Over three-quarters of the battle to catching pike comes from finding where they’re at. If you can figure this out, you can catch a lot of pike. Let’s have a look at some of the basics to understand how to find pike in their favored habitat.
Reading the Lake or River
One of the key skills that you can learn for finding pike on the river or lake comes from learning how to read the lakes and rivers. When you do this, you can figure out where they might be hiding.
One thing to remember with pike is that just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean that they’re not there. Pike love to hunt by ambush, and they will come out of the weeds from nowhere. They prefer to take their prey from the center because they can’t fight back.
Most of the time, northern pike will lurk motionless under the cover of weeds to remain hidden until the right opportunity for striking arrives. You want to read the lake with an understanding of the fish’s preferred habitat to find the best places to find them.
Look for Dense Weeds
Hiding along a dense weed line, northern pike have a great opportunity for ambushing their prey. As the prey comes within striking distance, you will see the pike snap into action. An extraordinary burst of speed will send the pike cruising like a torpedo towards its chosen meal. By the way, pike have a reputation for eating almost anything.
Choosing a weed line is about more than just choosing any type of weed line. You want to look for a heavily trafficked area by perch, sunfish, suckers, bass and other small fish. Sometimes even smaller northern pike will be on the menu. When the food becomes scarce, pike have been known to even target their own species. Look for an area with a high perch population and you can bet northern pike will be prowling nearby.
Water Features to Look For
You probably can’t read the lakes and rivers well if you don’t know what to look for. Northern pike like to feed at the mouths of tributaries, close to beaver dams, underwater trees, drop off points and underwater structures of any kind. Look for features like this, and you can usually find one or two pike hiding in these places.
Anywhere that they can hide proves a solid place for them to hunt because they hunt by ambush. They lay motionless and wait for prey to come along. You will most likely want to begin your search in places like this. Search in the most likely places first and go from there.
Depth to Find Pike
In general, you will find pike at a depth of less than 10 feet of water. They prefer shallow waters, and you might begin your hunt in the shallow water and slowly move outwards.
In warmer water, you will want to look for pike near the shallows. Anything under 10 feet will usually prove useful. As the weather starts to cool down, you will want to begin hunting in deeper water. In extremely hot weather, you can find northern pike in deeper water because they will find the cooler temperatures more agreeable.
In general, larger northern pike will be more susceptible to the warmer temperatures in the water than the smaller northern pike. That means if you want to hunt a trophy pike on a hot day, you may want to take your hunt to the deeper waters.
Trolling to Find the Pike
I call this the shotgun-spread approach because of how you cover a large area to try to provoke a strike on your lure. Trolling especially works well because of how you can cover more area, and you don’t necessarily have to know the right spots to get a strike.
In general, the more you have your line in the water, the higher your chances of hooking a pike. I also like trolling because of how it keeps things moving. The closer that you get to the fish, the higher the chances that they will strike your lure. You might also check out this article that I wrote a while back to better understand northern pike behavior.
Look for What Pike Like to Eat
You can usually assume that if you can find a lot of sunfish or bass around, you have a couple of pike prowling nearby waiting to catch an easy meal. They follow their prey because otherwise, they would starve. Look for a food source, and you can usually find pike hiding nearby. Cast around the area, and you might come up with one.
Pike aren’t finicky eaters, and they will feed off most things.
Troll the Same Area Twice
Just because you caught one pike in an area doesn’t mean that you cleared it out. In fact, you have many cases where the smaller pike tend to hunt in groups. For that reason, you might turn your boat around and go through that area a second time. The larger pike are more solitary, and because they’re at the top of the food chain, they don’t hide as much as the smaller pike.
Fishing in the Wrong State
Perhaps you can’t find the pike because you’re looking for them in the wrong state. However, northern pike tend to be quite ubiquitous throughout. Some of the states and regions where you can find them include:
- New England region
- The Dakotas
- Certain parts of Alaska
- Great Lake Border
You can’t find northern pike in California at all, and they’re not as common in Texas where the pickerel, a smaller version of the northern pike, can be found. In addition, while you can’t find the northern pike in most of Montana, you won’t find it in the southern part, and this isn’t a native fish to the state.
