by Rick Lawrence, October 06, 2017
If you’re like most Pike fisherman you either switch to ice fishing with dead bait or give up all together when the weather starts turning cold, but if you put into practice what I’m about to share with you here you can catch some big Pike all winter long and I do this fishing from the comfort of my boat using only lures. I release all my pike so I never deadbait them. I've had days where my partner and I landed over a dozen fish, so it can be very productive. Just pick a somewhat warmer day above freezing, so the ice doesn't clog up the guides on the rod and pick up a portable heater and pocket warmers to keep the hands warm.
The key to winter pike fishing is finding the right open water to fish. I have many places here in N. Idaho that either rarely or never freezes over. Some of them are on lakes and some on the river which is pretty much always fish-able. In lakes you need to find deep water weed lines (Cabbage or Kelp looking weeds that are still green and grow up from deep water are best). Green weed lines that come up from say 15 feet or more onto a shallow flat and there is a hard edge of weeds in the 10 to 14 ft depth next to open deeper water. So look for shallow weeds on one side of the boat and deep water on the other. This fish holding weed line can be as narrow as a few feet to 40’ wide. The edge of weed lines is where the Pike love to be and where they will live all winter long. I make long casts parallel to the weed line out in the deeper water maybe 2 feet of so off the weeds. When you find a good spot mark it on your GPS, as they will hang along these same pathways year after year.
This is Mark Carrico with a nice winter pike he got on a rainbow trout colored S-waver.
Some rivers are a little tougher to find where the Pike like to winter, but once you do you can go back to that same spot the next year and find them there again as well. In most river systems you want to look for an open water cove off the main channel that is 8 to 12 feet deep with deeper water nearby. I have found winter pike in as little as 5 ft of water if it is stained and has some good vegetation. Back eddies are great winter Pike waters and a small amount of current is OK as long as the cove has weeds on the bottom and deeper water nearby. In my local River there was a spot that is not more than 400 feet long and 100 feet wide that all the Pike in the river system for miles around winter at. There are hundreds of Pike stacked up like cord wood in a very small area, so there are always some Pike that are willing to take a properly presented bait.
In wintertime Pike fishing, I catch almost 100% of my fish on lifelike minnow type swimbaits of some kind, whether they are hard or soft. The key to catching wintertime Pike is how you work the bait. 99% of all pike take the bait in the winter on the pause, after you give it a small pop or pull. I can’t stress enough you need to work the bait slowly with as many pauses as you or the bait your fishing can stand. It’s not uncommon in the winter for it to take 3 or 5 minutes to reel your bait back. So you better keep a heater handy because you’re not going to be working up a sweat here.
My favorite baits for catching ice cold Northern’s are ; The Rapala Husky Jerk in the HJ14 as you can really do the jerk with a long pause technique with this bait better than any other; The River 2 Sea S-Waver in either the 4 ½“or the 6 ¾” version are also excellent winter baits, Some of my other favorites are the Basstrix paddle tail soft swimbaits in the 5” or 6”. Some other companies soft paddle tails would work as well, but I have great faith in the Basstrix Paddle tails and have caught more Pike on them than almost any other lure. The one exception to the minnow type baits is a 1 Oz. Johnson weedless spoon. Firetiger and 5 of diamonds are my favorite colors in them rigged with twin tail trailers. It is a great bait to do the flutter fall retrieve. Meaning make a short cast and let the spoon flutter to the bottom, rip it up and let it fall again. I do this till the bait is under the boat then reel up and cast again.
My favorite winter bait is the Glass Perch colored Husky jerk size HJ-14 that I add Flashabou to the tail hook.
This was a nice 31” 7 lb. fish. I got it out of Hayden Lake a few years back on that bait after a long pause letting the bait do its thing on a semi slack line.
Besides the Rapala Husky Jerk, I use X-raps and other suspending jerkbaits just make sure they are near neutral buoyancy. The best baits are ones that will dive to about 4 to 12 feet and then suspend in place horizontally when you pause the bait. I also add Flashabou to the tail hook on most all my hard baits. What ever bait you use you need to match the forage fish in the body of water you are fishing. For me here in N. Idaho that’s the Yellow Perch, but for you it might be a shad or some other bait fish.
The key to catching winter pike is a very slow moving realistic looking bait that will suspend horizontally in one place, like a real fish would. Not all the baits I’ve talked about here will suspend. The S-Waver is a slow sinking bait, so with them I keep the bait moving very slowly with a high rod tip once the bait is down 6 feet or so with only a brief pause every few feet of retrieve. Same goes for the Basstrix Soft paddle tail swimbaits. If you pause them to long you get down in the weeds and you won’t catch any fish dragging weeds behind your bait. So you need to reel them with a high rod tip just fast enough to keep them off the bottom. I sometimes shave the weight down so the bait can be fished slower without sinking to the bottom if the fish are in a wanting an even slower presentation.
I rig the Basstrix swimbait with a Gammy keel weighted screw EWG hook and with my treble stinger hook setup. Note that with the treble hook it’s rigged with a snap on the top of the bait held in place by a small piece of a clear drinking straw that is slid over the top of the snap on the hook and then hooked into the back of the bait. The trailer hook is rigged on the top of the bait directly on the keel weighted hook. You can also rig a hook on the bottom of the bait just by sliding it over the hook before coming up through the bait and skin hooking the point. I use a stinger hook of one kind of the other 100% of the time Pike fishing winter or summer. As you will miss a lot of fish without a stinger hook setup.
Here is David with the first pike that ever caught; he got fly fishing with me a couple winters ago. It was on a black colored rabbit fur streamer fly, if I remember correctly. So any fish shaped lure will catch cold water Pike if presented correctly. It was only his second trip ever for Pike, as he got skunked on his first trip but landed this nice 12 lb. fish the next time.
Not a bad first time Pike for sure and it was caught in some cold water. So get out there and find some big ol toothy critters of your own this winter.
One last thing I want to cover is the tackle I use in winter. I like a nice long rod like a 8’ or 8’ 6” baitcasting rod in a med heavy or heavy action mated up with a quality casting reel. I use all Shimano Curado’s both some older ones and some newer. All my reels are the super free spool system though that make long casts a breeze. I spool all my reels with 30 lb Suffix braid and I only use 80 or 100 lb Fluorocarbon leaders tied with a FG knot. I NEVER use a steel leader, as they tend to drag the front of the bait down and you get less strikes with the wire. I tie about 16” of the fluoro on with FG knot. Then I tie on a dou-lock snap with a 4 turn uni-knot to make bait changing easy.
So if you follow these guidelines you can put some nice winter pike in the boat as well! All you need is pike water that doesn’t normally freeze and the determination to get out there.