Early Season Northern Pike Tactics

By Larry Hanson

Larry Hanson Outdoors and Tuned Up Custom Rods Pro Staff

It’s that time again.  The time that all of us anglers in Minnesota have been patiently waiting for; the Minnesota Walleye and Northern Pike fishing season opener!  Most anglers will be hoping to catch a walleye or a few crappies, but some of us will be chasing northern pike.  It has been a long winter and I want to have that smack of vengeance on my lure, that fight and thrashing of water and drag squealing that makes you yell “YES!  Pike on!”

Northern Pike are the first fish to spawn. They normally spawn at 37 degrees over weedy areas in shallow water. Spawning early allows them time to recuperate from spawning and are ready to put the feed bag on! Perfect timing for the fishing opener. Places to look for early season pike are warm water bays with submerged weeds, reed beds, lily pad areas, points with rock and scattered weeds, and the first drop or break line coming out of these bays or coves.  These areas hold lots of baitfish and panfish.  Its easy pickings for an opportunistic pike.

When it comes to lure selection, there are many to pick from. I have fine-tuned this through the years with four lures that will put pike in the boat.  Start by fan casting an area with a ½ oz. Tandem Spin Spinner bait.  Yes, a ½ oz. tandem spin spinner bait. I prefer my tandem spin to have a Colorado blade with a Willow blade.  Most anglers might think that is too large a bait for this early in the season, but it’s not.  Pike, in general, want a big meal.  The ½ oz. tandem spin has the perfect size profile, flash of the blades and pulse of the skirt that drives them crazy.  I slow roll the bait, meaning reel it back just fast enough to keep it above the weeds.  When it hits, you’ll feel the tell-tale thunk of the blades.  Watch your bait all the way back to the boat because many fish hit right at the boat.  When it comes to bait colors, I prefer two-tone & three tone skirts: Red & Yellow, Red & White, Purple, Black & Blue, Yellow & White, Red-White & Blue. Blades colors Silver, Gold, and the new minnow pattern blades work well.

When the pike want a faster moving bait, switch to a #7 Rippin’ Rap. This lure casts a mile meaning you are coving a lot of water.  The wiggle and rattles really turn these fish on.  When retrieving the Rippin’ Rap, use a steady retrieve and pause the bait every 5th turn of the handle.  This allows the bait to drop.  If the lure drops into the weeds, ripping it up fast will trigger them to bite.  Lure colors I prefer are Purple Clown, Chrome Blue, Gold Chrome, Green Tiger UV & Pink Tiger UV.

If the pike are super active, cast a ½ oz. Buzz Bait. Most people think of this bait as just a warm water bass lure, but it works well for early season pike. It’s a large profile and lots of noise is something they can’t resist.  Most importantly, a buzz bait stays in the strike zone longer!  When using a buzzer, just retrieve fast enough to keep it on top of the water.  That allows the blades to make lots of noise and the skirt to pulse. Skirt colors I like are White, Red and Yellow, Blue and Yellow, and White and Red.  For blade color, most buzz baits come with Silver blades, which are fine, but I prefer Gold.

Once I am done casting the area, I will look for the first drop coming out of the bay.  Pike will stage along this first drop, so troll that break line using a stick bait.  There are many stick baits to choose from for this tactic, but I love using #7 and #9 Rapala Tail dancers.  I will follow that break line and sometimes go a little deeper until contact is made.  Trolling speed is normally between .8mph- 1.5mph, but don’t be afraid to vary your speed.  Tail Dancers have the right wobble and rattles that make pike bite.  Lure colors I prefer are Bleeding Hot Olive, Hot Chub, Bleeding Pearl, and Silver.

Try these early season tactics and you too will be yelling “Pike on!”