by Ralph Scherder

Fishing for northern pike is synonymous with weed beds. The primary reason for that is because of how they hunt. They’re ambush predators. They prefer tight quarters and display remarkable patience waiting for prey to enter their strike zone. More than once I’ve encountered pike suspended alongside structure such as a rock outcropping or cluster of logs and marveled at their stillness. They appeared as if they were in some hypnotic trance, not moving a fin. Drop a lure or bait in front of them, though, and they attacked with a vengeance!

Weed beds are the ultimate hunting grounds for northerns, but most of the pike you find there will be of a smaller size. Not to say that some large pike can’t be caught in and around weed beds. However, most of the really nice pike I catch, in the 35-40-inch range, will be on the deeper edges of those weed beds or on deeper rocky structure.

The reason is simple – big fish require big food. A small northern can make a living on various minnows and bait fish fairly easily. Bigger northerns, though, require more sustenance and frequent deeper structure where larger food lurks such as walleyes, bass, and suckers.

Don’t get me wrong. Cleaning up on “hammer handles” in the 16-24-inch range is fun, especially on lightweight spinning gear. For the big boys, though, focus on structure located off of the deeper edges.

Deep water structure can consist of several things – rocky reefs, humps, logs, etc. As spring progresses and water temperatures warm, forage bases begin migrating to deeper structure. It’s a chain reaction of sorts. The forage bases draw in the walleye and bass, and the pike start showing up to feed on them.

If you want to catch big pike, use big bait. Very rarely will they expend energy chasing small baits. Suckers and chubs in the 6-8-inch range are a great starting point, and my preferred way of fishing them is on a lead head jig a foot or two off the bottom. Pike are predatory fish that like to silhouette their prey, so if you can consistently fish the water column slightly above them you’ll fare better.

When fishing baits this big, though, you have to be extra patient before setting the hook. Pike generally grasp the bait first to kill it. If they’re extra finicky, they’ll let go, but eventually they’ll return for the feast. Wait until they actually start running with the bait before driving home the hooks.

Fishing deep water structure isn’t a numbers game. If numbers are your goal, focus on weed beds and shallow water. But if you want the big boys, go deep.

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