Bait Options for Big Pike
February 02, 2016
Wire leaders are recommended with single treble hooks to ice-fish for northern pike with live bait. That's to prevent the sharp teeth of these toothy predator fish from cutting the line. Heavy monofilament leaders in the 20- to 30-pound-test range can be substituted for wire leaders with good results.
Based on a comparison of monofilament and wire leaders, I've hooked more fish on mono than wire, but an occasional pike still manages to cut the heavy mono, getting away.
The movement of live baitfish can work to the advantage of ice-fishermen when it comes to hooking pike. I like to clamp a split shot or two on the line when using live bait to keep them as deep as possible.
Dead Bait Options
Mustad makes a U-shaped pike hook specifically designed for ice-fishing dead bait that I really like. The reason I like it is I've caught many a winter northern with them. They come in a variety of sizes to match the size of dead bait you are using, but I prefer the larger 10 and 12 sizes because they are suited for the biggest bait.
These pike hooks can be used with any type of dead bait that northerns prefer such as smelt, suckers, shiners, chubs, alewives, herring and yellow perch. You aren't likely to find perch at bait shops, but I know at least one angler who catches perch on hook and line that he freezes and saves as pike bait. (Check regulations before you try this!) Other anglers secure supplies of smelt and alewives themselves that they use as pike bait.
There are a number of advantages to using Mustad Pike Hooks with dead bait to ice-fish for northerns. You don't have to carry bait buckets full of water with you to make sure bait stays alive. Due to the shape of these hooks, you don't normally have to worry about hooking sublegal fish too deeply and injuring them. Northerns of any size are easy to unhook once they are on the ice.
Before hooking a baitfish with the Mustad Hooks, I hold the hook next to the fish to determine where to insert it so the point of the hook ends up at the head or just behind the head. I then insert the hook point downward at the appropriate place near the tail and into the body cavity then forward to the head. The long, straight portion of the hook keeps bait looking lifelike in the water.
Once a dead bait is hooked, I lower it into the water to see if the fish rests horizontally. If it's close, the bait is ready to attract a pike. If the head goes up or down too much, I often use a small nail as ballast that I put either in the mouth or vent of the baitfish to balance it in the water.
When using Mustad Hooks it's important to only set the hook on a fish when it's running with the bait. Due to the design of the hook, it's critical to keep the line tight when bringing in a pike. If any slack develops in the line, the hook can easily pull out. Also due to the design of Mustad Hooks, wire leaders are not necessary.
I usually fish live or dead baitfish about a foot from the bottom. A clamp-on weight is used to test the depth before lowering the bait. A small rubber band can be added to the line to mark the right depth when resetting the line during the course of the day.
I've had my best success on winter pike along structure such as the edges of weedbeds or dropoffs. Most action is in water between 5 and 10 feet deep. When using dead baits, if there's little to no action, I often lift the bait a foot or two and then let it settle back toward the bottom to make it look alive. That movement can be enough to generate a strike.