Tips on Fishing for Northern Pike in the BWCA
Probably the most aggressive fish in the BWCA, northern pike (“Northerns”) hunt with this basic philosophy: “Strike first, ask questions later!”Pike are not just great fighters. Once the bones are removed, they are among the best eating fish that any freshwater situation can produce. Their firm, flaky, white flesh has a more robust flavor than their #1 rival: walleye. We enjoy them as much or more than walleye as the main course for a classic shore lunch or evening fish fry. Ely “locals” pride themselves on their secret recipes for pike chowder and fishcakes.
What Kind of Bait to Use for Northerns
Pike favor “fast and flashy” when it comes to lures. If it has a lot of action and attracts attention, northerns will probably attack it. However, they are known to regularly break off the hunt if the target doesn’t look right. If you see that you are getting “follows” but not “strikes”, change your retrieve. Make it more erratic: start and stop, cut back and forth, speed up and slow down.
Where to find Northerns
Northerns like warm water. In spring, they will be in shallow bays – usually over weed beds. As summer comes to the border lakes, they will move a little deeper, but still gravitate toward structure. Look for submerged logs, a solitary boulder in the shallows, or weeds in less than 15 feet of water.
Pike are not just great fighters. Once the bones are removed, they are among the best eating fish that any freshwater situation can produce. Their firm, flaky, white flesh has a more robust flavor than their #1 rival: walleye. We enjoy them as much or more than walleye as the main course for a classic shore lunch or evening fish fry. Ely “locals” pride themselves on their secret recipes for pike chowder and fishcakes.
When to Fish for Northerns
Pike hunt for food in the morning and evening … this is the time to work creek mouths, and narrow entrances to bays. Try surface lures. During mid-day, troll shorelines with medium to deep running plugs and spoons. Run your lure about half-way between the surface and the bottom. With northern pike, always use a wire leader!
One of the best periods for northern pike is from the Season Opener (usually the second Saturday in May) thru June. Early in this period, pike gather at stream mouths and wait for bait fish to be washed into the lake and their waiting jaws. Some of the biggest pike of the season are caught on “Opening Weekend”. As the water warms up a bit, they move a little farther out onto flats and hang on the edge of new weed growth. Big Rappalas (11′s & 13′s) work great at this time of year. Just before the Fourth of July, we like to switch over to big spinners. The #5 Mepps Black Fury is a favorite, along with the Mepps Giant Killers (usually used for Muskies).
As summer rolls on through late-July and August, we get smaller pike staying in the shallows while their older (and bigger) relatives move to weed edges adjacent to deep water. North Country fishermen casting spoons or trolling tandem spinners along these weedlines can get northerns to strike that were laying in ambush. Deep diving crankbaits which are retrieved at high speed can have the same effect.
September sees most of the largest northern pike catches. The same techniques used on the deeper weedlines in mid-summer are still effective as our resort season comes to a close. Be sure to dress warmly in layers. It can be a bit brisk on a clear September morning, as the cold air causes fog to rise from the warmer water … it’s a classic picture of pike fishing!