How To Ice Fish For Pike
Whether you like it or not, you’re bound to come across some Northern Pike on your next ice fishing expedition. Not only are these fish at the top of their food chain in almost every big lake, but they’re also incredibly fun to catch. That’s why Pike are so popular during the ice fishing season, as groups of anglers hit the ice to get their hands (or their hooks) on these aggressive fish.
Because Pike are cold-water fish, they’re more active during the winter season and remain active as they hunt the entirety of the season. If you’re deciding to try your luck at ice fishing and don’t want to leave the ice hole empty-handed, you should target Pike.
We’ll be covering the most important aspects of the Pike ice fishing game and how you can walk away with the best catch possible.
Rod & Reel Setup for Pike
Trust us when we say trying to catch Northern Pike with your bare hands is a bad idea, although we applaud you for trying. What you’ll need is a setup that’s strong enough to handle the fight that a Pike can put up:
- Rod: 36-inch medium or heavy power ice rod
- Reel: 2000-size spinning reel
- Main line: 20 lb. test braid
- Leader: 2-foot wire leader (or 60 lb. test fluorocarbon)
- Hook size: 6 (either a treble hook or a single)
When ice fishing for Pike, try to avoid using a rod and reel combo that’s too light, as Pike are some of the biggest fish you can catch through the ice. Furthermore, they can be feisty and fight against the hook. Their mouths are full of razor-sharp teeth that have no problem cutting through the fishing line, which is why you need a strong leader.
Most ice anglers will use a metal leader when targeting Pike through the ice. The metal line can withstand more than a few bites from the Pike’s jagged teeth and can help keep your catch from escaping. However, a wire leader has its disadvantages, such as being more visible to the Pike. Some anglers will opt for a 50 to 80 lb. fluorocarbon leader that can get you more bites.
Pike Seasonal Movement
Remember this: Early ice means good fishing. While some Pike are known to forage deep, they tend to fall into a routine around prominent shallow foraging areas during early ice.
During early ice, plankton can be found in shallow regions under the ice. Where there’s plankton, you’ll likely find zooplankton. Where there’s zooplankton, you’ll most definitely find small fish, and most anglers will know that small fish attract bigger fish. There’s always a bigger fish. But as the cold season progresses and the ice thickens, the light penetration and water temperature decrease, which makes it less inviting for Pike to occupy the area.
Most Pike will swim near the shallows early in the season to stay away from boat traffic and other anglers. Any raucous activity can send the pike high-tailing it deeper into the water, which is why they swim deeper as the season goes on. Deeper water means more stability for the Pike to carry their eggs throughout midwinter. A lack of fishing pressure can keep pike activity in shallow water at an all-time high. Lakes with little fishing activity can provide a bountiful catch for Northern Pike if you hit the ice early enough.
While ice fishing early in the season, try to focus on areas with shallow edges or along prominent water columns. You can also look out for bars, which are sunken islands under the water. The outside and deep parts of weed beds are where you’re likely to find loads of Pike.
Points and turns in bars or weeds can interact with drop-off points that attract Pike looking for food. Try to look out for points that drop off in a stair-like fashion rather than those that drop off immediately. Most weed edges won’t grow on sharp drop-offs as they do on ramp-like edges. Sometimes you may come across timber as a source of shallow cover instead of weeds.
During midseason ice fishing, you may find that Pike is much harder to find. You’ll have to aim deeper if you want to target pike. Forget weed edges and move toward deeper rocks and rocky drop-offs near shallow holding areas. If there’s too much action near obvious fishing areas, you may consider isolated mid-lake humps.
Most anglers come up with smaller fish when sticking to occupied areas. If you stay near rocky structural elements, you might catch that trophy Pike you’ve been dreaming of.
Another option is ice fishing on remote lakes that haven’t been bothered by other ice anglers. Most prime lakes have bigger Pike at 15 to 35 feet of water if you have the correct setup and the right amount of patience during the midwinter months.
Later in the season, look for bigger Pike that slowly abandon deep water to roam the shallows again as the ice out approaches. Deeper weed edges on bars adjacent to shallow bays are the most ideal spots to fish. Check out the weed growth near currents, as they can be one of the best spots to catch a lot of Pike.
