Piking in the winter is what 90% of pike anglers wait for. Although there is no law as such for piking in the warmer months, it is banned by a lot of fishing clubs in the UK. This is mainly due to low oxygen levels in the water that can lead to the pike gassing up. When this happens there is a good chance the fish will go belly up and die at a later date.
Obviously, none of us want this to happen. So the best way to reduce any harm to the fish is to wait until the cooler months come along. It’s hard to beat setting off pike fishing on a cold, crisp frosty morning. Whether it be lure fishing, dead baiting, or live baiting the buzz of it all is sure hard to beat. Especially if your day consists of sitting in a boat, which is probably my favorite way of targeting the awesome pike.
When going out piking in the winter there are a few tips and techniques that will make your adventure a little bit more pleasurable. Hopefully, I will cover most of them in this article. I will share with you some of my tips for winter pike that I have learned over the years. Hopefully, it will help you to put some predators on the bank.
When can you Fish for Pike?
As I mentioned earlier it really isn’t a good idea to go pike fishing in the warmer months. This article on summer pike fishing explains why that is a very bad idea. Instead, dust off your pike fishing gear between October and March. You will find a lot of fisheries will only let you fish for them between these months anyway. By this time the pike have generally fattened themselves up as well, ready for the winter ahead. This enhances your chance of catching a big fish compared to the leaner summer-type pike.
What Method is Good for Winter Piking?
Lure fishing can be a great way of catching pike in the winter. To me, the retrieval of the lure is probably the most important part of catching winter pike. The fish itself is feeling the cold this time of the year and is lacking the energy it once had back in the summer. For this reason, keep your retrieve really slow. Pike don’t want to use all their stored energy chasing baitfish around.
Another thing worth considering is where to work your lure. It is a good idea to get yourself some sinking or slow-sinking lures and work them at different depths. Generally, when it is cold the pike will be sitting down in the deeper water. So it is usually best to start working the lures on or near the bottom. Remember keep that retrieve nice and slow. Lure color is another important factor when fishing for winter pike. If you are wondering what color lure to use then check out this article on lure colors.
Dead baiting is probably the most popular way of fishing for pike in the winter. As I mentioned earlier due to the cold temperatures at this time of year the pike are not as energetic. For this reason, the pike will be quite happy scavenging for a meal instead of chasing its prey. Dead baits come in all shapes and sizes and are available from most tackle dealers and big supermarkets. Some of the most popular ones to look for are, mackerel, sardine, smelt, herring, and trout. All of these are good bait for winter pike and are quite good at staying on the hook.
Dead baits are usually hooked by way of two treble hooks. If you are a beginner at pike fishing I would strongly suggest only using one hook to start with. This is due to the mess you may get into while unhooking the pike. Once you get a bit of experience, then you could move up to two trebles if you need to. When dead baiting or live baiting it is also well worth striking early. A pike can be a greedy bugger and can engulf the bait straight down its throat. This can prove fatal for the fish in experienced hands let alone for beginners. So please, don’t be tempted to wait too long before striking.
As with live baiting please check the rules where you are fishing. Some clubs and fisheries may not allow dead baiting. Check out Mick’s video below for some awesome dead-baiting tips.
Personally, when it comes to live-baiting I am not a huge fan. I struggle to put treble hooks through the side of any fish and cast them out as bait. Having said that a lot of pike anglers will swear by this method. Float fishing and legering can both prove to be very productive methods when piking in the winter.
If you do decide to go live baiting be sure to check the rules of the club where you are fishing. Not all clubs and fisheries will allow this way of fishing for predators. Also, do not take fish from one fishery and use it in another. This is a sure way of spreading disease and can cause all manner of problems. Most clubs will actually ban you if you are caught doing this and can also lead to a fine.
5 Top Winter Pike Baits
- Dead Roach: Roach is a favorite prey for pike in many waters. When used as a dead bait in winter, its silver flanks can attract pike from a distance. Fresh or blast-frozen roach can be presented on a ledger rig or float fished just off the bottom.
- Sardines: These oily fish give off a strong scent in the water, making them particularly attractive to pike. They are soft, so they release their oils quickly in the cold water, creating a scent trail that pike can follow.
- Smelt: Another oily fish, smelt has a unique cucumber-like scent that pike seem to love. It’s a popular choice among many pike anglers, especially in waters where pike have been introduced and might not be familiar with native baitfish.
- Herring: This is another oily fish that works well in colder water. Its size and profile make it an attractive meal for bigger pike. It can be fished whole or in sections, depending on the size of the pike you’re targeting.
