Northern Pike Fishing

Featured / Fishing Guides / December 18, 2017

The Complete Guide on Northern Pike Fishing

This is your complete guide on Northern Pike Fishing. This guide will include everything you need from Northern Pike habitat, what lures to use, what tackle to use, how to catch them, and any other fishing tips and tricks we’ve come across in our hunt for these apex predators. There is nothing that can get an anglers heart racing like seeing a huge pike or musky stalking just behind your lure. We’ve compiled the best information we have on what makes these beasts so great, the difference between the species, northern pike and muskie habitat, the Best Northern Pike Lures, and anything else you can think of. Whenever that fish takes your lure, you best hope you chose your tackle wisely. You’re going to need some of the strongest rod, reel, and line that you can manage. We’ve got some suggestions for you to ensure you’ll never be without a trophy picture to show off to your friends.

Here are our Northern Pike fishing secrets.

The Pike Family

Most of the fish on the right are in the same family. That includes:

  • Grass Pickerel
  • Redfin Pickerel
  • Chain Pickerel
  • Northern Pike
  • Muskellunge (or Musky for short)
  • Tiger Musky (Hybrids of Pike and Musky)

Chain pickerel and Redfin pickerel are much smaller members of this family. Chain pickerel rarely exceed 6 or 7 pounds while Redfin rarely exceed 2. Hybrids, called Tiger Muskie, do occur in nature but are rare given the differences in spawning times.

Habitat for Northern Pike and Musie

Pike and Musky have an interesting relationship. Pike and Muskie are found in similar types of water, waters that are weedy and slow moving. They are rarely found in the same bodies of water thriving with each other. Because Pike hatch much earlier in the season and they are larger in general, Pike are in a great position to feed on newly hatched Musky fry. Both fish prefer cool water temperatures, anywhere around 60 degrees or so. Once pike reach a larger size, they tend to prefer even cooler waters, around 50 degrees or so. Pike spawn in the early spring with Muskies spawning mid spring.

Spawning sites include:

  • tributary streams,
  • marshes,
  • and weedy bays.

Neither species attempts to guard their young like bass or crappie so attempting to catch them by prodding spawning beds, like you can with bass, isn’t a successful technique.

The Figure 8 Technique

The figure 8 technique is a secret fish slaying technique that will help you catch northern pike and muskie all day long

…Okay, so its not that secret but it will dramatically increase your hook-up rate by 10 fold when chasing the “Fish of 10,000 Casts”.

The figure 8 technique is extremely simple.

Because Northern Pike and Muskie often stalk lures for a significant distance, once you are finished with your lure retrieve, don’t pull the lure out of the water. Swirl the lure around in a figure 8 motion for 5 to 6 seconds.

If one of these fish, are trailing your lure, that should give them enough time to get closer and take a bite out of whatever lure you’re using.

Its that simple. Make sure to do that after every cast and you’ll end up catching a lot more fish.

More than one world record Northern Pike and Muskie has been caught using this technique, and more than that were missed because anglers pull their lures out of the water too quickly once the lure arrives as the boat.

What Do Northern Pike Eat?

The diet of a Northern Pike consists of a variety of different things. Northern Pike bait is easy to come by.  Northern Pike eat mostly fish, but these fish are equal opportunity predators. It just has to be big. The same thing applies to Muskies.  Northern Pike that weigh around 20 pounds aren’t looking for a 5-inch bait fish, that’s barely a snack.

If you want to know What do Northern Pike eat, you have to know the size of the northern Pike. Northern Pike don’t show much interest in bait smaller than about 25% of their own size. That means, for a 40 inch trophy pike, you’re going to have to throw bait, no smaller than, around 10-12 inches.

Northern Pike will happily seek out and eat:

  • Rats
  • Frogs
  • Small Ducks
  • Small Muskrats

While both fish are aggressive feeders, Pike will attack most anything that comes into view while Muskies size up and stalk their prey before attacking. Northern Pike eat


The Best Northern Pike Bait

Like we said before, Northern Pike much prefer real bait to fake bait, especially when they’re refusing to bite. We’ve had the most success with large bait fish and salamanders. The best Northern Pike Bait fish are: 

  1. Suckers
  2. Shiners
  3. Chubs
  4. Smelt
  5. Cisco

Aside from bait fish, we also suggest using waterdogs. Waterdogs and other big salamanders are favorite food of Northern Pikes. Make sure you use a large enough hook. Bait fishermen tend to use hooks that are too small. the back or snout of a large baitfish fills up the hook gap so not enough of the point is exposed. Make sure you use a large enough hook.

