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Northern pike fishing heats up

Get ready for some of the year's best fishing for northern pike.

Unlike many other game fish species, northern pike are most active when the water is cold.

Terry Margenau, a Department of Natural Resources fisheries supervisor, says "Pike readily bite in the winter, and to ice fish you don't need to have a boat to reach the best spots," He also notes that they bite best during daylight hours.

Northern pike are the only game fish species in which anglers catch and harvest more fish during the winter than at any other time during the year.

Margenau's 2003 study found that fully 54 percent of the pike caught during winter are kept, significantly higher than the 20 percent harvest rate during the open water season.

Margenau said "It's often largely resident anglers, compared to the open water season when vacationing non-resident anglers contribute to the total catch."

Following VHS rules when fishing for northerns

The use of dead bait, usually smelt or cisco (herring) is a popular method of fishing for northern pike during winter. New rules may require anglers who traditionally use dead bait to make some changes in how and where they fish.

Under the VHS rules, anglers can use dead bait only in the same lake or river where it was caught. They may use dead bait elsewhere if it has been preserved by a method other than freezing or refrigeration, neither of which kills the virus.

Margenau has been successful in catching bluegill and yellow perch to use on the same day, same water, to catch northern pike.

"Bluegill and yellow perch are natural forage for pike in most waters," Margenau says. "Bring a jig pole along and catch your bait from the lake you are fishing."

He's also maintaining dual bait buckets: a main bucket in his truck on shore and a secondary bucket to transfer smaller numbers of bait onto the lake. "This allows you to leave with the unused minnows in your vehicle at the end of your trip," he says.

Meanwhile, he continues to experiment with using commercially made rubber minnows. "I have been unsuccessful at this point - I'm O for 4 - in tricking a pike into thinking a rubber minnow is a food item," he says. "Perhaps they are smarter than I gave them credit for. I haven't given up and will certainly send you a picture when it happens."