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When and Where to Find Northern Pike

07 Jan

Now, who does not love catching a hard fighting northern pike. The northern pike is a voracious predator that is usually perched on top of the local food chain. and described the northern pike as “a tyrant, a fish that is solitary and bold”.

To suggest the northern pike is a tyrant may be a little harsh. However, this fish is truly bold could be an understatement. This predatory fish is often the top predator wherever it swims. This is one of the few species with a circumpolar distribution as it is found throughout the northern hemisphere. This species has a major following wherever it is found. Due to this following many anglers target this species. In Southern Canada, many species like walleye, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, black crappie and muskellunge have a loyal following of anglers. However, early in the season many anglers will target northern pike as this predatory fish has predictable habits. They are relatively easy to locate and catch with a little homework.

Diane Rohl – 43″ Northern Pike

 Spawning – The Details
Northern pike spawning takes place during the spring when water temperatures are between 40°F to 52°. Often there may be ice on the main lake and northern pike are already seeking out spawning locations in local marshes and tributaries. Northern pike will seek out spawning areas in heavily vegetated areas of river floodplains, marshes and the bays of large lakes. Northern pike are often associated with high densities of emergent vegetation such as sedges, grasses, cattails, etc. Northern pike will spawn in pairs but one female may see several suitors during the spawning season. Spawning takes place in very shallow water, often only a few inches deep. Unlike sunfish species (i.e. largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, pumpkinseed) no nest is constructed. Eggs and sperm are scattered onto surrounding vegetation. Spawning pairs may stay together for a few days spawning repeatedly during that time. Eggs are very adhesive and will actually stick to the surrounding vegetation. Emergent vegetation provides a great surface for egg adhesion. Fish will remain in the spawning areas for a short time after spawning. At that time they will retreat to deeper water nearby to rest and begin feeding after the rigors of spawning.

Pike Spawning habitat1

Pike Spawning Habitat

Pike Spawning habitat2

Pike Spawning Habitat


Locating Spawning Habitat – Map Study
Why would anglers want to locate northern pike spawning areas? In Ontario, most spawning seasons are protected calendar periods for fish to spawn in peace. This holds true for northern pike across much of Ontario. However, locating spawning habitat for northern pike will help anglers locate fish even after season opens. As mentioned above, northern pike will setup in feeding areas near their spawning areas as they recuperate from the rigors of spawning. Armed with a basic knowledge of pike spawning habitats and lake characteristics anglers can narrow their search for northern pike relatively quickly. For anglers pursuing northern pike in Ontario they can use the Ministry of Natural Resources Fish Online web application. This tool can help you find lots of information about waterbodies in Ontario included species lists, fishing regulation information, boat launches, lake bathymetry and more. You can even complete fishing reports to help inform the Ministry of Natural Resources about fishing conditions in the lakes you fish!

Locating Spawning Areas – Time on the Water
Water temperature is very important to determine what stage of the spawn northern pike will be in. A large lake could see northern pike at various spawning stages around the lake depending on the location of the spawning habitats. Many anglers will begin their search in the northern areas of most lakes. In the Northern Hemisphere lakes the northerly shorelines of all lakes will receive more sun exposure than southerly shorelines. From this general piece of information anglers can begin to survey bays, river mouths and flats for northern pike. With water in the 30 degree range (Fahrenheit), northern pike will be staging in deep water adjacent to spawning locations. As the water temperature rises into the 40 degree range, northern pike will begin to seek out spawning locations. Once water temperatures reach 50 degrees, northern pike will vacate spawning areas and setup in nearby deeper water.

Anglers are best to begin their search slowly from deep to shallow. Using their electronics, lures and eyes they can locate fish. Electronics will keep you dialed into the local water temperature. Casting large lures can be used to locate fish away from the boat. Casting in a methodical pattern to cover water can help locate northern pike or eliminate water. The final key search too is an anglers eyes. A good pair of polarized sunglasses will help you locate emerging vegetation and also fish. Northern pike are large predators but very wary in shallow water. Good polarized sunglasses will help anglers see them before the anglers themselves are spotted.

Here are some GREAT lure choices for northern pike:

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 I hope some of this information helps put a few more Northern Pike in your boat this year.  by Jason Barnucz

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