One drawback to using natural bait: pike and musky often swallow the hook. Make sure you always carry a jaw spreader and needlenose pliers. If you cant retrieve the hook, cut the leader close to the hook rather than try to work the hook free.

Northern Pike Habitat?

Northern Pike are active fish. Recent radio-tagging studies have proven what many experts already knew: the fish, particularly northern pike, cover a lot more territory than most fishermen think. They don’t have a defined home range. They move in response to food supply and water temperature. However, dominant fish will always have a spot it routinely frequents.

It is important to note that sometimes the fish you’ve seen next to the same log several times isn’t actually the same fish. It is more likely to be a different fish but that particular spot fulfills all the needs of a fish of that size.


Spring Northern Pike Fishing:

Look for these fish in marshes connected to main bodies of water where they would likely spawn. Shallow weedy bays are a good place to search. Spring northern pike fishing is going to be best  where pike spawn. Both areas mentioned are where northern pike prefer to spawn in the early spring.

Summer Northern Pike Fishing:

Look for shallow gravel or rock bars. Weed lines just outside the spawning regions will hold Pike and Muskie as well. Also look for lily pad beds and floating vegetation which block the sun and keep these predators cool.

Fall Northern Pike Fishing:

Look for lily pad beds or floating vegetation keep large fish slightly cooler than open water. Bars, points, and flats with vegetation that provide shade will hold fish. Pike will also prefer to sit around in-flowing springs as the water movement normally provides cooler oxygen filled water. During the colder months and winter, look the Pike and Muskie in deep rocky humps and deep holes surrounded by shallow water.

Northern Pikes in Rivers:

Shallow back waters and sloughs are great places for Pike and Muskie in the spring when they begin to spawn. Dam tail-waters and deep backwaters are the best places to search once water warms and summer beings. Springs and cold water tributaries flowing into larger rivers are great places to search for Pike and Muskie. Throughout the year, deep pools with light currents  and oxbow lakes off main rivers have the possibility of holding fish.

The Best Lures for Northern Pike and Muskie

How to Catch a Northern Pike

Experienced fisherman know that big baits catch big fish… When trying to understand how to catch a northern pike and muskie, don’t be afraid to throw 12 to 15 inch long lures or baits. Just make sure you have the tackle to handle throwing that size and weight of bait, as well as pulling in a 20 pound Pike. The 1/3rd rule is easy to remember. The best Northern Pike bait is bait that is equal to 1/3rd of that specific fish’s body. So for example, a 36″ long musky would be comfortable eating something around 12″ long. This way, the fish doesn’t waste important calories and energy attacking smaller fish which won’t recuperate the energy lost in the initial chase and kill, as well as, avoiding tackling an animal that is too big for the pike and can cause injury.

Pro-Tip: As a rule, size and action are much more important than color when learning how to fishing for Northern Pike and Musky.

How a Northern Pike Approaches a Bait?

Muskies in heavily fished areas are wary predators. Often they will stalk a bait all the way up to a boat and turn away at the last second. However, you can often keep the fish interested long enough for them to bite by reeling in up to about a foot of line left and making small figure-eight with the lure before the final retrieve. If you don’t learn anything else about how to catch Northern Pike and Musky… You MUST Master the Figure-8… This allows the Muskie to close on the bait further while keeping action and the illusion of a real fish. While a great tactic for Muskie, this isn’t needed for Pike due to their aggressive nature.

Fishing Gear for Northern Pike

How to catch Northern Pike and Muskie is the first hurdle. How to handle these same fish is the second. You’re going to need some serious tackle, to tackle these predators. Fishing Tackle for Muskie and Pike require:

  • 8 to 9 foot medium Rod
  • Bait Caster Reel (suggested but not required)
  • 12 to 20-pound mono or super line for normal pike
  • Steel leaders (Pike and Musky teeth chomp straight through mono or braid.)

