Northern pike love cold water and are found naturally just about everywhere water temperatures dip cold enough to freeze. Exceptions occur in high-elevation trout lakes and western rivers where pike historically never obtained a finhold, and in the East where pike give way to pickerel that are better suited to a milder climate. Elsewhere, in cold waters where flowing water meets flooded grass spawning sites, pike flourish.
And winter's one of the best times to catch 'em. This discussion is steered toward drive-to public-access waters in the US and southern Canada, places that offer good ice fishing opportunities for large pike.
Fort Peck Reservoir, MT—Arguably the current kingfin of American trophy pike waters, Fort Peck is loaded with pike topping 20 pounds. Little fishing pressure compared to its large size. Ice fishing begins in late December. Access at Rock Creek, Duck Creek, or Hell Creek, and fish major points near the mouths of creek arms. Contacts: Guide Myron Kibler, 406/557-2503; Guide Scott Sundheim, 406/798-3474; Cottonwood Inn, 800/321-8213.
Coeur d'Alene Lake, ID—The best farthest west US prospect for pike, with fish exceeding 20 pounds. Action is best at the shallow south end of the lake. Ice season usually extends from January through February. Fish cabbage beds. Five tip-ups per angler. Contacts: Fins & Feather Guide Service, 208/667-9304; John Ragan, Blue Goose Sport Shop, 208/245-4015.
Yuba Lake, UT—Also known as Sevier Bridge Reservoir, Yuba supports pike pushing 20 pounds. Ice season runs from January through early April. Contacts: Angler's Inn, 801/466-3921; Juab Travel Council, 800/748-4361.
Keyhole Lake, WY—Late December through March offers pike opportunities, with 20s common. Fish shallow bays adjacent to prominent shoreline points. Contacts: Guide Don Ellis, 307/686-8401; All Season Sports, 307/686-1119; Keyhole Marina & Motel, 307/756-9529.
Eleven Mile Reservoir, CO—This reservoir's on the upswing with high teens possible. Safe ice from early November through early March. Williams Fork Reservoir north of Dillon is an equivalent fishery that produced the 30-pound 6-ounce state record. Vallecito Reservoir near Durango and Taylor Reservoir north of Gunnison are other good options. Contacts: Division of Wildlife Customer Service Call Center, 303/297-1192; Eleven Mile Store, 719/748-3424.
Lake Oahe, SD—Known for pike reaching 25 to 30 pounds, plus good numbers in the teens. Ice angling begins after New Year's in the shallower midportion of the lake near Mobridge. In the lower end of the lake, where most big pike tend to be caught, freeze-up is limited to creek arms like Twin Bays, Snake Creek, and Okobojo Creek. Contacts: Lighthouse Pointe, 605/224-9340; Carl's Bait Shop, 605/223-9453; Pierre Chamber of Commerce, 800/962-2034.
Lake Sakakawea, ND—Sakakawea produces some fish over 20 pounds. Beginning in December, access the Van Hook Arm near New Town, or Parshall, or Deepwater Creek. Contacts: Indian Hills Resort, 701/743-4122.
Devils Lake, ND—Recent great spawns have loaded Devils Lake with 3- to 6-pounders, plus a chance at larger fish. Beginning in December, fish timbered points in the main lake or the 20-foot flooded cattail flats off Minnewaukan. Contacts: Ed's Bait Shop, 701/662-8321; Devils Lake Chamber of Commerce, 701/662-4903.
Glacial Lakes, SD—Similar high-water conditions in eastern South Dakota have expanded Waubay, Thompson, and other lakes, creating numbers to about 12 pounds, plus occasional larger individuals. Fish flooded timberlines or weedlines beginning around Thanksgiving. Contacts: Webster Chamber of Commerce, 605/345-4668; Game, Fish & Parks, 605/345-3381.
Red Willow Reservoir, NE—Late December through February offers opportunities for fish pushing 20 pounds. Natural lakes in the northcentral "sandhills" portion of the state offer pike on Clear, Dewey, Hackberry, and Pelican. Contact: Daryl Bauer, Reservoir & Lakes Program Manager, 402/471-0641.
