During ice fishing season, three species reign as the most sought after: Walleye, Perch and the northern pike. Of the three species, the northern pike is the alpha-fish. However, being able to catch one means you need to know which are the best ice fishing lures for pike.
The 8 best ice fishing lures for pike are:
- Lipless crankbaits
- Blade baits
- Soft plastic baits
Each of these categories of lure have specific models that shine or at least perform better than the others. Randomly trying strategies, fishing tactics and lures is a prescription for getting skunked. Below, we go through the best ice fishing lures for catching pike in more detail.
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Facts About The Northern Pike
Northern pike are possibly the most perfect of all the freshwater fish in the northern hemisphere. Excluding humans, they have very few predators. They are expert ambush hunters and possess an explosive power that has been known to snap the necks of ducks, lacerate the hands of anglers and kill other fish on contact.
Here are a few facts about northern pike that many anglers may not be aware of:
- Northern pike can live in fresh and saline water
- They are just as comfortable in a lake as they are in a pond, stream, or even a river
- While some grow as long as 50+ inches, the average northern pike is about 20 to 21 inches long
- An adult northern pike can weigh as much as 20+ pounds and trophy fish have been caught weighing in excess of 40 pounds
- They will cruise when hunting, but generally like to conceal themselves and wait for an ambush
- They have been known to stalk their prey, including large schools of baitfish
- Smaller northern pike will hunt in packs, but larger adults prefer solitude, except when it is mating season
- Northern pike can be territorial and will fight other northern pike for living and hunting space as well as prey
- They are day hunters and will usually hunker down at night
- They are extremely sensitive to weather conditions
- They are cold water fish, which makes them ideal for ice fishing
- A northern pike will spawn in early spring, up to as late as May
- Cannibalism is common, particularly with older adults eating fry, but that prompts northern pike to grow very rapidly
- A northern pike will live for between 10 and 15 years
All of these facts make up a profile of a fish that is ideal for ice fishing, but not particularly easy to catch.
Preferred Food Of Northern Pike
Northern pike are almost exclusively meat eaters. They will eat just about anything that they can attack and subdue. This can include frogs, other fish, waterfowl, rodents, turtles and even other predatory birds.
As we’ve mentioned, they ambush prey whenever possible. That can shock a fish or smaller prey into submission and even fatally wound them. Northern pike have rows of teeth that face inward, which makes it very difficult for prey to get free if they find themselves in the mouth of a northern pike.
Once they attack, they shake their prey and maneuver it to face headfirst into the fish’s mouth. They then proceed to tear the prey apart with violent shaking. Northern pike have been documented eating swans, ducks, rats, squirrels and even low flying birds of prey, like kingfishers.
A Toothy Fish
A northern pike’s most powerful asset is their teeth. They can have up to seven hundred, inward pointing, fang-like teeth. Each tooth is needle sharp, both to help in holding prey in place and in ripping flesh apart.
Their teeth are particularly troublesome for anglers. If a fisher is not paying attention when they bring in a northern pike, it can lash out and catch them in the hand or arm. Removing lures or hooks is particularly difficult as well. It is rumored that northern pike have mistakenly attacked human beings in shallow water.
While attacks on humans are unlikely, a pike bite can be troublesome. Their teeth are riddled with bacteria and if the skin is broken or blood is drawn, an infection can take hold in a matter of hours. If you get bitten by northern pike, it is wise to seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Pike actively hunt year round. In fact, they will slow down when the water gets above 55 degrees. They will even hunt in the dead of winter. A northern pike will also not typically move to deep water in the winter. They will typically hang out in the same places they do when the ice is out. Those traits make them an ideal ice fishing target.
What To Look For In Ice Fishing Lures For Pike
The glide of a lure is its trajectory as it drops from the ice hole to its suspense depth. A good glide will move away from the ice hole if there is no current and significantly further if there is a current. Moving several feet away from the ice hole accomplishes two things:
- Expands the area that can be fished
- Makes a lure look more lifelike
If you use a lure designed to glide, you can move the lure to as much as 10 feet or so beyond the perimeter of the ice hole.
Fish do not hear sounds in the manner that human beings hear sounds. They do have rudimentary hearing parts inside their heads, but those are only used for inner ear hearing. They can sense sound, however, and are adept at identifying potential food sources by vibrations picked up by their lateral line.
Because of that, you want your lures to make noises, such as knocking, rattling or clicking in order to grab the attention of a northern pike.
There is growing evidence that once a pike determines it will attack prey, it stops paying attention to input from its lateral line and relies on its sight instead. It also is able to pick up on subtle movement by lures, even at a distance.
