Northern pike are tenacious fighters beneath the ice. Some days fish make it easy, lashing out at a variety of different baits. Quality-sized pike, however, often make things more challenging. Here are five things to keep in mind when hunting big northerns on the ice.
1. Focus on Forage
Pike eat throughout winter and are rarely far from their food sources. An essential step to locating these predators is finding the habitat of their prey. When yellow perch are in big bays or on flats expect pike to be around. In other instances walleye, whitefish and ciscoes make up the menu. These species often relate to humps, deep bars, or rocky points, and northerns will patrol these structures for their next meal.
2. Be Ready
A simple way to improve pike catch rates is to be ready for a strike the first time you drop a bait down a fresh hole. Pike in the area, unless especially sluggish, often attack a bait within seconds of when it first appears. Remember too that northerns are sprinting attackers in most cases, so being distracted can result in a botched hook set and lost fish. Set up the sonar, get into position, and put yourself in the right frame of mind before wetting a bait when chasing pike.
This also applies to tip-ups, both on the initial drop as well as after rebaiting. I’ve gotten into the habit of walking backwards and watching the setline after rigging. This practice helps see and react fast to a lot more of these quick hits.
3. Get on The Merry-Go-Round
A jigging minnow’s a time-honored winter pike bait. One of my favorite moves with these lures is what I call the merry-go-round. It consists of yo-yoing or pumping the rod several times at a slow to moderate pace without pause. This causes the lure to fly out to the side of the hole, and then hop up and down in a wide circle. This commotion does well to attract aggressive pike. After a full circle or two, give pause and hold on. If pike don’t chase the bait down while it’s moving, they’ll crush it once it stops.
4. Fire The Strobe
Another critical element to attracting pike is flash. Fleeting baitfish often dart and dash, their scales sparkling during these distress moves. This flickering commotion instinctually tells a pike to investigate. Be sure to try lures with metallic finishes, such as a Williams Whitefish, or baits featuring other reflective surfaces, such as prism tape. Be advised too that this bait-strobe tactic isn’t reserved for clear water. A friend of mine regularly fishes on a stained northern Ontario lake and often lands trophy pike on gold-finished spoons.
5. Make Some Noise
Pike are opportunistic feeders. Unlike many species where stealth’s essential to getting bites, causing a ruckus can attract northerns. A classic example of this is using ATVs or snowmobiles to circle around tip-ups. Drilling more holes with a power auger also works. It’s believed that the commotion either call-ins curious pike or disturbs dozing ones, getting them moving and making them more likely to sniff out dead-baits dangling on setlines.
Once hooked, northern pike sprint and fight with a never-say-die attitude that’ll bring a smile to any angler’s face. To ensure the future of pike fisheries, be sure to carry proper catch and release tools and to release the big ones.
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