Late Winter Pike
By Stu Bristol

A wise elderly man I met on the ice told me, “When the water runs out of the holes, the northern pike will be in the shallows.” I’ve never found that statement to be untrue and the rule of thumb also applies to other species of game fish species, but is especially true of northern pike in Maine.

In the Belgrade Lakes Region of Maine where the greatest concentration of northern pike live, my gang heads for North Pond in Greene and Long Pond in Belgrade Lake Village to seek out the shallow bays where the water under the ice is less than ten feet.

Northern pike in the 10-15 pound range and larger are what we seek and to follow us you will need to get out very early. The prime time for catching feeding pike under the ice is an hour before first light until mid-morning.

We use only a 10-inch auger and bring along huge golden shiners in the 6-8-inch range or suckers of the same size. One line set dead on the bottom, another up a foot and so on until the last line is just under the ice.

Steel leaders are a must and I prefer black in color with at least a 45-pound snap swivel. These are not baby fish you are seeking and to bring a 15-pound pike up the 10-inch hole you will need strong gear. Gaffs are not legal in Maine so leather gloves and some extra help can’t hurt.

I learned long ago that it takes at least two anglers to fight and land a big pike. Once the flag goes up, rush to the hole and watch the reel. Big pike will take the bait, crush it and begin to swallow. To the angler this means to look for a fast-moving reel followed by a lull. Once the lull in reel occurs pull the line snug and then set the hook sharply and hang on.

The big fish will run for the deep water once it has been hooked and it is not uncommon to have 50-75 yards of braid go off the reel before you can get the fish turned. If you make it that far without parting company you will need a second angler to tend slack line as you bring the fish back to the auger hole. Line left on the ice will quickly break if the fish makes another run and the line catches on a frozen chip of ice.

Once the pike is under the hole you will need to get its head pointing skyward. This may take several tries and leaders may snap under the strain. Despite the razor-sharp teeth the angler need to don a glove, preferable one of those designed for cutting fish, made of steel mail. Reach down with your strong hand and get under the gill plate of the pike and yank the fish onto the ice in one pull.

A few years back we were fishing on Long Lake in Belgrade village and a man from Massachusetts was fishing a hundred yards from us when he hooked a giant pike but couldn’t get it through the 8-inch hole he drilled. Needless to say the pike broke off.

We helped out by drilling his holes larger with out 10-inch auger and two hours later the man came by on the way back to the truck, hauling what turned out to be a 20-pound pike. Surprisingly it still had the mans first giant golden shiner and hook in it mouth. Regular readers may remember that photo on the cover of the Journal.

Test the ice often but in late March, in the shallows, you will find perhaps the biggest freshwater fish you’ve ever tangled lines with.

Stu Bristol is a Master Maine Hunting, Fishing and Tidewater Guide and Outdoor Writer. His features have been published nationwide for more than 45 years. He is an expert game call maker; owner of Deadly Imposter Game Calls. Stu is also the cameraman for Bird Dogs Afield television and webcast. Visit

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