Northern Pike provide test for ice fishermen
This species is a challenge for anglers but the reward is a large, tasty fish.
NORTHERN PIKE provide a huge challenge for people who are new to ice fishing for this species. First of all, know that these fish are not native to New Hampshire or Maine.
In most places where they can be found, they're there as part of the state's fisheries management plan.
The introduction of this fish to almost 100 percent of its availability has been done illegally, by what are commonly referred to as “bucket biologists.” But we have them now, and there isn't much that can be done about removing them, so the state and the recreational fishing industry are promoting taking advantage of these fish, which by local standards are huge and capable of providing a great challenge for both open-water and ice anglers.
And, more important, they are fun to fish and — if you are the least bit accomplished with a fillet knife — great to eat.
Although a few northern pike have shown up in a couple of our mid-state waters, fisheries managers are not especially worried about their impact on great salmon and lake trout fishing because pike spawning is limited and the species' suitable habitat is limited to a few shallow bays, coves and rivermouths. One of the lakes where pike have been found, Winnisquam Lake in the Laconia area, mostly has very deep and very cold, clear water and doesn't support the kinds and amount of forage fish to support a big pike population.
On the other hand, the lakes in Maine's Belgrade area have several interconnected lakes and waterways where pike populations have exploded, and have virtually wiped out valuable populations of landlocked salmon and brown trout. Because of these lakes — which feature ideal conditions, with a lot of shallow and weedy bays and coves — pike spawning has been very successful there, and their populations continue to grow as does the size of the fish.
Because of pikes' size and toothy mouths, you have to gear-up for them with specialized equipment. Heavy lines, larger and strongerthan- usual hooks, and, in most instances, metal leaders or heavy mono leaders are needed. But because these fish are so sensitive that they can detect a bait with too much line pressure on it, they are apt to spit the bait out and look for a safer dinner. So your tip-ups, which are just about universally used rather than jigging rods, should have easy running spools and the spool-tripping mechanism shouldn't be set any stronger than what it takes to keep your live baitfish from tripping a flag.
During the ice-fishing season, and especially as springtime nears, spawning pike will gather in the weedy shallow waters — mostly bays and coves or rivermouths — so you want to target these areas. Sometimes these places are so weedy that your live baitfish will constantly be tangled in the weeds. This won't work well. Drill a series of holes out into deeper water until you've found the weedline, and set your gear in that area, close to but not in the heavy weeds.
There is no doubt that the bigger the baitfish, the better your chances are of hooking a big pike. Even the smaller pike have huge mouths that are capable of swallowing bait that is close to a foot long. Last year in Maine's Belgrade Lakes, an angler caught a northern pike of less than 20 pounds that had a six-pound brown trout in its stomach and enough of a hunger left to take that angler's bait.
Keeping large baitfish alive in a regular minnow bucket is very difficult. If you try this, you should definitely use an aerator or water pump. Most find that a picnic-type cooler is a better bait container and still use an aerator. We've heard that pike often will take a dead baitfish right off bottom, and, in a couple of instances, pike have been caught on dead mackerel fished right on bottom.
Get out and catch some fish, and go online for directions on how to bone them out with a fillet knife.
Dick Pinney's email address is DoDuck-Inn@aol.com.
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