Northern pike is one of the most targeted species while ice fishing. Ice fishing for pike with my friends growing up were some of my fondest winter fishing memories. There are many tactics and ways that you can be successful in catching pike through the ice both passively and pro-actively.
Let’s take a look at some tactics to catch pike through the ice.
Live Bait Fishing
Ice fishing with live bait is the most common method for pike. It is also a more passive approach and allows anglers to fish for other species or jig while the tip-ups also fish for them.
Lake shiners, chubs, or other live bait are placed on the hook and set at a desired depth below the tip-up, with the strike indicator flag being triggered when a pike grabs the bait.
You can also fish for pike with live bait on jigging rods if desired and even use only portions of live bait, such as a minnow head tipped on the hook of a jigging spoon or other lure.
Author Note: Tip-ups are great for spreading out and covering more water, and depending on regulations, multiple can be used.
For example, in the state of Wisconsin, anglers can have up to 3 lines in the water at one time, allowing an angler to use three tip-ups and then simply tending to them occasionally while playing cards in the warmth of an ice shack.
Setting tip-ups along weed lines or drop-offs at varying depths is a great tactic to cover water both vertically and along the fish-holding structure simultaneously.
Jigging for pike is the more pro-active way of fishing for them compared to tip-ups, and with a stout jigging rod, an angler can cover more water in an attempt to contact active fish.
Great lures for this style of fishing would be vertical jigging spoons, lures like the Rapala jigging rap, Blade baits, rubber baits like artificially minnow designs, and even vertical jigging certain lipless crankbaits can all produce positive results.
Live bait or dead bait can also be used when proactively jigging and can be used in combination with some lures, as mentioned earlier.
Jigging allows you to drill as many holes as you want, allowing you to cover more water and contact more fish. This is, in many situations, better than fishing solely with tip-ups, as you are going to the fish, while with tip-ups, you are waiting for fish to come to your bait.
If you are fishing in conditions where the action on tip-ups is minimal, this is a sign that the fish are not expending energy moving or are in more a neutral feeding mood, and spreading out holes and jigging may be more successful.
Where to Find Pike on a Lake
Finding pike is fairly easy in most lakes, and it boils down to one thing, find the food, and you will find pike.
Any areas that hold panfish, minnows, or baitfish will bring in the predators.
Weed beds are a great place to fish, but in very dense weed beds, you will want to find pockets, channels, or the edge of the weed bed itself.
Dense weed beds will still hold pike, but if it is too dense, you might only encounter smaller sized pike that can easily move around in the weed growth, while the larger pike might be near the edge where the deeper water starts or the weeds stop.
Weed lines are great places for pike to hunt for food, as they can swim freely just outside of the dense vegetation and chase down any baitfish schooled outside of the weeds and not in cover. Pike will cruise back and forth along weed lines in search of prey when in an active feeding mood.
Steep structural drop-offs are high traffic areas for predatory fish, as it allows them to easily go from deep water or a mid-lake basin to shallow water, and in many cases, the shallow end of a drop-off is the start of a weed line edge of a weed bed which is a key area all anglers should fish.
Mid-lake structure surrounded by deep water far from shore are great areas to find pike. Places like humps, points, saddles, islands, and other areas will all hold baitfish and predators.
Top Tip: If these spots have weeds on them, they are prime targets, and will undoubtedly hold fish, and be a place that you should be fishing.
Prey like perch can congregate in areas like sand flats, and in turn, pike will follow the schools of perch too and from deep water.
At times these areas may be good areas to look for pike, but they will likely be scattered over a large area.
On rivers, weed beds and weed lines can still be present, and these areas are still great places to fish for northern pike.
Other places like eddies, sloughs, and deep water holes can also be fished, just be sure that the ice on the river is safe enough to walk on.
Current on rivers can be an issue, but in slow-flowing rivers or in areas where you are out of the main river current such as oxbows or sloughs, the current will have little to no effect on your lures or bait.
In heavier current live bait will likely need more weight, or even need lead weights resting on the bottom to keep the current from pulling your bait downstream and spinning high near the bottom of the ice.
Use Fishing Electronics
Using a flasher or sonar unit can aid greatly in both finding and catching fish. You can’t catch fish if they aren’t below you, and to make the most efficient use of your time, you should jig a potentially good spot for a while, and if no fish present themselves on the electronics, you should move on and continue to search for active fish.
Electronics are a true game-changer, and you can even discern the body language of the fish once you become an expert with them. Electronics can also show you the bottom make-up or vegetation, and in many cases, you can even determine the type of aquatic vegetation from the sonar returns.
Seeing the location and distance of a pike in relationship with your lure or bait can help you to determine if the action you are imparting is triggering the fish to feed, and if the fish is sitting and watching your lure you can change your jigging cadence to entice the pike to strike.
The 1-2 Punch
Jigging in combination with tip-up fishing is a great tactic to catch pike while ice fishing.
Author Note: By drilling two holes in close proximity to each other, you can set a tip-up with live bait at a desired depth and jig from the other hole.
Pike will key in on your jigging presentation, but in many instances, a pike will not strike your artificial presentation.
By bringing the pike within a short distance of your live bait presentation, the pike will in many cases ignore and leave your jigging presentation to strike the “dead stick” live bait presentation. After all, in most situations, while ice fishing, nothing beats live bait.
This fishing tactic offers the best of both worlds and can be key in catching pike in many situations.
More Pike Tactics for Ice Fishing
- Set the depth of your tip-ups higher in the water column as a pike typically searches for prey visually by sitting lower in the water column looking upwards towards the ice.
- Use a standard casting spoon like a little Cleo on tip-ups and put the minnow on the treble hook. When the minnow swims it will impart flash in the water and attract pike from longer distances. You can also create a leader section between a spoon and the treble hook if wanted.
- In clear water lakes, you may be able to visibly see your lure or bait, along with any pike that decides to approach it through the ice hole. In these situations where you can sight fish, do so, and it can be very helpful in determining the Behavior of the pike and what they are attracted to on that given day.
- Color can make a difference at times when fishing with artificial bait, if the fish don’t respond to natural colors, try bright colors, or vice versa.
- Baits will loud rattles like the Rapala Rippin rap are great for calling in pike from long distances.
Great Lure options
- Rapala jigging rap
- Rapala rippin’ rap
- Salmo chubby darter
- Live target golden shiner
- Custom jigs and spins slender spoon
- Heddon Sonar
Great Live Bait Rigging Options
- Mason tackle pike tamer rig
- Northland tackle predator rig
- Northland single wire predator rig
- Clam pro tackle big tooth rig
Ice fishing for pike is fairly straightforward and is something that even beginners can have success in. The more you fish for pike, the more you will know where to find them and how to catch them, and this will result in days of ice fishing that have non-stop action.