By Jim Hamrick
March is a prime month for catching big Northern Pike through the ice. Most of our local lakes host good populations of these toothy trophies. No matter what size pike you happen to catch, it will be bigger than most other fish you pull in and will definitely have a bad attitude.
Northern Pike are predators and will attack about anything that swims, from fish to small birds. Anyone who fishes regularly in Michigan has a story about some big monster attacking their line while reeling in a smaller bluegill, perch, or bass. When a hungry pike sees an easy meal he has no fear and will strike. It always creates a great story and lifetime memory.
Last ice of the winter is a great time to hook up with these hard fighting, great tasting fish. March will bring a warming sun as we enter into spring, the pike will begin to feed more and are getting ready for their spawn. They will move toward rivers, creeks and shallow marshes to await the final departure of ice. They are one of the first fish to spawn dropping their eggs when the water temperature reaches the mid-forties.
The most common presentation for catching pike through the ice is a tip-up. Tip-ups are a self-contained fishing unit consisting of a small reel, a flag indicator and a brace to keep everything centered over a six to eight inch hole. A ten pound Northern Pike can be landed through a six inch hole. Most avid pike fishermen use eight inch power augers to make fishing for bigger fish easier. Attach a three to five inch minnow on a treble hook, suspend it six inches above the weeds or a foot or two off the bottom in deeper water and wait. When a flag pops up on a tip-up with a big minnow for bait, everyone around is excited. It must be something big!
A Northern Pike must be twenty-four inches to legally keep, but let’s face it an eighteen inch fish is a big fish and is worthy of a picture for most first time catches. A forty-inch Northern Pike should be pushing twenty pounds in weight and is considered a real trophy.
Most local lakes have good populations of pike, some of the top producers are Gull Lake, Pine Lake, Sugarloaf Lake, and Long Lake at Portage. In our local area Barton Lake, Portage Lake, and Big Cedar Lake by Lawton give up good numbers of fish.
Northern Pike are great tasting table fare. Many people refuse to eat pike because they are too bony. When properly filleted a pike provides five fillets of boneless, solid white meat. No matter how you prepare it fried, baked, or broiled pike is delicious. Some people pickle pike and this is a real delicacy.
The best way to fillet a pike is, make two incisions right behind the head and down along the gill plates. Do not remove the head! Lay the pike on its stomach, fillet the strip of meat off from behind the head to the dorsal fin. This is a beautiful piece of boneless fish. The troublesome y-bones that cause all the trouble will be exposed. Go to the dorsal fin and fillet these two pieces back to the tail just as any other fish, they will also be boneless. Return to the head and carefully remove the two fillets by cutting outside the exposed y-bones. This works.
Be careful when fishing on last ice. Spring conditions can be tricky and we don’t want to lose any readers.