Northern Pike: Water Wolves
Northern pike tend to elicit strong reactions among anglers: some consider this fish one of the greatest of all freshwater warriors, while others consider them a nuisance. The difference in opinion can be traced, in many cases, to the size of the pike that the anglers have caught. Even the most disdainful angler respects a 15-pound or larger northern.
Part of the pike’s bad reputation comes from its prolific breeding and voracious appetite. Small pike seem to infest some waters, and the last thing most walleye anglers want to see on the end of the line is a one-pound pike that has swallowed the bait. Northern pike also have razor-sharp teeth and gill covers, which as often as not will sever the line of the unfortunate walleye or bass angler, necessitating tedious re-tying or replacement of expensive baits.
But let an angler tie into a large pike (especially if using lightweight walleye tackle), and the attitudes usually change. Few fish give such a good run for the money as a larger pike. A hooked pike will wage a dogged war under the waves, and just when you think you have them within netting distance, they scream off line with a sizzling run to re-join the battle. In warmer weather, pike will somersault out of the water in a series of exciting cartwheels. If that isn’t angling excitement, it’s hard to say what is!
Pike favor weedy haunts, so pike anglers usually concentrate on drop-offs at the edge of weedy bays or points (conversely, if you don’t want to hook a pike, this is the sort of area to avoid!). Many serious pike anglers also believe that larger pike inhabit colder waters than smaller pike, so they concentrate their search on springholes and other cold-water upwellings.
Northern pike have mouths that are proportionally larger than walleye, bass, or trout. This means that the pike can take a larger food item than another fish of comparable size. Savvy pike anglers use oversized baits to catch giant pike. . . artificial lures up to a foot long are not uncommon, and trophy pike anglers may use baitfish weighing as much as a pound. (Remember that in Minnesota, it is illegal to use gamefish as bait, so forget about using that small bass you’ve caught as pike bait!). Large pike prefer to eat one large item rather than several smaller ones, so it pays to use large baits when going after large pike.
True to its status as an eating machine, the pike has razor-sharp teeth that can easily cut monofilament line. If you’re fishing for pike, be sure to use a wire leader to prevent cut-offs. Pike are not line- or tackle-shy, and don’t mind the extra hardware. Northern pike have poor nighttime eyesight, and generally will not bite after dark. . . a fact that is appreciated by many nighttime walleye anglers!
Northern pike are particularly attracted to flash and movement. Minnows and other live bait are a favorite of many pike anglers; generally, live bait is fished under an oversized bobber. Guides often trap baitfish for their clients (photo at left), or paddlers can also easily transport live baitfish into the back-country. Some anglers who search for pike in remote lakes carry preserved baitfish; these will work, but generally are not as effective as live bait. Preserved bait is used to tip jigs, spinners, and spinnerbaits, and many anglers feel that the added scent of the bait increases their odds of a strike.
Artificial lures produce the majority of pike taken in the back-country. Spoons are a favorite; try a red-and-white Daredevle or a shiny gold-and-fluorescent-orange spoon. Remember, larger baits catch larger pike, so don’t be afraid to try spoons up to four inches long. Spinnerbaits, and in-line spinners like Mepps with bucktail dressings, also work well in north-country waters. Jigs dressed with bucktail and a large soft-plastic trailer are good for pike that are holding off breaklines; choose bright colors, like fluorescent orange or chartreuse, red, yellow, and white.
Plugs used for pike include large minnow plugs, crankbaits, and jerkbaits. These are bulky and a bit of a chore to take into the back-country, but seasoned pike anglers will attest to their effectiveness. Since pike will hit a bait that is up to half their length, large plugs are important if you’re angling for trophy pike.
Many anglers feel that pike has too many bones to be good table fare; however, others feel that the white, firm, flaky meat rivals or surpasses walleye. It’s relatively easy to remove the bones from a pike that weighs two pounds or more; however, smaller pike are not suitable for this technique since too much meat is lost. Pike over five pounds are generally not eaten, for a number of reasons. Chief among these is the growing awareness of the necessity of catch-and-release fishing, which is especially important in cold northern waters where fish grow slowly. Also, the meat of larger predatory fish contains mercury that has built up in the fish over the years, and thus is not the best choice for eating. Smaller fish are tasty and safe to eat; but larger pike should be released to fight again another day.
Article copyright Teresa Marrone. ; all rights reserved. May not be reproduced without permission.