Tip-ups and Bait Rigs for Pike through the Ice

Dan Loyd with a 20 pound gator pike caught through the ice. Credit: Jack Payne

Dan Loyd with a 20 pound gator pike caught through the ice. Credit: Jack Payne

Backwaters, coves, weedy bays or a marsh are all potential spawning grounds for a northern pike. As the ice fishing season draws closer to an end the pike start moving towards their prime spawning grounds.

Spearing anglers often see a spike in activity and this can be a signal that the Northern pike are changing their locations. Utilizing a run and gun approach can narrow down your search.

A group of anglers fishing together can cover a wide swath of water. Set up a few tip-ups on the shallowest flat, possibly as shallow as five feet of water. Cut a few holes right on the edge of the drop-off keeping a tip-up on the shallower water and another on the bottom of the deeper water.

It pays to move around or fish with friends so you can cover the multiples areas for pike. A pattern might be established or it is likely that you can land a fish from the shallows, the next on the saddle and then a pike from drop-off.

A topographic map will show coves, shallow water areas and potential pike habitat. A good topographic map or lake map will show bottlenecks, funnels and pinch points coming from the main body of the lake into or near potential shallow water spawning areas. Cut a series of holes where the contour lines are the tightest and if possible where an underwater point exists.

Ryan Buchanan with his fifteen pound ice fishing pike. Credit: Jack Payne

Ryan Buchanan with his fifteen pound ice fishing pike. Credit: Jack Payne

Your eyes can often produce likely areas faster than a graph. Shorelines with limited cottages or homes, and areas with cattails are easily spotted.

During the Tip-up Town ice fishing festival on Houghton Lake a few years back, the MDNR polled the anglers on their most productive pike bait. Live sucker minnows were used the most by a wide margin, however it was the frozen smelt that actually caught the most fish. Pike have a fondness for dead bait during the winter and an oily smelt rings the dinner bell.

A frozen smelt is fished two ways. The first is directly on the bottom. Part of the theory is that a hungry pike is looking for the easiest meal. Fish die off during the winter. During late winter the food chain is at its lowest productivity of the year.

The second method is balancing the smelt with a nail or using a Swedish hook. In this presentation the angler keeps the smelt within a foot of the bottom. Pike often cruise along or slightly off the bottom. This puts the meal in easy eye sight.

A Swedish hook is a long hook somewhat in the shape of the letter C. You thread the frozen smelt onto the hook and the design of the hook keeps the bait in an upright position. When a pike hits you must allow plenty of time for the fish to swallow the entire bait.

I like using the quick strike rig. This rig is adjustable for the length of your smelt. With a hook in the front and the back the angler can set the hook much quicker. This reduces the amount of gut hooked pike, and catch and release can be practiced. A quick strike rig can be used with dead bait or with a live sucker minnow.

Bear Creek molded Professional Tip Up from Stopper Lures

Bear Creek molded Professional Tip Up from Stopper Lures

For tip-ups, use a long-lasting, molded style like the Bear Creek Professional Tip Up from Stopper Lures. The key is a free moving reel and a flag that trips reliably.

Ice fishing for Northern pike with tip-ups is a great way for anglers of all ages to enjoy the outdoors. Even better, head out with a few friends and turn your ice fishing into a social event.

Story by Jack Payne

Filed Under: FeaturedIce Fishing TipsNorthern pike


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