How to Catch Northern Pike
Northern Pike are actually one of the easiest freshwater fish to catch in Ontario. They hit just about any lure you throw at them. Sometimes they can be finicky because of air pressure or the weather and sometimes the water color and clarity influences their feeding. In Ontario some of the lakes have water, which many people call Walleye Wine. This is dark rusty water that is saturated with dissolved iron. You usually find this type of water in smaller shallow lakes while big deep lakes are usually clear. You just need to try different colors until one works for the water you are in. In clear water a lure with red, white, bright green or silver usually works best. In darker rusty water the Northern Pike tend to go after yellow, copper or gold. Logically you would think it's the other way around. I think what's happening is in dark rusty water the Northern Pike are hunting more on vibration and water displacement so they don't actually see the lure until it is right in front of their face. If they suddenly see a bright flashy silver lure it spooks them while in dark rusty water a yellow, gold or copper lure looks more like a Walleye, their natural prey.
You always have to use steel leaders as their teeth are razor sharp and the Northern Pike will bite through your line like nothing. In rusty or murky water Northern Pike like loud baits such as buzzbates, rattlebaits and spinnerbaits. Other times in clear water Northern Pike tend to go after quiet baits that are highly visible. This is not carved in stone. It's just a good idea to start with until you get a feel for what they are hitting because every lake is different. Quiet baits such as Daredevles, Thompson Spoon and Johnson Silver Minnow are all very popular and very effective lures for Northern Pike. The Northern Pike also go after Musky lures such as Swimwizz, Believers and Mepps Musky Killers.
Let's face it; people that fly into a remote Northern Ontario fishing lodge are there because they want to catch lots of fish and they want to catch something big. On Anishinabi Lake and the backcountry portage lakes the Northern Pike are everywhere and easy to catch. Guests have caught-&-released many Northern Pike up to 45 inches. We wrote this article to give our guests a little extra knowledge to maximize their chances at catching a big Trophy Northern Pike. Increasing your chances means understanding the hunting patterns of the big Northerns.
Pike Hunting Patterns in the Backcountry Lakes
Our backcountry lakes are smaller, shallow and weedy and just don't have the diverse structure that Anishinabi Lake has so catching Northern Pike is easier but targeting the trophies is a little harder. Basically the backcountry lakes are a numbers game and you just need to keep catching Pike after Pike until you hit a big one. You have to fish the outside of weedbeds or put on a weedless spoon like a Johnson Silver minnow and fish right into the weeds. There are also different kinds of weeds. If you are casting into thick goopy Musky Cabbage or Pickerel Grass, use a weedless spoon. If you find Lily Pads or Wild Rice try casting spinnerbaits and fish just like you would for Largemouth Bass.
Northern Pike are ambush predators so if you find a weedy bay but the entrance to that bay is rocky points; you have just found a perfect spot. Big Trophy Northern Pike like to stake out the rocky points leading into weedy bays so they can pick-off smaller Pike and Walleyes coming in and out of the bay. Another perfect spot is the mouth of narrows where Walleye are migrating through.
Pike Hunting Patterns on Lake Anishinabi
It's a well known fact that lakes with both Lake Trout and Northern Pike can produce the biggest Northern Pike because Lake Trout are a rich rewarding source of food. Often Northern Pike hunting behavior changes drastically around mid-July on a Lake Trout Lake.
From May to mid-July the majority of Northern Pike will be along the shore. They will be hanging out either in the weeds or on the edge of the weeds. They will also hang around points leading into bays and at the mouths of narrows and feeder streams. Because Anishinabi Lake has such a diverse structure you will find big Northern Pike hanging off sunken ridges that are off shore and around 10 feet deep. During this time you would use the same lures and tactics described above. It's still a numbers game. You just need to keep catching Pike until you run into a big one.
It seems there is a transition around mid-July. The small Northern pike up to 6 pounds are still along the shore and feeding but the big ones are just following but not taking the bait or you don't see any at all. There is a reason for this and you can adjust your tactics to compensate for the change in Pike behavior. There are two things to try.
1) Around mid-July the days are getting shorter and the water is getting colder. The Pike and Smallmouth have been feeding along the shore all summer and there is not much food left. The big Northern Pike become very lethargic in cold water so they need to fatten up for the winter because it's hard for them to catch fish in ice-water. The best way to fatten up is eating Lake Trout. Under normal circumstances the Northern Pike are a shallow water fish. They just can't swim down 50 to 70 feet on a dime to hunt Lake Trout. What they do is they swim down and stage off deep water ridges in the 15 to 25-foot range and adjust to the pressure. Then they go on short deep-water raids after Lake Trout. Northern Pike have a hard time digesting their food down deep with high pressure so they will slowly make their way back into the shallows and hide out in Wild Rice and sun themselves to speed up digestion. The key is to go after them while they are hanging out on the deep ridges before they go super-deep for trout. They are really hungry at this point. The best way to get at them is to troll along the shore with deep running Musky lures. Silver-&-black mimics a Lake Trout and Lake Herring but they will also hit Perch color.
2) After eating a big Lake Trout the Northern Pike will make their way into the shallows to sun themselves in the warmer water to digest. The really big ones look like alligators thus why there are nicknamed Gators. At this time they are not really hungry but you can still get them to strike if you take advantage of their attitude. Northern Pike are the apex predators in the lake and nothing makes them angrier than watching another fish eat something. You need to make it look like your lure is chasing a smaller fish to trigger that competitive instinct.
The best thing to do is look through your tackle box and find some old broken lures that are small. A small Rapala minnow with the lip broker off is perfect. Make sure there are no hooks and put the lure between two steel leaders and then attach your main lure to the back, just like the animation below. This can be very effective with late summer and early fall Northern Pike Fishing.