Northern Pike - Esox lucius
Also known as: Great Northern Pickerel, Great Northern Pike, Jack, Jackfish
This is a holarctic species, meaning that it occurs around the world in northern, or Arctic waters. In North America it is found in the Atlantic, Arctic, Pacific, Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins from Labrador to Alaska and south to Pennsylvania, Missouri and Nebraska, USA.
Like the muskellunge, Esox masquinongy, and the pickerels, E. niger and E. americanus, it is a long, sleek, predatory fish with a broad, flat mouth resembling a duck’s bill and a single dorsal fin located on the posterior portion of the body. In body shape the members of the pike group are all identical, but the northern pike can be distinguished from its relatives by three main features. Most noticeably the greenish or yellowish sides of the fish are covered with lighter colored oblong horizontal spots or streaks, whereas all other species have darker markings than the background color. The second distinction is the scale pattern on the gill cover and cheek. In the northern pike the cheek is fully scaled, but the bottom half of the gill cover is scaleless. In the larger muskellunge, both the bottom half of the gill cover and the bottom half of the cheek are fully scaled. The third distinctive feature is the number of pores under each side of the lower jaw; usually 5 in the northern pike (rarely 3,4, or 6 on one side), 6-9 in the muskellunge (rarely 5 or 10 on one side), and 4 in the smaller pickerels (occasionally 3 or 5 on one side only).
It is considered a delicious food fish. The flesh is sweet, white and flaky, but sometimes has a muddy taste during the summer. This can be eliminated by removing the skin prior to cooking. It has considerable commercial value and is an excellent sport fish. Pike are usually taken by trolling with large spoons, plugs or natural baits, but casting and still fishing are also frequently successful.
Weed Beds (Freshwater)
Weed beds provide great structure. They provide food and shelter for baitfish, attracting game fish. Look for weed beds that lead to deeper water and create a break line, or look for sunken weed beds in deep, open water.
The water along the shore always provides a lot of structure and food. So, it attracts fish. Pan fish, such as crappies, sunfish, bluegill and perch, come in to feed on the baitfish. Early in the morning – or late at night- game fish will swim into the shallows to sneak up on both the baitfish and pan fish making it possible to land a big pike or even a Muskie close to shore.
Trees, branches, logs, stumps, rocks,—they’re all structure. They all provide shelter, shade and protection for fish. So it’s a good place to find fish. Always watch your line, and be extra careful if you’re in a boat.
Walkways and Bridges
Walkways are like piers, but are specially built fishing platforms that are near or run parallel to bridges, piers, shoreline bulkheads, or similar structures. An example is a walkway along a bridge, but constructed at a lower level. This keeps anglers safe from auto traffic and puts them closer to the water.
Fishing isn't always allowed from bridges because of the danger from traffic. Bridges where angling is permitted must be fished carefully. Many game fish hold down current of the bridge as baitfish and nutrient rich water float by. Cast your bait up current, and let it drift back.
Cliffs and Steep Shore Banks
A sheer cliff or bank that goes straight down into deep water provides no structure, break line, or gradual path to deeper water. So, it doesn’t attract fish. On the other hand, a cliff or bank that has an underwater shelf or slopes gradually toward deeper water does attract fish. You should also look for crumbled-off rock at the underwater base of sharp cliffs. Deep-water fish may be attracted to these rocks for food or spawning.
Freshwater Lakes and Ponds
Lakes and ponds are great places for fish to live. They produce abundant plant food and offer plenty of cover for fish to hide. Shoreline structures like docks, logs, stumps, brush and rocks provide shelter, shade and protection for fish, which means that they also provide great fishing opportunities for the anxious angler. You can fish lakes and ponds from the shore or from a boat. You can, also, find fish in shallow or deep water, in open water or near natural or near man-made structures. In lakes, you can catch freshwater fish like largemouth and smallmouth bass, pike, pickerel, perch, panfish, trout, and even salmon. Get to know your lake’s structure. Points, inlets, holes, sunken islands, dams, submerged objects (manmade or natural), reeds and weeds are all considered structure. You should always fish in and around structure. It’s a simple formula: 1.Structure creates shallows. 2. Shallows create plant growth. 3. Plant growth attracts baitfish. 4. Baitfish attract game fish.
Bait casting is a style of fishing that relies on the weight of the lure to extend the line into the target area. Bait casting involves a revolving-spool reel (or “free spool”) mounted on the topside of the rod. Bait casting is definitely an acquired skill. Once you get the hang of the technique (check out the casting animation), you will be casting your lures right on target into the structures where fish are feeding and hanging out.
With bait casting, you can use larger lures (1/2 to 3/4 ) and cast them for longer distances. To get started, you’ll need a rod with good spring action, a good quality anti-backlash reel, 10–15 pound test line and a variety of specific bait-casting lures.
