Fishing for pike is a great sport all year round. However, during the colder months of the year, it can be slightly more challenging to catch the apex predator, which is why I wrote this in-depth article on how to catch pike in cold water.
The best ways to catch cold water pike include slower spin fishing with inline spinners, crankbaits, and soft baits close to the bottom, as well as float fishing and bottom fishing with dead or live baitfish in deeper water and over drop-offs.
Continue reading this article to get all the best tips on methods, lures, and tackle for cold water pike fishing.
How to Fish for Pike in Cold Water?
Fishing for pike during late fall and early spring can be very rewarding and the fish are usually as well-nourished and fat as they can be.
However, fishing for pike in cold water is not the easiest of challenges:
- Fish are much less active and mobile now than they are during the warmer months of the year, as their metabolism adapts to the lower water temperature and slows down
- A lower metabolism also means that they do not need to feed as much in order to keep their energy levels at a steady level
- And finally, colder water temperatures naturally lead to fewer available food sources, as prey fish also reduce their activity and remain within their larger shoals
Luckily though, pike still have to move around and feed though and then, despite decreased water temperatures and less food swimming around.
In fact, there are days when they can crank up their activity quite substantially in order to refill their energy reserves and if you happen to hit the water on such a day, you get the opportunity to experience a chilly feeding frenzy.
It is however crucial to adapt your fishing to the pike’s current state and its surrounding environment. Everything is a little slower and a little more static than usual. And that is exactly the way you have to present your lures and baits!
Now is not the time for speed or surface spin fishing, nor is it appropriate to troll too fast.
Go slow and go deep in order to both find and catch cold-water northern pike. If you do that, you will have a much better chance of hooking up, especially if you target the following features:
- the deepest areas of the venue you are fishing in
- the upper and underside of drop-offs
- deep and slow-moving backwaters (in rivers)
- sunken reefs
It is these areas that now have both slightly warmer water temperatures and hold a majority of your venue’s prey fish, which during the cold months of the year often can be found in large shoals. If you find those, you’ll most likely find your pike as well!
Pro Tip: When fishing from a boat or kayak, a fish finder will make it easier to find such underwater features. Check out this highly accurate and affordable portable fish finder on Amazon.
Now let’s take a look at the best methods for targeting cold water northern pike.
Spin Fishing for Cold Water Pike
If you are fishing with lures in cold water, you have to make sure to use lures that can be retrieved slowly without losing any of their action.
Cold water pike will go for lures that run both deeply and slowly, while still moving in a natural and active way.
Always draw parallels to what’s actually out there and you will find success. Think of your lure as a slowly moving baitfish near the bottom. That’s exactly the way your lure should look to a hungry but lazy pike.
The following lures can best create such an illusion in cold and deep water:
- larger inline spinners
- sinking crankbaits
- soft baits, such as shads
Best inline spinners
When it comes to cold water spinners for pike, you want to go big and bulky. The more vibration and water resistance they can create, the slower you can retrieve them. Their increased weight will allow you to fish these lures close to the bottom.
These two inline spinners are my absolute favorites for cold water pike:
Mepps MuskyKiller Bucktail
- Length: 5”
- Weight: 3/4 oz
- Great colors for cold water (red & black)
- Awesome visibility
- Can be retrieved really slowly
Mepps Dressed Aglia
- Weight: 1/2 oz
- Fully flexible axle
- Flashy and bite-enticing colors (black and silver)
- Gives off extra vibrations to lure even the slowest of pike
I primarily use big crankbaits when trolling for pike. If you decide to use them, they should be of the sinking variety. This feature will naturally keep them in deeper water without you having to retrieve or troll them at a higher speed in order to make them dive.
This is my best pick when it comes to cold water crankbaits for pike:
Rapala Countdown Magnum
To me, the Countdown Magnum is the perfect pike crankbait for deep water trolling. Here is why:
- can run as deep as 25 feet
- has a large size that is similar to that of a well-sized baitfish (5-9”)
- has really natural-looking design and colors (comes in many different colors)
- has tough lip and hooks that will withstand many pike (and muskie) attacks
- Sinks approx. 1 inch per second, which means that you can reach those greater depths with ease
Best soft baits
Soft baits that you fish zig-zag style over the bottom are definitely the underdogs when it comes to pike fishing, as not many anglers use these lures for pike.
I happen to fish them a lot and they always yield great results. Shads especially are great for fishing in cold water conditions.
Not only are these the lures that can be fished closest to the bottom, but they can literally rest on it as well, enabling even the most passive of pike to just pick them up directly from the bottom without much effort at all.
Here are my best soft bait tips for pike in cold water:
Mister Twister Shad
- old-school, underrated shad! (Chartreuse is a killer pike color)
- a heavy bait that you can cast far
- appealing length for cold water pike (4”)
- truly life-like design and colors
- great action, even when only lightly twitched along the bottom
- comes in perfect pike sizes (4 or 6 inches)
Float Fishing for Pike in Cold Water
Fox Predator Inline Trolling Float (UK)
When fishing from a boat over deep water, you should resort to slow-trolling with a float with live or dead baitfish.
This is an absolute killer method for cold water pike, especially during the fall.
Present your bait in the lower third of the water and troll, row, or simply drift as slowly as possible.
For this method, you will need the following tackle:
- a 20-30g (3/4-1oz) trolling float
- an appropriate egg weight (sinker)
- a stop bead
- a snap swivel
- a 10-15 inch wire leader with two size 2-4 treble hooks
For the perfect presentation of your baitfish, I suggest using a dedicated trolling float, such as the Fox Predator Inline Trolling Float. These floats have their grommet opening in the middle of their body, which means that they won’t angle up as much when being dragged behind your boat.
