Ice fishing can offer many different experiences depending on what kind of fish you want to catch. One type of fish you can target when ice fishing that will make for a very fun day is the pike, which is more accurately called the northern pike. Pike are not hard to figure out, and they bite anytime the sun is up. To maximize your effectiveness in catching pike, follow these 21 tips.
1. Use Big Lures
Pike are not picky eaters. They do want their meals to be sizable, though. That’s why you should forego the subtle approach when it comes to lures and use something big. That way, the pike will think there is a feast right in front of them.
Maybe pike are just being efficient in this regard. Why chase down several small meals when they could wait for a big one and get filled up all at once? It makes a lot of sense. Some humans prefer the same approach.
Getting fish to bite is always a matter of giving them things that appeal to them, so it’s fortunate that the only thing to remember with pike is to make your bait large. They don’t want sad, tiny fish. Offer something big.
2. Go Where the Vegetation Is
As you know, animals, including fish, employ different hunting strategies. Some like to chase down their prey at high speeds, while others lie hidden until the right moment. Pike prefer the latter of those two approaches.
You should look near areas where there is much vegetation. But do not expect pike to be in the vegetation. They’ll be near it.
Swimming among thick clumps of weeds may seem like a good strategy to blend in. It’s not what pike like, though, with the exception of young pike who hide there to prevent getting eaten by, strangely enough, bigger pike (as I said, pike are not very picky about their food).
Instead, pike will wait on the edge of heavily vegetated areas. Smaller fish will come through frequently, and they will strike.
What pike need are spots to blend in so they can strike when food gets close. They consider sitting right next to a weeded area to be a good way to do this. Their scales are colored to blend in quite nicely with the vegetation.
Imagine being a little fish about to exit a forest of weeds when, seemingly out of nowhere, a pike eats you. It’s not a pleasant thought, but you can see how it’s an effective hunting strategy.
Additionally, pike will hide by submerged trees or behind rock piles.
Pike are ambushers. Any place where food will unsuspectingly wander into their easy reach is a wonderful spot for them to sit. All you have to do once you’ve identified such a place is present something that looks vaguely like food.
3. Look in Shallow Areas
Particularly in the early winter, it’s an excellent idea to look for pike in the more shallow parts of the lake. After all, there’s more vegetation in shallow areas, and pike like to feast near those areas.
Also, while shallow areas aren’t as effective in midwinter, pike go back to shallow water in the late winter to get ready for the upcoming spring spawn where they will feast on perch and similar fish.
You’ll be surprised at the shallowness of the water pike are willing to occupy at this time of the season. I mean that there may be only a foot of water between the ice and the floor, and pike could still hang out there.
As usual with fish, finding out where pike are is mainly a matter of understanding their feeding preferences. In early winter, various life is still floating around in shallow areas, so there is plenty of food.
Later, there is a need for pike to go a bit deeper, though many will still swim towards the surface of the water. One possible reason for this is that oxygen supplies are better closer to the surface. You should put holes further towards the center of the lake, but try all parts of the water column.
And at the end of winter, as I said, they will go to shallow waters once again, sensing the upcoming spring. Be sure to adjust your fishing based on what period of winter you’re in.
4. Don’t Scare the Shallow Fish
If you’re going to target the shallow-water fish, there are some downsides you will have to work with. These fish will get spooked pretty easily. You’ll certainly want to avoid using loud gasoline-engine augers, then, but even a manual auger will freak these fish out a bit.
You can’t avoid cutting a hole if you want to actually catch fish, but don’t worry. All you need to do is just relax and leave the fish be for a while, giving them time to calm down. After you cut a hole, take a break for up to half an hour.
Actually, if you’re going to cut multiple holes, you should cut them all as the first thing you do. Then, take a relaxing break. It wouldn’t make sense to cut just one hole then take a break because then you wouldn’t be able to cut anymore without having to take more breaks.
Not only will the sound of drilling a hole scare pike, but your movement might too. They could see your shadow and decide to keep away. If there’s snow on the ice, this won’t be a problem. Otherwise, you’ll want to keep a bit of extra distance between you and the hole.
An easy way to get around this issue is to simply use tip-ups and sit a good bit of distance away. No movement, no shadow. Pike won’t suspect a thing. Once a flag goes up, just go pull up your line.
