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article236_1.jpg (47625 bytes)Northern Pike Ice Fishing Bonanza

By Thomas Jones, VT Fish & Wildlife

Anxiously waiting for the air temperature to warm a few degrees above zero, your bare hands and empty stomach welcome the freshly poured hot coffee.

In short time you are greeted with your first tip-up "flag" of the day, and you rush to the hole to see your spool of line spinning wildly. After the fish has made its run, you set the hook and the battle is on. The line
sings through your fingers, and after an intense battle the fish begins to
tire and you finally get a glimpse of the big northern pike as it cruises by
the hole.

For those who are crazy about ice fishing, scenes like this are common on
many of Vermont's frozen ponds and lakes. It's a way of life for many
dedicated ice fishermen. For those just beginning, ice fishing for northern
pike can be very rewarding and may quickly become addicting.

One serious northern pike enthusiast is Bob Dostie from Swanton, Vermont (VT Editor for ). When asked why he likes to ice fish for pike he said, "Northern pike tend to be aggressive feeders and hard fighting fish. When you set up in a good location, pike can provide a lot of action and make for an enjoyable day on the ice."

Built like rockets, pike are well adapted to earn their place at the top of
the food chain. They lie in ambush, waiting for prey to swim near. They
have extremely quick acceleration and abundant teeth, enabling them to
effectively catch and hold onto their prey. Their diet consists of small
fish, frogs, tadpoles, crayfish, leeches, and large aquatic insects. For
medium to large pike, small rodents, snakes and birds are also on the menu.

Primarily sight feeders, they are very active by day, which makes them
fairly easy to catch. They also feed in coldwater conditions making them
ideal candidates for ice fishing.

When safe ice conditions exist, the following Vermont waters are a good bet for catching nice pike through the ice: Lake Champlain (Kelley Bay,
Missisquoi Bay, Dillenbeck Bay, Carry Bay, St. Albans Bay, Mallets Bay,
Larabees Point, Singing Ceders, Lapans Bay, Benson Landing, and Dresden Narrows), Lake Bomoseen, Lake St. Catherine, Lake Hortonia, Glen Lake, Lake Carmi, and Norton Pond.

The following tips may help you catch pike through the ice:

Fish mornings and evenings particularly on overcast days. Rapidly
changing weather conditions can produce phenomenal pike action. Patience and persistence are the key to getting big numbers and large pike.

Most pike will fit through a six-inch hole, but larger holes, eight to 10
inches, will make it easier to guide the fish up through when landing. In
extremely cold weather, smaller holes will shrink due to ice build-up.

For tip-ups, rig the spools with heavy dacron ice-fishing line (36 to 45
pound test). This large line makes it easier to handle on the ice. On the
end of the main line, tie a barrel swivel to keep your line from getting
twisted. To the swivel tie a three-foot leader, which can be heavy
monofilament, heavy fluorocarbon, or steel. To the leader, add a very
small split-shot to keep your bait from moving too much. A variety of hook sizes and styles can be used. You may need to experiment, and then decide which set-up works best for you.

Pike prefer soft non-spiny rayed fish. White suckers, creek chubs, golden shiners, and rainbow smelt are all good choices. In general, baits from three to seven inches are used. This size range will usually eliminate
flags from panfish that will take smaller sized baits.

Pike prefer shallow water (3 to 15 feet) associated with aquatic
vegetation. Points and drop-offs with weed beds close by are always a good bet. During late ice conditions you may want to try shallow flats as pike are spring spawners and will begin to congregate in these shallow areas.

Suspend your bait about 12 inches off the bottom unless you're fishing very shallow weedy areas. In this case, hang your bait closer to the hole to avoid the bait being entangled in the weeds. To accurately set the depth
for your bait, use a sounding weight. Clip the weight on the hook and lower your line until it hits the bottom, clip on a tiny bobber or line marker to mark your line where you want it to be on the tip-up spool. This "sounding technique" will take some practice but when perfected will make it easy for you to see if a fish has taken line, or after checking your bait you can easily put the bait back to the correct position without sounding again.

Once you're set-up it's a waiting game. Check your baits at least once an hour. If the bait is dead, don't worry about it. Pike will eat dead bait
too. Sometimes it's their first choice.

Flag-up! Now what? Do you immediately set the hook? Waiting too long will usually result in deeply hooked fish. You may want to wait for the
spool to stop, slowly bring in some line until you feel the fish and then
give a quick short jerk to set the hook. Gently pull in line if the fish
starts to run, just let the line slip through your fingers with a little bit
of tension. When the fish stops, repeat the process.

Use large forceps or pliers to remove the hook. These simple tools will
help you avoid being cut by the pike's teeth and will also enable you to
quickly remove the hook if you intend to release the fish.

For fish that will be released, it is important to minimize the time the
fish is out of the water, especially during extremely cold air temperatures
that can freeze the fish's external surfaces. Quickly remove the hook,
avoiding any contact with the fish's gills. Extra care here will help
ensure that the fish survives.

Northern pike can grow large where abundant food and habitat are present.

Vermont's state record is 30 lbs. 8 ozs. If you are going to harvest fish
for the table, you may want to consider keeping smaller male pike and
releasing the larger females to spawn in the spring. Keeping large pike in
the fishery will enable them to reach their full potential and help ensure a
quality fishery.

Be sure to check fishing regulations for each pond or lake you intend to
fish. For more information contact Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, 103 South Main Street, Waterbury, VT 05671-0501 Phone 802 241-3700. Ask for a Digest of Hunting, Fishing & Trapping Laws.
Fishing regulations may also be found on the department's website
( ).


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