Big Northerns Through The Ice

There is nothing quite like the thrill of pulling a trophy northern pike through the ice. Big northerns are not only an open water phenomena. They are one of my favorite ice fishing targets. As an ice fisherman I love the thrill of seeing that huge gator head fill the hole. I've learned a few lessons over the years. The tough part is we typically learn the most from our failures, not our successes, and that also holds true for ice fishing for big northern pike. With a proper game plan and the right equipment you can set yourself up to put some beautiful fish up on the ice. There is not a lot to it, but you do need to create a game plan that will give you the highest opportunity possible to catch these monsters.

I target these larger fish later in the season when the weather is warming and with that the fish are bulking up for the spawn. I like to fish lakes with a history of big fish, but more importantly, lakes that have good weed structure. I drill a series of holes when I first hit the ice and then let the auger lay. I would recommend using a hole no less than 10 inches. When it comes to getting that massive head in the hole you need all the advantage you can get. I like to drill the holes along a weed bed that is alongside deeper water. Ideally you want to be situated near a spawning area.

For big pike I believe in presenting a large, still bait. I love using a tip-up for this type of presentation. I build my rigs using a 12 to 18 inch leader, 2 size 1/0 treble hooks and a slip ring. I attach one treble hook on the end of the leader and have the second leader slide freely on the leader with the slip ring. I attach the leader to a 40 to 50 pound black braided line. I like a black braided line so I can see the line on the ice and also so I can control the line with my hands as I fight the fish.

Large pike hit large bait. I complete the rig with about 8-10 inch bait. I buy my bait from the local super market. I like using sardines. They are very soft and I think that they become an attractant as they sit in the water. Tulibee are also a good choice especially if they are natural to the body of water you are fishing. I simply apply one treble hook in the head and one treble hook in the tail of the bait. I let the bait sink to the bottom and raise it about 6-12 inches off the bottom. Then I let it sit. I like to set the rig on the deeper side of the weed bed. I use a tip up for this rig as now I just let it sit. If I'm fishing with a group we will run a number of these rigs along the edge of the weed bed, some closer and some further off. The pike I catch on a rig just described is 30 inches and up, with the majority of my fish in the 40 inch range.

Now it can be a waiting game, or you can be active in the process. Living in Manitoba I am only permitted 2 lines in the water. Depending on the body of water I am fishing, I set up 2 rigs like this, or other times I set up one rig and then use an ice fishing rod to target pan fish and bait fish. This does 2 things. Firstly it helps occupy me as I usually need to be moving and have something to do. Secondly, it attracts baitfish to the area, and therefore helps draw in the larger pike. I enjoy jigging for perch and as I keep perch in the area I am fishing I'm convinced it acts as another attractant to big pike.

When the tip up flag goes, the real fun begins. Approach the flag slowly as you do not want to spook the fish. It is important not to set the hook right away. This is where experience comes into play. I am convinced these fish spin the bait in their mouths after the initial hit. You need to get to the rig and quietly determine what the fish is doing. After they hit the bit the fish will move a short distance and then stop. This is where your will power and discipline come into play. Wait! Wait until the fish starts to move again before you set the hook.

I gently pull in the slack after the initial hit and pull it until is tight. Then I let it off just a touch and wait until the fish starts to move again. This process will take at least a minute and possibly more. I have set the hook at this point if I have waited for a considerable amount of time and it has not moved. Again, slowly tighten the line and then when it is tight give a hard set and get ready for that line to sing. If you set the hook and there is nothing there, you may have set the hook too soon. It may also be a smaller fish and they tried to bite off more than they could chew. Once the hooks are set, the fish will take off and you need to keep tension on the line, but let it go where it wants to go. If you have other rigs down in the area, get them up because these things can run a long way and a tangle only makes the tension higher.

From here you just pull when it lets up and let it run when it wants to go. This is where the heavy braided line is nice at it won't cut your hands if you are careful and you can see it as you pull it up on the ice. Your blood will boil as you see the beast swim past the hole and keep your head about you as you need to gently work that massive head into the hole. As the fish comes out on the ice be careful as this is where many break offs can occur. A gaff can be used, but it could definitely damage the fish. I usually prepare to go down after it with my arm if needed, but the trouble is you are taking your life in your hand when you put your arm down a hole with a big pike and 2 trebles! But hey, your wounds will heal. And I find those wounds heal a lot sooner than the wounds of losing one of these trophy fish.

I trust you will have the opportunity to pick up some of that spring sun as you sit out on the ice this spring and wait with anticipation for the flag to dance indicating you have a fish on the line that is worth getting up out your seat for.

Garth Epp

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