Esox Myths

As a fisherman, my favorite type of freshwater species to target has to be that of the pike. My grandfather was also big pike enthusiast. He used to travel to a certain lake up in the Adirondacks each year during the spring and catch 3 ft + Northern Pike. I suppose one could say it runs in the family. Catching big torpedo shaped toothy predator fish that can weigh more than an average sized family dog does have some allure to it.

While practically every fisherman I know has caught a bass, I know plenty who haven’t landed a pickerel or pike, let alone a musky. Fish from the pike family are one of the trickiest freshwater species to catch as a first timer. Because of this, there are plenty of myths and misconceptions with Pike Fishing. Here are some of them.

Pike are always found in weeds
While most people think pike and pickerel always are hanging out in the densest weedbeds 24-7, it’s at least a partial misconception. Most of the time this is true for smaller individuals that are less than 2 years old, but personally I’ve landed my biggest pike either outside of weeds or completely away from them. One of the best locations to find pike in the spring are at feeder streams, which are usually absent of weeds. This myth is actually the farthest from the truth in the summer, when weed beds hold only small pike and pickerel. The heat usually pushes the larger individuals to the depths where weeds may be completely absent.

Pike can’t be caught in the summer
For the longest time I thought this was true. It’s not. Northern Pike do feed in the summer time, but it’s usually more difficult to catch them as their feeding time is shorter and there is more food available. I actually proved this theory right the other week when I caught a 30 incher on a shallow diving lure in 80 degree water.

Pike only bite during the day
One of my biggest pike landed this year was caught 30 minutes after sunset. While it wasn’t completely dark out, it was during a point where I shouldn’t have been out on the water.  Usually the best times to catch pike are during dusk or dawn(better). While action can be decent during midday hours in the fall or early spring, the bite usually diminishes when the sun is high up in the sky.

Pike only eat minnows
Pike primarily feed on minnows, but will eat other things like leeches and crawfish and even small rodents and ducks if given the opportunity. I’ve caught a good amount of pickerel on non-minnow lures, and I know plenty of other fisherman who have caught pike and tiger musky using plastic worms.

Always use a steel leader when pike fishing
I hate this myth more than any other one because I have yet to loose a pike from a time where I wasn’t using a leader. I’ve lost a large northern to a bite off only once. I was using a 12 inch leader and a golden shiner as bait, and the large fish likely bite off the end of the leader when it swallowed the hook.

I’ve heard plenty of books recommend using a 16 inch leader at all times. I disagree. Only use a steel leader when using live minnows as bait. Even then, one can avoid using them if the hook is set quickly. Pike are more like sharks rather than bass in how they rarely swallow a prey whole on first pass. It’s thus extremely unlikely a pike will swallow a lure whole and cut the line.

I’m not going to say it can’t happen. In certain situations where the pike are very aggressive, it might be a good idea to take the extra precaution. But in plenty of situations, the leader can lead to less hits and you’re better off without the steel wire.

Pike are hardy fish
Fish of the Esox family are actually quite fragile fish and should never be treated like bass. It’s been shown in various studies that the catch and release mortality rate of pike and pickerel is actually much greater than that of bass and walleye. The reason is due to their propensity to bleed much more when caught as well their weaker vertebrae. Always use care when handling a pike or pickerel by unhooking them in the water.


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