Ice Fishing for Northern Pike - Warmer Weather Fishing on the Hardwater
Late season ice fishing for Northern Pike is just about the best time to target these water-borne predators. Increased sunlight and warmer temperatures begin in March and continue on through the month of April, creating seasonal conditions which make fish more active and outdoor weather much more bearable for ice fishing. Dead-Baiting a tip-up is the favorite chosen method for most ice anglers seeking to catch a pike (often called a water wolf). Fishing a tip-up mechanism is not extremely technical; however there are specific factors involved with knowing how to best deploy and present bait in order to obtain the greatest chances for success at catching a big toothy using this method.
Ice Fishing for Northern Pike - Tip-Ups
A tip-up is a free standing mechanism used for ice fishing so that an angler can present offerings without holding an actual fishing rod. The components consist of a base, spool (which holds line), and a flag or indicator. Using a tip-up allows fisherman to fish multiple holes at the same time, fish various depths at once, or work various positions on drop-offs or other bottom structure.
Tip-up devices are available in a variety of models and styles so deciding which one for the first time can be a bit confusing. A basic wooden unit is inexpensive and easy to set up and really all you need to get started. Elaborate units will cost more, however they will include features like insulated covers, spools with handles, lighted indicators (for fishing during limited visibility), and enabled motion (for no touch jigging action). No matter which model tip-up you decide on to use, I suggest spooling the device with a braided or Dacron type of line, with a minimum of 30 lb test for hand lining these aggressive large fish to the surface.
Ice Fishing for Northern Pike - Dead Baiting
Hanging dead bait in the water column is a proven method for icing pike. Hungry fish are naturally attracted to the large stationary silhouette, which is unassuming and appears as an easy looking meal for the opportunistic predator. In addition to being an easy target, bait provides the ideal scent and taste for the fish. The aroma bleeds into the surrounding water stimulating their senses and attracting them to the presentation.
Whitefish, herring, hooligan, and eel are all popular choices for dead bait, and can either be harvested during the year to be frozen for later use, or purchased at local grocery stores or sporting good outlets. I have found that using frozen whole herring, which were approximately six to eight inches in length, works very effectively. Keeping the herring slightly frozen allows for easy placement of a hook and keeps the bait on longer as it becomes soft from being water logged.
Dead bait can be rigged on hooks using several methods. Simply piercing the bait with a single hook can get the job done. However using a quick strike style rig is my preferred technique when using a tip-up. Quick strike rigs can be constructed easily or can be purchased prefabricated. The advantages for using this adjustable rig allows bait to hang in a horizontal presentation while suspended in the water column and the ability to set a hook as soon as the fish bites.
Additionally, prior to sending my bait down the hole on a quick strike, I like to cut slits along the sides of the fish. This allows the juices and scent to disperse in the water and attract hungry prowling pike towards my offering.
Make sure you check the Alaska Department of Fish & Game Sport Fishing Regulations before you start hanging bait to catch pike. Regulations for some bodies of water in Alaska do not allow bait and sport fishing for northern pike may be seasonally controlled, restricted, or closed. The types of hooks and amount of lines an angler can tend is also strictly regulated.
Ice Fishing for Northern Pike - Location and Placement
Pike can be found feeding in basically in two ways, offensive patrolling pattern, or close to the bottom in ambush mode simply waiting for a meal to come by. During the sunniest portion of the day is when they can be found at their most aggressive posture.
Finding active fish is my initial goal when starting out the day. I like to cover a wide range of possible areas to find feeders by initially drilling holes in varied depths of water, from 5 feet out to 20 feet, and keeping my bait close to the bottom (1 to 2 feet). Presenting an offering off the bottom in this fashion allows cellar dwellers to see the bait above them, especially in shallower waters. I can accomplish positioning bait very effectively and checking depths by using portable fishing electronics. Once I locate active feeding fish I concentrate my efforts in those places.
Ice Fishing for Northern Pike - Be Prepared
Preparation should not be overlooked for success in setting a good spread of tip-ups. Ideally you should have a good feel for employing your tip-up and rigging your bait. Make sure you're familiar with your equipment by practicing actual set up of the device, and ensuring that your equipment is rigged and ready prior to leaving in order to maximize actual fishing time. Obtaining and reviewing a bathometric map of the lake your fishing will also help prepare you for plotting a plan of attack for a set up, and having electronics to assist in confirming water depths will certainly also be very helpful.
As always, make sure you include risk assessment and safety plan in any late winter fishing activities. Ice conditions can deteriorate quickly as temperatures increase and spring weather arrives. Be safe.
Now that you have the basics setting tip-ups with dead bait for pike will not be so complicated, and it can offer anglers at all skill levels some great late season winter fishing opportunities just before the open water season begins. Anticipating a flag going up, running to the hole, and feeling the head shakes of a potential trophy size pike while line slides between your fingers is exhilarating. Don't miss out on taking advantage of the seasonal changes and last bit of winter fishing hunting for a pike with tip-ups.
Pike are C&R on Harding and Little Harding Lakes in the Interior.