Lake of the Woods, MN—Early-ice (mid-November) in Zippel Bay produces pike up to 20 pounds. Four-Mile Bay also produces big pike throughout. Shack rentals are available. Contacts: Lucky Bait, 218/634-2869; Baudette Chamber of Commerce, 800/382-FISH.
Rainy Lake, MN-ON—Safe ice in January brings the opportunity for 20s at Black Bay, Tilson Creek, and other weedy areas. Rental shacks are available. Contacts: Guide Barry Woods (rentals), 218/286-5001; International Falls Chamber of Commerce, 218/283-9400.
Lake Vermilion, MN—Pike in the teens up to 20 pounds are present in weedbeds throughout the lake. Access through Tower beginning in December. Contact: Lake Vermilion Resort Association, 800/648-5897.
Lake Pokegama, MN—Pike in the teens, beginning in late November. Try the weedbeds and humps around Sugar Bay, Sherry's Arm, and Drumbeater Island. Contacts: Ben's Bait, 218/326-8281; Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, 218/326-6619.
Leech Lake, MN—Pike in the teens are possible from the many weedbeds on the main lake, Agency, Walker, Boy, Sucker or Portage bays, or connected Kabekona Lake. Safe ice in mid-December. Contacts: Reed's Tackle, 218/547-1505; Leech Lake Guide Coalition, 218/547-3212; Leech Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, 800/833-1118.
Mille Lacs, MN—Fish deep weedlines in major protected bays—Twin, Isle, Wahkon, Cove, Vineland, Sha Bosh King, and Wigwam—at early ice. As main-lake shorelines ice in, weedbeds in St. Albin's, Garrison, and Bergstrom bays produce fish occasionally pushing 20 pounds. Ice is safe in protected bays by Christmas. Rentals are available. Contacts: Mille Lacs Area Tourism, 888/350-2692; Eddy's Lake Mille Lacs Resort, 800/657-4704; Meleen's Holiday Sports, 320/532-3717; Tutt's Bait & Tackle, 320/692-4341; Guide Ivan Burandt, 320/532-3261; Guide Chris Kuduk, 320/983-6242.
Keewenaw Waterway, MI—Pike to over 20 pounds relate to weed points in Pike Bay and near the mouth of the Sturgeon River. Access at Chassell, beginning in December. Contacts: Sharper Edge Sporting Goods, 906/487-5543; Dick's Favorite Sports, 906/482-0412; Houghton Chamber of Commerce, 906/482-5240.
St. Louis River, MN-WI—Shallow Pokegama Bay on the Wisconsin side of the St. Louis River harbor separating Duluth and Superior offers fair numbers of big pike. Contacts: Superior-Douglas County Chamber of Commerce, 800/942-5313.
Mississippi River, MN-WI—Backwaters of the Mississippi near LaCrosse, Wisconsin, particularly near the Black River, produce pike once the ice is safe, sometime in December. Contacts: Bob's Bait & Tackle, 608/782-5552; LaCrosse Chamber of Commerce, 608/784-4880.
Chequamegon Bay, WI—Twenties are possible in weed or wood cover just off downtown Ashland, up the west shore toward Washburn. Safe ice generally runs from January through early April. Contacts: Anglers All, 715/682-5754; Ashland Chamber of Commerce, 715/682-2500.
Little Bay de Noc, MI—Shoreline weedbeds in the inner half of the bay produce big pike after freeze-up in late December. Contacts: Chief Papineau, 906/786-8977; Guide Marty Papke, 800/708-2FISH; Captain Dick Stafford, 906/789-0110; Bay Shores Resort, 906/428-9687.
Green Bay, WI—Bays along the Green Bay side of Door County host pike occasionally topping 20 pounds. Little Sturgeon, Rileys, and Sand bays, along with Sawyer Harbor in the Sturgeon Bay canal are candidates. Safe ice generally runs from mid-January through early March. Ice conditions are treacherous on the Lake Michigan side of the peninsula. Contacts: Guide Dale Stroschein, Sand Bay Beach Resorts and Suites, 920/743-5731; Mac's Sport Shop, 920/743-3350.
Big Green Lake, WI—Safe ice occurs in late December. Target weedbeds for pike in the teens, sometimes larger. Contacts: Dave Norton, 920/295-3462; Green Lake Chamber of Commerce, 920/294-3231.