This, in turn, will keep your baitfish at the exact depth you intend to fish it.
Thill Big Fish Slider Bobber (US/CAN)
If you’re fishing for pike in North America, Thill’s got a really awesome big fish slip bobber that can do some heavy lifting and allows you to use larger bait sizes for those big pikes!
It comes in three different sizes, has a high visibility yellow or orange top, and can be fished in both running and still water, making it a superb all-round choice for pike anglers.
Drennan E-Sox Zeppler Float (UK)
For float fishing from the shore, I recommend using a heavier slider float of 30g (1oz). Such floats can handle even larger and heavier baitfish without getting pulled under.
I have found that using bigger baits often gives me far more bites, which probably has to do with the pike’s need to save energy. Hence, if and when it’s feeding, it’ll try to go for bigger baits that will give it more energy than smaller prey fish would.
As a heavier live baitfish will be harder to cast out, simply place your float rig just a few yards off the shore and then let the fish do the work instead. It’ll most likely start to swim around and try to head for deeper water.
In order to float fish from the shore, you will need this type of end tackle:
- a 30g (1oz) pike float
- an appropriate egg weight (sinker)
- a stop bead
- a snap swivel
- a 15-20 inch wire leader with one to two size 2-4 treble hooks
An absolute classic pike float for live bait fishing is the Drennan E-Sox Zeppler. It has a great buoyancy, is well visible, and will not impact the movements of your baitfish a tall, thanks to its rather slim shape.
Bottom Fishing for Cold Water Pike
A more passive way of targeting cold water pike is ledgering, or bottom fishing, with dead bait.
If none of the above-mentioned methods give you any bites, it can be a wise idea to try fishing on the bottom instead, as the pike are probably not active enough to go for moving prey.
This is often the case if temperatures have dropped recently, or if there has been a sudden change from low to high air pressure.
Then, a dead bait, whole or half, fished on the bottom can make all the difference, as the pike will be able to take their time to both approach and, eventually, engulf the non-moving prey.
The following bottom rigs have proven to be the most successful ones in cold water:
Simple running rig
For this rig, you will need the following end tackle:
- a 2-3 oz weight that you put directly on your mainline
- a stop bead
- a snap swivel
- a 20-30 inch wire leader equipped with two size 2-4 treble hooks
In order to detect a bite, you will also need to use an electric bite alarm and a bobbin. You can find a qualitative and very affordable bite alarm on Amazon.
Float dead bait rig
This set-up is basically fished like a normal float rig would be, but instead of presenting your bait off the bottom, it’ll be lying on it. The float is hence fished over-depth and merely serves you as a visual bite indication for the dead bait on the bottom.
You will need the following end tackle for the float dead bait rig:
- a long pencil pike float for over-depth fishing
- a stop bead
- a ledger weight, or a series of larger split shots of about 1oz
- a snap swivel
- a 15-20 inch wire leader with two size 2-4 treble hooks
The optimal float to use for this rig is a long and loaded pencil float, as it both has an enhanced buoyancy and great visibility. These features allow you to fish both in bad weather conditions and at a greater distance.
And as it is pre-loaded, you do not need any extra weights on your mainline, which greatly reduces resistance.
I can recommend the Loaded Pike Pencil Float, as it has the perfect shape and buoyancy for dead baiting and a really long red tip section. It also comes in 2 different sizes, allowing you to fish both smaller and larger dead baits.
If you want to get even more tips on pike gear and tackle, make sure to also check out Strike&Catch’s recommended pike gear section:
How to Handle Pike in Cold Weather
Cold air and temperatures below the freezing point can impact the fish quite seriously. Both their eyes and their protective skin coating can be damaged by the cold, which is why it is extra crucial that you handle your pike with care when it’s really cold outside.
Try not to lift them out of the water and unhook them in the net instead. Simply lift the pike’s head out of the water, unhook it with your pliers, and then smoothly release it from your landing net.
If you have to get the pike into your boat or on land, make sure to use an unhooking mat.
If it is freezing, don’t forget to pour water over the pike’s head and body a couple of times while unhooking it on the mat to protect the fish’s skin and eyes.
It’s important to use a soft and big enough mat so that even bigger pike can fit on it.
The NGT Lightweight Landing Mat is such a mat, as it measures 110x60cm and is well padded. Thanks to a smart folding design, it is also very easy to transport, despite its size. You can purchase this great unhooking mat on Amazon.
Now that you know how to tackle those big cold-water predators, it’s time to head out to the bank and give it a try! Just don’t forget to bring some warm clothing and a thermos bottle of hot tea or coffee.
Essential Tackle Tips
If you’re looking for solid and reliable pike fishing equipment, these tips might be useful for you.
The following tackle is of top quality and sells at a very decent price on Amazon.
A versatile and beautifully made medium-heavy 7′ baitcasting rod that’s perfect for bigger predators. Casts anything up to 1 1/2 oz extremely well. Has an awesome balance, action, and sensitivity.
Reel: Abu Garcia Revo SX
An affordable high-performance baitcaster reel with amazing strength. Casts super smoothly and will last you forever, so you don’t have to worry about buying a new reel anytime soon! Makes for a great pike combo together with the Shimano SLX rod.
Mainline: Power Pro Spectra
One of the best braids available today. Zero stretch, great feel, and immense strength make this line the perfect pick for pike in both open and snaggy waters. Put on a 30lb test and you’re good to go.
Related Pike Fishing Articles
- The Best Way to Ice Fish for Northern Pike
- Northern Pike (A Complete Species Guide)
- Night Fishing for Pike (Most Successful Tactics)
- Best Time of Day for Pike Fishing (All Four Seasons)
Images courtesy of Sam Kerr, Marc Taylor-Olsson, Sam Urey Perch Angler, and Joe Maguire