Ice fishing is one of the most enjoyable winter activities that you can get into with your family and friends. Fish are somewhat easier to catch during the winter season, as the cold makes them move more slowly.
If you want a real challenge, ice fishing for pike is the way to go. They’re big, aggressive, hungry, and a common favorite among fishers who like hitting frozen freshwater lakes and rivers. So if you want to experience the angling adventure of a lifetime, read more about ice fishing for pike below.
Get All the Info You Need
If you want to learn more about ice fishing for northern pike, take the time to get to know the species’ behavior, the different ice fishing methods, essential ice fishing gear, and other important information that you need to enhance your experience.
When to Go Ice Fishing for Pike
You can go ice fishing for pike at any time of the year, but the late season is the best time to target your specific prey. This is because fish are not as reactive and aggressive during the winter months. Then again, the warmer temperatures between March and April (in states like Alaska) make fishing a lot more bearable for anglers. It’s best to check the seasonal patterns in the specific state or country that you want to go ice fishing in so you can plan the right time for you.
Another helpful tip to remember is that pike go hunting for food when the sun is up, so they’re more likely to be on the move (and see your lures and baits) on brighter and clearer days.
Where to Go Ice Fishing for Pike
Finding active fish before you drill your hole significantly increases your chances of actually catching them. An easy way is to go to the nearest lake or pond that you know holds pike when it’s not frozen, as it is likely to have them even during winter.
You can also consult local anglers and fishing shops for popular ice fishing spots. But be warned—many well-known ice fishing destinations can get very crowded, so you may want to look for quiet and almost deserted ice fishing spots near you.
Once you find a good area, try to obtain a bathymetric map of it or use your fish finder to help you plan your attack and setup. Pike usually hang out around the perimeter of weed beds, as well as along narrow points adjacent to deeper water and around submerged humps or islands. How you catch them will depend on your preferred ice fishing method and available gear.
What to Use for Pike Ice Fishing
What you use will depend on your preferred method of ice fishing. There are four ways that you can ice fish for pike:
Light Rod Fishing
Light rod fishing involves the use of conventional fishing equipment, with the fisher waiting right by the hole in the ice and holding a regular summer rod or a specialized ice fishing rod with an in-reel. Sometimes, a plain “dead stick” works just as well.
Whichever fishing rod you use, you’ll need live lures or artificial baits. Should you decide to use live bait, you can go for wax worms or maggots. They should be kept warm and alive until they’re ready to be set on a hook. Plastic minnows and other small baitfish make some of the best baits for pike ice fishing. You’ll also need a spring bobber on your rod tip (not a water bobber that would freeze up in the water) to help inform you of the slightest bites and nibbles. You’ll find these and more at your local bait shop.
A long fishing line is also needed so you can cast your lure to the bottom. If you don’t get any bites, you move it up the water column and wait once more. While waiting, slowly and steadily move your line up and down to mimic the natural movement of a distressed fish. If nothing works, you can always use a fish finder to determine the depth that holds your prey.
Tip-up fishing is another widely used method for catching big pike. It involves the use of tip-up devices or tilts that are effective in hooking monster fish. They can be made of wood or other sturdier materials, but the most common types of tip-ups basically consist of just a base, a spool that holds your line, and a flag or bite indicator.
Since catching pike is a power struggle, you’ll have to make sure that you use a minimum 30-pound test braided fishing line or one made of polyester (Dacron) to ensure that your line doesn’t break off while you slowly reel your aggressive catch in.
The tip-ups are usually set up in multiple holes (also created using a drill) so a single angler can fish at various depths and spots at once. Scraped minnows and worms still make some of the best ice fishing lures for pike using the tilt-up method. Consider bringing attractive artificial baits since there are areas that don’t allow the use of the live ones, but pair it with a bobber that will help inform you of nibbles and bites.
It can take hours to get a bite, but when it happens, the movement on the spool of line will trigger the release of the flag. This signals your chance to remove the trap, take up the line with your fingers, and set the hook so can start playing the fish until you finally get it out of the hole.
Check out this quick video that shows how tip-ups work:
This traditional method involves the use of a multi-pronged spear that you use to stab fish that shows up at the surface of your ice fishing hole. Fishers use the drill to make a hole and drop some chum (i.e. blended minnows or other bait fish) instead of lures and baits to attract fish to swim up to the surface of the ice hole. The spear also has to be attached to a string that you can use to retrieve the spear in case you miss.
Clubbing is a much older method that is seldom used by today’s ice fishers. It’s quite primitive, so it requires the least amount of gear—just a large club that’s used to slam the ice directly above the fish. This is done on clear ice in shallow water for safety. Once the fish is stunned, the fisher quickly cuts a hole with an ice chisel and retrieves the fish.
What to Wear for Ice Fishing
The appropriate attire for ice fishing is almost self-explanatory. You’ll need warm clothes in layers—perhaps a moisture-wicking base layer with long underwear, a flannel or sweatshirt, and a snowsuit or bib overall covered up with a waterproof winter jacket.
Don’t forget your insulated and waterproof gloves and boots (with good traction), head cover (a hat or hood for the coldest months), as well as a ski mask and winter goggles to protect your face and eyes from the stinging snow.
Knowing the Rules
Before embarking on an ice fishing expedition, you’ll want to make sure that you can ice fish. Check your local Department of Natural Resources for ice fishing rules, regulations, and licensing requirements. That’s right—you’ll need a license to fish regardless of the time of year.
Many states also have restrictions on the types of fish that can be speared, so make sure to check the DNR for all the information you need before you start ice fishing for pike.
Consider your own safety when planning any fishing activities. As we all know, it can be dangerous to tread icy bodies of water, especially if you’re not familiar with the area. Make it a point to only fish where it is recommended. Ice conditions can also change very quickly, so make sure you check the weather and temperature forecasts on the day that you plan to go fishing.
It also helps to know that the minimum thickness of ice that you can safely walk on is 4 inches. If you’re bringing a snowmobile or ATV, the ice has to be at least 6 inches thick. Large trucks are not recommendable unless you’re absolutely sure that the ice is over a foot thick. While you’re checking the ice, be on the lookout for “rotten” parts with visible discolorations as well as cracks, holes, water flows, and pressure ridges.
When you pack your gear, don’t forget to include safety equipment. Seasoned anglers recommend metal cleats for your boots, a life jacket, whistle, handspikes, and a rope with knots or floater that can be used to save anybody who falls through the ice.
Last but not least, make it a point to never go ice fishing alone. You’ll pretty much be putting your life at risk, considering there will nobody to save you when the worst accidents happen. When you fall into the water, hypothermia can quickly set in and make it impossible to get out without an extra pair of hands. Bring a friend, ice fish safely, and have a wonderful time catching pike!