Spinnerbaits For Northern Pike
Bucktails For Northern Pike

Spinner baits are great for fishing for Muskie and Pike. Spinnerbaits ability to avoid hangups in weeds make them perfect lures to throw and seek out big fish amongst the weeds. You can fish like you would with any other spinnerbait. You can retrieve them over the tops of weeds or through a weedy flat. You can also try letting it fall into holes and helicopter it up to the surface. Single blade spinnerbaits are great for helicoptering but double blade spinners are great for night fishing. Bucktails are great lures for Pike and Muskie but anglers should use them sparsely around weeds as they aren’t as conducive to weedy areas.


The Lindy M/G Muskie Tandem – Firetiger is a great spinner bait for Northern Pike and Muskie. It comes equipped with dual Colorado blades, a 6/0 hook and additional 7/0 trailer hook. 

  The Mepps MuskyKiller-Bucktail Spinner is another quality lure from Mepps. Spinner action, strong hooks, and vibrant colors are all a part of the recipe for big Muskie. 

Best Topwater Lure for Northern Pike

Musky and Pike are notorious for snatching prey off the top of the water. There are times when top water is the best approach. When the fish are buried in dense weeds, you can draw them out with a well-placed prop bait. Propbaits also wont get tangled in the weeds. Many Musky fanatics are attune to the fact topwater is deadly in the day and even more so at night. Night topwater fishing produces enough noise and splash to entice waiting predatory fish. However, topwaters aren’t great in cool water. If water temperatures are below 60 degrees, use a subsurface bait. Top waters for Muskie and Pike are pretty similar to any other topwaters, the only exception being these lures are massive. Propbaits work best when retrieved slowly and steadily. Buzzbaits can be retrieved fast or slow, though rapidly works best when attempting to locate fish. Crawlers, with their cupped face, are best retrieved with a slow straight retrieve. Stickbaits are attractive to predatory fish but sometimes can be hard for fish to anticipate their action so be sure to include a pause in your retrieval.

Whopper Plopper Lures are great for muskie and pike. Whopper Ploppers are a new take on an old design. While most classic propbaits have a spinning prop at the front or back, the whopper plopper substitutes a 2-blade prop style for a single quarter prop style. 

Best Swim baits for Northern Pike

Use subsurface plugs in open water or water with little cover. The exposed hook nature of the plug means easy hook sets, as well as easy hangups. If fishing in weeds, select a lure that will just operate above the weeds. If no cover, pick a lure that will dive deep enough to bounce off the bottom rocks.

TR Tip: There is always the danger of cranking or diving your lure straight into rocky crevices and breaking off your line. Tackle Reports advice isn’t scripture. We want you to catch as many world class Northern Pike and Musky as possible but if you’re in an area prone to snags, and deep divers are likely to get caught, be smart and choose another lure (or a cheaper one).

The three main types of subsurface plugs are minnow baits, vibrating plugs, and crankbaits. Each one of these plugs can be fished with a normal cast and retrieve, though a stop-and-go retrieve is likely to produce more hook-ups. TR Tip: Attach your wire leader to the internal eye of the lure rather than the attached eye, as large Pike and Muskie can easily break the secondary eyes off your lure.

  Like the other two subsurface plugs, the Blitzbite Life Like Perch Lure is also designed to look like a fish on the normal pikes dinner menu daily. The Blitzbite comes in many colors and templates but the perch is simply the best if you’re targeting Muskie and Norther Pike. 

  The Savage Gear 3D Real Trout Swimbait is such a great lure because Trophy Northern Pike and Muskie eat trout. Many anglers even suggest stocking trout in known musky locations, in order to feed the musky and produce world-class sized fish! The paddle tail design of this 7″ swimbait means simple steady retrieves will work just fine. A little more finesse jigging and alternating retrieval speeds could benefit the average angler, but they aren’t skills necessary to enjoy your day on the water. 

The Lixada 8″ Multi-jointed Pike Fishing Lure, looks just like the favorite food of Northern Pike, especially in the spring. Using this lure in the spawning season is a guaranteed trophy fish hook up. Muskies and Pike eat each other quite regularly. The spawning times are so close together, that they eat the vast majority of the other populations off spring. Add that to a quality and innovative new swimbait, and the story is endless. 

