If you fish in the Northern Reaches of the United States, Canada, or Europe, chances are you are familiar with the northern pike. They are an aggressive predator with rows of razor-sharp and needle-like teeth that face rearward that can latch onto prey and hold them; they can also latch onto your hand or finger if you’re not careful. So do you know how to land a northern pike without a net?
Without the proper tools, the chances of injury when handling a caught pike will skyrocket if you don’t properly handle them, either from a tooth or a hook finding your hand due to a thrashing and angry pike.
In this article, we will talk about ways to mitigate this risk and the proper release tools you should have at all times when fishing.
Having the Proper Release Tools
The easiest and best way to ensure your safety when handling and releasing a northern pike is to have and use the proper release tools. Every angler fishing for pike or in areas with them should have:
- A pair of long needle-nose pliers.
- A jaw spreader (preferably a fish-friendly one with blunt and rubber ends that don’t puncture through the floor and roof of the pikes’ mouth).
- A hook remover like the Baker big-game hook-out.
- A pair of heavy-duty hook cutters for situations where you need to cut the hooks to save the fish.
- A Boga grip is also a tool you could have to make things easier, but this is optional.
Except for the Boga grip, these tools are essential to successfully and safely land a pike without a net. At the very minimum, you should have a pair of Longnose pliers.
How To Land a Northern Pike Without a Net
Now that we have the tools covered, let’s discuss the methods by which you can land the fish without a net.
This is the easiest method to “land” and release a pike. After fighting the fish back to the boat, simply grab the line with one hand and your needle-nose pliers in the other, reach down, and pop out the hook if it’s in the typical position in the corner of the mouth.
Author Note: This keeps your hands a good distance from the hooks, keeps the fish in the water, and is fast and easy.
You will usually see fly fishermen hold fish in this manner, but in certain situations, it can work to land a northern pike without a net. Be aware: most larger pike do not smell good – it’s due to the protective slime on them. So don’t wear clothes you don’t mind getting stinky.
To do this, when the pike is close to shore or the boat, you need to grab your line like you would for a boat side release so the fish won’t swim away, and grab the fish firmly by the tailstock, which is the narrow section of the body that meets the tail.
After getting a firm grip on the tailstock, use your other hand and place it under the center of the body on this fishes belly to give the fish support and lift the fish out of the water.
This can be dangerous if the fish is still hooked, and if the fish is still hooked, and you hold the fish this way, it can be difficult to unhook the fish because your hands are used to hold the fish.
In this situation, a buddy is most likely needed to unhook the fish while you hold it, but beware if you’re using a lure with multiple treble hooks, the fish could thrash, and you can get hooked.
Gill Plate Hold
This is a very effective way to land a northern pike without a net but is also the most dangerous in terms of safety. If you aren’t experienced in using this method, the first thing you need is to wear a protective fishing glove like the musky armor gloves.
Northern pike and muskies both have teeth called “gill rakers” these teeth run along their jaw all the way back behind the gills, and if you are not proficient in holding pike in this way, your fingers will most likely become acquainted with them.
When the pike is close to shore or next to the boat, take your hand and slip your four fingers underneath the gill plate, and grip firmly.
Be sure you do not grab or damage the gills of the fish if you intend to release it, gills are very delicate, and you should do this handling method with the utmost care.
Author Note: While gripping the fish in this manner, your other hand should have your longnose pliers in it to pop out the lure or hook; then, you can immediately release or use your other hand to support the fish under the belly and lift it out of the water for a photo opportunity.
Behind the Head Hold
This method will usually only work for fish of a smaller caliber, but the method is very simple and safe.
Simply grab the fish just behind the head to secure it and unhook it, leave it in the water for safety. If the fish thrashes, you can simply let go. Otherwise, unhook the fish while holding it behind the head. It’s that simple.
Landing Pike with Boga Grips
Boga grips have become very popular with saltwater anglers, and that popularity has spilled over to freshwater fishing as well.
Boga grips are very controversial in some fishing communities, in particular with the musky angling community, for being detrimental to the health of a fish. Since Pike are very similar and the cousin to the musky, this applies to them as well.
If you plan to release the fish and use a Boga grip, be sure to hold the fish in the water while using them and unhook the fish. Do not hold and suspend the fish vertically with Boga grips or by hand.
This can have serious negative effects on the fish and can kill them or severely injure them. Always use Boga grips while using your other hand to support the fish.
Using a Jaw Spreader and Hook Cutter
Sometimes a northern pike will absolutely inhale your lure, and when you land the fish, you may find the bait has all but disappeared inside the pikes’ mouth.
In these situations, you might have to perform some surgery to remove the hooks safely for both you and the fish. This is where your tools will really help.
Grab your jaw spreader and put it in the fish’s mouth to keep it open. From there, you can evaluate if you can safely remove the hooks with a pair of longnose pliers, or you need to cut the hooks with a heavy-duty hook cutter.
If there is any risk of damaging the gills of the fish, the best course of action is to use the hook cutter. Cut the treble hook as close to the bend as you can, or if the situation requires, closer below the barb.
If you have to use a hook cutter to remove a hook that is deep in the mouth, near the throat, for example, get as close to the barb as possible, and leave it in the fish.
Author Note: You may do severe damage and cause heavy bleeding trying to remove the barbed part of the hook, and if you leave it in the fish, chances are it will heal over, and in time the barbed portion will dissolve and corrode away.
You would be very surprised at a pikes’ capability to heal and recover from a hook point embedded in it.
If you are practicing catch and release, vertical holds should never be used.
Vertical holds are very bad for fish. It Puts the fish’s full weight on the area around the gill plate when holding the fish, which can tear the area where the gill plate meets the lower jaw on heavier fish.
It can also severely injure the pike’s spine due to the vertical hold putting the full weight of the fish on the spine and severely injure the pike’s internal organs.
For these reasons, vertical holds should be avoided at all costs; obviously, if you are going to keep the fish for a fish fry, then it doesn’t really matter.
In Conclusion, Be Safe
Losing focus for a matter of seconds when handling a hooked pike can be the difference between a hospital trip to remove a hook or get stitches from contacting some razor-sharp teeth.
As mentioned in our introduction and ways on how to land a northern pike without a net, using the proper tools will drastically reduce the chances of you needing to cancel your fishing trip early due to a hook embedded in your hand or due to finding a row of teeth.
Once you handle pike or baby musky and deal with the wide variety of ways it can be hooked, you will gain valuable experience on how to deal with each situation, and in doing so, you will find it to be an easy process. There simply is no substitute for experience and time on the water.
We hope you enjoyed this guide on how to land a northern pike without a net.