Where to Look in a River
In general, northern pike don’t swim in the current as well as some of the other species, which is why you want to look for pike in calmer waters on the river. They will usually be in slower moving streams with less current. Especially in rivers, you will find them at deeper depths because the current will be less strong in these areas.
Before you ever go out looking for pike on the river, do some research to make sure that you will find them there. However, you can find some absolute monsters hiding in the river in the right places.
In general, you will want to look for pike at depths of between 6 feet to 10 feet deep to find northern pike. Shallow rivers don’t tend to have as many pike because they have no room to mount an attack on wandering prey.
Look Near the River Bends
Looking near the river bend tends to hold many fish because of how the current tends to be less in these areas. Many times, fish will come to the river bend and rest. Northern pike tend to do the same. They might also choose this as a hiding place knowing that they will have the opportunity to ambush other prey.
How to Cast to Find the Pike
You want to use a fan-style cast where you cast out in all directions because you never know where the pike will come from. Cast thoroughly and methodically and cover all areas. If you don’t seem to be finding any pike in that area, move to another area.
Different-Sized Pike Behave Different
As I said before, the larger pike tend to sit at the top of the food chain, so they don’t have to worry about as much. You might search for them near the points that lead into a weedy bay.
For the medium-sized pike, they still have to worry about becoming another fish’s meal, and they will lurk at the edge of a weed line where they can still retreat. The smaller pike have a lot to fear. Every species of fish loves to feed on baby pike, which means they have a lot to contend with. You will find them in the deeper weeds.
Beware of This in Deeper Water
Northern pike don’t tend to act as aggressively in deeper water. Because of this, you may want to use a slower retrieval in deeper waters to try to provoke an attack on your lure. In the shallower water, you will use a fast retrieval. You might also move the bait around and use a rattle because pike to hunt based on sound, which can provoke a strike.
How to Read a Lake
The mouth of a swampy inlet will usually be a good spot for catching pike. Also, look along the flats just offshore. This tends to be a good area in a bay area. Pike that may have been traveling up an inlet to spawn will be caught on their return.
When the ice comes out, the pike like to go near the secondary coves. These areas will become a place that help with warming the bay. You want to fish the mouths of these coves or in a flooded woody part.
Where to Find Them in the Spring
In general, May will be your best time to catch pike because of how the weeds haven’t grown out at this point. The northern pike tend to like hanging out near the drop-offs, and the weedy areas make for an especially good place to fish for them. Mid-bay weed shoals have also proven a good spot for them.
In the early spring, you will find pike at between 5 to 10 feet of water.
Where to Find Them in the Summer
Coming towards the end of the season, northern pike will be found in the shallower waters hunting their prey. Look in the shallow bays and the weed beds. On the hotter days, go into the deeper water, especially if you want to catch the bigger northern pike.
Catching Pike in the Fall Season
The bigger northern pike especially become more predictable during this time. They will have a voracious hunger during this time because of how they’re storing up energy for the long winter ahead. Pike especially go into ambush mode over the fall season. You will want to look in areas like:
- Weed lines
- Shallow bays
Where to Find Pike in the Winter
As the water temperatures drop to below freezing, you will find northern pike in the deeper waters, and they don’t act as aggressively during this time. You will want to keep your retrieval slower to provoke a strike. They will be less likely to pursue fast moving bait during this time.
Especially if you live in an area like Minnesota where it ices over, you can simply drill a hole in the ice and drop a line in the water with live bait. During this time, I’ve found the most success with live bait.
If you’d like to learn more about how to catch pike, check out my monster of an article “101 Pike Fishing Tips to Catch More Fish.” I put together this exhaustive list of tips to help you catch and find more northern pike on the waters. You won’t be disappointed as I consider this my go-to resource on catching pike. You have a lot of great information in there. Hopefully you understand better how to find pike because finding them is three-quarters of the battle. After you have found the pike, the other part of the battle is getting them strike your lure, which is fairly easy because of this fish’s aggression.