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Northern Pike: Underappreciated Predators or Overrated Lure Snatchers?

Northern Pike: Underappreciated Predators or Overrated Lure Snatchers?

Northern Pike fishing is popular in Europe and Russia, and continues to grow in popularity in North America. This popularity is due in large part to their trophy size potential, strong fight, and great taste. These toothy monsters are often simply known as “pike” or “northern.” With green backs/yellowish white bellies, long powerful bodies, and sharp inwards pointed teeth, pike are ferocious predators known for their aggressiveness. These fish can move at very high speeds to ambush prey, making them very exciting to fish for when they slam your bait.

Catching northern pike can be a very exciting and rewarding experience. Pike will smash almost any bait you can think of from live/dead baits to a large variety of artificial lures. They are often found in thick vegetation where they can sit nearly unseen and ambush any prey that comes by. Like many other carnivorous fish, pike utilize their lateral line when looking for a meal. This lateral line allows for them to feel vibration through the water and more easily locate their prey.

A nice river pike caught by article author Drew Winterton

Pike Aren't Picky That's Forsure

Many anglers throw baits that produce a lot of vibration such as inline or traditional spinnerbaits. These baits, as well as spoons, also throw a lot of light with their flashy blades and finishes to increase the appeal from the eyes of these predators.

Other baits such as jigs and swimbaits also are great options for pike fishing. In their youth, it is common for pike to feed on small fish and other small prey such as crawfish and frogs. Imitating these small profile baits can be a great way to match what they are familiar with. Pike aren’t afraid to grab big baits either, so throwing a bulky jig can be a great option to match the smaller profile but present a larger meal. The extra weight of a bulky jig also allows it to be fished both shallow and deep. Pair it up with a paddle tail or crawfish to increase the action and give it a natural presentation. Swimbaits are also good on their own as they look very realistic in the water and can be fished fast, slow, or twitched to be erratic. Don’t be afraid to try all sorts of retrieves to figure out what they are looking for.

How To Locate Northern Pike

To find the pike, the most important factor is finding what they will be eating. As predators, pike will move around throughout the seasons to follow the food. Early in the season, look for shallow weed growth next to sudden drops in depth where the pike have a lot of area to move and hunt. Fishing a bladed bait or spoon is great near these spots at this time of year as the sun will produce more flash from the blades in the shallow water around these weeds. As summer heats up, the pike will tend to venture to deeper weeds to be in the cooler oxygen rich water they provide. Now is a good time to switch to those jigs to really work the weedline, or try and retrieve a spoon with a slow flutter over the weeds. When the conditions are right for topwater, this can also be an exciting way to catch a pike. Although there are many options with artificial lures, never discount the use of minnows and leeches as well.

Bulk Up For The Big Ones

If you are new to pike fishing, it might be a good idea to take a look at your gear before heading out. While bass tackle will often work well on its own for pike fishing, it’s important to remember that they grown much bigger and have razor sharp teeth. Fluorocarbon up to 20 pounds paired with medium to medium heavy rods allow you to manage these big fighters and easily handle the bigger baits you might opt to throw. Braid is also a good option when fishing water with less visibility as the line is more hidden. Often times the most important part can be a wire leader (or very heavy mono leader) to avoid being bitten off. When throwing faster moving baits the leader will be very hard to see and will avoid being bitten off.

If you are familiar with pike, you may know it can be difficult to distinguish them from muskellunge, who are closely related. To determine the difference, there are a few distinguishable features to take a look at. The simplest ways to determine whether a fish is a pike vs a musky are their rounded tails and spots that are lighter than their body color. Although many people fish specifically for musky as they are known to be a trophy fish, northern can reach very large sizes as well and are often more easily caught. This makes them a unique and exciting fish to target when hunting for big fish. The current world record northern pike is a whopping 55 pounds, not far behind muskie at 65 pounds.

Boney But Delicious

Many anglers can have a negative attitude towards northern pike. These fish tend to be very slimy and can frustrate a bass angler who gets bitten off. Anglers who have not cleaned or eaten pike may also be leery to make a meal out of a pike. Often people argue that they are hard to clean due to the “Y” bones along their back. Doing research ahead of time can eliminate these worries and bring about a much more positive attitude toward fishing for pike. It is important that they maintain the slime on their bodies as it protects them from potential sickness. When handled correctly, the slime on their bodies will not be an issue to the fisherman and therefore will also help protect the fish. Research on the proper way to clean a pike can provide a way to avoid the bones and collect a lot of meat for a great meal. When you consider this, along with the great fight, northern pike fishing can be some of the best fishing in freshwater.

Updated June 19th, 2019 at 6:24 AM CT