Big pike time on the ice

Sunset Country is home to countless waters loaded with northern pike but for reasons unknown to me, they do not receive a ton of pressure from area anglers.
We have waters with numbers of fish, and some host jumbo-sized northerns.
There is no better time throughout the whole year to catch a big pike than between now and the end of the ice season. They can be caught during the winter and they actually are great eating.
Being a spring spawning fish, pike bulk up during the mid- to late winter and they move to predictable locations. Still, during the mid-winter phase, most pike are located in the main basin areas of the waters they live in.
That means main lake humps, flats, and points are the best places to connect with fish.
As we get later into March, pike (especially the big ones) will move into shallower, weedy bays, where they will spawn shortly after the ice goes out. In the coming weeks, anglers should start to focus on the outside of these types of bays and move in as we approach the last couple weeks of safe ice.
Eventually, weed flats in six-12 feet of water will be where the action is.
Pike can be caught through the ice with many methods, but the absolute best rig for catching big fish is a quick-strike style rig fished below a tip-up. Anglers also can jig large airplane jigs, tube jigs, and horizontal baits like Jigging Rap or a Puppet Minnow and catch fish, as well.
Pike generally are aggressive in nature, especially smaller fish, so jigging usually garners quite a bit of action. I usually will jig with one rod and set up a tip-up as my second line.
The tip-up always catches the biggest fish, though.
In case you’re not sure what a tip-up rig is, it is a simple rig with two treble hooks that hang a dead bait in a natural state below the ice.
It’s called a quick-strike rig because when the flag goes up, indicating a fish has struck the rig, you set the hook. It is unnecessary to wait and let the fish swallow the bait.
Pike always attack these baits head first and will get the hooks in their mouth, so setting the hook right away will nearly always hook fish (as well as prevent fish from swallowing the bait, which can hurt their chances of survival).
I use a quick-strike rig made by a Minnesota company that called their product the Bigtooth Rig. I put one hook underneath the dorsal fin and the hook near the head of a five- to 10-inch cisco.
They make rigs made with wire as well as heavy fluorocarbon, which pike have a hard time chewing through.
Just how deadly are quick-strike rigs for big pike? Well, a friend of mine from Winnipeg, Aaron Weibe, is the best big pike angler I know and he shared an interesting fact with me last year.
Weibe said he would not sacrifice one tip-up for a jigging rod even if it was legal to fish with 10 lines in the winter. He truly believes that the best method for catching big pike is with a quick-strike rig.
Some bait shops sell ciscos, which are the best bait, but you may be able to catch your own. I always seem to catch a few when I head out for whitefish or crappies and when I catch one, I save it for pike bait.
I mentioned earlier that pike are good eating—and I meant it. In my early days of guiding at Ash Rapids Camp on Lake of the Woods, I spent a lot of my time fishing on Shoal Lake where the walleye fishery was closed.
We used to have pike for shore lunch and you could not tell the difference between fried walleye and pike. Their meat is slightly firmer than a walleye and has great taste.
The main reason most folks don’t like to eat pike is they are a lot harder to clean than a walleye (it’s not because they don’t taste good). They have a line of “y” bones in the top part of the fillet that requires some practice to properly extract.
It should be noted that waters across Sunset Country have a protected slot limit for pike. All fish between 70-90cm (27.6-35.4 inches) must be released. So always keep a measuring device handy when you go fishing because many species have protected slot sizes.
As well, if you catch a monster fish, you can measure it so the stories you tell your kids or buddies are the real deal!

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