A good early ice spot for Pike fishing is typically going to be complex in structure. That’s not to say you won’t find good pike fishing on “bowl” lakes , but the ideal type of area will be a bay with plenty of shallow water, maybe a rock or gravel bar or two to create some edges, quick access to main-lake deep water, and weed growth at various depth throughout. Pike can be tough to pattern this time of year so having a multitude of options in a relatively small space gives you the best opportunity to dial things in quickly.
This time of year is all about getting together with friends and family. Whether it’s for a holiday meal, a tailgate party or the annual company Christmas Party, folks will find just about any reason to get together for some fun and relaxation. I think that’s one of the reasons the popularity of ice fishing continues to increase every year. Ice fishing is just plain fun. It’s a social sport, meaning the more friends you can bring to the party, the better your chances of success. This is especially true when the target is early ice Pike. The more anglers in the group, the more water you can cover, and thus the easier it’s going to be to get a pattern dialed in for that day. So here’s my “formula” for organizing a fun and successful ice fishing Pike Party.
First of all is location. A good early ice spot for Pike fishing is typically going to be complex in structure. That’s not to say you won’t find good pike fishing on “bowl” lakes , but the ideal type of area will be a bay with plenty of shallow water, maybe a rock or gravel bar or two to create some edges, quick access to main-lake deep water, and weed growth at various depth throughout. Pike can be tough to pattern this time of year so having a multitude of options in a relatively small space gives you the best opportunity to dial things in quickly. The one thing that seems consistent is that you need to be fishing over or near weeds, be it shallow, deep or in between. And the weeds don’t need to be green, although where available the fresher vegetation is preferred.
Here’s where the “social” aspect of this type of fishing comes into play. The more folks available, the more you can cover all the bases to get an idea where the best fishing is going to be. I think this “social” aspect is one of the things that makes ice fishing such a growing segment of our sport. It’s fun! Tip-ups make the task even more fun, and pretty simple. They allow you to cover the water column vertically, setting baits at various depths. Every state has its own regulations, but here in Wisconsin where I live, we are allowed 3 lines per angler which is great when you have a couple or three anglers trying to cover a decent sized area.
Since you want to be keying on weeds where possible, pay close attention not to set your baits “down in” the weeds. Pike are sight feeders primarily, so you need to make sure the baits are where these fish can see them. It’s not at all unusual for me to even set a couple baits just below the ice, especially in shallow water. Pike are not normally easily spooked when they are in a feeding mood, but I still like to be safe and use tip-ups like Frabill’s Round or Pro-Thermal Tip-Ups, which cover the hole, not allowing the light through that may deter the pike from checking out a shallow-set bait. The important thing to getting a pattern down is to set lines in a wide variety of spots and depths and keep your offering above the weeds.
As for rigging your tip-ups, I recommend dead bait for the deeper sets, or those that are set on or near the bottom, and live bait for the ones set up in the water column. In a perfect world, I like a couple dead baits on the bottom, a couple live bait sets in the mid-water column, and a couple more set just below the ice. Since the goal is to determine the pattern for the day, make sure you stay mobile and ready to move set-ups around as you begin to contact fish and a pattern begins to show itself. Now there may be days when you’ll have action in all the spots and then moving set-ups may not be needed, but typically the pike will show a preference for one specific pattern over the others.
This is where I want to stress the importance of paying attention to your tip-ups too. You want to be able to get to a hole as soon as possible when a flag is tripped. You always want to use quick-strike style rigging on your tip-ups, and be alert so that when you get a bite, you can get to the hole, set the hooks and get the fish in and released in a timely fashion. I build my rigs using Berkley 7-Strand wire (90 lb test) and small, strong treble hooks like Mustad’s KVD Elite Trebles in a size #4.
Now I understand that some folks find watching tip-ups a bit boring, and that’s fine. In that case, use one of your lines to incorporate a jigging presentation. Especially for working the deeper water, jigging can be a very effective way to cover the water column and trigger pike to bite. As for jigging lures for pike, I’ve had real good success with the Sebile Vibrato. This unique jigging lure features a minnow-shaped body with a hook at either end and a line tie in the middle. It has a great attention-grabbing vibration on the pull and a killer fish-triggering flutter on the fall. For gear I suggest a good stout jig stick like Frabill’s Fin-S 30 inch Medium Heavy Icerod and a reel spooled with 14 pound Berkley Crystal FireLine or 12 pound test Berkley NanoFil. To that I’ll run a 3 foot leader made from 17 or 20 pound test Berkley 100% Fluorocarbon. Other effective jigging lures include a standard jig head rigged with a Berkley 4 inch GULP! Minnow or the 5 inch GULP! Jerkshad. If there’s a secret to good jigging for pike, it’s to really try a variety of jigging actions from very aggressive jigging to dead-sticking it. Pike can be really finicky at times, and you never know what it will take to trigger a bite. One trick I have used with good success in the past is to drill 2 holes right next to one another and set a tip-up in one and jig in the other one. Whether the bait on the tip-up draws the fish in and the jig bait trips his trigger, or the other way around, it’s a tactic worth incorporating occasionally.
Ice fishing is always going to be better with a group of friends, so why not organize a “buddy outing” and head out for some early ice pike action. With a good plan and a bunch of good friends, you’re sure to find your Next Bite.