Anglers wanting to experience one of the finest freshwater fishing experiences in the world have a great resource close at hand. Northern pike, sometimes referred to as “water wolves” because of their razor-sharp teeth and aggressive disposition, are the fish of choice for thousands of big-fish chasers in North America and northern Europe. A big northern pike is a nasty customer at 40 inches and up to 20 pounds. It can eat another fish up to a third its own length and lay a careless angler’s hand open to the bone.
Northern pike fishing is easy in the sense that pike are willing to attack just about anything that moves through the water. Smaller pike are notably aggressive and at times attack fish far larger than they can physically eat. Older, wiser pike are another story. A big northern will live quietly for years, moving shallow in the spring to spawn or forage for prey as large as small muskrats and ducks, and at other times descend so far down in the depths that angler offerings can’t hope to reach it. A big northern pike will eat what it wants, when it wants it, and in its own time.
Catching northern pike is real world fun. Northern pike are frequently very accommodating for even the beginning angler. Anyone living within casting distance of northern pike can catch them with just a basic knowledge of pike fishing.
Northern pike are predators from the tip of the mouth to their tails. Pike anglers need to be equipped with the right equipment to handle smashing strikes and wrestling pike out of the weeds these sleek green-sided fish love to lie in. High dollar rods, reels, lines, and baits aren’t necessary but there are some minimum qualities your gear should possess.
Reels should be capable of handling line in the 10- to 20-pound range. Pike are caught on baitcasting, spincasting, and spinning reels built for solid hook-sets and high-stress battles. A functional drag is very important since pike occasionally allow themselves to be dragged submissively to boat side only to explode on three or four feet of line. A drag that doesn’t work virtually guarantees this pike will swim away.
Rods need to be rated medium-heavy to heavy in order for them to successfully handle larger northern pike. Even inexpensive rods can handle pike if they’re thick and flexible enough or allow you to control the fish. The only problem with cheaper rods is that the eyes are made of stainless steel and tend to groove. These grooves can cause the line to break.
Line is an often overlooked important piece of equipment and in many cases the key to pike fishing success. Northerns, except for the deep-water behemoths in lakes where the pike feed on trout, are creatures of predictable habitat. Unfortunately, the habitat preferences are among the least likely favorites of anglers. Thick weeds are the pike’s favorite haunt where it lies in concealment, waiting for careless preyfish to wander by. Weed stalks are tough to pull a fish out of and pike instinctively bury themselves as deeply as possible when hooked. Pike also use fallen trees, rocks, dock posts, bridge pilings, and whatever other cover is available. Only good line can handle the punishment a fighting pike can dish out.
A leader is vitally important. The pike’s teeth will shred line in an instant. A leader presents a bite-proof connection between bait and line. Try fishing busy pike waters without a leader and you may as well toss the baits overboard and go home.
The up side to pike fishing is that the inherent aggressiveness of pike makes bait selection fairly easy. If it moves, it’s fair game. Northerns can be fussy and occasionally there is nothing you can do that will tempt a bite. But for the most part a well-placed crankbait like the Original Rapala Minnow, a classic red-and-white Dardevle spoon, or an inline spinnerbait such as a Mepps Giant Killer, will get the attention of a hungry northern pike.
Pike fishing is fun, plain and simple. Any time you can catch big fish that fight like crazy with minimal skill and equipment, you’re onto some real-world fishing.