Ontario’s pike offer anglers opportunities to fish for a species that are big, fat and most often very aggressive. Big, clear lakes have pike, so do shallow, muddy water lakes. There isn’t a part of the province where descent pike fishing can’t be found within an hour or two of your starting point. Once you have picked your destination use some of these tips to help you ice more winter pike!
Tip-ups account for the majority of my winter pike each season. It is quite possibly the easiest, yet most effective way to consistently catch pike and big the ones at that. Now, just by throwing down a tip-up with some hooks on is not going to get you many fish. The location of bait in the water column is what counts. Most often, I suspend my dead bait. At minimum a 1/3 to sometimes half way up. In water 10 feet and less often a foot or two below the ice is the ticket.
Dead baits like smelt and ciscoes are among the top producers for big pike through the ice. I catch my smelt in Lake Superior tributaries at ice out with dip nets. I bag them in dozen bags for use in the summer months for lake trout and pike throughout winter. Live bait like big shiners but especially sucker minnows are defiantly part of my pike arsenal. A trick I picked up a few years ago while reading my favourite outdoors magazine is to “piggyback” a live minnow and dead bait. I will hook my smelt up and then add a small or medium live shiner to a hook to add some wiggle. Sometimes the smell of that smelt and wiggle of the shiner is a deadly combination. All my tip-up baits are hung with 30-40# fluorocarbon quick strike rigs.
When looking for the ideal spot to place your tip-up. Look for weed edges to deeper water. Not that much deeper but anything over 5ft is ideal. With this approach you are targeting the pike that are stalking unsuspecting baitfish and are just waiting for an opportunity to eat one. If you are working a huge weed bed with a few buddies. Hang your baits a foot or two above the weeds and move around every so often if the action isn’t steady. Keep your holes 50+ ft apart and spread out covering as much of the weed bed as possible.
Jigging up pike, let alone big pike isn’t always an easy task. As much as pike are known to aggressive predators during the winter there are times they can be docile as a mid day walleye. That being said there are days when northern pike can be suicidal and action can peak during the day. Big plastics like tube jigs have always produced for me and my fishing buddies when looking for a few pike to ice. 3-4” being ideal but go bigger if your trophy hunting. White and chartreuse have worked well but a glow white tube has accounted for my biggest pike jigging. Add rattles and scent for more appeal. Rip jigging a big Williams spoon will put pike on the ice as well as big swimming lures like Jigging Rapalas and Airplane jigs. Tip these baits with full or pieces of minnow, smelt or some kind of “meat”. A lure that I use with no bait is a lip less crank bait. The same ones used during the open water months. The sound and vibrations given out from these sinking crank baits are second to none. In shallow enough water you can actually hear the rattles. I start a few feet off bottom and work the whole water column up looking for cruising, aggressive pike. Rapala Clackin Raps and Cotton Cordell Super Spots are both excellent choices.
I use my lake trout rods when jigging pike 30-36 medium –medium heavy rods work just fine. 10# braid in the hut and 10# mono when fishing outside in cold conditions. Each jigging rod has a 20-30# fluorocarbon leader attached.
Pike fishing is all timing just like any other species. Predict where the fish are going to be and you will be sitting well. With this in mind you have to understand the movements of pike under the ice. Early season pike will be out in deeper (20ft +) water. They roam the deeper edges chasing schools of perch and other pan fish. Once mid winter comes along they will head into the adjacent weedy bays. Not only are they following the forage (pan fish) into these weedy bays but these will be the spawning grounds for them in the following weeks come ice out. They pike will roam these bays from mid-winter until ice out when the spawn. If your zone is open to pike fishing during last ice this is when you will have your best shot at catching a huge northern pike through the ice. The spawning bays will be crawling with big girls looking for a partner and one last snack!
Lastly, if you intend on targeting pike keep in mind it can be a nightmare getting the hooks removed safely, not only for the fish but for yourself. Whenever a flag goes off; bring your “pike kit” with you to the hole. The kit should include a good pair of needle nose pliers (I use the pistol grip style), jaw spreaders, side cutters, rag, measuring tape and of course your camera!