Choosing lures that move in a way that looks like a natural food source increases the chances of a northern pike investigating your bait. This includes metallic reflections and silhouettes that resemble baitfish or other prey a northern pike would stalk, attack and eat.
Flash And Color
The easiest way to attain that flash, or reflection, mentioned in the paragraph above is to use blade baits, spinner baits, beads, and spinners – anything that will catch a light source and reflect it back.
Northern pike also see color. That means incorporating yellows, oranges, greens, and contrast between silver and blue or black can be highly effective. Contrast between multi-colored lures is also a wise strategy to employ.
The flutter in a lure is when it drifts to the bottom of a body of water, almost aimlessly but with a back and forth motion resembling the rocking of a boat. The purpose of fluttering is that on the down-drop from a twitch or jerk upwards, the lure you use will reflect light and resemble a dying baitfish.
You can even fish with that imagery as your goal. Let the lure sink to the bottom and lie for a second or two, then bring it up rapidly two or three feet off the lake, river or pond bed before letting it free fall and flutter on its way back down. Allow the lure to fall all the way to the bed and repeat the process.
Be aware that any strikes that happen will likely happen during the flutter. The goals of using this type of tactic are as follows:
- The upward motion is designed to attract attention to your bait
- The flutter is designed to resemble bait either by reflections on metal or by looking like dying baitfish
These five characteristics must be present in any bait you use, either singularly or in combination. If they are not, your chances of attracting a northern pike and enticing them to bite are greatly reduced. But what are the best lures to use when ice fishing for pike?
The 8 Best Ice Fishing Lures For Pike
These, as mentioned above, move at their own pace beyond the perimeter of your ice hole. They mimic swimming fish. It is important to let them fall with little or no tension on the line so that they look natural.
Once it has settled, pull the lure back and then let it free fall again. Wait 2 or 3 seconds between the bait settling and pulling it back. Remember that even though northern pike actively hunt in cold water, most fish slow down significantly in lower temperatures. You want that to be reflected in your lures.
Lures that glide include:
Jigs are an entire category of lure and encompass dozens of iterations. They are also built into the fabric of ice fishing. To qualify as a jig, all a lure must have is a weighted portion that leads to a hook or hooks.
Vertical Lying Jigs
These are designed to be fished straight up and down. Ordinarily, some sort of bait will be attached to the jig. To fish it, the angler lifts the lure and/or shakes/twitches it before letting it extend to its assigned depth.
These lures are metal and are allowed to drop before being brought up a few feet off of their assigned depth. They flutter on the way back down if the angler lets them freefall. They also can be fished by maintaining a constant twitch as they are raised and lowered.
With some jigging spoons, additional bait such as plastic swimbaits can be added. The goal is to resemble an active baitfish or a dying baitfish. Spoons come in all sizes and thickness, although for northern pike, larger, thicker sizes are preferable.
Fish Profile Jigs
These include the baits mentioned under the gliders section. These types of lures resemble small fish, and are usually attached to the fishing line at the top of the lure and are fished in the following ways:
- Hoisted up a few feet and allowed to flutter and glide down
- Hoisted up a few feet and put into a controlled dive to the assigned depth
- Twitched periodically, specifically to attract attention
- Bounced slowly to give a rapid up and down motion
Medium To Large “Leadhead” Jigs
These types of jigs usually have some sort of bait attached to them. They are jigged up and down, usually quite erratically. They work exceptionally well when fished vertically. The goal is to attract the pike’s attention with movement.
Fish these types of jigs throughout the water column or use a stand-up jig head on the body of waterbed. When fishing the bed, hop the jig up and down, but leave several seconds in between hops.
3. Lipless Crankbaits
Lipless crank baits take a little practice to master, but they can be very effective lures. Ordinarily, lipless cranks used in ice fishing are designed to sink beneath the surface. With these types of cranks, use the jigging strategies for moving them up and down, twitching them and letting them freefall to the depth you want them to suspend.
Another strategy is to use a floating lipless crank and fishing weights to hold it in place. Let the weight and crankbait sink and let the weight rest on the floor of the body of water you are fishing. Occasionally give the rig a slight jerk to get movement with the crank.
This setup works particularly well if you are fishing somewhere with a slight current. The current moves the crank in a way that makes it look like it is a suspending fish. In addition, an associated wobble provides an added enticement and, if it has rattles inside, a fluctuating clicking and rattling.
Recommended lipless crankbaits include:
Much like you use them in soft water, swimbaits used properly can be deadly with northern pike. Fish them by lowering them to the bottom, raising them about two feet and then occasionally raising them again another two feet before letting them flutter to the right depth. Let the bait suspend for three or four seconds between raising it.
