Spring northern pike fishing in New York is probably going to come a lot earlier this year. With thinner ice, or no ice at all in some places, the triggers that put Northerns on the move are going to come quickly. I’ve already read reports of pike being caught in good numbers in western NY.
The lengthening days are one of the triggers. And, while longer days are not coming any sooner than usual, the warmer than usual winter has had a effect on water temperature. Air temperatures have prevented the thick ice we used to seeing and has allowed more light penetration contributing to warmer water temps if there was any ice at all.
The smell of spring is in the water too. Rains bring sediments and nutrients down out of smaller tributaries. New coloration from these seasonal ingredients help the water absorb more of the sun’s rays and leave baitfish a little more vulnerable to approaching pike.
These perfect predators are starting to move up into the back bays, channels, and to the edges of flats looking for an easy meal. Cruising for baitfish and winter-kill, pike will fatten up while preparing to spawn in nearby areas. But, still a little sluggish, pike aren’t likely to chase after aggressive bait presentations, so go slow and try to pattern dead or dying fish until the pike tell you otherwise.
Preferred spawning temperatures are only between 33-45 degrees, and that’s not going to be hard to find this year for their nearly 100,000 eggs. Sheltered back bays and flooded grass or brush are going to be prime locations for laying eggs. Sandy and silted areas over gravel or rock are good as well.
Late afternoon is going to be your best time for pike fishing in New York, or anywhere else in the northeast where these early spring triggers are lining up. By this time the sun has been able to increase the water temperatures by a few degrees in these sheltered areas. But, consider factors like a cold wind that might move pike off their preferred locations.
Live bait works well this time of year, but dead baits might be a little better at first. In either case you want bait that is putting off a lot of scent in the water to bring in the Northerns from long distances. Fresh water smelt and herring (Alewife) are an excellent choice. They also prefer one large morsel over several smaller snacks, so you may find going bigger is better. Something in the 6″ range or large is not unheard of. These are relatively low action presentations and are best served at the end of a bobber or almost tight line so you can detect gentle pickups. Near or on the bottom is best. Remember to check regulations about live bait in the waters you intend to fish.
As the season progresses, the action will pick up and it will be time to start testing hard-baits on a retrieve. I personally like stick baits such as the Rapala Husky Jerk. Remember not to fish these too early in the day if the water temperatures are still low and pike activity still seems to be lethargic. Make sure to pick locations where you think baitfish might be in the area.
If pike are up really shallow where the water is warming up fast, you may even consider using a shallow-running plug. Plugs that look like minnows can be a ton of fun at the right time. But, be sure to fish them slow.
Get your pike fishing in early because it will drop off once the spawn starts. Northern pike females hardly bite and the males will only bite if they’re swimming around waiting for a female. But, even still, bites might be scarce.
Post-spawn is a period recovery for both males and females. Easy meal presentations are prime again just like the the very early spring bite. This means slow-moving live bait. As they recover, males will be the first to liven up, but continue to test the speed of your presentation until aggressive strikes start to tell you otherwise.
The US record pike was caught by Peter Dubuc in 1940 on Great Sacandaga Lake in New York. Weighing in at more than 46lbs, the fish was caught on a Heddon Flaptail in September. But, that’s not to say you can’t find a huge Northern in pre-spawn.
Some of the best pike fishing in NY includes:
- Lake Champlain
- Saranac Lake
- Lake Ontario
- Lake Erie
- Lake George
- Great Sacandaga Lake
- Tupper Lake
- Schroon Lake
- Saratoga Lake
- Round Lake
- St. Lawrence River
- Niagara River
- Seneca River
- Seneca Lake
- Cayuga Lake
- Owasco Lake
- Keuka Lake
- Conesus Lake
Early spring pike fishing in New York is a great way to kick off the season, and especially with such a mild winter. I don’t know about you, but I’m itching to get back on the water and get my line wet.
What successes have you had fishing for pike during pre-spawn conditions?