Ten tips for catching more northern pike this winter
Winter is probably the best time of the year for catching northern pike in Wisconsin. Not only are pike hungry throughout the winter, they’re plentiful on the majority of Wisconsin’s ice fishing waters.
If you’ve never tangled with a pike while ice fishing, you’re in for a real treat. Staring at the hole in the ice with the fishing line dancing about, your imagination runs wild thinking about what monster might be hooked. And, unlike other fish species, northern pike put up quite a fight during the winter. A hooked pike doesn’t surrender easily.
So, how do you experience this ice fishing thrill for yourself? Here are ten tips for catching more pike this winter in Wisconsin.
- Cut yourself a big hole in the ice – Pike can grow big. On some Wisconsin waters, pike can reach lengths of more than 40 inches. A fish that large is also thick. You need to cut a hole in the ice that lets you land a fish of that size. One way to do this is using an eight-inch auger. However, if you only have a small auger, you can easily use an ice spud to open the hole up to a larger size.
- Invest in a quality tip-up – A tip-up is a device that allows you to place a bait under the ice. It will alert you of a strike by raising a small flag. Tip-ups are probably the most popular way to ice fish for pike in Wisconsin. Buy a high-quality tip up and it will last you a lifetime of fishing.
- Use heavy Dacron line in your tip-ups – Because you’ll be pulling the line in by hand, you’ll want the thickest line possible. Plus, pike have some serious teeth and can shred fishing line. Use 30-pount test line or stronger.
- Don’t skimp on the leader – To protect your fishing line from the teeth that make pike famous, use a leader made of braided steel or heavy monofilament. And don’t skimp! You should have at least 18 inches of leader, minimum. Some anglers go so far as to put two feet and even three feet of leader on their lines.
- Use live bait – There are two schools of thought on what type of bait to use for northern pike: live and dead. Some people swear that a dead minnow, such as a smelt, is the way to go, particularly for targeting large pike. However, if you want to catch more pike, both large and small, fresh, active live bait can’t be beat.
- Don’ use giant baits – It is true that big pike will hit big baits. However, big pike have no trouble hitting smaller baits as well. Don’t listen to the folks who insist that you must use a 12-inch sucker to catch a big pike. If you want a chance at pike, both big and small, use a six- or seven-inch chub or sucker. The smaller baits are much cheaper and will give you a shot at smaller pike as well as walleye.
- Don’t forget jigging – Tip-ups are an outstanding way to catch pike. But, jigging is also an effective method. Using a heavy-duty ice fishing rod and reel spooled with ten- to twenty-pound line, jig with special ice fishing plugs or spoons. You might hook a big pike, but you might also attract a fish to your area to get them to bite one of the tip-up baits. Plus, jigging is fun!
- Find the right depth – Pike patrol at different depths. Finding the depth at which pike are prowling is key to your fishing success. If you’re setting out three tip-ups, set one near the bottom, one just a few feet under the ice and the other in between. When you get a bite on one of the tip-ups, re-set the others to match that tip-up’s depth.
- Think like a fish – When picking places to jig or place your tip-ups, you need to think like a fish. Northern pike like to cruise along drop offs and around points. Anywhere shallow water meets deep water is a good bet. If you know that there are walleye, crappie, bluegill and other fish in an area, it’s a good bet there are northern pike in the vicinity too.
- Don’t lose that fish – After you’ve set the hook, don’t manhandle the fish to the hole. Retrieve the line steadily and gently. When you get the fish to the hole, don’t force its head up by yanking on the line. Instead, wait until the fish comes to the right position and then grab the fish behind the head and lift. Take a picture and quickly return the pike to the water to fight another day.
So, where are some of the best places to catch a lunker northern pike? In Wisconsin, there are a number of options. One is the Boulder Junction[link to boulderjct.org ]. Although the community is famous for its musky fishing, many of the 194 area lakes also harbor monstrous pike. And, because most local anglers focus their attention on musky, the pike in Boulder Junction have had a chance to grow big – real big.
Oneida County is home to hundreds of lakes. During winter, the county’s largest lakes and flowages are your best bet for northern pike. The massive Willow Flowage in western Oneida County is an excellent place to start your search for hungry pike.
Located along the Mississippi River, Onalaska should be on every pike hunter’s radar. The 7,700-acre Lake Onalaska hides some giants. The abundant baitfish make these pike grow fat and the river current makes them strong. Be ready for a fight!
Oshkosh on Lake Winnebago might be the best place in the state to catch a true trophy pike. At more than 137,000 acres, Lake Winnebago offers pike lots of room to grow. Along Oshkosh’s shoreline, you’ll find North Asylum Bay, South Asylum Bay and Millers Bay, all top pike-producing spots.
Good luck with your pike hunting this winter!