Northern Pike Ice Fishing Locations
Now that we’ve gone over their seasonal movement, we can discuss where you should focus during the Northern Pike ice fishing season. It’s pivotal to highlight that most Northern Pike don’t swim in schools, as they prefer to roam the same type of lake structures as their next meals.
Points, breaks, rock piles, and humps are examples of structures where you’ll likely find Pike. In shallower water, Northern Pike tend to swim about mid-depth in shallow water. However, as they swim further into deep water, they usually stay close to the bottom of the lake.
Some of the most popular places to catch Northern Pike include the following:
- Northwest Territories
Using Lake Contour Maps
Do you want access to highly detailed lake maps? The good news is that in this day and age, you can find incredibly detailed contour maps that can help you find underwater structure to target. How? When used in tandem with a GPS.
You can use contour maps to look for drop-offs, reefs, weed flats, and more. If you come across an area with plenty of Pike, make sure to create a waypoint on your map for future reference. You never know when you might want to go round two with the Northern Pike.
Presentation & Lures
The top two approaches for Pike ice fishing include tip-ups and jigging. When using a tip-up to catch Pike, your best bet is to use a treble hook and a sucker minnow. A general rule is the bigger the Pike you want to catch, the bigger the minnow you should use to lure it in.
Most anglers will catch Northern Pike more than any other species in the water. Sometimes even the smallest lures can attract Pike. Use a sinking lure or spoons when jigging for Northern Pike. Sinking lures and baits are perfect for more aggressive Pike.
Depths To Ice Fish for Pike
When fishing in shallow water under 20 feet deep, you’ll want to aim at a depth in the middle of the water column, between the bottom and the surface. Pike have eyes positioned on the top of their heads and look upward in the water column. If you present your bait in mid-water, you may attract Pike from the bottom of the lake and the middle layer of the water column.
It’s important to note what depth is best for catching Pike can differ on any given day. You can technically catch Pike at all depths in the water, sometimes finding amazing results just a few feet below the ice. In other cases, you might come up completely empty or find more Pike at the bottom of the lake. It all depends on where they’re hunting.
You’ll find more luck fishing for Pike if you put on your observation goggles. You’re better off determining the depth at which schools of baitfish are holding. Once you’ve targeted those baitfish, you might be able to find more deep-water Pike.
Pike Ice Fishing Techniques
As we mentioned earlier, the two most common techniques for catching Pike through the ice include tip-up fishing and jigging.
Tip-ups are baited hand lines that are set up with a flag that pops up and alerts you when you’ve received a bite. Tip-ups are a helpful method if you have more than one fishing hole within the vicinity of your setup. Even if you’re ten feet away from one tip-up, you’ll still be able to see when that flag pops up.
Jigging relies more on actively fishing for Pike with an ice rod, and jigging the lures up and down in the water.
While both techniques have benefits and drawbacks, many anglers will use both in unison to catch the most fish possible.
The tip-up technique has, without a doubt, proven to be one of the most successful ways to catch Northern Pike while ice fishing. If you have the right setup and weather conditions, you can catch dozens of Pike while using tip-ups.
The best strategy would include setting up multiple tip-up stations on the ice, as it maximizes your chances of making a good catch. We have seen some anglers set up ten to twenty tip-ups but remember that each state/province/territory has its own rules against this.
Once you’ve found a promising underwater structure, such as a drop-off, place your tip-ups along that structure. Make sure to cover enough locations and depths. You may also want to try different baits with your multiple tip-up stations to determine which bait works best.
While the tip-up technique can produce more results, you may decide that catching one big trophy Pike might be more worth your time. That’s where jigging comes in. If the thrill of the catch is what you’re after, you’ll be able to find it when jigging for Northern Pike.
Jigging can be some of the most fun you have while ice fishing. Northern Pike are some of the strongest freshwater fish you can get your hooks in. Some anglers prefer the feel of the rod tip getting yanked down the ice hole while 10 to 15 yards of your reel get unraveled.
Pike grow as large as other species that get caught through the ice. The bigger they grow, the more they need to hunt larger prey. If you’re looking for a trophy Pike, you might consider using large lures while jigging. We recommend 3 to 4-inch spoons, the largest jigging raps, or slab raps when going after big Northern Pike.
