Of all the fish I like to fish for, my favorite is the northern pike on the Grand River. Pike are known by many names such as “The Wolf Of The Water”, “Hammer Handles”, “Snot Rockets”, “The Tax Man” and the list goes on.
I understand that for some anglers, they despise having one hit their lure and for good reason. If they don’t destroy your lures, they will sure mess it up, probably to the point where you can’t use it again. Plus, they can be a bloody mess. With that said, when I run guide trips, of all the warm water species we fish for, the one clients want to catch most, is the northern pike.
Northern pike have a single dorsal fin with light colored spots on a darker body. The upper half of the gill cover and entire cheek have scales, and five to six submandibular pores (underside of lower jaw). The northern pike is a member of the Pike family (Esocidae), with its cousins the muskellunge and grass pickerel.
Northern Pike Habitat
Northern Pike are commonly associated and prefer the weedy shallows of both the Great Lakes and inland waters. In rivers, they are often found around log jams, fallen timber, slackwater and weed lines next to drop-offs.
Depending on the time year they are be found in the deeper slack sections of the river or the shallows. Two of the largest pike, that clients have landed on the Grand, where in less than 3 feet of water, with one of those pike exploding out of the river like a tarpon.
They prefer water temps from 40 degrees up to 72 degrees. Anything above 72 degrees, the fish start to get stressed and we tend to avoid specifically targeting them.
The ideal temp for big northern pike is when the water temp is under 65 degrees. This typically coincides with the spring and fall months on the Grand and its tributaries.
Life Cycle of the Northern Pike:
Pike in the Great Lakes region spawn in the shallows in April or May, right after the ice leaves. As a result of their eating habits, young pike grow rapidly in both length and weight. Females become sexually mature at age three or four with males at two to three years. Beyond sexual maturity, pike continue to gain weight, although more slowly. Northern pike have an average life span of six to eight years, with some living as long as 15 years of age.
In order to protect Northern Pike, while they are their most vulnerable, the Michigan DNR does not allowed them to be taken from March 15 – the last Saturday in April in Michigan’s lower peninsula’s inland rivers and waters. There is an exaction to that rule and that is the Great Lakes and Lake St. Clair, St. Clair River and Detroit River.
Diet of the Northern Pike:
About 90 percent of the pike diet is small fish. However, they are more than willing to supplement their diet with any living creature their huge jaws can surround. Those include, frogs, crayfish, waterfowl, rodents and other small mammals. Their preferred forage fish are yellow perch, sunfishes, minnows and suckers.
Fishing for Northern Pike:
Pike can be taken on live bait (primarily large minnows) and all manner of artificial lures. They can be caught either by trolling or casting. Large diving or topwater plugs, spoons, spinner baits, flies and the red and white Dardevle all produce.
Some of our favorites are Mepps #5, double willow bladed spinner baits in white, X-Raps and large flies in baitfish patterns and colors.
Pike are not leader shy and because of their sharp teeth, therefore, we recommend the use of wire leaders or 40 lbs mono or greater leaders.
If you handle a pike remember that they have teeth in their gill plates and they can easily leave a mark on you.
Northern pike can be some of the most exciting fish to catch. While the fight is not like that of a steelhead or a salmon, they provide a lot of excitement. The boat can go from silence to violence in a nanosecond. So if you want to get on “the wolf of the water”, then give us call to book your tip.
Capt. Tom Werkman
aka The Old Man