Ice-Out Pike: Early Spring Tactics by Alex Meletis and Chris Huskilson
With spring just around the corner, my ice fishing gear has been stored and memories of giant Quinte walleyes and northern inland lake trout get pushed aside in preparation for ice-out northern pike fishing.
Pike move shallow in spring with the sole purpose to spawn. This takes place immediately after ice-out in 37-40 degree water temperatures. The window in which spawning takes place is quite short, often taking place before we can even get a boat in the water. They spawn over shallow, submerged vegetation on flood plains in rivers and back bays in larger lakes. Once the Spawn is done, they immediately move slightly deeper to recover from the spawn and wait for the water temp to increase. When the water approaches 50-55 degrees it seems Pike are most susceptible to angling tactics.
Targeting Pike in the spring can be challenging but extremely rewarding with multiple fish days when considering these few factors. Focus on areas where these pike have recently staged before the spawn. I look for transition areas that are in close proximity to where the spawn would have taken place. The first depth variation is typically where they will start to stack up in 6-8’ of water. Bays, shoals, and narrow river channels are all great areas to start.
As most bays tend to be shallower in comparison to the rest of the lake, weed growth tends to start in these areas before anywhere else on the lake. Weed growth provides more oxygen and cover for hunting bait, so look for
spots that are becoming abundant with aquatic vegetation. Sight fishing can be very effective at this time of year as fish recover from their spawning period. Polarized Glasses are an absolute must to see staging fish and structure in shallow water. I prefer Smith Optics Outlier glasses to get the job done.
Shoals surrounded by deep water are also a great starting point when targeting pike after ice out, as these areas provide structure for schools of bait fish that pike forage upon. Temperature fluctuations are also a major factor when targeting northern pike on shoals or humps, as warmer water conditioned by muddy bottoms, rocks and logs speeds up their metabolism, driving these predators to feed aggressively, thus striking your baits. As Surface Boils and dark shadows of pike start to disappear and water temps reach 65-70 degrees northern pike tend to seek deeper water, similar to their cousins, the musky. As water temperatures increase, you will want to move from on top of the shoal to the sides where deeper water is accessible.
Channels that funnel baitfish, especially schools of walleye in early spring ice out conditions should also be considered. As the walleye leave their spawning areas in rivers and streams, most Canadian Shield lakes have tight passages or channels to get to the next stretch of river or lake. These are key areas in which the walleye and other bait fish have to pass through, creating a perfect ambush area for Pike to feed.
Typically in early season ice out conditions, slowly working smaller inline spinners, medium to small sized spoons and smaller jerk baits seems to entice fish to bite. Because northern pike are so aggressive by nature, don’t
be surprised that when locating fish, more than one will follow your bait boat side. Like most apex species these fish will compete for meals. Surface baits are also great lures in early season. I generally start with top waters, then I will lean towards ‘Bulldawgs’, ‘Springdawgs’ and ‘Helidawgs’ by Musky Innovations throughout the late spring, and then the summer months in these three key areas. Ripping the ‘Springdawgs’ along the top of the weeds in bays during the spring period, and beyond can be deadly because of their smaller profile and light weight design. Working a ‘Bulldawg’, ‘Hellidawg’, and/or the ‘Manta’ by Riverrun Tackle with a twitch/pause cadence on shoals can be the ticket in spring. Also, trolling these baits along main channels/breaklines will help up your odds in spring, and ultimately throughout the entire season.
As far as jerkbaits, both hard and soft are effective. The Jackall Squad Minnow 115SP Jerkbait is a great choice, and for soft plastic jerkbaits, the 5″ ‘Magic Shad by Lake Fork Trophy Lures rigged weightless can be just deadly for finicky Pike. Another option is the ‘Live Magic Shad’ swimbait (Lake Fork Trophy Lures) or a 5″ Jackall ‘Ammonite’ Shad rigged onto a chatterbait for more strait/steady retrieves. For the ‘Springdawgs’, ‘Bulldawgs’ and ‘Helidawgs’, you will be utilizing musky rods/reels and heavier braided line of the 65lb variety. For jerkbaits, both hard and soft, medium-medium heavy spinning combos spooled with 20lb braided line coupled with heavy fluorocarbon leaders is perfect.
Scent is Key!! especially in cold water conditions! I prefer Liquid Mayhem scent products. A small one time application will often last all day long. And the pike absolutely love it!!
So, as the ice begins to melt, you should start planning and getting your gear ready for the high waters and transitioning, hungry pike that early spring is famous for. Research local areas and get prepared because soon, your go-to lakes will beacon you.
Exist To Fish Canada’s baits of choice as mentioned above