Ice Fishing for Northern Pike

November 19, 2020

The northern pike is one of Wisconsin’s largest and easiest fish to catch. Found in nearly every Wisconsin lake and river, the northern pike is a voracious predator known for powerful runs that strip line from your reel. Though somewhat challenging to fillet, the northern pike is excellent table fare. In general, December, January, February, and March are good times to catch pike, and if you haven’t tried ice fishing for pike before, I definitely recommend it. Northern pike are typically olive green with short white bar-like spots on the sides and a white underbelly. The fins are reddish. Northern pike often become sexually mature at just two years old. They breed in late winter and early spring in shallow grassy areas, starting when ice still covers the lakes. Northern pike are not fussy eaters. They will eat most any fish, including those with spiny fins. Northern pike have an exceptionally slimy body that reduces friction as it accelerates through the water. But where and how can we catch these fish?

Where to Catch Northern Pike

Most Wisconsin lakes and rivers contain northern pike, but Green Bay holds the trophy caliber pike. A good place to start is with Navionics map app which contains fish topography map information for more than 5,000 fishing lakes. FindIng northern pike in winter in many of the same places you found them in autumn – points, narrows, weedlines and other weedy places is where this top predator can hide while waiting to ambush prey. Lakefinder includes underwater topographic maps – also called lake contour maps – that can help you find some of these prime locations. Typically, many northern pike ice fishing takes place in water 10 to 30 feet deep with your suspended minnow hanging anywhere from near the bottom to a few feet below the ice. You will want to experiment with how deep to fish your minnow. Basically, you want it to be where other baitfish are present and that can vary based on a variety of factors.

How to Catch Northern Pike

The best way to catch northern pike in winter is to use a tip-up rig. A tip-up rig is different from a rod-and-reel combination because there is no rod at all. Instead, a tip-up is an apparatus in which the reel is placed in the hole you drilled, and when a fish unspools the line a signal flag “tips up.” Tip-ups can be purchased at virtually any bait shop or retail fishing outlet. Once you have lowered your tip-up line into the water it is largely a waiting game. It is smart to check your sucker or shiner minnow every half hour or so, and even to jig it once in a while. Still, northern pike tip-up fishing is mostly waiting for a flag to pop up. When fishing as part of a group, it makes sense to apply some strategy as to where you drill your holes and how deep to suspend your minnow in each hole. For example, if fishing a drop-off you may want to place tip-ups at the 10, 12, or 15-foot contour. Similarly, if you are fishing a point that extends into the lake you may want to set tip-ups at various depths along the point, starting in shallow and then drilling additional holes every 10 or 20 yards into deeper water. Once a flag goes up, avoid the temptation to run toward it. Ice is slippery and there is no sense hurting yourself. Besides, northern pike often take a large minnow sideways in their mouth, swim with it for a while then turn the minnow head-first to swallow it. This feeding technique gives you plenty of time to get to the tip-up, grab hold of the line with your bare hands and gently sense what it is going on. If the fish is still swimming at a good speed it is best to wait a while longer before setting the hook with a quick snap of the wrist and arm. If 15 seconds or more have passed and this fish is swimming slowly – or you simply feel a dead weight on the line – then that’s a good time to set the hook. It’s also possible that you’ll feel nothing at all. That means the fish has dropped your minnow.

What Gear or Equipment Is Needed to Catch Northern Pike?

There is a couple of different equipment that we recommend when ice fishing for pike or any fish for that matter. You’ll want an auger for drilling a hole, ice scoop for removing ice and slush from the hole, rod, reel, lure and or live bait. Plastic bucket or chair to sit on, or more commonly a pop-up fishing shelter, warm clothes like an ice suit and waterproof insulated boots. Sled or plastic bucket for hauling your gear, emergency ice picks to stab into ice in the event you break through, pop-up ice fishing shelter, propane heater, disposable hand and toe warmers, fish-finding sonar unit, underwater camera, smartphone app (they are quite inexpensive) that will show you lake depths and where you are in relation to bottom contours. Small towel or rag for drying hands, head-lamp or flashlight for seeing in low light conditions. Tackle box with a variety of lures, weights and bobbers, ruler or tape measure for measuring fish if fishing on a lake where special regulations are in place. Compass in the event snow squalls prevent you from being able to see shore, slip-on ice cleats for your boots in case of glare ice. We understand that you may not want to bring everything on the list, but at Trophy Ice Fish, we want to make sure you’re prepared for anything that might happen.

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