Shallow waters are often full of pike, so it’s a bit inconvenient that there are extra complications when taking advantage of this fact, but it’s worth adjusting your strategy if it means catching more fish.
5. Use Sound
While pike like to stay put if they can, they will travel if they have a good reason to do so. You can attract large pike from many yards away by using a rattle lure.
As you can imagine, a rattle lure makes a lot of noise. It is designed to do so as it moves around in the water.
Pike certainly can get curious. If they hear a weird noise, they may choose to travel in the direction of that noise to check it out. Sound travels farther than you might think, so you can get pike from hundreds of feet away to come over.
Why pike, who can be territorial, are so willing to investigate weird noises is a bit of a mystery to me. It’s what they do, though, so regardless of how well we understand the reasons for it, we should take advantage of it.
By the way, you will likely find rattle lures anywhere lures are sold, or online. Such as this option from Amazon.
6. Don’t Worry About Smell
Pike hunt using their sense of sight, and sound can attract them as well. Unlike some other fish, though, scents have no effect on them. They don’t hunt by smell.
This means that strategies like throwing pieces of live bait in the water are not particularly useful for pike. Doing things like that could appeal to their sense of vision, of course, but there are other ways to do so without using live bait.
The pike’s indifference to scent might be correlated to how willing it is to eat all sorts of kinds of food. A smell can let you know whether a dish is appetizing or not before you taste it. Pike don’t seem to care about flavor, but even if they did, they would have to put food in their mouth to find out how it tastes.
It’s always good to eliminate ineffective strategies in addition to knowing useful strategies. So, if your strategy relies on the assumption that pike will be attracted by a scent, ditch it because that assumption is incorrect.
7. Don’t Fish At Night
Don’t bother fishing at night if you want pike. Most people do not want to ice fish at nighttime, to begin with, so this is a rather easy tip to follow. Ice fishing at night is a fairly productive way to catch plenty of fish and is useful for people who don’t have a lot of spare time, but you won’t catch any pike doing it.
Pike rely primarily on sight to find food. In the darkness, needless to say, they have trouble. So, they rest at night. Pike essentially make up for it by being active during more daytime hours than many other fish.
So, while you can’t take advantage of the extra free hours that nighttime offers, you can’t go wrong fishing for pike in the day. I’m certainly not against ice fishing at night if you want to look for other fish, though. It’s simply probably not going to land you pike.
8. Use Tip-Ups
Tip-ups are a viable option for catching many types of fish, but they are especially useful for catching pike.
The first reason for this is that pike are not all that picky when it comes to food. They are hunters, but they are also scavengers. They don’t need something to be alive to eat it. A tip-up, which usually suspends bait still underwater, does everything we need, then.
Given the pike’s indifference to their food being living or dead, it is not essential for you to jig. It is still an effective tactic, of course. Most tip-ups, though, don’t operate jigs, unless they utilize wind or batteries to do so. This is a disadvantage of using tip-ups, generally speaking, but not with pike.
So, you can really use either jigs or tip-ups with bait for pike.
Tip-ups can be deadly against pike. You will find this especially true if you are able to place live bait on your tip-up (live bait is sometimes restricted by law). Use a baitfish over five inches, and pike will eagerly bite. Pike are not picky taste-wise, but they want their meals to be sizable.
There is another advantage to tip-ups unique to hunting pike. Pike who are swimming near the surface can get easily scared by movement. Just your shadow moving is enough to get them swimming off. With tip-ups, you can stand far-off, eliminating any chance of spooking these fish.
When one bites, the tip-up flag will go up, letting you know it’s time to bring a hooked fish to the surface.
Tip-ups and jigging are both effective against pike, but if the law allows you multiple lines in the water, you don’t need to choose one or the other. You can jig with a rod in one hole and have a tip-up or multiple tip-ups in other holes. This is a fantastic way to cover more ground and will help you to identify spots where large numbers of fish are gathered.
9. Use Large Spoon Lures
Spoon lures are really cool because they flutter around wildly and reflect light in all directions. I often advise using them, and I repeat that advice again here. In this case, I add the recommendation that the spoon lures ought to be large.
As I explained previously, the only requirement for a lure or bait when it comes to pike is that it be fairly large. Pike don’t want to eat tiny fish. They don’t care what kind of fish it is, really; they just want it to be somewhat big.
