Fishing for Northern Pike, the Wolf of the Water

Last updated on October 31st, 2022

angler holding trophy northern pike catch

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This post spotlights one of the most sought-after freshwater gamefish on the planet, the Northern Pike. In life only a few things are certain, death, taxes and that the Northern Pike are biting.

These hard-hitting fish are the most reliable big game predator around because of their incredibly aggressive nature and ultra-fast metabolism that has them constantly on the search for their next meal.

With some brief history, knowledge of where to find them, and what lures to use, you too can reap the benefits of this longstanding freshwater stalwart. So grab your heavy-duty leaders, needle nose plyers and camera, and I’ll help you track down the “wolf of the water”.

Northern Pike Facts, Location, and Feeding Habits

A highly prized gamefish, the Northern Pike is fantastic to catch because of its sheer size, strength, and fighting ability. They are some of the biggest freshwater fish; anglers enjoy the challenge and excitement involved with explosive hits the aerial acrobatics.

The Northern Pike is most commonly found in the Northern states as the name would suggest as well as Canada, but recently the fish has been thriving in numerous lakes around the Midwest due to heavy stocking as it can stand warmer water temperatures.

Northern Pike are a carnivorous species of the genus Esox that will eat almost anything they can catch. When I say anything I don’t just mean the other species of the lake that they inhabit, they can be cannibalistic when spawning season presents competition for food sources, so they consume other pikes as well.

Aside from fish, they will also consume frogs, rodents and birds. About ten years ago I rolled up on a fairly large pike that had been floating for who knows how long. It looked a little strange from a distance so I decided to get drive right up to it and sure enough, it had choked to death trying to swallow a loon that was bigger than it was.

While the pike can reach lengths of 50 inches, and weigh over 50 pounds they are more frequently a slender fish that can reach great speeds in a short distance. This is one of the many reasons that they are called the wolf of the water.

The pike is one of my favorite fish to go after because unlike their larger relative the Muskellunge (musky), pike are not nearly as skittish and are a much more aggressive, unselective big game predator. I also love to fish for them because they can reach nearly the same size as their larger cousin, so every time you go out you are bound to catch something fairly large.

On my home lake in Northern Minnesota, I would consider it a big failure to land less than 10-15 pike in a two-day fishing trip, which is another nod to not only the aggressive nature of the fish, but it’s metabolism speed, as well as the sheer population numbers that inhabit the Northern lakes.

When and Where to Cast Your Line for Pike

The most ideal time period to fish for pike is just after the lakes have cleared of all the ice and the weather begins to take a turn for the warmer. It is generally around May when the Northern part of the country begins to thaw and the pike begin to spawn. This is the ideal window to target your trophy fish.

The summer months can be hit and miss, especially for the large fish because they are big fish tend to be more active in cooler water.

I always feel like I have my best chance to land a big fish in water temperatures around 60 degrees, so the dog days of summer with water temps in the 70’s definitely slow down the big fish. However, the smaller pike still will hit in warmer water and are still a ton of fun to haul in.

One of the best things about fishing for pike is they can be found in numerous parts of the water at any given time. If you love moving around the lake, and fishing different spots then the Northern Pike is the fish for you.

While they can hit in just about every depth of water from three feet to depths as much as 40 feet. I generally prefer drop off points around 10 -15 feet of water which are essential for any predatory fish as well as large weed beds in 20 – 25 feet of water.

However, pike have been known to strike in extremely shallow rock beds as well as areas with fallen trees just offshore, so keep those topwater lures handy if you spot one.

One of the largest pikes that I have ever landed came just offshore in about five feet of water. I was guiding four of my nephews who had driven up nine hours to fish with me and we were having a tough day due to poor weather conditions.

As any angler will tell you, a 70-degree day without a cloud in the sky is poor fishing conditions, so I decided to take them close to shore to try and get some perch or largemouth. I saw a downed tree and tossed out a beetle spinner that I use for largemouth just under the tree branch, and before I had time to say “that was a hall of fame cast” a big pike hit.

The Best Northern Pike Lures for Your Tackle Box

top lures for northern pike fishing

Another aspect about pike fishing is you get to use the entire repertoire of your numerous tackle boxes, but I do have a few lures that I prefer over others:

Spoons

The spoon is my go-to lure if I am going after pike in any condition. The fluttering, spinning movement accompanied by an assortment of color varieties make spoons an irresistible meal for pike.

Spoons are particularly effective when being used off of drop off points because you can let them sink to your preferred water depths, and they will maintain that depth with whatever retrieval speed you are using.

My go-to spoon is the Eppinger Daredevil Spoon.

I love these spoons because of the tremendous side to side movement that they possess. It is a proven lure for me as it has definitely my highest success rate for pike. If I am struggling, and need to make sure I get on the board for that day I am turning to the Daredevil preferably in the classic white and red color configuration.

Spinner Baits

I love using spinnerbaits for pike because of the large target area that they provide, giving the fish a huge bullseye for which to hit. I prefer Terminator Spinnerbait because of the durability that some spinnerbait tails lack.

With the needle-like teeth of pike, you need a bait that can withstand a little punishment, or you’ll find yourself going through baits left and right. I also like these because they tend to come in a variety of bright, vibrant colors that resemble the belly of a baitfish that pike attack with reckless abandon.

Topwater Lures

When attacking the shallow areas of your body of water you are going to need some topwater lures to draw the pike’s attention and keep you out of weeds and debris. My go-to recently has been the Heddon Rattle Spook.

This lure provides a lot of noise that attracts pike and has a lot of movement to it as well. I was really successful with it early this spring landing a 35-inch pike off a shallow rock line at Leech Lake. I have yet to lose a fish on these due to the dual treble hooks which give you a few chances to really latch on the rock-hard jaw of a big pike.

Swim Baits

I really enjoy using swim baits due to the realistic swimming action that they present to predatory fish. We have already discussed the cannibalistic nature of young pike during the spawning season, so a swimbait that I like to use in the early spring is Xfishman Multijointed Pike Lure.

These pike clones provide awesome movement and I have seen pike continuously go after them. I prefer to use these on break lines and drop-off points in 10-15 feet of water when spawning is occurring.

In many ways, pike are the perfect predator. They have a perfect camouflage color scheme, they are lightning quick, and are armed with a sharp row of needle-like teeth that make them fearless of any fish. This is why they are so aggressive and such an exciting target for me.

Top Tip – Pike will bite on just about anything you dangle around in the water. The trick is to keep your bait moving because they aren’t going to nibble on anything that’s sitting still. If you are using a lure, spinnerbait, or anything else then you will want to constantly move it around in the water. By giving the bait slight but steady jerks you will increase your strike rate.

Eating Northern Pike

Although most anglers generally release their catch because pike are rather bony, particularly due to their “Y-bones”, they have a long history in cuisine and are still popular table fare in some parts of Europe.

However, baking small pike, rather than frying them as one might do with other gamefish, dissolves most of the small bones that make eating them difficult. Larger fish can be filleted, and are thus easier to work with. 

Final Thoughts Pike Fishing

I have often found myself heading out to fish for another species and not able to land what I went out for, and saying “you know what I am just going to fish for pike”. To me, they are Northern waters’ most reliable predator. I hope that with these tips you too will make you more successful in your Northern Pike fishing, maybe even land the big one!

Happy Fishing!

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1 thought on “Fishing for Northern Pike, the Wolf of the Water

  1. James Lantz

    I always seem to catch a northern even when I’m fishing for bass. They are very aggressive and fun to catch. Is there a favorite time of year for catching northerns?

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