Attracting Pike While Ice Fishing
If you really want to get the attention of a bigger Pike, you’ll want to use big, flashy lures while jigging in the middle of a water column. The best lure type includes metal spoons that wobble when lowered and flashlights in all directions under the ice. Nearby Pike will see the lights and investigate. If you have a flasher and underwater camera, you’ll be able to see how attracted pike are to these types of lures.
We should mention that there may be some cases where a Pike might float and stare at the lure without going in for the strike. If you notice this happening, switch to a jigging swimbait and lower it into the water instead. This bait type might be enough to entice the Pike to strike.
Another reliable method includes using both the jigging and tip-up techniques. Set up a few different tip-up stations and use live or dead bait. Then, you should position yourself by an ice hole between your tip-ups and use a bright spoon to attract nearby Pike. As they come closer to investigate, they’ll notice the bait and increase the chances of a bite.
Using Ice Fishing Fish Finders To Locate Pike
Using an ice fishing fish finder while on your Northern Pike hunt can help you locate these fish as easily as possible. Fish finders can assist in spotting promising underwater structure and concentrations of baitfish. What’s even better is you can spot nearby Pike directly on your fish finder display.
Start with the lake map to scout locations while using the fish finder’s sonar capabilities. Make sure you spot a decent number of small fish before you commit to drilling holes and fishing in a particular spot on the ice.
Implementing an underwater camera alongside your fish finder will help spot any Northern Pike in the area. Underwater cameras are perfect for ice fishing as they can be lowered straight down and rotated at a 360-degree angle.
Targeting Big Pike While Ice Fishing
Best Ice Fishing Locations To Find Big Pike
Big natural lakes are the best places to find big Northern Pike. Locations such as Devils Lake in North Dakota and Lake of the Woods in Minnesota are two of the most Pike-inhabited lakes. In addition, big reservoirs on the Missouri River have been known to produce many Northern Pike.
These fisheries have the most appropriate conditions to help keep Pike alive much longer than their average 10-year lifespan. The Pike in these locations typically find food sources suitable enough for each stage of their lifecycle, and as a result, anglers will often catch Northern Pike that are twenty pounds or more.
Best Ice Fishing Tactics for Big Pike
If you’re looking to walk away from the frozen lake with a trophy Pike, then follow these steps very carefully. Start by using the tip-up technique, as you’ll be able to set up multiple tip-up stations. Use different types of baitfish for each station you set up. Don’t shy away from using the biggest baitfish you can find. We recommend baitfish at least ten inches long, as they’ll entice bigger Northern Pike to bite.
Another option is setting up a dead stick rod with a big baitfish. You’ll need a bait runner spinning reel for this method, as most large Pike can swim up to 15 yards after seizing the bait. The last thing you want is for your rod to get pulled under. That’s where a spinning reel can help.
When targeting large Pike, stick to areas with deeper water, as you’re much more likely to find trophy Pike over smaller Pike. Choose areas closer to shallow flats where numerous baitfish are lingering.
The quick strike rig is the most integral rig you’ll need for ice fishing. What is the quick strike rig? We’re glad you asked. It consists of a wire leader with two hooks about 3 to 5 inches apart. One hook is attached to the head of a dead baitfish, while the other is attached to the tail. The setup positions the baitfish horizontally, which attracts Northern Pike that are in proximity. Why? Experienced Pike anglers can tell you that Northern Pike will not go after a baitfish if it’s vertical.
While you can use this Pike rig for live baitfish, it’s better to use a wire leader with a single hook and hook to baitfish under its dorsal fin. Doing so will allow the baitfish to move more freely and attract Northern Pike.
As we mentioned earlier, most anglers these days prefer to use fluorocarbon over a metal leader, as it’s less visible. Using fluorocarbon will help give your baitfish extra room to move around and attract roaming Pike. However, if you use this option, you must remember there’s no guarantee that the Northern Pike won’t bite through your leader with its sharp teeth.
When it comes to ice fishing, Northern Pike are some of the biggest fish you can catch. If you do it enough times, you’ll find that the Pike aren’t the only ones getting hooked. But before you start mapping out your next ice fishing venture, make sure to do your research and take the proper safety precautions. Remember, the fish are the ones that are supposed to be below the ice, not you.
Interesting in ice fishing for other types of fish? Read our guide on How To Ice Fish For Walleye, and How To Ice Fish For Perch.