- Live Bait (where legal): In some areas, using live bait is allowed. Small perch, suckers, or shiners can be effective. The movement of live bait can entice a strike from even the most lethargic pike. However, always check local regulations before using live bait, as it’s prohibited in some areas to protect native fish populations.
When using any bait, it’s essential to present it in a way that looks natural to the pike. This might mean adjusting your rigging technique or retrieval speed to match the conditions and the behavior of the baitfish.
Things Worth Knowing About Winter Piking
The behavior of Pike in Winter:
- Reduced Metabolism: As with many fish species, the metabolism of pike slows down in colder temperatures. This means they require less food and might not be as aggressive in pursuing prey as they would be in warmer months. However, they still need to eat, making them opportunistic feeders during winter.
- Lethargic Movement: Due to the cold water, pike tend to be more lethargic. They often lie in wait for prey to come close rather than actively hunting.
- Shallow Water Preference: Pike often move to shallower waters during winter. This is because the shallows can be slightly warmer due to sunlight, and prey fish also frequent these areas.
Science Behind The Pikes Movement:
- Thermoregulation: Pike, like other ectothermic animals, cannot regulate their body temperature internally. They move to areas where the water temperature is optimal for their survival. In winter, this often means areas where the water might be slightly warmer or where they are protected from cold currents.
- Oxygen Levels: In frozen lakes, oxygen levels can decrease as the winter progresses. Pike might move to areas where there’s more water movement, ensuring a better oxygen supply.
- Prey Movement: Pike will follow their prey. If schools of baitfish move to certain areas of a water body, pike will likely follow, adjusting their location based on the availability of food.
Environmental Factors Influencing Their Activity:
- Water Temperature: This is the most significant factor affecting pike behavior in winter. As the water gets colder, the pike becomes less active. However, slight increases in water temperature, even by a degree or two, can trigger feeding activity.
- Light Penetration: On bright winter days, sunlight can penetrate the water and warm the shallows. Pike might move to these areas to take advantage of the slightly warmer temperatures and increased prey activity.
- Barometric Pressure: Changes in barometric pressure can influence pike activity. Some anglers believe that pike are more active during stable or rising pressure conditions.
- Ice Cover: In waters that freeze over, the ice can act as insulation, keeping the water below slightly warmer than the surrounding air temperature. However, thick ice can reduce oxygen levels in the water, influencing where pike might be found.
While pike fishing in winter can be challenging due to the fish’s reduced activity, understanding the science behind their behavior and the environmental factors that influence them can increase an angler’s chances of success. Adjusting techniques, locations, and timings based on these factors can lead to a fruitful winter pike fishing experience.
What Are The Best Tips For Piking In The Winter?
The best way to learn how to pike fish in the winter is to get out on the banks and learn from your mistakes. It is highly advisable to take an experienced angler with you for your first few adventures. If nothing else they will be able to help you unhook the fish. Although getting out on the bank is the best way of learning your own tips, here are a few of mine to get you going.
Wear Proper Warm Clothing
This to me is so important. You will not enjoy a winter pike session if you are freezing cold. Believe me, it does get bitterly cold next to any type of water, especially if you are exposed to the elements. It is well worth getting yourself some good warm waterproof gear. I shall put some links to some good clothing at the bottom of the page. Hand warmers are also a good idea to warm your hands up every now and then. Hands and feet are pretty much the two main areas that will really feel the cold if they are not wrapped up properly. Keeping your head covered up will also help a lot by trapping your body heat.
Find the Fish
You won’t catch pike if they are not there. In the colder months, baitfish such as roach, skimmers, and perch will shoal up in the slightly warmer water. This means ‘deeper’ water. If the baitfish are hanging around in these deeper parts, the pike will not be too far away. These are the types of swims I would concentrate on putting a bait.
Take a Mobile Approach.
When doing any type of piking in the winter it is well worth trying several different swims. Pike at this time of year are not at their most active and not swimming around too much. Sometimes, unless you put a bait right under their nose they won’t bother with it at all. So try to keep mobile and have a good few casts in each swim. Location is key when you are after winter pike.
Pike have fairly bony mouths and setting those hooks isn’t always as easy as it looks. Make sure the hooks that you are using are nice and sharp and don’t hold back on the strike. If dead baiting or live baiting make sure your rod has enough backbone to handle a good firm strike. A good pike rod of about a 3lb test curve will do the job. Lots of beginners at pike fishing will lose fish due to not striking hard enough.
