Pike Through Ice

Photo by Oskar Karlin.

Fishing doesn’t have to stop because it gets colder; it just takes slightly different tactics and equipment. When the lakes, streams, and rivers in northern states freeze over in winter, the thickness of the ice can often be measured in feet. And if your adult beverages are frozen because you left them in the car, don’t despair; it’s time to put on your big boy pants and dust off the ice fishing gear.

Ice fishing is not for the faint of heart and precautions regarding ice thickness and hypothermia should always be taken, but it’s also not difficult or reserved only for a few diehards. In fact, ice fishing derbies often attract thousands. Some central Wisconsin lakes resemble stadium parking lots complete with barbecue grills, large tents, canopies and the occasional pick-up game of football or Frisbee toss nearby. Tip-ups, with their telltale flags dominate the terrain along with the many jig fishermen.

Weed edges along breaks, humps or depressions are all great places to set up. Fish will congregate in areas of comfort or cover, and when you find them the fishing can be terrific. Of course, knowing where these areas are requires having firsthand knowledge before heading out or a topography map, or both. Knowledge is king, and previous experience in your favorite summertime spots nearly always pays off.

For large game fish through the ice, such as northern pike, I prefer the very dependable Beaver Dam tip-ups rigged with 50-lb. Dacron, a No. 6 or 8 treble hook and a medium to large shiner. When setting tip-ups, I like a mix of bottom sets but also some that allow the shiner to swim just beneath the ice. A deep channel or weed edge is ideal to start. For large pike, often the larger the bait the larger the fish, but I’ve also found that big fish eat small bait. The largest pike I’ve pulled through the ice was just shy of 40 inches and well over 20 pounds. It was caught on a 3-inch shiner set a foot beneath the ice along a weed edge adjacent to a deep river channel. This is an ideal set up for big pike that are cruising the shallows.

To maximize your time, set multiple tip-ups along a weed edge or drop off. When a fish strikes, be patient. Big pike will often grab the baitfish and make long, screaming runs. When the spindle begins to slow, pull up any slack and set the hook. If it’s a good one, be prepared for more runs, as big pike will pull hard on the Dacron.

Pike are great fighters and often hit when other fish won’t. Most lakes in the northern states have huge populations of pike and can make for a memorable day of fishing. As for table fare, pike are not in the same league as perch or their walleye cousins, but properly iced and promptly cleaned, a fresh northern pike produces firm, tasty fillets big enough to feed the whole family.

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