by Eric Moynihan –
Although not a mythical beast, the Northern Pike is a fish that legends are made of. Anyone who has had the pleasure of battling a fish so strong, so mean, baring a mouth full of teeth that can cut any angler’s hand to the bone can attest to why some liken the Pike to some demon fish.
The Northern Pike is a carnivorous creature taking in frogs, mice, ducklings, other Pike and honestly anything that moves. Pike show no fear in pursuing bait larger than itself and like to assert dominance in the food chain. Sometimes referred to as Water Wolves, Pike have an interesting attack style, in most cases catching its prey sideways in the mouth. This method is used to immobilize its prey and then take the meal in head first into to begin the digesting stage.
It’s rumored that during the winter Northern Pike lose their teeth and are less active. Any EZ Angler that’s gone ice fishing in Pike filled lakes can tell you that’s simply not true. According to DNR fish biologist Don Pereira, It’s been found that the Pike may lose teeth in various accidents, but nothing suggests regularly, cycled tooth loss.
It’s just not the sharp teeth that make Pike brutes of the lake, but their mere size can guarantee a good fight. The Northern Pike can grow large – running up to three or four plus feet in length. Rumors of much bigger Pikes reaching up to six feet in length are abound – much like the Yeti, but there has been little evidence they actually exists. Some of the largest recorded Northern Pike include a 55 pounder out of Lake Grefeern, Germany in 1986 and a 46.2 pounder out of Sacandaga, in New York in 1940.
Because of their hunting instincts, the whereabouts of Pike can be influenced by the habitat of their prey. In part, these hunters practically exist in every type of water. They are adaptable creatures able to handle varying water temperatures and clarity. As with any predator, the Pike is all about stalking. It tends to hunt food by waiting along shores in areas with coverage such as lily, weeds, or where shoreline vegetation runs out into the water. In their early years, Pike tend to spend more time in waters 20 feet or less, until reaching a size that allows them to dive deeper for new hunting grounds. Because of their cannibalistic nature, young Pike need places where they can take shelter between plants so they are not eaten by their own. Rich, submersible vegetation is the preferred hunting ground of Pike. And don’t forget to check around rock piles, fallen trees and brush.
During the summer season smaller Pike less than 30 inches or so, prefer water temperatures in the 67- to 72 degree range, while larger Pike prefer cooler temperatures in the mid 50’s. Spawning typically begins shortly after the ice melts.
Because Pike aren’t as selective in menu items as other fish, they can be much easier to catch. However, certain baits and lures, when zeroing in on Pike, can be just the trick to ensure a successful strike.
Even though they are effective hunters, Pike are scavengers by nature. Alive or dead bait presentations such as minnows and smelt work very well. Slowly reeling bait of this nature in Pike filled waters is almost guaranteed to get a strike.
Spoons, ranging 3-4 inches in length also work. Effective colors include silver, multi color silver/green and yellow with red polka dots. It’s best to retrieve spoons slowly with slight breaks in the action to perform a jerk motion that causes an alert.
Spinners, Mepps being our favorite, are also very effective at catching the attention of Pike. The spinning action can result in a healthy strike. Cast past the fish and wait long enough for the ripples to settle. Then lower the rod tip toward the water and begin twitching the line, reeling up all the slack while preparing for a nice strike.
When targeting Pike it’s best to use medium to medium-heavy bait-casting reels and rods with 20 lb. test line. Interesting enough, despite their aggressive behavior, Pike tend to be shy of lines and a fluorocarbon fishing line is best to use. And don’t forget the steel leaders.
Setting the hook and pulling a fighting Pike is only half the fun. Handling Pike creates another part of the challenge. With hundreds of teeth lining their mouth and sharp gill rakers, anglers must be cautious and think through how they are going to handle their catch. Pike will put up a fight until the very end and if it’s not the fish that gets you it’s the thrashing and whaling of these fish that can result in lures burying themselves into your hands. A good pair of needle nose pliers is a must when handling Pike.
The EZ Angler advocated respecting the catch. It’s best if you can leave the Pike partially in the water and then use a pair of pliers to pull the lure out. If you do have to resort to handling them, be careful not to squeeze the Pike. Despite their strength, they have soft bodies and too much pressure can result in internal damages for the fish. We have read advice by some anglers that an easy way to handle Pike is to use their eye sockets as grips. This action in a can cause severe eye damage and potential damage the brain. The last thing we need is blind, severely brain damaged Pike terrorizing the waters. But seriously – respect the fish.
About Eric Moynihan
Eric Moynihan is an amatuer angler and EZ Angler staff contributor. Eric has been fishing all of his life and enjoys targeting every freshwater species he can. Born and raised in Massachusetts, Eric learned to fish at a very young age targeting both trout and bass, but enjoys targeting anything in the water. These days, you will probably find him in the local fishing holes targeting big bass in Florida. Feel free to reach Eric directly at firstname.lastname@example.org with any question or comments.