By Jay Bryce
Pike are popular quarry of ice fishermen. Though they are primarily pursued with tip ups, baited with live minnows or suckers, they can be taken with rod and reel, either jigging or fishing with bait.
Most fishermen use a fairly large hook, such as a No. 1 or No. 2 short shanked single hook or a No. 1 or No. 1/0 treble attached to a steel leader one to three feet long. The steel leader keeps the northern’s formidable teeth from cutting the line.
Tip-ups are the nearly unanimous choice among pike fishermen. Tip-ups rigged so the fish can run with the bait work well during the ice fishing season. They usually fill their spools with heavy braided line in the 20 to 50 pound test range just in case they tie into one of the lunkers they dream about.
The best bait is a lively chub or large shiner hooked beneath the dorsal fin or a bluegill of about four inches. In some waters where live bait is prohibited, a piece of red meat, a dead minnow or a piece of smelt is used.
Most pike fishermen have the best success by keeping their bait about one foot off the bottom. Fish shallow bays with large live minnows on a tip-up in four to 12 feet of water. It is common in northern lakes to have baitfish or panfish that were in poor condition die during the winter and sink to the bottom. It seems that northern pike have adapted to utilizing these food sources. Therefore, using dead shiners or suckers fished on the bottom is also an effective method of catching pike during the winter.
On occasion, pike prowl just beneath the ice, and it is a good idea to set one or two lines to hold the bait about three feet below the ice. If the deep rigs have been unproductive all day, give the shallow setting a try on all tip-ups.
Selecting the spot to ice fish northern pike takes some thought. You don’t want to just head out and start punching or chopping holes in the ice. At early ice, concentrate on areas where summer and fall weed lines were prevalent. The pike should still be in the area. Strategically cut your holes along the edge of weed lines where pike are known to strike.
Weeds are one of the best spots to ice fish for northern pike, though make sure the weeds are not so thick that pike will not be able to see your lure. Various structures can hold winter pike, too, including drop-offs, the edges of reefs and humps, and points.
When a novice sees the flag on a tip-up spring up, the natural first reaction is to run to the hole and haul back on the line as quickly as possible. But experience has taught veteran anglers that is a sure way to lose a fish. Like most other fish, northerns do not chew their food; they try and turn it headfirst into their throat, and then swallow it whole. When a pike first grabs a bait, it swims off with it a short distance. At that point the fish doesn’t always have the bait completely in its mouth and any attempt to set the hook may jerk it free. When the fish begins its second run, set the hook with a firm jerk.
Note: if you fish anywhere in the vicinity of incoming creeks or any other current areas, be especially careful at any stage of the ice season. This is especially true at late ice, when the conditions can appear safe when they’re not. Use common sense, and never fish alone.