With fly-fishing, various materials are used to design a very lightweight lure called a fly. A fly can serve as a ‘dry fly’ or ‘wet fly’. A dry fly will float on the water and mimic a floating insect and a wet fly will sink below the surface to mimic a swimming bait. It takes a little practice, but fly-fishing is a pure and exciting way to fish. Unlike other casting methods, fly-fishing can be thought of as a method of casting line rather than lure. Non-fly-fishing methods rely on a lure's weight to pull line from the reel during the forward motion of a cast. By design, a fly is too light to be cast on its own so it must follow the trajectory of the cast fly line, which is thicker and heavier so that it casts easier than lines used in other types of fishing (such as monofilament). The angler normally holds the fly rod in the dominant hand and manipulates the line with the other hand close to the reel, pulling line out in small increments as the energy in the line, generated from backward and forward motions, increases.
Fishing through a three-foot hole in the ice? Yup. It’s a unique way to catch multiple species of northern, fresh-water fish. And thanks to advancements in outdoor clothing design, portable fish houses and fish locating devices, it’s becoming more and more popular every day. You can also ice fish with tip-ups. When a fish hits your tip-up gear, it releases a lever that raises a flag or rings a bell. When you hear the tip-up alarm, you should immediately head for the rod to check for a hooked fish.
When fishing for the different species of fish found under ice, it is important to remember that most fish living in extremely cold weather will be moving and feeding in a much more lethargic manner. The slow moving fish will not cover as much area under ice as they would during the summer months so it is important to mark where you catch your fish. This can be done my marking the depths of your line so you know how deep your bait is when you get a bite. Portable fishing electronics, like fish finders or fish viewers, are also great tools when fishing under a thick layer of ice.
Many fisherman ice fish with no protective structure other than their winter clothes and are exposed to the elements for short periods of time. Longer fishing expeditions can be accomplished with the help from very simple and basic structures such as sheds and small shelters that can house a small group. Larger, heated structures can make multi-day fishing trips possible, but these are for the serious anglers who intend on camping for several days while fishing. These structures are dragged or trailered onto a lake using a vehicle such as a snowmobile, ATV or truck. The two most commonly used houses are portable and permanent shelters. The portable houses are usually made of a heavy, watertight material. The permanent shelters are made of wood or metal and usually have wheels for easy transportation. They can be as basic as a bunk, heater and holes or as elaborate as having satellite TV, bathrooms, stoves, and full-size beds, and may appear to be more like a mobile home than a fishing house.
We won’t say it’s foolproof, but spin casting is an ideal fishing method for beginning anglers. Spin-casting equipment is easier to use than bait casting. You can use it to cast both light and heavy lures without tangling or breaking your line. Basic equipment includes a 7-foot rod, a spinning reel and 6–10 pound test line for casting 1/16- to 3/4 ounce lures. You can use an open-face, closed-face or spin-cast reel for spin casting.
Most trolling is done using a small electric motor that moves the boat quietly through the water so fish aren’t spooked. But you can also troll by towing a lure while walking along the edge of a shoreline, bridge or pier. The speed of the boat determines the depth of your bait. And the depth of the bait is determined by the species of fish you’re trying to catch. Use a spinning reel or a bait caster for trolling. Some states don’t allow motorized trolling, so check out your local fishing regulations to avoid tangling with the fish enforcers. Trolling allows you to cover a lot of water while effectively fishing an area.
Bait & Lures
Poppers and flies are small lures used with spincast and fly-fishing tackle. These baits are very good for pan fish and other fish that feed on the surface such as trout and bass. Poppers get their action from a cupped face carved or molded into the front of the lure body. Fly action is totally controlled by the angler.
Basically, minnows are baby fish and a good all-around freshwater bait. They're readily available from bait and tackle shops or you can catch your own if it's legal in your area. Minnows come in different sizes. Use larger 'shiners' for bass and pike fishing.
For cast and retrieve, trolling and drifting, hook the minnow vertically through both lips or through the tail.
For still fishing with a bobber, hook the minnow through the back just above the dorsal fin. Take care not to damage the spinal cord. The key is to keep the fish moving on its own.
Tricks and Tips for Minnows
For really good action, hook the minnow upside down on a light jig. It will struggle to regain an upright position
Store minnows in a minnow bucket using the same water from which they were bought or captured, and take care not to crowd them.
Plugs have a plastic or wood body and are designed to be fished on top of the water or at depths below the surface. Top-water or floating plugs are designed to float on the surface and are great lures to use during the early morning and late evening hours when fish are actively feeding. Diving plugs have plastic or metal lips so they will dive to a certain depth. The size of the lip will determine how deep a lure will dive but the rated dive depths can often be found on the box they are packaged in. A good plug to start with will often be a similar color to the baitfish that you see swimming in the area you are fishing. For example, if you notice that there are a lot of 3 inch baitfish with silver bodies and dark green backs, look for a plug of similar size and color.
Spinners have one or more blades that spin, or revolve, around a straight wire shaft. Some spinners have tails made of soft plastic or animal hair. Spinner baits are lures with one or more blades that spin around a safety pin-type shaft. Most spinnerbaits have skirts made from animal hair, vinyl, rubber or other materials.
Spoons are metal lures designed to look like a swimming baitfish or minnow. Many spoons are made to be cast while others are meant to be trolled behind a moving boat. Depending on where and how you're fishing, you can buy weedless, structure or trolling spoons. Ask your tackle shop which types you need.