To consistently score big pike, you need to pay attention to the details
#3 THE BAIT
In my experience, the most difficult part of consistently catching big winter pike is finding big enough bait—northerns weighing 15 to 30 pounds will eat fish that are up to a third of their own size. It’s nothing for a big pike to gulp down a three-pound walleye, whitefish, burbot or even another pike. There’s a variety of big baits available, and different provinces have different regulations on what can be used.
My favourites, where legal, are big herring and sardines that I usually purchase at a grocery store or fish market (below). Tackle shops typically only have smaller baits under seven inches, but the food-grade herring and sardines from grocery stores can be as long as 14 inches. Those make for a high-profile, full-meal deal for any big pike looking to fill its belly with a single feeding.
Large northerns are extremely efficient at burning the minimum number of calories for the maximum gain. After all, why eat a dozen small fish when you can eat just one big one? When you look at it from the pike’s perspective, it only makes sense to use monster baits.
The best way to prepare big baits is to take them out of the freezer the night before you head out fishing, place them in a metal pan and put it over a floor vent cover. That way, the furnace will warm the baits, and by the time you hit the road in the morning, they’ll be dripping with natural oils. To help keep the flesh firm for holding hooks, I also put coarse salt in the bottom of the thawing pan and cover the fish with salt in the morning. The salt will even keep the baits in prime condition for several days if you’re planning an overnight adventure.