Northern Pike Ice Fishing Tips

February 7, 2009 by  

By Nick Simonson

A tipup rigged for pike and ready for action

A tipup rigged for pike and ready for action

If you are tired of finicky panfish or walleye with lockjaw and the slow bite that the area has been experiencing throughout this unstable portion of the winter, turn to an old favorite to heat up the action on the ice.

One of the most exciting fish to catch in our area is the northern pike. The pike, for many anglers, has gone from a childhood trophy to a secondary fish. However, winter is the time of the water wolf, there’s no better time to rediscover tip-up angling for northerns.

Pike are readily available in many lakes throughout North Dakota thanks to stocking and great spawning over the last decade. Furthermore, when other fish shut down during the fickle winter weather, the pike seem to always be on the prowl. The sight of a blaze orange tip-up flag tripped by a northern is a challenge welcomed by all ice anglers.

A nice pike ready to be pickled

A nice pike ready to be pickled

Getting started



It doesn’t take much to get in on the action for pike in winter. A $30 stop at the fishing section of any department or sporting-goods store for tip-ups, some line, leaders and trebles will have you all set for tip-up fishing. I prefer to use a single treble hook attached via 12-inch leader to 25-to-40 pound test nylon line on my tip-ups. Others may prefer heavier line or longer leaders depending on clarity of the lake being fished. If you’re fishing catch and release, try a variety of quick-strike rigs to lessen impact on the fish.

Set ’em up…

The legal number of lines that can be used in North Dakota is four. This provides tip-up anglers with a chance for some hole-dashing action.

By setting three tip-ups in high-percentage areas such as channel edge flats, or along last summer’s weedline, anglers can capitalize on known pike cruising strips. By drilling holes in other areas nearby, an angler can jig spoons or baited hooks for pike and hop around while still keeping an eye on the flags.

There are a variety of tipups available on the market today

There are a variety of tipups available on the market today

There are several brands of tip-ups, but the one I recommend and use primarily is the classic Polar Tip-Up. Its simple design and bright color make it a shoe-in for inclusion in any angler’s arsenal. Its flag-holding notch also prevents the wind from tripping the flag and sending out a false alarm.

Other options, like a variety of hole covering thermal tip-ups and the new Jig-Up, which mechanically moves your offering up and down, are available. Take a look at several different models and see what is best for your angling style.

…Knock ’em down!

You may be dozens of yards away, in the truck, on shore, or in the icehouse when a flag trips on the tip-up. Don’t worry about missing the fish. Pike, by nature, tend to grab bait and run with it before turning it and swallowing it. As you approach the tip-up you can see the spool turning the flag trip mechanism as the pike runs. Watch for the spin to slow or even stop. A good idea once the flag pops up, is to count to twenty and then grab hold of the line. If you can see the line angling off under the ice, there’s a good chance the fish is on. Feel for tension and prepare for battle.

Slammers are basically fishing rods designed to work like tipups, where a bite will trigger the hookset

"Slammers" are basically fishing rods designed to work like tipups, where a bite will trigger the hookset

The hook is set with a swift upward pull on the line. Make sure to lay the line as neatly as possible next to the hole as the pike nears the surface. In case of a quick run by the fish, the line will smoothly flow through your hands and back down the hole, instead of tangling on the tip-up, your leg or other obstructions.

Once the pike is iced, look for any serious damage to the gills or gullet. If the fish is bleeding, keep it; if not, you have the option of releasing the fish, especially trophy pike. It is a rush to remember.

So when the walleye won’t bite, and the perch are a pain, try some tip-ups on the pike filled waters…of our outdoors.


5 Comments on "Northern Pike Ice Fishing Tips"

  1. bob marquart on Tue, 16th Feb 2010 3:50 pm 

    it would have been nice if you told us what baits to use if you can’t fish with live baits,and how far from the bottom do you fish for these pike. we have a number of lakes here in mt. that the perch and walleye have got lock jaw and the pike seem to have the same habits. have you got any suggestions

  2. admin on Tue, 16th Feb 2010 6:02 pm 

    Work the fish aggressively to trigger the bite, pike are always suckers for fast action.

  3. Earl on Thu, 25th Feb 2010 9:46 pm 

    Its true bait is an important part. I have caught them using shiners/minnows but find if you want big fish its best to use big bait. I have recently started fishing stock size trout and using them for bait. I am not in N Dakota so be sure to check your local regulations. The trout have produced some monster fish!

  4. gary jasper on Wed, 12th Jan 2011 12:33 pm 

    I was just wondering if there is anyone that has any ice fishing tips for northers in maine from december thru late febuary, water carity for the body of water i am fishing is dirty and dark, it has two streams one entry and the othe other exit with a dam, the outlet area is about 3 – 5 ft deep, the entry end has lots of shallow muddy and weedy areas. also varies points that drop of from the edge with ledge banks, if anyone can help , please email info to [email protected] and thank you

  5. Greg Thomas on Tue, 15th Feb 2011 3:30 am 

    About to try tipups for the first time here in MN. Cant wait. You didnt mention bait selection or depth though, what do you recommend?

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