Take the Right Unhooking Utensils
When out pike fishing DO NOT forget your unhooking utensils. This will almost definitely prove fatal for the pike. Make sure you have with you a decent pair of forceps, some side-cutters, and some long-nose pliers. These should get you out of any unhooking situations you may find yourself in. Oh and don’t forget your unhooking mat if you have no soft grass to lay the net on. Pike aren’t quite as tough as they look, great care should be taken when unhooking them.
What Clothes Are Needed For Winter Pike Fishing?
When it comes to winter pike fishing you really do need the right clothes for the job. It really does get bloody cold when you are down by the water. If you are not dressed properly it really can completely ruin your day. Below is my top pick for each item of clothing you will need in very cold conditions.
A Good Warm Hat
A good warm hat is very much needed in the colder months. Really, any type of hat will help keep the warm in and the cold out. As you can imagine a lot of the top fishing brands have their own branded hats that will all keep your head warm. The one I have and particularly like is one by Fox Rage. It is just a simple beanie-style hat. Simple, warm, and effective, what more do you want from a hat?
A Waterproof Coat
A good, warm, waterproof coat while winter pike fishing is a must. You really will need to keep the wind and rain off your body to help enjoy your day on the bank. I personally like to have a built-in hood, quite a few pockets for bits and bobs, and an inside pocket. A good coat should also have some good robust zips on it. When you are cold you tend to give the zips some abuse when trying to do them up to remain warm. Check out these jackets here, by clicking the link it will take you to some good jackets on Amazon.
A Decent Hoodie
I really do like this hoodie from Fox. You could literally wear this bad boy out down the pub it is that smart. It is made with 80% cotton and 20% polyester. It really is just a nice comfortable hoodie. I actually have two of them.
Good warm trousers are much needed when out and about in the winter. I ain’t no crossdresser but I wear a pair of women’s tights underneath my trousers. Layers are a good way of trapping in the heat when you are out in the cold. Tights are good for that extra layer and are nice and easy to move about in. It is important not to restrict your movement when out fishing. The last thing you want to be is uncomfortable.
You could then wear some jogging bottoms and have some thin waterproof trousers on top of them. These will keep the rain and wind off your legs. These trousers are absolutely brilliant for doing just that. Cheaper options are also available from brands such as Regatta. I bought a pair of trousers from Decathlon that are fleece-lined, only they are water-resistant rather than waterproof but they dry out very quickly. These are nice light trousers that are easy to move about in. Similar brands are available here. This will open an affiliate to Amazon. A bib and brace is another option that winter pike anglers quite often use.
Your feet are very important to keep warm. There are lots of different socks available to you that will do the job. Socks that are made using Merino wool are some of the best you can buy. Even if your feet get damp due to excessive sweating the wool still remains able to insulate your feet.
Pike fishing in the winter can be hugely enjoyable if you go prepared. The weather is so unpredictable it can be sunny and nice in the morning then change to rain in an instant. Be sure to get the right clothes for the job at hand and persevere with the fishing. At this time of year, the pike may only switch on to feeding mode for a short length of time. Usually, these times are dusk or dawn so be sure not to ignore these times of the day.
Tight lines (hopefully) and enjoy your experience.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why do pike become less active in winter?
Pike, like many fish species, experience a reduced metabolism in colder temperatures. This means they require less food and might not be as aggressive in pursuing prey as they would be in warmer months. The cold water makes them more lethargic, and they often lie in wait for prey rather than actively hunting.
Where can I find pike in a frozen lake during winter?
In frozen lakes, pike often move to shallower waters or areas with more water movement, ensuring a better oxygen supply. They also tend to follow their prey, so if schools of baitfish are in certain areas, pike will likely be nearby. Additionally, areas with some sunlight penetration can be slightly warmer, attracting both pike and their prey.
What type of bait works best for pike fishing in winter?
Dead baits like sardines, mackerel, and roach are often effective for winter pike fishing. They give off a strong scent in the water, attracting pike from a distance. Live baits can also be used, especially in colder water, as the movement from the fish can encourage a lethargic pike to strike. Lure fishing isn’t to be ignored either.
How does barometric pressure affect pike activity in winter?
Changes in barometric pressure can influence pike activity. Some anglers believe that pike are more active during stable or rising pressure conditions. A stable barometric pressure can lead to more predictable pike behavior, making it easier for anglers to strategize their fishing approach.
How does snow cover on ice affect pike behavior underneath?
Snow cover on ice can reduce the amount of light penetration into the water. This reduction in light can make the water underneath darker, which might influence the behavior of both pike and their prey. In some cases, pike might become more active during the daytime in such conditions, as the reduced light can provide them with better ambush opportunities. However, it’s essential to note that thick snow cover can also insulate the ice, potentially slowing down the freezing process and making certain areas unsafe for anglers.