Fishing For The Northern Pike

Tips And Tricks For Catching Northern Pike

Northern Pike TeethFishing for the Northern Pike is becoming an increasingly popular pastime in Europe and America. Effective methods for catching this hard-fighting fish include dead baits, lure fishing, and jerk baiting. They are prized as game fish for their determined fighting.

Lake fishing for pike from the shore is especially effective during spring, when the big pike move into the shallows to spawn in weedy areas, and later many remain there to feed on other spawning coarse fish species to regain their condition after spawning. Smaller jack pike often remain in the shallows for their own protection, and for the small fish food available there. For the hot summer and during inactive phases, the larger female pike tend to retire to deeper water and/or places with better cover. This gives the boat angler good fishing during the summer and winter seasons. Trolling is a popular technique.

A Quick Look At The Northern Pike

Northern Pike US Distribution
Northern Pike US Distribution

Best Type of Lures – The best type of lures for northern pike are daredevils and jerk baits because they replicate the type of bait fish that can be found naturally in the lake you’re fishing in. For specific brands, we recommend Eppinger’s Original Daredevil Bait and Rapala’s Husky Jerk Bait. Large spoons can also be very effective, especially if you use a quality brand such as the Cotton Cordell Spoon Lure.

Playing Games with Bait – Northern pike are notorious for playing with angler’s bait. They will sometimes hit your bait and simply let go without actually running with it. You don’t want to try and set the hook until the fish actually tries to run with the bait. If you lose a northern pike then don’t reel in right away, go slowly, the fish might actually strike it again.

You Need the Right Size Bait – If you’re looking to catch a monster northern pike then you’ll need something bigger than the average tackle store minnow. Large northern pike won’t waste the time or energy to chase small bait fish, so you’ll want to use bait that is between 6 to 8 inches. Since most bait stores won’t carry these you’ll want to consider getting a tackle box to catch your own bait, you’ll even save a few bucks.

Fish the Weeds – Small to medium northern pike are usually found near heavily weeded areas. This is because they are ambush predators and like to ambush their prey. The larger northern pike will be where they can hide in deep water to attack larger types of fish such as walleye or largemouth bass.

About Northern Pike – Description, Behavior, Size And Feeding Habits

Describing The Northern Pike

Pike and Pickeral FamilyNorthern pike are most often olive green, shading from yellow to white along the belly. The flank is marked with short, light bar-like spots and a few to many dark spots on the fins. Sometimes, the fins are reddish. Younger pike have yellow stripes along a green body; later, the stripes divide into light spots and the body turns from green to olive green. The lower half of the gill cover lacks scales, and it has large sensory pores on its head and on the underside of its lower jaw which are part of the lateral line system. Unlike the similar-looking and closely related muskellunge, the northern pike has light markings on a dark body background and fewer than six sensory pores on the underside of each side of the lower jaw.

A hybrid between northern pike and muskellunge is known as a tiger muskellunge, depending on the sex of each of the contributing species. In the hybrids, the males are invariably sterile, while females are often fertile, and may back-cross with the parent species.  Another form of northern pike, the silver pike, is not a subspecies but rather a mutation that occurs in scattered populations. Silver pike, sometimes called silver muskellunge, lack the rows of spots and appear silver, white, or silvery-blue in color.  When ill, silver pike have been known to display a somewhat purplish hue; long illness is also the most common cause of male sterility.

Length And weight Of Northern Pike

Northern pike in North America seldom reach the size of their European counterparts; one of the largest specimens known was 46 lb specimen from New York. It was caught in Great Sacandaga Lake on 15 September 1940 by Peter Dubuc. Reports of far larger pike have been made, but these are either misidentifications of the pike’s larger relative, the muskellunge, or simply have not been properly documented and belong in the realm of legend.

Pike are found in sluggish streams and shallow, weedy places in lakes, as well as in cold, clear, rocky waters in and. They are typical ambush predators; they lie in wait for prey, holding perfectly still for long periods, and then exhibit remarkable acceleration as they strike. In short, they inhabit any water body that contains fish, but suitable places for spawning are essential for their numbers. Because of their cannibalistic nature, young pike need places where they can take shelter between plants so they are not eaten. In both cases, rich submerged vegetation is needed. Pike are seldom found in brackish water, except for the Baltic Sea area. They seem to prefer water with less turbidity, but that is probably related to their dependence on the presence of vegetation and not to their being sight hunters.

