by Rick Lawrence -
If you’re like most Pike fisherman you either switch to ice fishing with dead bait or give up all together when the weather starts turning cold, but I’m going to tell you how to catch some big Pike all winter long fishing from the comfort of your boat using only lures.
I’ve had days where my partner and I landed over a dozen fish, so it can be very productive. I just pick a somewhat warmer day above freezing, so the ice doesn’t clog up the guides on the rod and a portable heater helps keep the hands warm. The key to winter pike fishing is finding the right open water to fish. I have many places here in N. Idaho that either rarely or never freeze over. Some of them are on lakes and some on the river which is always fishable.
In lakes you need it find deep water weed lines (Cabbage or Kelp looking weeds that grow up from deep water where the water are best) Weed lines that come up from say 20 feet or more to a shallow flat and there is a hard edge of weeds in the 8 to 14 ft depth into open deeper water. So look for shallow weeds on one side of the boat and deep water on the other. The edge of this weed line is where the Pike love to be and where Pike will live all winter long.
I make long casts parallel to the weed line out in the deeper water maybe 2 feet of so off the weeds. They will hang along these pathways year after year, so when you find a good spot mark it on your map. Some rivers are a little tougher to find where the Pike like to winter, but once you do you can go back to that same spot the next year and find them there again as well.
In most river systems you want to look for an open water cove off the main channel that is 10 to 15 feet deep if the water is stained with deeper water nearby some back eddies are great winter Pike waters and a small amount of current is ok as long as the cove has weeds on the bottom and deeper water nearby. In my local River there is a spot that is not more than 400 feet long and 100 feet wide that all the Pike in the river system for miles around winter at. There are hundreds of Pike stacked up like cord wood in a very small area, so there are always some Pike that are willing to take a properly presented bait.
Here is one that my fishing partner (Mark Carrico of Hayden Lake) got, it fell to a Perch colored S-Waver on the 8th of Jan. last year.
In winter Pike fishing I catch almost 100% of my fish on lifelike minnow type swimbaits of some kind, whether they are hard or soft. The key to catching wintertime Pike is how you work the bait. 99% of all pike take the bait in the winter when it’s stilling still after it has been popped. So I can’t stress enough you need to work the bait slowly with as many pauses as you or the bait your fishing can stand. My favorite baits for catching ice cold Northern’s are the River 2 Sea S-Waver in either the 4 ½“or the 6 ¾” version. Some of my other fav’s are the Basstrix paddle tail soft swimbaits in the 5” or 6”. Some of the other companies soft paddle tails could work, but I have great faith in the Basstrix Paddle tails and have caught more Pike on them than any other lure.
The Rapala Husky Jerk and the Original floating minnow in large sizes over 5” long. I use suspend dots on the floaters to weight them to near neutral buoyancy The best baits are ones that will dive to about 4 to 6 feet and suspend there when you pause the bait. That is the key to catching winter time pike is a very slow moving realistic looking bait that suspends horizontally in one place, like a real fish would. Not all the baits I’ve talked about here will suspend. The S-Wavers are a slow sinking bait, so with them I keep the bait moving very slowly with a high rod tip once the bait is down 6 feet or so with only a brief pause every few feet of retrieve. Same goes for the Soft paddle tail swimbaits. If you pause them to long you get down in the weeds and you won’t catch any fish dragging weeds behind your bait. So you need to reel them just fast enough to keep them off the bottom. Here are some of my favorite winter baits. A hand painted Perch colored S-Waver.
A Basstrix swimbait rigged with a gamma weighted EWG hook and with my treble stinger hook setup. The other setup is a spinnerbait trailer hook made by Eagle claw for a weedless stinger hook. Note that with the treble hook it’s rigged with a snap on the top of the bait and the trailer hook is directly on the weighted hook but on the bottom with the hook eye pointing up. This rigged this way it’s totally weedless and does not hurt the action of the bait. I use a stinger hook of one kind or the other 100% of the time Pike fishing winter or summer.
My other favorite bait is a large Rapala floating bait in perch color with just enough suspend lead dots glued to it will slow raise in a horizontal position. Notice I add Flashabuo to the tail hook on most all my baits. What ever bait you use you need to match the foreage fish in the body of water you are fishing. For use here in N. Idaho that’s the Yellow Perch but for you it might be a shad or some other bait fish.
One more thing I want to cover it the tackle I use in winter. I like a nice long rod like a 8 or 8’ 6” baitcasting rod in a med heavy or heavy action mated up with a quality casting reel. I use all Shimano Curado’s both some older ones and some newer. All my reels are the super free spool system though that make long casts a breeze. I spool all my reels with 30 lb Suffix braid and I only use 80 or 100 lb Fluorocarbon leaders. I NEVER use a steel leader, as they tend to drag the front of the bait down and you get less strikes with the wire. So far I’ve only had one fish that bit off my 80 pound fluoro and it was the biggest fish I’ve ever had on. It was in the 52” plus range and probably 45 lbs. or more. That’s when I started using 100 lb. fluorocarbon. I tie about 3 feet of the fluoro on with a somewhat new and difficult to tie knot but I’ve never had it break. I just uploaded to YouTube on how to tie the world’s strongest and smallest braid to leader knot. It has many names the GT knot, the FG knot, the Sebile knot and the Chinese finger trap knot. I call it the Chinese finger trap knot, but any name it a super knot that you all need to learn. (SEE VIDEO BELOW)
Here is a first ever pike that David Child (a trout fishing guide friend from Yakima, Washington) got with me a couple winters ago. It was on a S-waver as well, It was his second trip with me for Pike, as he got skunked on his first trip but landed this nice 12 lb. fish the next time.
Not a bad first time Pike for sure and it was caught in some cold water. So get out there and find some big ol’ toothy critters of your own this winter.
Video: How to tie the worlds strongest and smallest braid to leader knot without any tools needed by Rick Lawrence