May 24, 2024

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How to Fish for Pike: An Angler’s Guide

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Pike are ultimate freshwater predators and they’re seriously exciting to catch. The initial strike is one of the most aggressive you’ll ever encounter. It’s no secret that anglers quickly become addicted after fishing for Pike for the first time.

Photo courtesy of Res Delta Tours

The techniques vary from large lures to suspended baits. Ultimately, Pike are opportunistic and will eat a large variety of food sources. They aren’t always willing or easy to hook, however. But with some basic tips and an understanding of their behavior, the odds of hooking up a big Pike increase drastically.

Prepare for hard battles, cut lines, and the potential for a fish that can exceed 10 and even 20 pounds in some environments. Some of the world’s largest Pike can even exceed 40 pounds, with some very rare specimens topping the 50-pound mark! 

It’s safe to say you’ll need more than luck on your side when battling these monsters. And that’s why I’m here. By the time you’re done reading this article, you’ll be ready to get out and go Pike fishing – with an increased chance of success.

Characteristics of Pike

First things first, when I’m talking about Pike, I mean the Northern Pike. While Muskies, Pickerels, and a whole range of other fish belong to the Pike family, when anglers mention the name “Pike,” they mean this fish. Pike are often confused with Muskies but they have more of a barred pattern on the sides and have a forked tail compared to a Pike’s straight tail.

A middle-aged man in a baseball cap and waterproof gear holding a large Pike in front of large pine trees on a clear day
Photo courtesy of Kenanow Lodge

If there’s one thing that stands out when it comes to Pike, it’s their razor-sharp teeth. Never place your fingers or hands in their mouths, and always use pliers to remove hooks. Pike have teeth that are designed to grip and shred other fish – and even mammals – as they swallow them.

The fish have a wide mouth and narrow, long body profile. They’re streamlined and extremely quick when ambushing prey. They have a single dorsal fin and are largely green in color with a white belly. Immature Pike – or “hammer handles” – will have barred strips to a degree but mature fish have lighter spotting over their green hue.

Pike can be difficult to cook due to the prominent Y bone. There are methods of removing the bone but they require practice. The meat on Pike is excellent with firm, white flesh, however, so it’s definitely worth getting acquainted with!

Pike Fishing Seasons

Pike are interesting because they feed throughout the entire year. There are times when they are more active and willing to move, however. They can handle cold water well but prefer temperatures in the 60ºF range

A view from below towards an angler in a baseball cap standing on a fishing charter on a lake, holding a large Pike on a clear day
Photo courtesy of All Pro Outdoors – 11 Mile & Spinney Mountain

When the water is colder, you can look to shallow sloughs where they can catch sunlight for warmth. In the spring months, sloughs and backwaters that are sheltered from currents are ideal. They’ll congregate to spawn in these zones during the spring as well. 

As water temperatures rise to more optimal levels, they leave the sheltered areas and distribute along rock shelves, weed beds, and ambush areas throughout rivers and lakes. Hot temperatures can slow the feeding a bit but Pike are active throughout the summer. In far northern climates, optimal conditions might actually not arrive until mid-summer.

Fall is a favorite time to find aggressive Pike as they seek calories before the winter. Some of the most aggressive topwater action can occur as temperatures begin cooling off. When winter arrives, they’re far less active and tend to suspend and move very slowly. Look to fish finders, jigs, and suspended baits to produce when things get really cold.

Fishing Equipment Specific to Pike

You’ll do well with a general rod-and-reel setup for Pike. Terminal tackle is where things become very important. The right lines and leaders are essential for casting various rigs and for preventing break-offs. Most Pike are caught below the surface but they can attack topwater rigs on occasion.

Rod and Reel Options

A closeup of different colored blanks of fishing rods in a store

You want a fairly stout rod to handle the hard pull of a big Pike. You’ll also be casting relatively heavy spoons and lures so take that into consideration as well. The classic Ugly Stik can work well for Pike fishing or you can go for a fast-action rod at the higher end.

Trollers can get the job done with casting rods as you’re often trolling relatively shallow. For deeper trolling, a proper trolling rod set with a down rigger is a good idea.

Line Weight

Line weights vary based on the Pike waters you fish. On the very low end, a 12 lb monofilament or braid is sufficient for small Pike. If there’s a chance at a bigger Pike, go for a 20 lb braid.

There’s always a big difference between catching small Pike from a little lake and chasing monsters in the far north. Think about the waters you fish most often and err on the heavier side. It’s rare that Pike are leader-shy so you’ll appreciate the extra strength when pulling a big one away from weeds and structure.

Leaders are Essential

Your choice of leader is extremely important for Pike fishing. A regular monofilament or fluorocarbon leader might get the job done but it’s risky. Pike have teeth capable of cutting through those materials quickly. Tying a lure or hook directly to a braided line can have the same result. 

Some anglers use a heavy monofilament leader in the 30-pound range but steel leaders are the preferred method of attaching hooks. They’re affordable and come with terminal ends to attach swivels.

You can find some of the best Pike leader material in fly shops. Flexible steel wires with plastic coatings are supple and you can tie regular knots with these leaders. When you want something softer than the traditional steel options, give these a try.

Fly Fishing for Pike

A view across the calm waters of a lake towards a rowing boat, with a woman casting a fly fishing into the water on a clear day
Photo courtesy of River People Guides

There are few species more exciting than Pike on the fly. Fly patterns do an excellent job of imitating bait fish and drawing strikes. When Pike are hot on the fly, it can be non-stop action. You’ll want a minimum of an 8 wt rod with an aggressive weight-forward line. For big water and big fish, consider moving to a 9 or 10 wt rod.

