Really, there's nothing quite like it on ice, almost nothing quite like it in all of freshwater fishing. Pike on ice. No other freshwater fish in no other situation is so flagrantly aggressive, so willing to charge headlong into a fracas, a free-for-all, a fisticuffs.
Tip-ups are fine, really, but overall, my experience these last years is that it's a rare day when jigging won't produce more pike than stationary sets. Yes, even during the dead of winter. Still, there's a place for stationary sets, especially in combination with jigging.
More pike roam the flats and drop-off edges in most lakes and reservoirs than most anglers realize. If they "thought," more people would be fishing these places for pike. I know other folks jig for pike in parts of the country, but honestly, I almost never see them in my area. Yet, find a flat, especially a weedflat. Or find a rock-rubble flat with boulders and a drop-off. Or find a sunken island with a rocky drop-off tapering into deep water. Pike here, there, almost (but not quite) everywhere.
I often search potential areas with a Nature Vision Aqua-Vu camera. I cut a bunch of holes on a big flat and then look with the camera. Don't have to see 10-pound pike lying there. Want to see baitfish like perch and bluegills. Want to see a reason for pike to be there. Want to see a few standing weed patches or rock edges butting up against sand, particularly if weeds also are present. In some lakes and reservoirs, the flats are as deep as 15 feet, the drop-offs as deep as 40. In other lakes, I've caught pike under three feet of ice in four feet of water -- those type of depths and everything in between.
Without the camera, you cut holes, pull over a portable shack, and look down the hole. You want to be able to see bottom, or at least see down to the depth where you'll be fishing. The thrill and, ultimately, maximum system productivity is a result of seeing how fish are reacting below. Otherwise, you fish as we've taught you over the years, with a portable sonar showing your lure in relation to the bottom and to fish that come in. Same process, only one approach is totally sight fishing, which is what we'll concentrate on here.
Once you look and have a "feeling" certain holes are going to be productive (say you find a distinct weededge or patch of weeds and, logically, choose to fish along it), you make those holes bigger by cutting another hole, or two more holes, so they just overlap the original hole. Some of the old augers won't do this, but all the 9-inch and 10-inch Jiffys and Strike Masters I ran last year would cut overlapping holes. Otherwise, cut holes close together and connect them by chipping with a spud bar like the Feldman (Jiffy) Mille Lacs chisel.
A single 10-inch hole provides a fair view of what's happening down below, but not nearly so well as at least three well-placed 10-inch holes. Pike often hold a fair distance off to the side, making a judgement about your offering. Once they like what they see, they charge. Many fish begin the attack from at least three feet away. Granted, fishing a 10-inch hole is exciting, because you usually don't see the fish until it flashes in and snaps your lure right down below. But you'll make more fish bite by seeing the entire scene as it unfolds down below. No question that certain presentation moves turn pike on. And those moves may change by body of water, time of day, or even individual pike.
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Always two basic parts to presentation: the attracting phase followed by a triggering phase. Attract and then trigger. Invite 'em to dance with major enticing lure maneuvers, then seal the deal with just the right twitches and pauses or darts and wiggles. A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer in their pants (surprise!), as they used to say in Vaudeville.
To be more specific, jigging is a matter of balancing attracting maneuvers with triggering maneuvers. Generally, attracting maneuvers need to be bigger and bolder -- aggressive jigging. Once pike come in, generally slow down and make the thing look alive. Add a dart here, a jiggle there, and don't forget those twitches, shakes, and pauses.
Swimming lures that hang vertically are the key. My favorites are the largest Nils Master Jigging Shad, the largest Nils Master Jigger, the #9 Jigging Rapala, and the largest Salmo Chubby Darter. In a pinch, close your eyes and just pick one and you'll get by. But each of these lures has its own special allure that often works wonders on given days. The Chubby Darter, in particular, fishes much lighter than the other options, allowing you to do a slow dance if the fish want that.
Other horizontal baits that work well include the Lindy-Little Joe System Tackle Flyer and the Northland Tackle Air-Plane Jig. Add a plastic trailer like a 3- or 4-inch Berkley Power Grub to these baits. Or add a 4-inch minnow.
This, though, is a visual affair where scent isn't the issue; so sweetening my favorites with a portion of minnow isn't necessary. If you insist, tip the treble with a minnow head, or add a minnow tail to the single hook just above the tail of the bait.
The system relies, finally, on a jigging rod, a reel with a smooth drag, and monofilament line testing around 12 pounds, or fused superline like Berkley FireLine testing 14 or 20. Lots of companies out there offer good jigging rods. One of my favorites is a Thorne Brothers Walleye Sweetheart that measures 29 inches and is made of glass or graphite. It has a nice "medium" bend to it. You don't want something too stiff, on one hand, or too noodley on the other. A little bend cushions the hard strikes and keeps line tight as you fight fish.
I use 12- or 18-pound stranded wire (no nylon covering) or 18-pound singlestrand stainless steel wire, each of which is ultrathin. Sevenstrand is one company that makes a nice selection of different wires. Stranded wire can be tied quickly by using a figure-eight knot or by using a forceps to wrap the wire. Singlestrand wire needs to be wrapped with eight loose wraps followed by four or five tight haywire twists.
A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer in their pants, as they say -- the rest are details you can work on, can figure out as you go. Good judgement, you have to remember, comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgement. In other words, experiment. This system is so simple and the fish often so aggressive that it's hard to go wrong unless you just don't go.