How to Catch Pike: 5 Ice Fishing for Pike Tips [2022 Update]

Updated on September 20, 2022 by

Pike fishing is known for its intensity and the excitement of catching these large freshwater fish species. Most of the techniques you use during summer to target pike aren’t possible during the winter due to the extreme cold that typically grips areas of the upper North American continent. If you’re an avid pike angler wondering what tactics and lures you should use to catch these fish on the ice, there are some specific things you’ll need to keep in mind. 

For most anglers, northern pike can be as fun to catch during the frigid winter as it is in the summer. Ice fishing involves patience and concentration to take advantage of a vastly different fishing environment. Still, pike is easily one of the most sought-after fish among ice anglers in The United States and Canada. 

If you’re looking for a few good tips, techniques and advice regarding ice fishing for pike, we’ve compiled this list of points you should keep in mind. 

How to catch northern pike

Northern Pike Overview 

During the warm summer months and into the early fall, the behavior of northern pike is usually very predictable. These fish can grow to massive sizes and feed on just about any other type of fish they can chase down and devour. During the summer, pike is well-known for its aggressive feeding habits and the ferocity they chase after certain lures like spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, and anything else you can retrieve rapidly. 

In the winter, however, things change dramatically. You no longer have the ability to make long, sweeping casts that will bring your lure right next to a certain structure or cover where you might typically get a strike. Now, you’re forced to settle in and work to figure out just what the pike in your chosen lake is looking to feed on. As the water temperature takes a sharp turn toward the freezing mark, the metabolism of pike will slow down significantly, as will their aggressive efforts to hunt for prey. 

Pike are often surprisingly docile during the winter compared to their summer behavior. They will slowly swim through lakes and take advantage of any prey that is opportune for them, but they won’t typically expend much energy doing so. You also will see a massive change in how pike fights if you catch one. The freezing water makes them calmer, and you won’t typically expect them to dive and run hard away from your position on the ice like they will during the warm weather. 

Hopefully, the tips below will explain the best way to ice fish for pike.

1. Understand Your Lake 
How to Find Fishing Spots Near Me [...
How to Find Fishing Spots Near Me [2022 Update]

When it comes to ice fishing for pike, the most important thing you can remember is to pay attention to where the bait fish are likely to be. Pike are not looking to spend as much energy hunting down their next meal, and they will lazily hang out very close to their chosen food source, which is often schools of small bait fish. Some of their favorite bait fish are whitefish and tullibee, but they will also seek out small bluegill. 

When ice fishing is just starting, multiple types of bait fish will spawn during the winter. During this spawning ritual, they can usually be found near shallow water, where their eggs will be more protected. Pike will follow these fish close to their spawning areas, so you might have success searching in shallow water areas for pike early in the ice season. 

There are dozens of great ice fishing lakes throughout the Northern United States, so make sure you understand your own lakes’ unique characteristics.

Ice Fishing for Pike 

2. Be Versatile 

When it comes to ice fishing for pike tips, one of the best bits of information you can get is to vary your approach to these fish and try different locations and methods to see what they are biting at certain times of the season. Have the same mindset you might if you were fishing out of a boat and fished in an unproductive area for about 30 minutes. It’s a good idea to pick up your gear and relocate to see if you can find the pike. 

An ice fishing fish finder helps considerably when searching for fish and looking at potential locations where baitfish might school up. Most of the gear used in ice fishing today makes it much easier to be more mobile and relocate when needed. 

3. Less is More 

Regarding the movement you need to display to entice a northern pike to bite your lure or bait, it’s often recommended that you take it easy and not move your hook too much. Most of these fish are very lethargic and might not have an interest in something that’s moving at a more rapid pace than anything else in the frigid waters. 

It’s good to remember that nothing living in the freezing-cold waters of northern lakes and reservoirs will move very fast, especially if you’re fishing in deeper water. By moving or jigging your lure around less than usual, you won’t spook any fish that might be hanging out nearby, thinking about whether or not they want to take a bite. 

pike caught ice fishing in hole

4. Pay Attention 

Some ice anglers make the mistake of being too eager with their approach and will set out several lines in a specific location. This might be a good way to catch some fish, but when it comes to northern pike, you should pay close attention to your line and your lure to feel the most subtle bites. 

Often, a pike will bite a baited hook and won’t move away from the location. The angler doesn’t realize they have a fish until they attempt to reel in their hook to reset or move to another location. It’s a good idea to fish with fewer lines out and pay close attention to each one to ensure you don’t miss any potential bites on the ice. 

5. Go Small

Many professional anglers have done away with the ‘go big’ approach to pike fishing on the ice in recent years. While it’s been customary for most anglers to use larger-sized minnows during the winter to catch big pike, you might be surprised with the results you get from using smaller bait like wax worms, grubs, and other little creatures. 

Pike are opportunistic feeders and usually won’t turn down an easy meal, even if it’s a small worm on the end of a hook. If you’re not having much luck with the strategy that involves using bigger bait, try going with something smaller to change things up. 

holding a pike caught at lake champlain

What is the best bait for pike?

The best bait for pike is to mimic their natural food source by using herring, sardines, trout, and mackerel. Chartreuse, yellow, and white colors are great for pike fishing due to their uncanny resemblance to baitfish.

What is the best month to fish for pike?

If you are from the northern United States, then late May or even early June might be the prime time to get your hands on a bigger pike. While the main spawn begins in April. It is generally recommended that if you want to target hungry pike, then you begin your hunt early in the morning.

What is the best time of day to fish for pike?

The best time of day to fish for pike is at dawn and in the morning hours while they are feeding.

What is the best depth to fish for pike?

Bigger pike can be found at a depth of 12 to 20 feet as long as the temperature remains ideal during the day and night.

What is the best tackle for pike?

The best equipment for pike fishing is a 5000 spinning reel on a medium-heavy rod spooled with 15 lb mono fishing line. You should also use a wire leader to avoid the pike’s sharp teeth biting through your line.

holding a pike caught at little bay de noc

Photo of author

Donny Karr

Donny Karr is a Tournament Angler and writer whose work has been featured in magazines for nearly a decade. He is a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. He enjoys bass and crappie fishing in the lakes around the south-eastern United States, as well as trout fishing in the streams and rivers of the Appalachian mountains. He enjoys keeping up with the latest news and gear items in the fishing industry and is always looking forward to his next outdoor adventure. Donny has written for Georgia Outdoor News, The Outdoor Trip, Man Can Outdoors, Global Fishing Reports, and Bassmaster.