If you use a swim bait with a tail, you can raise and lower the swimbait just about constantly. This method uses almost constant movement and movement in the water to keep the tail fluttering.
Use them with a standard, vertical or stand-up jig head. Because you are fishing for northern pike you do not have to worry about size too much. The aspect of the bait to focus on is the tail movement, no matter what type of jig you use.
Recommended swimbaits include:
Metal spoons are a staple with ice fishing. When fished properly, they can be extremely productive. It is not uncommon to catch monster northern pike with a spoon.
The fishing strategy most often employed is to lower the spoon to the bottom, raise it about a foot, pause, and then raise it another three feet, before letting it flutter to the first suspended depth. Let the spoon sit for a few seconds and repeat.
Just about all spoons mimic injured or dying baitfish. They are usually metal or painted orange or red on white or yellow to attract attention. Other baits, like swimbaits for example, can be attached to the hook behind the spoon.
These have a weed protection prong that keeps them from snagging on underwater structure or vegetation. The latter is not as much of an issue in the winter. Weedless spoons tend of have a broader fluttering motion, and so are excellent lures to use when employing the freefall method. They will also glide for a short distance, while spinning erratically. Weedless spoons usually have one hook.
Large Curved Spoons
These have the largest “swing” and coverage of all spoons used in ice fishing. Dropping and freefalling them will guarantee any fish within 25 feet of the spoon will see it. You can also add a metal weight or plastic bead to your line above the spoon body to add a clicking or striking sound when you lift it up.
These spoons make a lot of noise. They are excellent for drawing the attention of larger fish. Rattle spoons also have a gliding action to them which helps distribute them in a wide path. The strategy most often used with rattle spoons is to have several colors and sizes in your tackle kit.
Traditional spoons tend to be flatter and have either a single trailing hook or a treble hook. When fishing spoons are mentioned, this is what most people have in mind. These are best fished jigged, suspended about a foot off the bed and raised about 1 to 2 feet before being allowed to flutter to the suspended depth.
Recommended spoons include:
- Eppinger Daredevle
- Johnson Silver Minnow Weedless Spoon (this comes in multiple colors)
- War Eagle Jiggin’ Spoon
- VMC Rattle Spoon Kit
6. Blade Baits
The best way to think about blade baits is to envision a half-spoon, half-lipless crankbait. Blade baits attach at the back of the lure, are usually very thin, and have a tight vibration and jumpiness when jigged up and down.
Naked Blade Bait
This is the standard blade bait with no frills or attractor blades. It vibrates and wobbles when raised or lowered. It is best fished by raising the lure about a foot and then letting it lower on its own. These tend to flutter more readily than blade baits with attractor blades.
These have blades attached on the split ring and bang against the spoon when raised or lowered. This creates noise and flash. The effect is a shimmer that almost every fish finds difficult to resist.
Recommended blade baits include:
- Strike King 2 Blade Scorcher
- Cotton Cordell Gay Blade Spinner Bait
- Johnson Thinfisher Blade Bait
- Heddon Sonar Flash Blade Bait
These are your standard spinner lures that usually have a treble hook, wire body, and a spinning blade that is activated when pulled through the water. The best way to fish these is to lower them to the bottom, bring them up about a foot, and then raise them up three to four feet.
Once you raise them up, let them flutter to the bottom on their own. They will usually drop quickly, but the blade is a great attractor. After the lure has landed, let it sit for about three seconds and repeat the raising step.
Another tactic is to bring the bait up fast enough to engage the blade and get it spinning. The lure can be raised a set distance or brought all the way up, almost to the ice hole. Once it reaches the desired height, let it go to fall to the lake, pond, stream or river bed.
Another type of spinner is the classic spinnerbait. These can work well when ice fishing as well, particularly if you use spinnerbaits with two blades. Fish them the same way you fish a regular spinner.
Recommended spinners are:
- Worden’s Rooster Tail
- Blue Fox Classic Vibrax
- Mepps Comet Mino – Shad Size
- Panther Martin Pro Guide Anywhere 6 Pack
8. Soft Plastic Baits
Plastic fishing lures cover a very broad range of baits. These can include swimbaits as well as soft baits that resemble fish. In addition, northern pike will go after jerkbaits that are soft plastic as long as they are presented in a way that the fish is convinced that they are food. The most effective bait is patterned after baitfish or minnows.
Recommended soft plastic baits are:
Northern pike are amazing fish that, when hooked, will give you an epic battle, particularly through the ice. You must use lures mimicking what they will eat though, or you will go home fishless! This list of types of lures and specific lure products is the first step to landing a trophy pike when ice fishing.