The Behavior And Aggressiveness Of Northern Pike

The northern pike is a relatively aggressive species, especially with regards to feeding. For example, when food sources are sparse, cannibalism develops, starting around five weeks in a small percentage of populations.  This cannibalism occurs when the ratio of predator to prey is two to one.  One can expect this because when food is scarce, Northern pike fight for survival, such as turning on smaller pike to feed; this is seen in other species such as tiger salamanders. Usually, pike tend to feed on smaller fish, such as the banded killifish. However, when pike exceed 28 in long, they feed on larger fish.  As one can probably assume, these pike are the ones most likely to develop cannibalistic traits.

Because of cannibalism when food is short, pike suffer a fairly high young mortality rate.  Cannibalism is more prevalent in cool summers, as the upcoming pike have slow growth rates in that season and might not be able to reach a size to deter the larger pike. Cannibalism is likely to arise in low growth and low food conditions.  Pike do not discriminate siblings well, so cannibalism between siblings is likely.

Aggressiveness also arises from a need of space and is a consideration when fishing.  Young pike tend to have their food robbed by larger pike.  Pike are aggressive if not given enough space because they are territorial.  They use a form of foraging known as sit-and-wait. Unlike species such as perch, pike undergo bursts of energy instead of actively chasing down prey. As such, a fair amount of inactive time occurs until they find prey. Hunting efficiency decreases with competition; the larger the pike, the larger the area controlled by that particular pike. An inverse relation to vegetation density and pike size exists, which is due to the possibility of cannibalism from the largest pike.  This makes sense, as the smaller pike need more vegetation to avoid being eaten. Large pike do not have this worry and can afford the luxury of a large line of sight. They prefer a tree structure habitat.

Feeding Habits Of Northern Pike

Pike in WeedsThe young free-swimming pike feed on small invertebrates starting with daphnia, and quickly moving on to bigger prey, such as the isopods asellus or gammarus. When the body length is 1.6 to 3.1 in, they start feeding on small fish in lakes.

A pike ~in region~ has a very typical hunting behavior; it is able to remain stationary in the water by moving the last fin rays of the dorsal fins and the pectoral fins. Before striking, it bends its body and darts out to the prey using the large surface of its caudal fin, dorsal fin, and anal fin to propel itself. The fish has a distinctive habit of catching its prey sideways in the mouth, immobilizing it with its sharp, backward-pointing teeth, and then turning the prey headfirst to swallow it. For larger prey, the pike will usually attempt to drown the prey before carrying it off to be consumed. It eats mainly fish and frogs, but also small mammals and birds fall prey to pike. Young pike have been found dead from choking on a pike of a similar size, an observation referred to by the renowned English poet Ted Hughes in his famous poem “Pike”.  Northern pike also feed on insects, and leeches. They are not very particular and eat spiny fish like perch, and will even take fish as small as sticklebacks if they are the only available prey.

The northern pike is a largely solitary predator. It migrates during a spawning season, and it follows prey fish like common roaches to their deeper winter quarters. Sometimes, divers observe groups of similar-sized pike that cooperate some to start hunting at the same time, so “wolf pack” theories are given. Large pike can be caught on dead immobile fish, so these pike are thought to move about in a rather large territory to find food. Large pike are also known to cruise large water bodies at a few meters deep, probably pursuing schools of prey fish. Smaller pike are more of ambush predators, probably because of their vulnerability to cannibalism. Pike are often found near the exit of culverts, which can be attributed to the presence of schools of prey fish and the opportunity for ambush. Being potamodromous, all ecocides tend to display limited migration, although some local movement may be of key significance for population dynamics.

Northern Pike Characteristics

Northern Pike are found in freshwater throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Because of their body shape, their appearance is distinct from other freshwater fish, though the Muskie sometimes gets mistaken for this species. The pike has a long, slender body that is olive green in color and fades to yellowish-white on its belly. The sides of the fish are marked with lighter colored spots that usually match the belly color. One dorsal fin is located near the end of the back and this fin, along with the others, is marbled with spots. The pike has a long, flattened snout and a mouth full of sharp teeth.

The major difference in appearance of male and female pike is size. The female fish are naturally larger than the male. Both genders grow continually with age. The average weight of a northern pike is between 3-7 pounds and 24-30 inches long. The largest pike ever caught was 58 inches long and weighed 68 pounds.

