the next big thing, and we tried it.

And noticed that there didn’t seem to be any bites from the usually aggressive pike. Then we also noticed that you could see the Kevlar line clearly from the boat 15 feet under water.

We scrapped the Kevlar line and things returned to normal.

Mind the details. You never know what might be affecting your success rates as a pike fisherman.

Practice, Practice, Practice!

There’s no question that even as aggressive as northern pike are, different bodies of water can change their attitudes and behaviors. Learning to fish for pike in many different bodies of water, using many different lures, is crucial to becoming a better pike angler.

Especially if you want to get to the point where you’re chasing trophy pike – who are always capable of smashing a lure or snapping that line.

northern pike held by angler
Picture originally by Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Catch That Trophy Pike!

Keep in mind that the strategy for catching giant pike or trophy pike is going to be different than just casting for pike of any size. Pike tend to be aggressive so it’s not hard to run into northern pike if you do enough fishing.

However, bringing in those giant northern pike that make for pictures that will impress fellow anglers for a life time – that takes some seriously pro pike fishing strategy.

Make sure to check out our Recommended Gear page so you’re prepared to catch and bring in even bigger and better northern pike. Maybe you’ll even find that trophy northern pike big enough to wall mount!