How To Fish For Northern Pike

Northern Pike, a popular freshwater game fish, is known for its elongated body and sharp teeth. It thrives in cooler waters, especially in the northern hemisphere, including parts of North America and Europe. This species is often found in lakes, rivers, and sluggish streams, preferring areas with abundant aquatic vegetation where they can ambush prey.

Northern Pike are a thrill to catch. These fish are known for their aggressive strikes and powerful fights, making them a favorite among anglers. They respond well to a variety of fishing techniques and baits, including live bait, spoons, spinners, and large artificial lures. The key to successful pike fishing is understanding their predatory nature and habitat preferences.

This guide will cover the essential aspects of Northern Pike fishing, including the right setup, bait, techniques, best times and places to fish, and tips for beginners, as well as the best gear and tools to use.

Northern Pike Fishing Setup

Catching Northern Pike successfully often depends on using the right tackle. The most common and effective tackle includes a medium to heavy action rod, about 6 to 8 feet in length, paired with a durable spinning or baitcasting reel. This setup offers the necessary strength and flexibility to handle the aggressive strikes and powerful runs of pike.

For the best setup, consider using a braided line with a test strength of 20 to 30 pounds. Braided lines are preferred for their high sensitivity and strength, allowing you to feel the pike’s bite more clearly and withstand their sharp teeth. It’s crucial to use a leader to prevent the pike from cutting the line. A steel or fluorocarbon leader, around 12 to 18 inches long with a test strength of at least 40 pounds, is advisable. This combination of braided line and strong leader ensures durability against the pike’s bite and provides enough give to play the fish without breaking the line.

pike fishing setup

When it comes to the best rig for Northern Pike, the wire leader is a key component. A simple yet effective rig is the slip sinker rig, which includes a sliding sinker on the mainline, followed by a swivel to prevent line twist, and then the leader attached to your hook or lure. This setup allows for live bait or lures to move naturally in the water, attracting pike. For lures, large spoons, spinnerbaits, and crankbaits are highly effective. When using live bait, large minnows or small fish work well. Hook size can vary, but a size 6 to 10 is typically a good range for pike.

Best Bait For Northern Pike

Northern Pike are aggressive predators with a diet that primarily includes fish, but they also prey on amphibians, insects, and small mammals when available. Understanding their diet is key to selecting the best bait for successful fishing.

The best live bait for Northern Pike typically involves using fish, as it’s a natural part of their diet. Large minnows, suckers, and small perch are particularly effective. These can be rigged on a hook with a slip sinker or under a bobber to keep them at the desired depth. The natural movement of the live bait is incredibly enticing to pike, triggering their predatory instincts.

When it comes to artificial lures, several types are highly effective in attracting Northern Pike. Large spoons with a shiny or flashing appearance mimic the movement and flash of small fish, making them irresistible to pike. Spinnerbaits, with their vibration and movement, are also excellent for catching the attention of these predators. Additionally, crankbaits and jerkbaits, especially those that mimic the appearance and swimming action of small fish, can be very successful. Soft plastic baits, like large swimbaits or grubs, work well too, especially in weedy areas where pike often lurk.

Using these lures effectively involves mimicking the movement of the pike’s natural prey. For spoons and spinnerbaits, a steady retrieve with occasional pauses or jerks can be very effective. Crankbaits and jerkbaits should be retrieved in a manner that makes them dart and pause, resembling a wounded fish. When using soft plastics, a slow and steady retrieve with occasional twitches often works best. It’s crucial to be attentive to the lure’s movement and be ready for a pike’s strike, which is often sudden and powerful.

In summary, the best bait for Northern Pike includes live bait like large minnows, suckers, and small perch, as well as lures such as spoons, spinnerbaits, crankbaits, jerkbaits, and soft plastics.

Northern Pike Fishing Techniques

Casting and Retrieving Lures

One of the most common techniques for catching Northern Pike is casting and retrieving lures. This method involves using a medium to heavy action rod, paired with a reel spooled with 20-30 pound test braided line and a strong leader. Large spoons, spinnerbaits, crankbaits, and jerkbaits are ideal for this technique. This method is most effective in areas where pike are actively feeding, such as weed edges, drop-offs, and around structures like logs or rocks. The key is to cast beyond the target area and retrieve the lure through it, varying speed and adding occasional pauses or jerks to mimic wounded prey.


