By: Gary Buchannan
Posted On: 2022-06-09
The most belligerent and fearless of all our fresh-water game fish is the Northern Pike. And the hungriest! He devours the equivalent of one-fifth of his weight every day. And he is one of the few fish in the world that stalks his prey like an animal. His smaller cousin, the Pickerel, attacks immediately when hungry; the Northern Pike approaches cautiously, hiding from view in the weeds or bottom grass. Then when his victim is the least suspicious of danger and completely off-guard, he lunges. His prey usually is another fish, such as a fat Yellow Perch, although it may even be a duckling or big bullfrog. He seizes it across its middle, cripples it, then turns it around to swallow it headfirst, as does the Pickerel. His pointed jaws, armed with long teeth, can easily hold his victim until it's helpless, no matter how much it may struggle. And Nature is his dentist; whenever he loses a tooth, she grows him another to take its place.
The Northern Pike is the middleweight fighter of the Pike family. He weighs in at about 4 or 5 pounds on average but sometimes reaches 15 pounds. His world record stands at 46 pounds, 2 ounces, although one caught in Germany unofficially weighed over 100 pounds! When hooked, he engages in a slow but powerful and stubborn underwater battle. And he likes to "play 'possum," to make you believe he's surrendering so he can take you unawares—you reel him alongside the boat, get ready to gaff him (never net him because he's too big and vicious for any net to hold), and just at that moment he rockets into the air to throw the lure or break your rod with a snap of his head. He is long and slender like a Pickerel, but his olive-green back and sides are covered with unmistakable light yellow spots. In addition, his cheeks are fully scaled, but his gill covers are scaled only on their upper halves. This distinguishes him definitely from the Pickerel, whose cheeks and gill covers are completely scaled, and from the Muskellunge, whose cheeks and gill covers have no scales below the level of his eyes.
Besides living on this continent from our Northern states north to Hudson Bay and Alaska, the Northern Pike is plentiful throughout Northern Asia and Europe (except Spain and Portugal). He likes large lakes, which give him plenty of room to forage and which have the quiet waters most suitable to his stealthy characteristics. And he's a "lone 44 wolf," always living and hunting alone. From dawn until your breakfast time, you'll find him stalking in the offshore reeds and lily pads, where he'll be after panfish. Here you can take him on bait-casting tackle, the same stout stiff rod recommended for Pickerel, but you'd better use a stronger line—about 25-pound-test—and the rod should be glass to withstand the extra strain he'll exert on it. Also, use a 12-inch piano-wire or braided-wire leader between your lure and line to guard against his sharp teeth. Re-tie your line to it frequently because continued casting with a leader will soon fray the line where they join. For a lure, use a large weedless silver spoon, with a pork rind strip on its hook. Cast it directly into the pads and watch for a strike as soon as it reaches open water on the retrieve.
Still-fishing with live bait such as a 10-inch Yellow Perch or Sucker, hooked lightly beneath the dorsal fin and allowed to swim near the reeds or pads, is a sure thing for Northerns. Fish the bait as recommended for Pickerel. It is also effective in another haunt of the Northern Pike—the deep holes off the mouths of streams, island channels, and the narrow entrances of bays, where Northerns lurk to ambush smaller fish who use these waterways. Here you can also take him by casting with a large, heavy wobbling spoon about 3½ inches long, colored red and white, or a silver spoon with a red-bucktail treble hook behind it.
Red, which suggests blood and injury, seems to be an especially appealing lure color to members of the voracious Pike family.
Northern Pike, like Pickerel, often will follow your lure without striking it, and they usually can be persuaded the same way—by sticking your rod tip into the water near your boat and moving the tightly reeled lure in a figure 8. Or by lifting the lure from the water and dangling it over the reluctant critter's nose. But there's another teaser that Northern Pike seems to find irresistible, a sure cure for the "following" habit. Cast your spoon to the edge or into a pocket of the lily pads or reeds. Just as it hits the surface, reel in the slack line and lift the rod tip high, so the spoon literally boils on the surface for several feet. Then lower the rod, so the spoon slowly flutters down through the water. It won't flutter far! And you'd better have a tight grip on that rod!