Winter is literally right around the corner. The first frosts have hit, and some have even experienced the first snowfall of the year.
Now is the time to head out to find that trophy Pike. Here are some tips for winter pike fishing.
Why Is Winter Pike Fishing Better Than Other Seasons?
While some elect to fish for Pike in the summer, when they’re spending time in shallower waters, the fishing can be tricky on multiple levels. In the summer, pike are gobbling their food down, which means deep-hooking is a common problem. In addition, higher water temperatures cause the oxygen-carrying capacity of the water to decrease. When the pike fight, they fight to exhaustion, taking them a long time to recover, and often leading to mortalities.
Biology of Pike’s Prey is Key To Winter Pike Fishing
Understanding the biology of the fish helps to decipher their habits, and ultimately location, so you can determine the best presentations for the situation. According to fishing editor, Gord Pyzer, “We learn more about what drives the habitats of Pike every time we observe them on the water and study the science surrounding them. But there’s a lot more to learn about Pike under the ice.”
Pike fishing during winter is all about location and the relationship between the Pike and their food. Knowing the feeding and locational habits of a Pike’s forage is equally as important as learning the Pike’s own feeding habits. Study the biology of the lake you’re planning to fish on. Know where deep weed beds and steep shoreline breaks exist. Pike follow where their food will be hanging out.
If you understand the forage species in the lake, you’ll have a jump on where the pike will be at any given point of the season.
In the early season, larger Pike remain in the shadows for as long as the fall spawning species stay in the flats and adjacent drop-off areas. Tullibee or whitefish are a great high-calorie fish that provides a big meal for Pike. The ice is thinner in the early season, but many enthusiasts risking their lives on thin ice believe that the payoff is worth it.
As the season grows colder, Pike head for deeper waters, so you’ll have to make a move. Tullibee and whitefish spend a lot of time over open waters. Pike targeting crappie, yellow perch, walleye and suckers will follow those species to the deep weed beds and steep shoreline breaks.
So, placing your spearing shack next to deep-water holes with soft bottom content will usually generate good results.
How Pike Feed
Following the Pike’s food source isn’t enough. You also have to understand how Pike like to feed. They’re ambush feeders, meaning they patrol along the steep breaklines and mid-lake structures where schools of baitfish like to travel. They attack unsuspecting forage when they roam into range.
They take advantage of underwater structure like trees and rock piles found around steep breaks to ambush their prey.
Take a look at your map and find a few sections where the breaklines are the steepest.
Water Temperature is Important When Winter Pike Fishing
Water temperature is important, and not just at the surface. There’s a big difference between surface temperature and bottom temperature. It could be near freezing just under the ice and in the shallows, and 40℉ close to the bottom in some places.
The late-winter period can be a really great time to fish if you know where to look. Go out in late March and early April to look for a creek, stream, or river flowing into a shallow, weedy bay or cove and you’ll find the perfect temperature for a plethora of Pike.
The Play of Light With Pike
Pike are more active when there is more light, so lakes with clearer waters tend to have the most active Pike in the wintertime. That can be carried over to the ice, based on the thickness of the ice and how much snow has gathered on top. The more light that gets through, the more active they are.
Dr. John Casselman, former Senior Research Scientist with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources is able to easily demonstrate this in the lab simply by adjusting the rheostat on the lights. By simply darkening the room, he’s able to almost instantaneously put them into a dormant state.
One big trick for Pike is to pre-bait your fishing locations. Few fish respond better than Pike to pre-baiting tactics. Dole out small chunks of food like suckers and tullibees in a steady stream over a period of several days. But you must do it at the same time you intend to fish, as the Pike are extremely programmable. For instance, you can’t drop it off every day for a week on your way home from work, and then expect the Pike to show up when you go fishing Saturday morning. They’ll be programmed to come eat in the afternoon.
Just double-check regulations where you fish to determine if pre-baiting is legal.
Winter Pike Fishing – Not All Lakes Are the Same
Someone looking for lots of action, and someone looking to land the big trophy are going to choose to fish on completely different lakes. Counterintuitively, the larger Pike will more likely be caught where there aren’t many Pike to be found.
Lakes that contain prime habitat with premium forage give the Pike a chance to grow large and do it fast, but in places like the Northwest, they don’t get to enjoy the fast growth rates because they’re overcrowded. Many lakes provide so much quality habitat that they produce more fish than the lake will support.
Lakes that produce big Pike will have a good combination of cool water, good cover, and plenty of food for fish in every size range.
DNR websites offer lake information sections that can give you pertinent data on population densities, size structure, and available forage, allowing you to make a good educated guess about what lakes the big ones may be hiding in.