A Primer on Pike—Lures and Tactics for Catching Northern Pike

No fish in freshwater can match the ferocity and gluttonous feeding habits of the great northern pike. There is plenty of good pike fishing in the U.S., but often the most spectacular fishing comes on Canada’s remote lakes.  If you’re planning a fishing trip to a northern U.S. or Canadian fishing lodge, or want to take advantage of local waters you’ve neglected that hold pike populations, here’s how to get started on catching this voracious wolf in a fish’s clothing.

pike 4B
Northern Pike have wide jaw and backward-angling teeth give them a hostile look.

Pike fish are savage predators. Every year they eat untold numbers of baitfish, plus walleyes, bass, panfish, other pike, voles, muskrats, frogs, snakes, squirrels, and thousands of ducklings. Their baleful eyes, wide jaws, and backward-angling teeth give them a malevolent look that well suits their rapacious appetites.

Be Ready for the Northern Pike’s Mood – Carry an Assortment of Lures

At times pike roam in loose packs, tracking schools of baitfish and crashing into them. In other situations they become loners, hiding out by themselves against a weed bed or log, using the cover to hide behind and attack unwary smaller fish or large aggressive lures that swim by. This forceful strike occurs with a stabbing motion so quick it’s hard for the naked eye to follow.

That’s the aggressive pike. At other times, though, pike can display a more laid-back, lazy side. They will resolutely ignore loud, garish lures when they are in this frame of mind, quietly inhaling more subdued offerings presented carefully and slowly by anglers.

1 arrow pointExtra Tip: Seldom is there an in-between with pike. They seem to be in either their aggressive mind-set or their shy reclusive one. To be ready for both sides of this split personality, carry an assortment of fishing lures that can be worked fast, bold, and loud. But also stock baits that will slip and slither through weeds or above bottom rubble in a lake or river with less accentuated movements. In a few cases, the same lure can be fished in either manner to fit the northern pike’s “mood of the day.”

Lures that Appeal to Northern Pike in Any Mood

A metal fishing spoon is an excellent example of a lure that can appeal to both of these moods of the northern pike. Cast out a large, heavy wobbler such as the ones made by Eppinger, like the angler favorite Eppinger Original Daredevle Spoon or Luhr-Jensen, Johnson, Blue Fox, Bass Pro, and Acme. Then reel it back with a fast, steady retrieve or violent three-foot rips of the rod.

This is a great presentation for the biggest, most aggressive pike, often found in remote lakes in Canada or large impoundments in the U.S.

The same fishing spoon in smaller scaled-down sizes can be worked slower and deeper with a gentle, low-key, seductive wobble. This will fool skittish or indifferent fish.

1 arrow pointExtra Tip: A small plastic twister tail often helps with this slower approach, allowing the spoon to drop more slowly.

A third approach for fishing spoons is to drift over points, dropoffs, submerged trees, humps and vegetation while vertically jigging. Work the lure with sharp 18-36 inch lifts of the rod, then lower it down just fast enough that it falls freely but no slack forms in the line.

1 arrow pointExtra Tip: Slab type fishing spoons like the Bomber Slab Spoon work best for this approach, rather than the curved-body type of spoons used for casting and retrieving. Good weights are usually ¾-1 ½ ounces, with silver and gold top colors.

Spinnerbaits Adapt to a Northern Pikes Moods

These versatile lures can also be fished with either aggressive or low-key deliveries. The first method involves ripping these lures back so, they break the surface and sputter on top. This often draws savage, jarring strikes.

1 arrow pointExtra Tip: Sometimes it pays to keep the retrieve fast, but slow down just a bit so the lure V-wakes just under the surface. That can drive pike crazy. You may not see the strike with this retrieve. Instead, you’ll just feel a sudden heavy weight and a lunging fish throbbing on the line.

The alternative, laid-back approach for a spinnerbait is often best after a cold front or in late fall or winter. Cast to a point, deep dropoff, or hump and let the lure free fall. Watch your fishing line carefully and be ready to strike fast before the fish drops the bait.

1 arrow pointExtra Tip: If no strike comes on the drop, crank it back slowly and quietly just above bottom structure.

Thin-Minnow Lures Are a Favorite of Picky Pike

Jerkbaits, minnow plugs, call them what you will, these thin, long imitations of baitfish are deadly on northern pike. Work lures such as the Rapala Floating Minnow, Rebel Minnow, Bass Pro Shops XTS Minnow, Bomber Long A, Storm Thunderstick, and Smithwick Rogue on top with sharp 1-2 foot jerks of the rod tip. If that doesn’t produce, try twitching more softly, so the fishing lure stays around structure or over weedy shallow areas for a more extended period.

1 arrow pointExtra Tip: Floating models work best in the shallows. For fish hanging out deeper and sulking, choose suspending models of these lures. That way, you can keep them in the strike zone longer and tease lethargic fish into action with subtle twitches.

When Northern Pike Are Aggressive – Reach for a Buzzbait

It would be hard to picture a more exciting strike than a northern pike slamming a buzzbait. Use these for fish when they’re in an forceful frame of mind. Rip them through weeds and over logjams in shallow areas and near cover.

1 arrow pointExtra Tip: If you plan to release most of your northern pike, consider bending down the barb on the hook for less stress unhooking the quarry.

Best Baits for Northern Pike – Blade Lures

If you find pike in a really persnickety mood, consider fishing baits that are subtle stamped-out pieces of metal in the shape of a shad like the SteelShad Elite Series Tin Blade Bait. Cast out and watch the line for strikes as the offering descends. Once it hits bottom, reel back with a slow pump-and-drop retrieve.

1 arrow pointExtra Tip: Expect most strikes on the initial descent of the lure. If none comes then, the next likely time is as the lure flutters down after you pump it and let it freefall.

No one would want to devote all their angling efforts to the unpredictable northern pike. But for a change of pace, or when you visit the northern U.S. or Canadian lakes where they abound, this lanky green aquatic predator can offer many exciting hours on the water.

Give northern pike fishing a try with these lures, and tactics and I think you’ll agree.

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