Trophy Northern Pike Fishing in Early Winter

February 7, 2009 by  

Ice Team

Early ice offers some of the best opportunities at trophy northern pike fishing.

Early ice offers some of the best opportunities at trophy northern pike fishing.

If there’s a fish species that gets fired up for cold water, it’s the northern pike. Especially big ones, with distance between the eyeballs. If you’re a little fish, a big pike is your worst nightmare—but if you are an ice angler, a big pike can be your favorite dance partner.

Trophy pike are active right away under the ice, but they’re jumpy and have to be approached with stealth. The ice is thin and clear and often there’s little or no snow to hide your overhead approach. The goal is to target high-percentage hangouts with several of the right baits. If you’re sneaky you will get bit, because northerns are not nibblers.

Finding Trophy Pike at Early Ice

Brian ‘Bro’ Brosdahl looks like a composite of every Viking that ever lived. Appropriately cast as a backwoods guide, he has risen to a position of modern ice fishing prominence. A key Clam Corporation pro and Ice Team Power Stick, he travels to far-flung winter destinations to teach secrets learned through a life on the ice.

When it comes to cornering trophy ice pike, nobody does it like Bro. But you can do it like Bro, if you follow his formula.

“It’s all about big water when it comes to northerns,” he begins. “Especially where you have a lot of fishing pressure, big lakes still have trophy fish. Whether it’s one of the Great Lakes or any lake of 1,000 acres or more—or a smaller lake that’s connected to a bigger lake—those are what I key on.”

Bro, although he looks like he could punch a hole through the ice with his bare hands, is a really nice guy, so he will not leave you hanging there.

“Within the lake,” he continues, “the number one thing I key on at early ice is any place where a river channel runs through the lake. Most lakes that have a river running through them (apologies to Norman Maclean) have a main depression (the old river bed) that’s a little deeper than the surrounding bottom. Where that riverbed enters and exits the lake are key areas. Some of these areas have current. It’s often very light, but it’s still there. These areas are important pike spots right after the ice forms.

“A lot of these are the same places pike run up to spawn, but the difference at early ice is they don’t go as far upstream. They stay in the lake, but will hang around in the mouth, or the source. Really, these are phenomenal spots from fall through freezeup, then as the ice gets thicker, most northerns disperse out to the main lake.”

It should go without saying, but anywhere there’s current ice anglers should venture forth with safety in mind. Never fish an area with significant current, and test areas with slight current carefully.

“You have to be cautious,” says Bro, “but I’m not talking about areas with heavy current. I’m not in the bottleneck where the current picks up; I’m out where the current gets diffused by the lake.”

These areas are typically flush with panfish, bullheads, suckers, and other preyfish in late fall and through ice-up, a big reason big pike are there.

Water Clarity Considerations

“I go to lakes that have a history of producing big pike,” says Bro. “I don’t care if it’s clear or dirty water—although if I have a choice I’ll always go to dirty water in the daytime. But there can be advantages to fishing clear water, because the fish can see to hunt from longer distances. In clear water they can see your bait from farther away, unless it’s hidden in thick weeds. They are spooky, so to fish clear water, get there early. You can’t drill holes over the top of the fish all morning.”

Again, because of safety concerns, Bro scouts the day before, to confirm ice thickness and find key ambush points. “Never walk out onto early ice in the dark if you haven’t been there before,” he says.

During scouting runs, “use the Vexilar right on top of the ice to search out the main channel and weed edges,” advises Bro. “In clear water, use the Aqua-Vu to look over weed edges, and find the best green weeds. If you’re serious about it, fire up the Strikemaster and drill all the holes while it’s still dark. Flags start popping as soon as those rays pop through the trees. I use the infrared lights on my Aqua-Vu to find weed edges when it’s dark. We have these high-tech tools now, so put them to good use.”

What Else?

On waters without distinct riverbeds, large weedbeds can be primary early-ice pike locations. “Patches of green weeds live, year to year, after average weeds die off,” hints Bro. “Avid fishermen know these spots, but you can find them on any lake if you work at it. Best time to look is early ice, when you can walk around and look through the ice. Find clearings in those green weed patches.”

On lakes with a distinct riverbed, follow that bed seeking places where it bends around an obstacle, such as an island or shallow structure (such elements are often obvious on contour maps). “If you find a place like this that also has a beautiful weedbed nearby,” laughs Bro, “don’t tell anybody else except me.”

Bro likes to set out Arctic Warriors and Arctic Fisherman tip-ups, to place baits in several spots at once.

“But even where it’s legal to use a lot of lines,” he says, “I like to set about two or three at a time until I find an area that’s producing. I always jig with one rod, the Genz Stix baitcaster. I like the big (Lindy) Flyers with a big ol’ sucker minnow on the back. I believe the jigging bait brings in fish from a distance, and even if they don’t bite it they might bite one of the other baits.

“On my tip-ups I use a variety of things. Dead smelt or other dead bait, rigged with a big circle hook (1/0 to 3/0). You never set the hook with a circle hook; you pull, the fish pulls and they almost always get hooked in the corner of the mouth.

“I also use lively minnows on the big Rattl’r Spoon. One of my secrets is a Buzz Stix rod on an Arctic Warrior. The Buzz Stix jigs for you, keeping things moving, and the Arctic Warrior releases the rod when the fish strikes. You fight the fish on the rod and reel. It’s great.”

Inside tip: use no-stretch line on Buzz Stix for maximum bait movement. Set it at the highest setting. “I want that thing jigging as fast as it can go,” says Bro. Loosen the drag or pike might pull the rod down the hole. Tighten it just before you set the hook.

After finding a productive area, Bro often maxes out the spread, setting the legal allowable limit of lines per angler. To monitor a ‘field of flags,’ Bro says, “I set up base camp. I use two Clams or Fish Traps (portable shelters) and zip them together with the Trap-Link. We can keep warm and keep an eye on everything. But it still takes a lot of maintenance. You have to make sure tip-ups don’t freeze into the ice, and change bait, and rush out there every time a flag goes.

“I personally pack a kit with minnows, chisel, scooper, extra hooks and line onto my (Arctic Cat) Bearcat and drive around slowly, stopping short of each hole, then walk in quietly. I used to freeze my hands, but now they have those (Ice Armor) waterproof gloves and you can stick your hand down the hole and do what you need to do, even land fish. The Ice Armor suit is awesome, too, with padded knees and butt. I’m a lot more comfortable than I used to be.”

When it comes down to it, nothing warms the soul like finding your own fish, then fooling them into biting.


Article provided by the Ice Team.


One Comment on "Trophy Northern Pike Fishing in Early Winter"

  1. Mike on Mon, 27th Dec 2010 3:34 pm 

    While I appreciate all the expert advice, I bum out when every other word is a sponsors product name…

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