Since I live in International Falls, I get to fish Rainly Lake where the northern pike season is continuous. This enabled me to learn more about fishing pike in cold water as I can start fishing as soon as I can get a boat on the water. I love catching big northern pike and the first couple of weeks after ice out are the best. Since pike spawn in shallow, weed and reed filled bays, that is where we look. I prefer large bays that have cattails, submergent weeds and emergents such as bullrushes or pencil reed.
My presentation depends on water temperature. On my boat the temperature probe is on the trolling motor which is about 18 inches below the surface. Since I am usually catching pike in less than five feet of water, even as shallow as one foot — that means the temperature reading is pretty close.
This spring we were on the lake the day after ice out and found water temperatures in one of my favorite bays was already 46 degrees. Remember the bays usually are ice-free before the main lake. I got lucky and my first pike was a 42 incher which I released. We only caught three pike in four hours that day. The other two were small.
Over the years I’ve caught some really nice pike in water temps between 46 and 55 degrees without using live bait. The best baits are the ones you can work slowly and erratically especially in cold water. Bass style suspending jerk baits are my favorite. Rapala’s Xraps or Storm’s thunderstick and other companies that make shallow running, suspending baits. These baits are weighted so they rise very slowly when paused so they give the illusion of suspension. That is when the strike usually occurs. Cast it out and retrieve in a series of erratic jerks and pauses varying your pause depending on conditions. Example: long pauses in cold water, etc.
I use 30 lb braided line with six feet of 14 lb monofilament leader tied directly to the lure. Bite offs are fewer in cold water. If you need to add a steel leader, the lure will not rise slowly, instead, it will sink. This can cause problems–you can experiment. Plastic baits rigged weedless are sometimes the best cold water pike rig you’ll ever use. I rig those the same way I would a jerk bait. Cast these baits into weed or reed beds where treble hooks do not dare to tread. My favorite plastic baits would be bass size flukes or sluggos or any of the new plastic swim baits that you can rig weedless, favorite colors would be pearl or white–as I can see these baits and work them better. Cast them out and retrieve them with a series of jerks and pauses so they look like a dying bait fish. Once the water temperatures reach 55 degrees or more, spinner baits, spoons, or other faster moving lures will be more effective.
Minnesota Fishing Hall of Fame member Larry Bollig is a successful tournament angler, guide and lecturer. He’s considered by many to be one of the state’s premier multi-species anglers.