Expert wintertime techniques for hauling more gigantic northerns through the ice
I spend as many days fishing on the ice as I do on a boat in open water. Such is the outdoor life in the Great White North, where I can tiptoe out onto frozen water in mid-November and not put away my auger until mid-April. It’s nothing to spend 60 to 75 days each winter drilling holes and setting lines. And for much of that period, I’m fishing for the biggest predators in the lake—giant northern pike. How big? My personal-best so far was a 53-inch beast I caught while filming an episode of In-Fisherman TV with my good friend Doug Stange, the show’s host. The next largest was a 50-incher I tag-teamed with my buddy Bob Izumi while the cameras were rolling for his Real Fishing Show.
All that time spent peering down a hole in the ice, and watching for distant tip-up flags to fly, has taught me some important lessons about catching these big fish. For starters, I’ve learned that pike are the most misunderstood fish we pursue during winter. But don’t you just look for weedy areas, then set dead baits under tip-ups? Not by a long shot.
“I’ve always said that we know less about what pike do in the winter than any other time of the year,” says my friend and former colleague John Casselman, now retired as senior research scientist with Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources. “It is truly an unknown period of their life cycle. The more we learn about it, the more fascinating it becomes.”
I can certainly attest to that. And as Casselman says, “What pike do in the winter is much more impressive than what they do in the summer.” Here are the other key things I’ve learned over the years to catch more—and bigger—northerns through the ice.