Northern pike spawn in the spring when the water temperature reaches at least 48 degrees Fahrenheit. As the female spreads her eggs on vegetation in water no more than a foot deep, the male fertilizes them. Typically there are between 15,000 and 75,000 eggs. After the sticky eggs are attached to the submerged vegetation, the male and female both leave. The eggs hatch after about two weeks. The newly hatched “fry” feed on their egg sack until it is gone and then switch their diet to zooplankton. After about two weeks, they begin to feed on small fish. Pike grow most rapidly during the first two years of their life. Sexual maturity is reached between ages 3 and 5, with the males reaching this point earlier than the females of the same age. The average lifespan of a northern pike in the wild is 7 years.

Northern Pike Information

What You Need Know To Catch Northern Pike

Fall Northern Pike Fishing Tactics

Pike LocationsAs the water cools and the leaves change color pike will again begin to move throughout the water system. In many cases, they will return to the same weed beds they occupied initially after leaving the shallows back in the spring. Slow tapering flats holding a mixture of vegetation will be your best bet, while the healthiest remaining weeds should get your most attention. Some fish will still roam the depths, so don’t overlook a wide variety of water when searching for Mr. Esox

Fishing with Spoons For Pike

Spoons for PikeSpoons have been a standard on the pike scene for years, and for good reason. Simply put — this bait is guaranteed to put fish in the boat. There’s something intoxicating in the wobbling and flash of a spoon that drives a northern mad, and they will often strike these pieces of metal with reckless abandon.  

Choose spoons in the 4- to 5-inch size, and give the nod to white/red, silver, yellow, and gold hues. A slow, lazy retrieve will often work best with occasional pauses and flutters to catch the curiosity of any following fish.  

Spinner baits For Pike

Spinner BaitsOversized bass spinner baits account for a lot of pike. Their body and hook design allows for an almost weedless presentation, which can work wonders when the fish are up tight to cover and in the shallows. White and chartreuse are two colors that top the list, with orange and black also being effective. Go with willow leaf or large Colorado blades for maximum flash and vibration, in either silver or gold colors.  

Four to six-inch musky buck tails can really get the attention of pike, and work equally as well for both of these predator species ~around region~. Their large profile, fast speed, and flashy blades make for an easy, yet effective bait to throw. Choose contrasting body and blade variations, sticking closely with the colors suggested above. Straight retrieves work best with these lures, with high-speed cranking or bulging being two of my favorite ways to fish this bait.  

Jerk BaitsJerkbaits For Pike

Minnow-shaped crank baits represent a pike’s favorite prey and can often trigger strikes when other baits fail. A five or six-inch floating or suspending crank twitched back to the boat is all that’s needed for your retrieve. Firetiger, silver, blue, perch and baby bass are all proven colors, and utilizing baits with rattle chambers will make them even more attractive. Experiment with diving depths, and keep in mind to always run your bait higher in the water column than the actual level of the fish.

Top Water BaitsTopwater Fishing Lures For Pike

In terms of excitement, nothing can compare with the surface strike of a northern pike ~in region~. Oversized buzz baits, walk-the-dog style lures (think Super Spook), and large prop-baits will all bring a feeding frenzy to the top.

Predominantly thought of as a shallow water lure, tossing top waters over weed beds, off points, and along rock and weed shoals can bring about positive results. Slow and steady is often the key to action.

Soft PlasticsSoft Plastic Stickbaits For Pike

Slug-Gos and Senkos are two popular soft plastic sticks, and both work well when targeting northern pike. Primarily used during the spring and early summer months, the tantalizing fall and wiggle of these baits can trigger some pretty hefty strikes. Often thrown to finicky fish, or those that have been spotted lurking in the skinny water, a soft plastic stick can fool even the most wary of fish.  

Six-inch baits are a good choice with white, chartreuse, and pink being optimum colors. Rig these baits wacky (through the belly) or Tex-posed (through the nose) with a 4/0 worm hook.

Northern Pike Interesting Facts

AKA:  American Pike, Common Pike, Great Lakes Pike, Jackfish, Longhead, and Snot Rocket.
They are  ambush predators.
Pike can lie perfectly still for a remarkable period of time.
Northern pike can swim 8-10 miles per hour.
Most pike that weigh more than 18 pounds are female.
Pike do not make nests for their eggs.
Neither the male nor the female pike care for the eggs once they are laid.
The majority of the fry do not hatch successfully.
The “fries” continue to attach onto vegetation because of a sticky patch still on their head.
This patch remains there for a couple of weeks.
The oldest pike in its natural habitat lived to be 25 years old.
The pike is not a picky eater.
Adult pike typically have no other predators than humans.

World Record Northern Pike: West Germany weighing in at 55lb 1oz in October of 1986