Lake Mendota, WI—A deep, clear natural lake with pike in the teens along prominent main-lake weededges. Safe ice in late December. Contacts: Madison Area Fisheries, 608/273-5946; Greater Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau, 800/373-6376.
Lake Geneva, WI—Pike in the teens along prominent main-lake weededges. Safe ice in January. Contacts: Guide Carl Kaufmann, Walleyes Unlimited, USA, 815/338-2475; Lake Geneva Chamber of Commerce, 414/248-4416.
Lake Charlevoix, MI—Beginning in early December in the south arm and early January in the main lake, fishing is excellent for pike into the high teens. Nearby Burt, Mullet, and Black Lakes (ice house rentals) offer safe ice in late November or early December. Fish cabbage weededges. The exit of the Black River from Black Lake is excellent. Contacts: Dan Miller, East Jordan True Value, 616/536-3121; Charlevoix Chamber of Commerce, 231/547-2101.
Lake Champlain, VT-NY—Northern Lake Champlain features numbers of bays up through the Grand Isle region and Missisquoi Bay where 6- to 10-pound pike are common, and fish from 18 to over 20 pounds are caught every year. Focus on shallow weedy bays adjacent to deep water. Safe ice runs from about New Year's until late March. Shelburne Pond, lakes Hortonia and Bomoseen, and Norton Pond also offer good pike. Contacts: Biologist Brian Chipman, 802/878-1564; Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce, 802/863-3489.
Conesus Lake, NY—In the Finger Lakes, the weedy north end of Conesus and Cayuga lakes offer pike approaching 20 pounds, beginning around January 1. Contact: DOC Finger Lakes fisheries, 716/226-2466.
Great Sacandaga Lake, NY—The home of the 46-pound 2-ounce North American record, caught in 1940, still offers a few giants. Schroon Lake, the Saranac Chain, St. Regis chain, Tupper Lake in the Adirondacks, and Saratoga Lake offer fish into the teens, from about New Year's to March 15. Contact: DOC Raybrook fisheries, 518/897-1200.
St. Lawrence R. NY-ON—Chaumont and Black River bays off the main flow of the St. Lawrence offer good ice fishing for pike, though fish seldom top 10 pounds. Contacts: DOC Watertown fisheries, 315/785-2261; Thousand Islands Bait Store, 315/482-9903; Hook, Line & Sinker, 315/482-5500; Alexandria Bay Chamber of Commerce, 315/482-9531; Cape Vincent Chamber of Commerce, 315/654-2481; Thousand Islands Tourism, 800/847-5263.
Charles River, MA—The lakes district of the Charles River near Waltham supports big pike, with a brief ice fishery depending on weather. (Permit required for designated ice fishing areas.) Onota and Pontoosuc lakes near Pittsfield, oxbows of the Connecticut River in North Hampton and East Hampton, East Brimfield Reservoir, Lake Buel in Monterey, Quaboag Pond and South Pond in Brookfield, Lake Quinsigamond in Shrewsbury, Lake Cochituate in Natick, Fairhaven Bay on the Sudbury River near Concord, and Webster Lake offer good pike. Contacts: Richard Hartley, warm and cool water project leader, 508/792-7270 ext. 132; Metropolitan District Commission, 617/727-9547; Tropicland Marine and Tackle, 781/329-3777 (permit available); biologist Ken Simmons, 508/366-4470.
Bantam Lake, CT—Bantam Lake provides good ice fishing from about early January through the end of February, with 20-pounders possible. So does Mansfield Hollow Reservoir, with its longer ice season. Coves of the Connecticut River from Wethersfield down to Middletown, and the Shepaug arm of Lake Lillinonah produce pike into the high teens. Contact: Biologist Tim Barry, 860/485-0226.
