Post date: Sunday, March 4, 2012 - 12:47
Updated date: 2/6/17
Northern Pike Esox lucius Nelson


The Northern Pike is the most common large predator in the northern regions.





The Northern Pike is an elongate fish with a flattened snout bristling with sharp teeth. Pike are large fish that can reach weights up to 50 pounds. True to their name, they are a fish of the northern latitudes, and can be found all over the world. Pike have light spots on a dark, greenish background, with striped, reddish fins. The Silver Pike is a strain of pike with no spots; it is uniform dark silver or gray in color. Northern Pike are also called Common Pike, Great Northern Pike, Jack, Jackfish, Northern, Pickerel, Pike, Alligator of the North, Gator, and Snake. Small pike (under four pounds) are often called hammerhandles. This long, toothy-jawed fish has an image problem. In some regions, fishermen disdain it as a "slimy snake" and a destroyer of worthier fish. In other areas, it is considered a true gamefish and a worthy adversary on any tackle. We have the utmost respect for the savage pike, and release most of the fish we catch. An overabundance of pike can lead to the decline of other fishes, though, so keeping a few small pike for the table doesn't put the population in danger.





Northern Pike prefer shallow, weedy, clear waters in lakes and marshes, but also inhabits slow streams. After ice-out, they move further into shallows and marshes to spawn, retreating to deep, cool waters (65º or less) in summer. Small Northerns remain in shallow weedy waters through much of the year. In waters where pelagic salmonids like ciscos are abundant, pike may roam the depths, suspending in deep water and gorging on this rich food source. The largest pike usually come from these sorts of lakes. Large Northerns become lethargic in warm water, eating little and sometimes losing weight. (In prolonged high temperatures and low oxygen, they may actually starve.) Pike love cabbage. The deep edges of cabbage beds are pike magnets. In the spring and fall, pike will often forage in very shallow water, making sight fishing and fly-fishing much more effective. Especially in the fall, very large pike can be found lurking in the thickest, shallowest "slop" that they can find. In rivers, both pike and musky tend to stay out of the main current flow. Backwaters attached to large rivers are good places to target, as well as current breaks and eddies in the main river. Midsummer pike fishing can be difficult, as abundant food supplies and warm temperatures force pike into feeding patterns that are both less reliable and more deepwater-oriented. Pike have an affinity for coldwater spring flows; if the location of such water sources can be located, large pike are almost certain to be found.





Fishing with large live-baits is a game of patience, but can often give you the shot at a really big fish. In the wintertime, ice-fishing for pike is a popular sport, where large baits are suspended beneath a device called a tipup, which signals the angler when a strike occurs by releasing a brightly colored flag. Several of these are deployed across the frozen surface of the lake, and the angler races to fight and land the pike whenever a waving flag is spotted. In open water periods, large live baits can be suspended beneath a float to attract cruising pike. Suckers, various large shiners, chubs, frogs, and crayfish will catch pike, although they will also inhale small minnows and even dead baits on occasion.  The most common pike tactic is casting artificial lures. Not only does this make hook removal easier on both you and the fish, but it can also allow you to cover more water in a shorter period of time. On a bright, sunny day, highly reflective lures attract pike by reflecting the overhead sunlight. Pike are aggressive and it is important to cover as much water as possible as you will eventually run across an aggressive pike to do battle with. Pike are not choosy with regard to artificials; almost anything you can buy in a tackle shop will catch pike. In unpressured water, larger baits invariably attract more and larger fish. Where fishing pressure is high, this rule may not hold true. Topwater fishing is perhaps the most exhilerating form of pike fishing - when a pike ambushes your topwater lure or fly, it is almost enough to cause a heart attack. Pike will leap from the water to attack your bait from above, jump out of the water at boatside to snatch a lure dangling from your rodtip, and follow your lure right up to the boat before deciding whether or not it is edible. Because of the pike's thick, bony skull, it important to get a good, solid hook-set on a pike once it strikes. This is easier to accomplish with the new no-stretch lines. I can offer very little advice for how to fight a pike once hooked, since every fish is a unique individual. Some will jump frantically in an effort to shake loose the hooks. Others will burrow up to six feet into mud or weeds on the bottom and sulk, waiting for you to go away in frustration. Most of the time, they will make a series of blistering runs, and it is up to you to turn the fish and guide it to the boat. It is better to unhook the fish in the water if possible; a good pike will thrash about wildly when boated, and will most likely injure itself and possibly the occupants of the boat as well. A cradle is the best way to land pike, but large nets and hand-landing are also used. Some of the best pike lures of all time are the metal spoon, the crankbait, the bucktail spinner, the jerkbait, and the buzzbait. A good fly selection for pike would include Dahlberg divers, Clouser Minnows, and Deceivers - large saltwater patterns will also work. Crayfish patterns work very well in rivers and streams where pike are found. Topwater action can be excellent at times, especially around dawn and dusk and when the water is fairly calm.



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