Perhaps you’ve decided to target northern pike as the species that you want to catch. I say good choice. Northern pike can be a lot of fun to catch, but you should understand this fish on a behavioral level first because of how it can help you to catch more of them.
How Northern Pike Hunt
In general, northern pike like to hide in the weeds and remain still and hidden, waiting for prey to come along and ambush them. They aren’t picky when it comes to what they eat. Northern pike will target just about anything when it comes to the fish that they will eat. That’s one of the things that can make them so much fun to catch. Not to mention, when you hook one, they put up a crazy fight.
Usually, when northern pike make a strike against a species, they will attack them from the center. That’s one of the reasons that some lures have hooks right on the center as well. After they have taken their prey from the center, they will often spit it back up and attack again. That leaves you ample opportunity because even if you missed getting them the first time, they might come back for a second or third strike.
Notorious Cannibalizing Reputation
Northern pike don’t raise well in fisheries because of their legendary level of aggression. Many times when you put a bunch of northern pike together, as you’re raising them, they will start to drop off as other northern pike cannibalize on each other. Some fisheries have come back to find only a single remaining northern pike.
Even in the rivers and the lakes, young northern pike will often face a high mortality rate because of how if there isn’t any other fish of prey around, they will eat each other.
In some cases, after spawning, the female pike will eat her babies, and if the male pike that she was spawning with isn’t big enough, she’ll eat him too.
What Do Northern Pike Eat?
Some of the things that northern pike eat include:
- Baby ducklings
As you can see, northern pike have a lengthy menu, and they love to eat a variety of things. This has made them an easier fish to target for fishermen because they’re aggressive, and they will go after a variety of different foods.
Northern pike sit at the top of the food chain, and they thrive in most waters because of their notorious level of aggression where they will eat anything. It’s not uncommon for a fisherman to catch a pike and find it wounded from a previous pike attack.
Going After Fish Half Their Size
It is not uncommon for some of the larger northern pike to even go after fish that are half their size. This should show you that these fish aren’t afraid of much. As small-mouth bass start spawning, they become an easy target for the opportunistic northern pike.
How to Target Them
One of the ways that you can target this species comes from watching what they’re currently eating. Next, you match your bait with what they’re going for as much as possible. You want to make your bait look at natural as possible to bring in the fish. This is one of the ways that you can ensure that you have the highest chances of catching a pike that day.
In general, northern pike are some of the easiest fish to catch because of how they will feed off of almost anything. You don’t have a lot that they won’t target.
Do Pike Ever Attack Humans?
On occasions, northern pike have even attacked humans. It doesn’t happen often because the smaller sized pike will usually run away from humans, but pike like to strike on ambush. They will wait in the waits and attack whatever happens to come by in that moment.
Because northern pike usually won’t attack anything more than half its size, attacks on humans are rare.
I have a personal story about this, however, with my cousin. His 17-year-old son was swimming in the water on Lake Vermillion, Minnesota, when two very large tiger muskies came slowly swimming up close to him. They hadn’t decided if they wanted to attack. My cousin was like, “Joshua! Don’t move!” because these species are very aggressive and while attacks on humans are rare, you don’t want to rile them up when in the water with them.
Northern pike don’t have teeth like sharks, and because of that, they’re looking to puncture and grab. This means that if they can’t swallow you, they’re less likely to attack. In most cases, if you were to get bit, you could just chalk this up as an unlucky day.
You don’t want to intimidate them because of how they might attack if they feel threatened.
When Do Pike Feed?
In general, you can catch northern pike at any time of the day. It doesn’t matter when. However, you do have certain times where you will catch more of them than at other times. In general, pike will be the most active at two points in the day: two hours before sunrise and two hours before sunset. If you want to get in on the action, planning around these times will give you the best chances at catching more fish.
During the middle of the day, you can still catch northern pike, but they don’t tend to eat as much during this time, and you might not catch them as much. They will often retire to their hiding spots during this time.
Especially in the early morning, pike will be eager to get in their first meal. To get in on the action, you will want to have everything set up and ready to go before sunrise. Getting out on the lake is also a beautiful time of the day to be out.
Some of the baits that you might want to use in the early morning include frog baits or topwater crankbaits. One of the things that I have found is that early morning fishing tends to be one of the best times to get out on the lake and do some fishing because of these fish love to eat before sunrise. You can still catch them during sunset, but I like sunrise better because the activity is as high as what it gets.
Do Pike Ever Hunt at Night?
Northern pike will strike at any time of the day, but they don’t have that great of night vision for hunting at night. Still, pike might use some senses for targeting prey at night. For example, they can sense vibrations.
This was one of the things that my brother taught me. One time, I had my fishing pole leaned up against the boat, and it was rattling. He told me not to rest the pole up against the boat like that because of how the northern pike can sense these vibrations in the water.
Even when blind, it is possible that they could strike, but it’s a lot less common to get pike at night. Instead, you might want to target catfish or walleye during this time. Both species are mostly nocturnal. You can catch catfish during the day, but they tend to have their prime during the night time hours.
The Best Lures and Baits for Pike
I have a few of my own favorites when it comes to lures and catching pike. For example, I like spinnerbaits when it comes to pike. The pike go crazy for this type of lure, and seeing one fish catch another drives the pike wild with envy. They come in and try to catch the fish that caught the other prey. It wants a piece of the action.
