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Tips for Catching Northern Pike

A Toothy, Primeval Fighter

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A northern pike is guided into a landing net at Elwood Reservoir in Gosper County.

Story and photos by Julie Geiser

For anglers who love a good fight, the northern pike, a needle-toothed, aggressive — almost primeval — fish, is highly sought after.

According to the 2021 Nebraska Fishing Forecast, Hackberry and Dewey lakes on the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge, Box Butte Reservoir and Lake Wanahoo are this year’s top picks. Other reservoirs like Elwood, Enders, McConaughy, Merritt and Red Willow hold a few big pike. Several other lakes around the state have been stocked with pike as well. To find stocked waters near you, check the stocking reports on the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission’s website.

Two men hold a norther pike caught at Merritt Reservoir SRA
Jerry Vieyra and Robby Rowland fish for pike at Merritt Reservoir State Recreation Area during the fall.

After deciding where to fish, here are a few tips to make your pike fishing trip a little more successful.

Tip 1

Find the vegetation.

After ice-out in early spring, focus on shallow, weedy areas near coves and shorelines where the water warms faster and pike spawn. Fish areas with weed beds and submerged logs where pike patrol for prey.

As the water warms, fish the flats and points leading into coves, typically in 3 to 10 feet of water. Look for structure near drop-offs and weedy points.
During the heat of summer, larger pike will head to deeper water, 6 to 10 feet, in search of baitfish schools. This is when anglers will need to cover a lot of water to find pike. Trolling is a good way to locate big northerns, along with fan-casting to deeper weed lines. Don’t stay in one place too long without a bite.

Tip 2

Pike lures
Using lures with treble hooks and trailer hooks will help catch pike. Oversized spinners, large plastic lures and top-water plugs work well for pike.

Use bright, flashy and noisy baits.

Spinnerbaits, crankbaits, buzzbaits, spoons and surface plugs with highly visible colors are often the best for catching pike.

However, jigs with worms and soft swimbaits can also attract this voracious feeding fish. Lures of darker colors are sometimes better in murky waters.

Tip 3

Use strong equipment.

Gear up with at least a 7-foot, medium- to heavy-action rod, and a spinning or baitcasting reel spooled with a strong braided line of at least 20-pound test or monofilament of at least 15-pound test.

A pike’s razor-sharp teeth can easily cut through line, so tip yours off with a steel or heavy fluorocarbon leader. Once a pike bites, you’ll have a great battle on your hands, and you will need the proper equipment to land a big fish capable of bending a rod to its breaking point.

Tip 4

Don’t get bit.

Pay close attention to the sharp teeth and gills of pike, as they can easily cut through your skin. You can land a smaller northern by gripping it behind its head: Larger pike might require a net, but be sure to bring a big one in case you are lucky enough to hook a 30-inch-plus fish. Lip-gripping pliers also work well.

Once on the bank or in the boat, use a jaw spreader and long, needle-nose pliers to remove the hooks. Use caution, as a northern will fight hard even after it is in the boat or on
shore, the main reason you’re fishing for them in the first place.

For the latest survey information on northern pike and Nebraska’s other fish species, visit outdoornebraska.org/fishingforecast/.  

About julie geiser

Julie Geiser is a Public Information Officer and NEBRASKAland Regional Editor based out of North Platte, where she was born and still happily resides. Geiser worked for the commission previously for over 10 years as an outdoor education instructor – teaching people of all ages about Nebraska’s outdoor offerings. She also coordinates the Becoming an Outdoors Woman program for Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC). Geiser went on to work in marketing and writing an outdoor column for the North Platte Telegraph before returning to NGPC in her current position. She loves spending time outdoors with her family and getting others involved in her passions of hunting, fishing, camping, boating, hiking and enjoying Nebraska’s great outdoors.

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