To me, when it comes to the hard water season, northern pike are my favorite target for a lot of reasons. First, they are bigger fish that have teeth. And they pull hard and move fast. And another real neat thing to me, is that they are generally pretty easy to target on waters with a decent population. Good action can usually be found, and the best part of all-for someone who’s never been too keen on rising early, is that midday hours are generally best. You normally don’t need to start early or stay late into the dark.
If you really want to be most effective in targeting pike (or realistically any species for that matter), the first move is to make some phone calls and line up friends to go along. And that’s the neat thing about ice. A boat limits those who can all go along. It’s pretty much unlimited on the ice. Round up some folks, because the more holes or sets you are allowed to use, the quicker you should be able to pattern pike.
It’s really all about numbers of folks and mobility. On a chosen body of water, break down the structural options available that you’ll want to check for pike. Where weeds are available, especially early and late ice, they are definitely a factor, while rocks, deeper bars and open water should be checked too. Break down the options and based on number of lines that are legal, dedicate a few lines to each option, always leaning heaviest toward weeds for starters.
It’s a team effort. Other anglers should follow behind the driller and put sets out, taking care to check depths and cover different ranges, leaving extra holes in each range in each area. This way structures are most effectively covered and things are in a state of readiness when patterns show themselves.
For sets on tip-ups, I like to break it down between live and dead baits. Most folks know about live baits, but there are still many who are unaware of the effectiveness of dead baits when fishing pike. As a general rule, live baits tend to be more effective in early ice conditions and things will gradually lean more towards dead bait as the season progresses. The dead stuff is often best on late ice. Every water body has different tendencies though, so both should always be tried. As a side note, for trophy seekers, in my experience the dead bait seems to more consistently take the bigger fish.
I like 4 to 6 inch shiners for live bait and smelt or cisco for dead baits. I use Sevenstrand or TyGer leader material in 15 to 30 pound test. The TyGer is easiest to work with as it ties like line. I run a strong single treble on the live baits (hooked in the middle of the back) and a quickstrike rig incorporating two trebles for dead baits (one in the back and one right behind the head).
I prefer Beaver Dam Tip-Ups with a hole cover or their Round Tip-Up for pike. They’re just plain more efficient and easier to use, but they also cover the hole, preventing any unnatural light penetration. This can be very important for pike, especially for very shallow sets. But another thing I’ve noticed when pike fishing, is that even in deeper water, I often find that setting the bait high is most effective for pike. These fish see and feed up. I always try sets just below the ice, even in open water. And sometimes this proves to be most effective. Especially on bright days, the unnatural light may prevent strikes.
I prefer using all tip-ups for starters, but I do enjoy jigging for pike. I’m fairly impatient though (I realize this seems odd for someone who fishes for muskies, but it’s true), so I like to wait until the scattered tip-ups tell me where the majority of fish activity is going on before I start jigging. Larger sonars like the Zip lure can be very effective and are really fun. They generally hammer them. A standard jig head tipped with a minnow works too.
In a nutshell then, it’s all about numbers of folks, so there can be numerous sets, with plenty of holes and extras for taking advantage of patterns. And they bite well during the warmest part of the day. It’s great fun with a good group of friends.
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