You also have regular spinners. As the blade spins, it will catch the attention of the pike, and since they’re an aggressive species, they will attack it. Who cares about the consequences! Attack the spinner and take your piece of the meal! Spinners become even more powerful if you have a rattle on them because the pike will hear this and go on the attack. It draws more attention to them.
Outside of spinners and spinnerbaits, I also like to use crankbaits. You can set this near the top of the water, but you can also have it dive deep. You have many options with the crankbait, which is one of the reasons I like to use it. You may want to have a variety of different sizes and colors because if they don’t seem to be biting on one, you can try to catch their attention with another.
In general, the good news is that northern pike will go after almost anything. They’re an aggressive fish species, and they sit at the top of the food chain. Some of the other fishing lures that you can use to catch pike include:
- Walking baits
- Weedless lures
- Frog bait
Distinct Characteristics of How Northern Pike Attack
As we said, northern pike like to rely on ambush because it decreases the chances that their prey will escape. They will use all their surroundings to their benefit, and they wait for the opportune moment to lay down a strike on a species of prey.
In most of the pike attacks, they will first look for a potential meal that is swimming nearby. After they have identified their meal, they will bend their bodies for gathering as much momentum as possible. Once this happens, they will storm forward at their target like a torpedo.
The second biggest distinguished characteristics of a northern pike attack comes from when they will usually attack a bigger fish from its sides to eliminate the chances that it can fight back. In addition, it prevents the prey from swimming to safety. Using pin-sharp teeth, the northern pike will drown its prey before eating it.
You heard that right. Even fish need oxygen to survive. Rather than calling it drowning, however, you might say that they suffocate. Drowning will happen when the lungs fill up with water. Unlike humans or mammals, fish don’t have lungs. Instead, the oxygen comes through the gills of the fish.
Where Do Pike Ambush Their Prey
You have a couple of different places where a northern pike might ambush its prey, but they like to hide in the weeds especially. They will use anything to their advantage when it comes to their surroundings. In general, they will hide their big body and wait for the right moment to attack.
Some of the most common pike hiding places include:
- Fallen trees
- Tree branches
- Deep ridges
- Underwater trees
These are the general areas where you will want to begin your hunt for northern pike, but it shouldn’t end there. In particular, when casting, you want to be careful around fallen trees because of how your lure can get stuck in the tree–been there, done that. Not fun! I’ve lost more than a couple of good lures that way.
Younger Northern Pike
The bigger northern pike tend to go after anything that they can wrap their jaws around. Even some of the things that they can’t wrap their jaws around, they will target. Younger pike differ from some of the bigger pike, however, in that they’re still actively on the food chain.
The younger northern pike will usually go after smaller insects like woodlice. For a time, they will be feeding off insects and smaller prey, but because of its feeding habits, northern pike tend to grow fast. In fact, within the first year, they can grow up to 12 to 13 inches long. After it has grown up to a certain point, it will begin to target fish at 1/3 or even up to 1/2 of its size.
That goes to show the level of aggression with this fish species. Once it reaches this size, nothing in the water will be safe. This includes small birds like baby ducklings and other targets.
Predators: Voracious Appetite
Northern pike have a fearless attitude in the water, and they rarely pass up the opportunity for a good meal. In other words, they have an appetite similar to blue catfish where they gorge themselves constantly. Northern pike actually get their name because of their resemblance to the medieval weapon known as the pike.
Your average lifespan for the northern pike out in the waters will be around seven years. Older fish also tend to be much larger. In general, pike will hit anything that moves. They’re not a picky eater like winter walleye, which are infamous for their finicky eating habits.
Fishing for Pike with Live Bait
Probably not as common as fishing for pike with lures, but you can catch northern pike using live bait. Some of the most popular baitfish that you might use for this include:
- Yellow perch
- Golden shiners
- Fathead minnows
- Creek chubs
Important to note, you should check your state regulations because you have some live baits that you can’t legally use for catching northern pike. Some of those live baits include:
- Other northern pike
- Rainbow trout
Northern Pike Eat in Packs?
Northern pike have sometimes been called the “water wolf” because when smaller, they tend to hunt in groups. In fact, Esox lucius is a Latin term that means water wolf. However, once they get larger, they’re too aggressive of a fish species to hunt in packs. They will then turn to more solitary hunting because they tend to cannibalize even on each other. This fish has an insatiable appetite, and they grow rapidly in weight and length.
While not necessarily a golden rule, in general, you won’t find larger pike near the smaller pike because of how larger pike tends to cannibalize on the smaller pike.
Everything Loves to Eat Pike
The funny thing about northern pike is that while they like to hit anything that moves, they also have a hard time before they get bigger because of how almost everything likes to feed on pike fish fry. Walleye, bass and perch all love to eat pike fry from the moment they get 5 to 6 inches long, and this has helped to tame the pike’s numbers because they’d overrun the lakes if it weren’t for other fish feeding on them.
You might even use northern pike scent as a way of catching the attention of other fish, if you’re trying to catch them.
Even fishermen love to eat off pike. You have some people that don’t like the flavor, and they prefer walleye or catfish, but a lot of people like the flavor of pike.
In general, northern pike tend to be an aggressive fish species, which means that they will go after almost anything. The Rapala Rattlin’ 05 does great. There are videos on Youtube of them eating baby ducklings or chasing another pike half its size. I like this fish because of how it can be a fun fish to catch, and they put up quite a fight getting it into the boat. This is a fish that will always remain close to my heart because I like how fun they can be to catch.