Next to the purebred muskie, the northern pike is the second fiercest freshwater game fish in North America. Like the muskie (also a member of the pike family), the northern pike, which can grow as long as 5 feet, is a solitary predator and will kill just about anything smaller than it, sometimes just because its in its way.
Through the ice, northern are, in certain spots, just as active and hungry as they are when the water is warm. Successfully fishing them through the ice comes with knowing which baits are choice during the winter, where to fish and which methods work best.
Northern pike, during the winter, usually follow bait fish. The best spots for pike through the ice is near shallow summer weed lines where sunfish and other small species feed on live vegetation under the ice. Drop-offs and points are also active feeding areas.
For northern pike, an evenly cut (auger preferred) 8- to 10-inch hole is usually suitable for pulling fish through the ice. Smaller holes may work as long as they are even to ensure a big pike's head can freely turn on its way up. A bigger hole will also help compensate for ice build-up on the line.
Tip-ups should be solid enough so wind doesn't trip them. About 100 yards of line, rigged with 2- to 3-foot, steel leader and swivel, is recommended (30- to 40-pound test monofilament preferred). Depending on regulations, placing multiple tip-ups over various water depths works well to cover a large area.
Some anglers like to jig while they wait on their tip-ups. For jigging, a 30-inch, medium-weight rod and rod and reel combo will suffice. Presenting bait about 10 to 12 inches from the bottom usually does the trick to get pike to strike.
A variety of hooks can be used to nail feisty, winter northern pike. For the best results, a No. 2 or No. 4 hook (or larger depending on bait size) is usually sufficient. Treble hooks are also popular.
A combination of live bait and ice lures are preferred for northern pike. Seven- to 12-inch suckers, shad, shiners and sun fish are solid live fare. Spoons, ice rapalas and sinking flies are often deadly winter pike lures.