February 22nd, 2013
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. Sir Izaak Walton in his book, The Complete Angler, 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.
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.
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!
Here is the ->link.
Once I have picked some lakes I will do some more research using both online mapping and bathymetric tools. Mapping tools like Google Earth and Bing allow anglers to view imagery of habitats around the lake. Anglers should be looking for river mouths, marshes, bays and shallow flats. All of these areas could be spawning habitat, depending on the lake. A great tool anglers can use to help refine this search is the new Navionics Web App. This app provides anglers with the ability to overlay Navionics bathymetry with Google Earth imagery.
Here is the link: http://www.navionics.com/en/webapp
Locating Spawning Areas – Time on the Water
There are many excellent lakes and rivers in Ontario that contain northern pike. From the marshes of Long Point Bay in Lake Erie to the nearshore habitats of Georgian Bay the variety of habitat is amazing. However, northern pike will seek out spawning habitat within each lake where they are found. Since the spawning habitat is predictable anglers can use this knowledge to identify pre-spawn, spawning and post-spawn areas to intercept northern pike. Whether using a paper chart, topographic map, GPS unit or digital charting application all anglers can narrow the search for spawning habitat quickly. Once some spawning areas have been identified anglers can begin planning their trip. Once anglers are on the water the two most useful tools they have will be their GPS unit and sonar unit. GPS will be needed to navigate safely to the locations they identified. A sonar unit will help anglers determine water temperature, depths and substrate.
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 (farenheit), 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 my top two bait choices for northern pike in 2014:
1) Berkley Rib Shad, Rigged on a Freedom Tackle Hydra Head (1/2 oz) with a 7/0 EWG Owner Hook
2) Freedom Tackle Spinnerbait (7/16 oz) rigged with a Berkley Havoc Grass Pig
I will be throwing these baits on 7’ Abu Garcia Veritas Rods (medium heavy action) paired with
Ambassador 5500 C casting reels and 80-lb Spiderwire Stealth.
I hope some of this information helps put a few more Northern Pike in your boat this year.
Jason is a full time Fisheries Biologist. His research is focused on fish species at risk and invasive fish species in the Great Lakes Basin. He spends his spare time teaching, lecturing and of course…fishing!
Jason is an active member of the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society since 2003. Over the last decade years, Jason has served Ontario B.A.S.S. Nation. Currently, he is the President of the Hamilton Bassmasters and Conservation Director for the Ontario B.A.S.S. Nation.
As an angler, Jason takes pride in promoting the sport of angling. Since 2012, he’s been working with Pure Fishing as an Ambassador, representing the Berkley, Abu Garcia, Fenwick, Pflueger, Hodgman, Mitchell, Stren, Penn brands.
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Jason is a full time Fisheries Biologist. His research is focused on fish species at risk and invasive fish species in the Great Lakes Basin. He spends his spare time teaching, lecturing and of course…fishing! Jason is an active member of the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society since 2003. Over the last decade years, Jason has served Ontario B.A.S.S. Nation. Currently, he is the President of the Hamilton Bassmasters and Conservation Director for the Ontario B.A.S.S. Nation. As an angler, Jason takes pride in promoting the sport of angling. Since 2012, he’s been working with Pure Fishing as an Ambassador, representing the Berkley, Abu Garcia, Fenwick, Pflueger, Hodgman, Mitchell, Stren, Penn brands.More by Jason Barnucz