Trolling is another effective technique for Northern Pike, particularly useful in covering large areas of water to locate actively feeding pike. Use a similar rod and reel setup as for casting, equipped with diving crankbaits or large spoons. The best results often come from trolling along weed lines, drop-offs, and through areas with submerged structures. The technique is most effective during the warmer months when pike move to deeper water. By adjusting the boat’s speed and the lure’s depth, you can target different water columns where pike may be lurking.

Live Bait Fishing

Using live bait is a traditional and highly effective method for catching Northern Pike. A setup with a live bait rig, consisting of a slip sinker, a swivel, a leader, and a hook with live bait such as a large minnow, sucker, or small perch, is ideal. This technique is particularly effective in colder water temperatures, like in the early spring or late fall, when pike are less active and more likely to be attracted to the natural movement of live bait. Fishing near weed beds, drop-offs, and other structures where pike hide and ambush prey, will increase your chances of success.


Drifting is a simple yet effective fishing technique, especially in areas with slight current or wind. Using either live bait or lures, the same tackle setup as in casting can be employed. The technique involves letting the boat drift naturally with the current or wind, presenting the bait or lure in a more subtle and natural manner. This is particularly effective in rivers or large lakes where pike may be spread out, and also when fishing over large weed beds or flats. Drifting allows the bait to cover different depths and areas, appealing to pike that are holding in specific spots.


Jigging is a great technique for targeting Northern Pike in deeper water or when they are located near the bottom. Use a medium to heavy rod with a jig and soft plastic or a spoon jig. The technique involves dropping the jig to the desired depth and then using a series of lifts and falls to mimic injured prey. This method is particularly effective in colder weather or during midday in the summer, when pike retreat to deeper, cooler waters. Jigging near structures like sunken trees, rock piles, or steep drop-offs can be particularly productive.

Best Time To Catch Northern Pike

  • Northern Pike spawn in the spring, shortly after ice-out, when water temperatures reach around 40-52°F (4-11°C).
  • The optimal times for catching Northern Pike are early morning and late afternoon into evening. These periods are when Pike are most actively feeding due to lower light conditions, which favor their ambush hunting style.
  • Fall is the prime season for catching Northern Pike, as they feed aggressively to prepare for winter. However, spring and early summer also offer excellent opportunities as Pike are active post-spawning and in warmer weather.


In spring, following their spawning period, Northern Pike can be found in shallow, warmer areas of water bodies where they recover and feed. The best time to catch them is during the late morning and early afternoon when the water is warmest. Casting and retrieving lures around shallow vegetative areas or using live bait near spawning sites can be particularly effective.


During summer, early morning and late evening are the best times to target Northern Pike, as they avoid the warmer temperatures of midday. This is when they are most active and likely to feed. Trolling along weed lines or deeper structures and using techniques like drifting or casting with spoons and crankbaits are effective strategies during these times.


Fall is considered the best season for Northern Pike fishing. They feed more aggressively during this time to prepare for winter, making them more likely to bite. Late morning through early afternoon, when the water starts to cool down from the summer heat, is ideal. Live bait fishing and casting with larger lures are highly effective techniques in the fall.


In winter, especially in ice-covered regions, Northern Pike can still be caught, primarily through ice fishing. Midday, when the water is slightly warmer, is the best time as Pike tend to be more active. Jigging with bright lures or using live bait under the ice are recommended techniques during this season.

Where To Find Northern Pike

Northern pike are cold-water fish that prefer shallow, vegetated areas in lakes, streams, and river backwaters. Pike can be found at various depths, often ranging from shallow waters (3-12 feet) in spring and fall to deeper areas (15-30 feet) during the heat of summer and mid-winter.

A fish finder is an invaluable tool for locating Northern Pike, especially in larger and deeper waters. It helps identify their preferred habitats, such as submerged structures, weed lines, and depth changes, making it easier to target these elusive predators.


In lakes, Northern Pike often lurk near weed beds, drop-offs, and around submerged structures. The most effective setup for lake fishing includes a medium to heavy action rod with a spinning or baitcasting reel, spooled with 20-30 pound braided line and a steel or fluorocarbon leader. Casting and trolling with large spoons, spinnerbaits, or crankbaits along the edges of weed beds or over drop-offs are proven techniques. During warmer months, focus on deeper areas, while in spring and fall, shallower waters near spawning areas are more productive.


Rivers provide dynamic environments for Northern Pike, with areas of slower current near bends, backwaters, and inflow mouths being hotspots. A similar rod and reel setup as for lakes is effective, but adding a heavier sinker might be necessary to keep the bait or lure at the desired depth in the current. Casting across the current and retrieving with the flow, or drifting live bait or lures in slower-moving sections, can be very effective. In rivers, paying attention to changes in depth and current is key, as pike often ambush prey in these transitional zones.