A spoon lure will get the attention of pike from a fairly long distance away, but it won’t hold their interest if it’s too small.
Spoon lures will prove most effective at attracting pike as they descend, fluttering. The lure will reflect light all over the place, not unlike a disco ball, though much more erratically than that. Fish are used to things falling from the top of the water, too. Don’t be surprised if a pike takes a bite before you’ve even lowered your line as far as you were planning to.
You will definitely want to get some spoon lures, both for pike and other fish. These lures are not the same as regular spoons you use to eat oatmeal, of course, but are fishing lures with a similar shape (just without the handle part). They really are effective and are very popular as a result.
10. Don’t Rush When You’ve Hooked One
This is a unique aspect of pike behavior that is essential to understand. The bottom line for you is that when a pike bites, you need to wait for quite a while before you start pulling it in.
Pike usually stay in place after they take the bait. After holding the baitfish inside their mouths, they slowly swim away, but they don’t swallow yet. First, they turn the baitfish. You need to wait for the pike to stop swimming. Then, count 10 seconds, and carefully tighten the line to see if the pike is still there. If it is, it’s time for a big tug to get that fish hooked, sure and secure. The fish is going to dart once it feels that, so be prepared.
This is an unusual behavior among fish, but it’s how pike like to eat. The reason for it is unknown to me, but as long as you account for it in your fishing, you won’t have any trouble bringing in pike.
After all, all it requires is patience. Up to that point, everything you’ve done to attract a pike has been successful, so don’t mess it up by reeling in your line too quickly.
Of course, fishing with a tip-up placed a bit of distance away from you means that by the time you arrive to pull up your line, the pike is likely already stuck, so it’s nice to not have to think about how long to wait.
11. Look In High Waters In Late Winter
One interesting thing about pike is that they sometimes like to swim near the surface of the water, regardless of how much depth is below them.
The reason for this could simply be that by late winter, oxygen supplies deep underwater are getting far too low for a lot of the life that might otherwise spend time down there. Therefore, both pike and the fish they eat need to be closer to the surface.
So, you need to try placing your line at different depths. Pike may be spread throughout different parts of the water column, so it’s useful to experiment and see if one depth gets more results than another.
There is a temptation to rule out the top part of the water, maybe because it doesn’t seem like the ideal hunting ground for pike, but do not rule it out. Give it a try. If it doesn’t work, just move on.
Of course, as I’ve said, shallow waters are good places to try as well, and the question of “which depth?” is not applicable there.
12. Use High Pound-Test Line
Pike are tough, big, and have sharp teeth. You need a fishing line that can handle them.
Not all your lines need to be this strong, but it’s good to have a 50 pound-test line as a “main” line so you’ll be ready for any massive pike that may be beneath the ice. If you’re lucky enough to find one, you’ll be glad you brought such strong line.
Putting that super-tough line aside, any line over 30 pound-test will be able to withstand the sharp bite of these fish.
Also, thicker line is easier to handle in the cold.
While on the subject of line, I will give a little bit of advice for when you’re using tip-ups. Braided line can be kind of tough on your hands when you’re pulling it out of the water with a fish in tow. So, it’s not a bad idea to use a different type of line for tip-ups.
13. Go Near Incoming Creeks
Here’s another tip regarding where to look for pike. If you can locate the creek or river that’s flowing into the lake, that area could make for a pike hotspot.
Make sure that you’re not looking at a river that’s floating out of the lake because that won’t help you. Determine which is which.
While probably not my first choice, the area near an incoming creek or river can be quite productive. The current there can result in a higher concentration of fish compared to open water.
Utilize maps to figure out where such an area would be. You could probably figure it out through sight alone, but that would take longer. Maps will save you time.
14. Search at Large Structures
Underwater structures tend to be great feeding areas for many types of fish. I am talking about areas where the floor rises higher than the surrounding area. Any feature like that where it’s not just a gentle slope or flat ground is going to be a superior feeding area.
A change in the shape of land causes fish to have to readjust their course. Doing so slows them down. For an ambusher like the pike, being able to catch a baitfish off-guard and a bit confused is ideal.
Such areas also tend to have crowds, so there’s ample feeding for however many pike are present.