Jerkbaits for Northern Pike

  The BlitzBite 5″ Pike Fishing Lure Bait Jerkbait functions similar to other jerkbaits, like a super spook for example. The articulated body design creates fantastic action in the water but unfortunately this can cause some casting distance problems. 

Jerkbaits are meant to mimic struggling or wounded baitfish. To a pike a big jerkbait looks like a perfect and easy meal just waiting to be devoured. These baits don’t have any natural motion, the only motion they possess is imparted on the bait by the angler. The term jerkbait isn’t the best name. Jerkbaits aren’t actually retrieved with a jerk motion. They are retrieved with a serious of smooth downward strokes.

There are a couple different types of jerkbaits but they really fall into two categories: Divers and Gliders. Divers jump downward and Gliders dart from side to side.

Best Spoons for Northern Pike

Spoons have fallen out of fashion recently even though they’re great for beginner anglers. They’re great because its near impossible to mess them up. Spoons are almost impossible to get hung up in the weeds or heavy cover with.You can fish them fast, slow, or anywhere in between. Spoons are great for skittering over lily pads where other lures would get hung up. Heavy spoons are great for casting but thinner spoons are better for trolling. TR Tip: Step your game up by attaching a piece of cut bait or curlytail grub plastic

These 5 Hagan Deluxe Fishing Spoons are classic fishing spoons useful for any occasion. They’re made of marine steel and include a high gloss enamal coating so you know they’ll hold up against monster Muskie and Pike. The spoons come equipped with high quality Eagle Claw nickel treble hooks (size 3/0).

These casting, trolling, and jigging fishing spoons from Yongzhi are your basic spoons for catching your prey.  The action of these fishing spoons is based on it’s shape and thickness. Bright colors and fast-acting with a realistic motion are great for trolling or casting, jigging fishing.

Best Jigs for Northern Pike

Jig Fishing, like spoons, don’t enjoy the popularity that jerkbait or subsurface plugs enjoy but it certainly a viable method of chasing trophy Northern Pike and Musky. Jigs are great to utilize when water gets cold and fish aren’t interested in chasing faster moving baits. In cold water, they may be willing to chomp on a jig that’s put right in front of their face. A round headed jig works for sparse cover or open water. For dense cover, a bullet-headed jig is easiest to pull through the weeds and avoid a hangup. For fishing over weed-tops try a swimmer-head.


JSHANMEI makes a great Plastic Laser Light Swimbait. The Life-like details body,3D eyes and holographic inserts makes this lure not only looks realistic,but also feels realistic,too.  It can be fished in grass, timber, pitched under docks, or rigged on many kinds of rigs.It has a paddle tail that moves with the slightest movement of your rod. 

The Mizugiwa 8″ Pike Musky Dawg Fishing Soft Bait Lures are 100% soft plastic lures that feel real to predator fish, which results in longer hookset opportunities. It is balanced with a jig head so it swims down at a 45 degree angle on the fall and swims horizontal on the retrieve. The Unicorn Dawg can be cranked, jerked, or jigged. When retrieved, it rocks back and forth as the curly tail waves frantically, a combination that drives large gamefish crazy. It is one of the most popular Musky lures on the market today, and a must-have in any Pike / Musky anglers tackle box. 

The Holy Joe Round Head Jig is a tournament quality jig in 1oz or 1.5 ounce, on sturdy Matzuo 5/0 hook. It is Perfect for Largemouth, Smallmouth Bass, Striper and Mukie and Pike. The simple design of a round head, premium bucktail, hand-selected feathers promises to give you every advantage when tackling trophy muskie and pike

Final Thoughts


Muskie and Pike are magnificent animals. These fish take years to grow to their size. We have no problem with you mounting a world class fish or taking a few medium sized fish home to eat. Northern Pike and Musky are good table fare. But If every angler pulled their larger catch from the water and threw back the small fish, over time you would have generations of small fish breeding, decreasing the total size of the fish. However, if you throw back your giant fish and keep the smaller ones, over time you’ll have, on average, a much larger genetic species of Northern Pike or Musky. These sorts of improvements or degradation can occur as quickly as one to two generations. So please, be aware. Removing all the larger trophy fish from a body of water, could mean smaller fish for you, your children, and your grandchildren in your lifetime. Catch and Release

Happy Fishing!

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