Fish that don’t budge on the hook set appeal to anglers.
After all, most of us fish because we like to feel something
tugging on the end of the line. Some fish tug harder than
others and one of the hardest tugging fish that we encounter
under the ice are mean, nasty northern pike. Big pike are
about as exciting of a fish you can expect to encounter under
the ice and what’s better, these predators like to eat.
A northern pike’s stomach is its weakness much like
the rut is the weakness of big bucks. This willingness to
eat all winter makes them great fish to target on the ice.
Serious pike fishing requires some beefed up terminal tackle
not to mention a rod and reel capable of handling screeching
runs and brute power. We like thirty to thirty six inch medium
heavy action spinning and bait casting rods paired up with
good reels. These rods might seem a bit on the short side
for powerful fish but being able to stay close enough to the
hole to get rid of the Vexilar transducer and see down the
hole to start the fish is important. We also like to use 14
pound test Fireline for the main line and often tie a six-inch
steel leader above the lure.
First ice and last ice are prime times to find big pike in
shallow water and pike seem to run the gamut as to what kind
of lake environment they will set up shop. We often find good
pike in the back bays, main lake points, offshore rock piles
and anywhere else shallow water meets deep at first ice. Weeds
are always a plus but we catch an awful lot of pike where
there are no weeds as well. From what we can find, most of
the pike we catch aren’t necessarily hiding somewhere
waiting for something to swim by. Pike often seem to pick
an area and cruise and patrol the edges.
That being said, focus your effort on edges. The edge could
be where the bottom of the lake meets ice (we often find pike
in inches of water especially at last ice). Weed lines, drop
offs and changes in bottom are also classic edge spots. Figure
out the general depth pattern that pike are holding and focus
on finding edges. Most of the year, we find most of the pike
in less than twenty feet of water so that eliminates an awful
lot of water on most lakes.
When actively jigging for pike, I and many other anglers
have gotten away from using bait. In fact I have really fallen
in love with plastics. I first used plastics on a lake trout
fishing trip on Whitefish Bay in Ontario. We couldn’t
use bait where we were ice fishing. We fished a lake trout
guru by the name of Rick Wood. Rick had been perfecting a
system of putting giant lake trout on the ice with nothing
more than plastics for years. A pioneer of sorts, Rick’s
tackle box looked like it might have come out of a bass boat.
Rubber tubes, shad bodies, tails, in an assortment of colors
were squeezed into a tub that wasn’t the typical ice
fishing tackle box. Needless to say, we fished with Rick for
about a week in some of the clearest water you could imagine
sight fishing for lake trout.
||The light bulb came on and I couldn’t wait to
try this tactic back home on Devils Lake, North Dakota
and I had the perfect fish in mind, northern pike. I started
adding rubber to large Lindy Walleye Flyers and found
that the squiggly stuff often out fished the real stuff.
In fact, the plastics seemed better because you didn’t
have to worry about your bait falling off and you could
switch sizes and color so easy
. I also started to customize spoons by removing the treble
and adding a large single hook in which I would hook a rubber
body onto the hook at about a forty-five degree angle. This
angled body really had a lot of action in the water and could
really be twitched when a big pike got close. The plastics
also stayed on the hook better when hooked this way as well.
Needless to say, when a big pike slides in like a torpedo
and hits these lures out of pure anger, the end result is
an awful lot of fun. Across much of the upper Midwest, pike
are abundant and often overlooked. You can’t help but
love a fish however that will completely devour a large rubber
salamander or squid, break you off and come back for more.
Yes, pike are a good winter fix. Jigging for large predators
like northern pike is an experience that can leave you shaking.
Tip ups aren’t the only way to tangle with these beasts.
Editors Note: The author, Jason Mitchell is a highly respected
guide on North Dakota's Devils Lake and also operates deluxe
sleeper fish house rentals (701) 351-1890.