Floating lines are ideal for most situations but the occasional Pike outing will call for a sinking line. Always use steel leaders to prevent break-offs while fly fishing for Pike. A reel with a quality drag system makes a big impact on success because you can slow fish down when they run for cover.

How to Catch Pike: Fishing Techniques

There are plenty of ways to approach Pike fishing. You can run around in boats, catch them from shore, and do well using any number of tactics. The water temperatures and seasons often play a role in success with any given technique. Experiment when you can and take advantage of these following tips…

Casting Lures

This method is simple and deadly for Pike. Casting is nice because you can work structure and be very specific about where your lure lands. It’s one of the most common and effective means of catching these fish and there are tons of options for lures.

If I had to choose one lure for all occasions, it’d be a spoon. Try gold, silver, and different combinations of chartreuse, pink, red, etc. Spoons have great action and they can catch just about any species out there. This also makes them ideal for searching Pike waters when other species might attach.

An assortment of colorful spoon lures for river fishing laid out on a stump of a tree

The same concept as spoons applies for spinners, with a little extra action from the spinning blade. Spinners have a great profile in the water and you can find models with hair tails that Pike seem to like. The trailing hook is also nice for short strikes.

When you want more erratic action, look to crankbaits. The color combinations can imitate everything from shad to brown trout. The ability to cover a variety of water depths while controlling the speed really makes for a deadly presentation. Some massive Pike have been caught on crankbaits.

More elongated than crankbaits, jerkbaits, plugs, and pencil lures serve the same purpose. The longer lures offer a larger looking meal and the wobble action is fantastic. You can find models to fish on the surface or subsurface.

And finally, there’s never a bad time to fish soft plastic lures. You can choose a realistic minnow to retrieve, a frog for the surface, or suspend a big worm. Integrated scents are also effective on many modern plastic lures.

Baited Hooks

When Pike are hugging the bottom or tucking under ledges, drop a baited hook and wait them out. A classic nightcrawler can work but you can go bigger with full minnows or cut bait. Cutting suckers is one great method of attracting a big Pike off the bottom. In some places, you might even choose a live sucker to troll slowly or fish on a weighted hook.

Jig Fishing

A closeup of a black buzzbait being held by an open hand

One of the best times to fish jigs is during the winter. They can work throughout the entire year as well. When Pike are suspended in cold water, dropping a baited jig, hair jig, or soft plastic jig at the right depth is a great tactic.

Trolling

When you need to cover ground, try trolling to find the hot spots. The edges of deep weed beds and drop-offs can produce very well. Pike gravitate towards structure and ambush areas so keep that in mind. Getting the depth right is really important when trolling for Pike.

Fly Fishing

A man in sunglasses and a khaki waistcoat, holding a Pike aboard a fishing boat on a lake, with a fly fishing rod around his neck on a cloudy day
Photo courtesy of Grizzly Creek Lodge

Flies are a great way to target Pike throughout the year. Look to patterns like bunny flies to create action and draw big strikes. Chip’s Northern Magic is another great fly because it’s light to cast but has a big profile in the water. If the topwater bite is hot, try a popper pattern as well.

Where can you find Pike?

The distribution for Pike is impressive. You’ll find them across the globe with populations ranging from extremely remote environments to densely populated ones. The opportunities to target this species are abundant to say the least. Here’s a quick guide to some hotspots.

United States

A view along the Lake Michigan shoreline towards the Chicago skyline on a sunny day, with Lake Michigan's clear blue waters on the left of the image on a sunny day

There are a ton of Pike fisheries in the US, and they seem to be ever-expanding. Alaska is loaded with lakes that have great fishing but you don’t need to travel beyond the lower 48 for big fish either. The upper Midwest is notorious for its rich Pike culture and big lakes. Look to states like Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan for world-class fishing.

There are growing populations in the west as well. Look to states like Colorado, New Mexico, and Montana for surprisingly great fishing. Many anglers don’t even target the species as they are overshadowed by Trout in many of these regions. But I think that’s a mistake!

Canada

Pike are often called “Northerns” in Canada, and the country is home to some of the best fishing in the world. Ontario and Saskatchewan are two big regions with seemingly limitless lakes to pursue. You can find fly-in lodges or do a DIY trip. Some of the largest specimens in the world swim around Canadian waters.

Europe

A red house next to a flag of Sweden both posing on the land on the verge of the lake during a brigh and sunny day

Eastern Europe, England, Ireland, and a good chunk of the old continent is home to Pike. They’re called Esox in these areas and you’ll find amazing places with seriously big fish. Sweden is well-known for size but you can find big ones across Europe. In fact, they’re often larger than those in North America as much of Europe has ideal growing conditions!

Are you ready for a Pike fishing trip?

A woman in a baseball cap and gillet standing on a fishing charter in front of some trees on a clear day and holding a large Pike
Photo courtesy of Kenanow Lodge

There’s only one way to catch a Pike and that’s to hit the water! Being a species with year-round potential, you can grab a few lures and get busy anytime. Pick a body of water, look for structure and Pike hiding places, and start casting. The beauty of Pike fishing is the simplicity combined with the potential for a screaming drag and monster of a fish. Tight lines!

Are you a regular Pike angler? What do you love most about targeting this species? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

The post How to Go Pike Fishing: An Angler’s Guide appeared first on FishingBooker Blog.

By: Zach Lazzari
Title: How to Go Pike Fishing: An Angler’s Guide
Sourced From: fishingbooker.com/blog/pike-fishing/
Published Date: Wed, 04 Oct 2023 14:32:01 +0000

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