Several years back, I received a tip regarding an early ice season pike bite on a local lake. That was almost a dead end tip. I’m not an ice fisherman. Fortunately, I gave it some thought. If they are being caught through early ice, wouldn’t they bite just the same at if the ice hadn’t formed yet?
As luck would have it, the following year the ice came later. I was able to fish open water in late December – successfully. The bite remained steady into early January that winter. It only ended when a layer of ice covered my venue. Since then, northern pike have quite often been either the first or the last fish I pursue each year.
I do not live in prime ice fishing territory. In rare years ice forms in December. More often ice forms sometime after the New Year. Some years thin ice will come and go multiple times before spring. These variable ice conditions have allowed me to sample this fishery during all stages of the season. I’ve found that active pike are a possibility at any point of the winter.
Although the pike are feeding, they are not interested in high speed pursuits. The water temperature is hovering just above the freezing mark. The pike’s metabolism has slowed proportionally. A slow “stop & go” retrieve is the key to success.
My favorite baits are soft jerkbaits, hard jerkbaits that suspend or slow sink, and spoons; in that order. Your retrieve should include numerous starts and stops. A slow fall on the pause is much more appealing than a rise toward the surface. That fall presents a moment of vulnerability that northerns can’t resist.
Spinning gear is ideal for winter piking. It is the best option for light lures and light lines. 15-20# braid with a medium rod will handle all of my techniques. Occasionally, I will tackle up to 30# braid and a medium-heavy rod, but only if I’m fishing soft jerkbaits exclusively.
A quality reel will lead to more fish. Make certain it will handle braided line well. Twitching and reeling up slack line can be troublesome with some reels. Add a winter wind & cold fingers, and you’ll be glad you thoroughly vetted your reel.
A smooth drag is also critical to this fishing. I have come to rely on the IRT200. In addition to great braid handling characteristics, it has a butter smooth drag through its full range. I can set a light drag to protect the fine treble hooks on a “bass sized” jerkbait or a heavy drag to drive home a large single hook on a soft jerkbait. At either end of the spectrum, the IRT200 drag system will perform flawlessly. I have no worries when a double digit pike lunges to escape.
Northern pike are not the only winter catch on the waters I fish. Chain pickerel like the same frigid conditions and matching presentations. They are always a welcome bonus fish in my boat. Although my local lakes also contain largemouth and smallmouth bass, I seldom see them before March.
This is not an everywhere and every year kind of bite. It’s more of an opportunity bite to cash in on when you can. Keep it in your back pocket for the right time and place.