Lake Diefenbaker, SK—Abundant teens to mid-twenties are available in many bays throughout this huge impoundment. At the shallower west end, access Saskatchewan Landing, beginning early to mid-November, with fishing best until about New Year's. Anchor Bay is good early. In the central portion near Riverhurst, try Palliser Park, Rusty's Coulee, Hamilton Coulee, and the Riverhurst Ferry Crossing. Larger bays near the east end don't ice up until January. Try bays and flats in front of bays like Big and Little Sage Coulees and Couteau Bay. Pike season closes the end of March. Contacts: West—Dale Hope, Anchor Marine, 306/375-5590 (winter); Swift Current Chamber of Commerce, 306/773-7268; Central—Joe Patrick, Mainstay Inn, 306/353-2077; East—Bryan Cafferata, Elbow Harbor Marina, 306/854-2211 (winter).—Bob Kirkpatrick
Chin and Travers reservoirs, AB—Small reservoirs like Chin and Travers in the southern part of the province host 20-plus-pounders. Ice fishing usually begins in December. Contacts: Hoyt's Sporting Goods, 403/327-5760; Taber Chamber of Commerce, 403/223-2265; Rich Mellon, 403/627-5870.
Winnipeg River, ON-MB—Lakes of the Winnipeg River system, from Minaki, Ontario, flowing across the border into Manitoba's Whiteshell Provincial Park, offer top fishing for 20-pound-plus pike. It's a remote area with few winter facilities, accessed via snowmobile at the east and west. Lac Du Bonnet and Whiteshell lakes in Manitoba, and Sand and Gun lakes at Minaki, Ontario, offer the easiest road access. Fish over shallow weedbeds. Contacts: Manitoba—Inverness Falls Resort, 204/369-5336; Steinbach Chamber of Commerce, 204/326-9566; Guide Ted Jowett, 204/667-3094. Ontario—Kenora Chamber of Commerce, 807/467-4646; Biologist Gord Pyzer, 807/468-2528.
Lake of the Woods, MB-ON—Buffalo Bay in Manitoba waters, and Sand Point and Deepwater bays in the Northwest Angle, Minnesota, are— accessible via Manitoba. Large fish are on cabbage weedflats by mid-December. Whitefish Bay on the northeast side (ON) of the lake offers a mixture of lake trout (season opens January 1) and pike. Contacts: ManitobaBuffalo Bay Marina, 204/437-2402; Buffalo Bay Resort, 204/437-2557; Guide Ted Jowett, 204/667-3094; Ontario—Guide Al Meline, 807/484-2483; Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls Chamber of Commerce, 807/226-5293.
Lac Seul, ON—A road-access fishery for big pike, but with few winter angling services. You're on your own. Contacts: Sioux Lookout Chamber of Commerce, 807/737-1937; biologist Gord Pyzer, 807/468-2528.
Lake Nipissing, ON—Ice fishing kicks in just before Christmas most years. Try fishing the Manitou Islands region and the mouth of the French River. Rental houses available. Contacts: Glen Echo Cottages, 705/752-1118; Waltonian Inn, 705/752-2060 or 705/752-1157; Bear Creek Cottages, 705/752-2820.
Lake Simcoe, ON—A popular drive-to north of Toronto. Pike in the high teens and low twenties are common. Fish weedbeds in Cook's Bay, the Holland River, and the mouths of the Maskinonge, Black, Pefferlaw, and Talbot rivers. Safe ice begins around Christmas. Contacts: Wil Wegman, Ministry of Natural Resources, 905/713-7343; Guide Leon Maloney, 705/835-2059; Guide Hank Gibson, 905/476-7530; Greater Barrie Chamber of Commerce, 705/721-5000.
Ottawa River, ON-PQ—Known for giant muskies, bays of the Ottawa also produce big pike. Contacts: LeBaron's Outdoor Products, 613/596-4415; Ottawa Board of Trade, 613/236-3631.
St. Lawrence River, PQ—On widenings of the lower river between Montreal and Quebec City, Lac Saint Francois, Lac St. Louis, and Lac Saint Pierre' produce good numbers of large fish. Focus on weedflats and weededges. Anglers are allowed 10 tip-ups each. Aylmer Lake (only 5 tip-ups) also has big fish. Contacts: LeBaron's Outdoor Products, 613/596-4415; Montreal Board of Trade, 514/871-4000; Raymond Carignan, 450/465-0182.
Sleepers For Big Pike?
Small impoundments in western Montana; weedbeds of Saginaw Bay, Michigan; Georgian Bay, Ontario; small lakes, rivers and harbors connected to the Great Lakes; and small, deep strip pits in northern climates.