Utilize a detailed contour map of the lake or a fish finder to identify large structures. When you see weird changes in elevation in the middle of the lake, that’s where you want to go.
Of course, there are specific kinds of structures, such as the breakline I mention further below. You will learn what they are as you gain more fishing experience.
15. Use a Leader
A leader is an extra bit of fishing line you attach to the bottom of the rest of your line. It will go in the water first, which is why it’s called the leader.
Using a leader will give you a huge tactical advantage by better hiding your fishing line. If I’m a fish and there’s a lure in front of me, I might be really interested in it, but when I see a weird line above it, I may find that highly suspicious.
A leader, though, is thin so that it’s practically invisible to fish. That way, all they see is whatever lure or bait you have.
You want to eliminate the appearance of artificiality as much as possible, and a leader is a good way to do that.
Also, leaders prevent sharp-toothed fish from breaking your line, which is good because pike have sharp teeth.
16. Go Where Panfish Are
A consistent pattern to follow when fishing is to go where the fishes’ food is. Some panfish (called as such because they can fit into a frying pan) are small enough to be food for pike. So, if you know where panfish are, definitely go there, and you’ll catch pike, too.
Some examples of panfish are crappie, bluegill, and perch.
Want advice on finding them? I wrote an article with tips on catching perch, so reading it could help you find pike, too.
17. Put a Tube Jig on a Jig Head
This is an odd, very specific bit of advice. Get a large tube jig. This is something you would normally use for bass. You will also need a large jig head. What you do is put the tube jig onto the large jig head. This is an amazing combo you can use to catch pike.
You should put this combo right next to a weed bed. When a pike sees it, they will think it’s a minnow darting away from their safe zone, and they will strike. The pike has been bamboozled.
Sometimes it’s the unusual combos you wouldn’t think of that get the best results, isn’t it? Aren’t you glad you chose to research this subject?
18. Locate Sharp Breaklines
The term breakline refers to a place where there is a sudden increase or decrease of depth. Such areas can cause fish traffic jams.
If you think about traffic jams on our roads, often they occur simply because a curve in the road caused drivers to slow down, and due to a large number of cars on the road at the time, the slowdown has a far-reaching ripple effect.
So, if perch come across a breakline, they are not going to react like skilled athletes and maintain full speed. It’s going to slow them down. That makes the area a great place to drop a line.
Breaklines are easy to identify on a map, so as long as you can find a map, you will have no trouble finding a breakline. Maps are frequently available online, so it’s useful to search the web for information on the place you are planning to visit. If you find a map, just look for sharp changes in depth underwater.
Once you find one, try drilling a hole there.
19. Jig Like Crazy
Once again we see the results of two characteristics of pike: one, that they hunt by sight, and two, that they are not picky eaters.
While subtle jigging is needed to catch many fish species, that is not the case with pike. You will probably want to go crazy with that jig. By doing so, you can attract them from far across the lake, or at least as far as they can see.
Other fish might be deterred by the strangeness of what they see upon closer inspection, but it shouldn’t be a problem with pike, who will eat anything big. So, don’t worry too much about slowing down.
20. Learn From an Underwater Camera
If you can afford an underwater camera, it will really come in handy for fishing pike and all other species.
By using one, you can see what the pike are thinking. If they’re not taking your bait, you can start to figure out why. If they are not even coming close, you can infer that you have not picked a great spot.
It’s hard to hunt what you can’t see, and while doing so has in the past been somewhat of a necessity in fishing, it doesn’t need to be anymore. You can learn from what you see and greatly increase your fishing effectiveness.
21. Get Info On the Lake Before Going
Did you know that there are websites, often run by governments, that will give you information on what species are in a lake, how deep the lake is, etc.? It’s true. If you’re going to search for pike, you had better make sure you pick a lake where pike are actually common.
Plus, you can often find contour maps on such websites, too, which are essential for locating the underwater structures I have discussed.
Aside from the Internet, if you can find any local fishing experts to talk to, they will probably have excellent advice as well. Maybe get multiple opinions. Be as informed as possible.
Research may take time, but it will likely make your fishing greatly more effective than it would be if you started blindly drilling holes. It’s worth the extra effort.
Speaking of research, hopefully, you will find all these tips I have given helpful. Pike are exciting fish to chase and you can have a fun time doing so. Follow these tips and see if they don’t increase the number you catch.