Streams, especially larger ones with a mix of slow and fast-moving sections, can be excellent for Northern Pike. The same tackle used in rivers is suitable for stream fishing. Focus on areas with less current, such as pool heads, tailouts, and behind large obstructions. Using smaller lures or live bait that matches the size of the native forage in these waters is crucial. Techniques like casting upstream and allowing the lure to drift naturally or jigging in deeper pools can yield good results.

Shore Fishing

Shore fishing can be surprisingly effective for catching Northern Pike, particularly in areas with accessible weed beds or structures. Long casting rods with heavy-duty reels are recommended to cover more water from the shore. Using spoons, spinnerbaits, or live bait rigs, and casting parallel to the shore or towards visible structures can be productive. In this situation, varying your casting distance and retrieval speed can help locate where the pike are actively feeding.

Tips To Catch Northern Pike For Beginners

  • Simple Setup: For beginners, a medium-heavy action spinning rod around 6-7 feet long, paired with a spinning reel spooled with 15-20 pound braided line, is an easy and effective setup. Add a steel or heavy fluorocarbon leader (about 12-18 inches) to prevent pike from biting through the line.
  • Best Bait for Beginners: Large spoons, spinnerbaits, and crankbaits are great starter lures due to their simplicity and effectiveness. They mimic the movement of pike’s natural prey and are easy to cast and retrieve.
  • Live Bait Alternative: If using live bait, large minnows or small perch are excellent choices. Hook the baitfish through the back just below the dorsal fin to keep them alive longer and more active.
  • Setting Up the Hook: For lures, simply attach the lure directly to the leader using a sturdy loop knot for more action. When using live bait, rig the hook with a slip sinker above the swivel on the main line, then attach the leader and hook the live bait.
  • Casting Technique: Practice casting near structures like weed edges, submerged logs, or drop-offs. Pike are ambush predators and often hide in these areas.
  • Retrieve Method: A steady retrieve with occasional pauses or slight jerks often works well. Pike are attracted to movement and changes in speed can trigger strikes.
  • Handling Pike Safely: Pike have sharp teeth and can be aggressive. Use a net to land them and long-nosed pliers for hook removal. Handle the fish carefully and support its body when removing the hook.
  • Be Patient: Pike fishing requires patience. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get a bite immediately. Keep trying different spots and techniques.
  • Learn to Read the Water: Pay attention to the water conditions and surroundings. Clear water might require more natural-colored lures, while in murky water, brighter or louder lures can be more effective.
  • Respect the Environment: Always practice catch and release responsibly and follow local fishing regulations. Protecting the fish population ensures great fishing for years to come.

Best Northern Pike Fishing Gear And Tools

Fishing Rod

The ideal fishing rod for Northern Pike should be a medium-heavy to heavy power rod, with a length of 6.5 to 8 feet. This strength and length combination offers the necessary leverage for casting large lures and the backbone to handle the aggressive fight of a Northern Pike. A faster action is preferable as it provides better sensitivity for detecting bites and setting the hook effectively.

Fishing Line

Braided line is the best choice for Northern Pike fishing, ideally in the 20-30 pound test range. This type of line offers a great combination of strength and sensitivity, allowing you to feel even the slightest nibbles. Its lack of stretch ensures a swift hookset, crucial in pike fishing where a strong bite demands an immediate response. Additionally, braided line has a smaller diameter compared to monofilament or fluorocarbon, allowing for longer and more accurate casts.

Fishing Reel

For Northern Pike, a quality baitcasting or spinning reel is essential. The reel should have a smooth drag system and be capable of holding a sufficient amount of the preferred line. For baitcasting reels, look for a model with a high gear ratio (around 6.3:1 to 7.1:1) for quick retrieves. In spinning reels, a larger size, typically 4000 to 5000 series, balances well with the recommended rod length and line strength. Durability and a comfortable handle are also key factors to ensure prolonged use without fatigue.

Fish Finder

A fish finder is a valuable tool for locating Northern Pike, especially in larger and deeper bodies of water. The ideal fish finder for pike should offer high-resolution imaging and include features like GPS mapping, CHIRP sonar technology, and side imaging capabilities. These functions enable you to pinpoint the Pike’s preferred habitats, such as underwater structures, drop-offs, and weed lines. A user-friendly interface and a screen that is easily visible in various lighting conditions enhance the overall efficiency of your fishing experience.