Hey there my fellow fishing enthusiasts and welcome to my post covering my 5 best live bait options for Northern Pike to sink their teeth into this year. Now I have to admit to being a traditional bait user for most of my fishing life as I like to find a good spot and then see what I can attract. Of course there is maybe not the excitement of attracting and working a fish as there is with lures, however it can be just as much fun for sure.
There are however other aspects to it such as matching the bait to the location and presenting it in a manner that will make it attractive to the fish as well. The thing then is that there are so many different factors to consider that it can all get a bit confusing after a while. So let’s check it all out …
What is Livebait?
For the purposes of this post I am going to give the name live bait to anything that is, or has at some point been alive (often referred to as ‘natural bait’). This means that it can actually be alive (often kept in an aerated cooler for example), fresh but dead or even frozen. This is opposed to lures, which are artificial creations designed to mimic live bait.
Obviously the type you choose will vary based on local conditions however when it comes to using live bait, I would stick to the following two rules:
- Use local bait if possible – Live bait can be found and trapped in all lakes and rivers that Northern Pike inhabit so there can be a variation on what is available to them within their local habitats.
- Go to a local bait shop – In most cases, the local bait shop will sell bait that is good for local conditions. If in doubt, ask the shop keeper or a local.
Now, if I am being honest, in my experience and research there doesn’t really appear to be a bait fish that a Northern Pike does not like. And as with other freshwater predators such as Largemouth Bass and Crappie, Pike will also take worms, lamprey, small rodents, frogs and insects as well.
However, baitfish are generally easier to acquire and hook as opposed to anything else so I have listed the five most popular options for catching Northern Pike below.
- You can match exactly to what fish eat naturally
- Generally easy to use
- Often cheaper than lures
- Most fish will take a bait
- You can cast and let the bait sit in the water (i.e. no need to cast and retrieve)
- Bait is great for kids (meaning they can at least catch something)
- It is smelly and gets all over your clothes, tackle box and everything else take with you
- Will deteriorate in the sun
- Fish tend to swallow the hook more with bait (making catch and release more difficult)
- You can lose a lot more to smaller or vermin species
- Bait can come off hook easier in faster moving water
- You need to make more tools with you such as a knife and cutting board
My recommended live bait options for Northern Pike
Let’s have a look at the main 5 options I have listed above in more detail:
When it comes to Northern Pike fishing, if you have a choice go for Ciscos wherever possible. Ciscos are a member of the Salmon family and are also referred to as Lake Herring. As far as use for bait, they can be found at varying depths within lakes and rivers in the Northern parts of the United States.
They are a schooling fish so are best caught in casting nets in shallower waters or on bait rigs if located a little deeper.
Suckers are a slower moving species that feed on the bottom of lakes and rivers and found across Asia and the United States. Often called sucker Minnows as they look almost identical, they make a good bait for Northern Pike as they share the same shallow, slow moving waterways.
As they don’t tend to school as much as some other bait fish, suckers are best caught in fish traps placed along the bottom of the waterway. Once caught however, they will last well in a aerated well or cooler.
Also often referred to as Herring or River Herring, Shad is a species native to the northern hemisphere and hence share many waterways with Northern Pike. Many sub species are ocean based but return to freshwater rivers as the waters warm to breed. At these times they can be caught in casting nets or via the use of a light and live bait rig over the side of a boat or kayak.
As with Yellow Perch below, full-grown Shad are a good catching and table fish in their own right however as they school as juveniles, they make good live bait for Northern Pike in the months covering Spring and Summer.
Although considered a good sport and eating fish in their own right, juvenile Yellow Perch are also a great live bait for Northern Pike as well. They are native to the northern region east of the Rocky Mountains, the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence River and Mississippi River basins and extending throughout Nova Scotia and Quebec north to the Mackenzie River. In recent times they have also been introduced into much of Europe too.
They spawn once a year in spring in large schools found within shallow areas of a lake or low-current tributary streams – funnily enough in the same spot where you will find Northern Pike as well. If chasing as live bait, use a casting net.
Bluegill is another popular live bait for those chasing Northern Pike due to the fact that again, they not only share natural habitats, but can also be found in shallow and deep water alike.
They are found naturally in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains from coastal Virginia to Florida, west to Texas and northern Mexico, and north to western Minnesota and western New York. This range makes them a common live bait across a number of regions as well as for those chasing Smallmouth and Striped bass, Trout, Largemouth Bass and Yellow Perch as well.
Look, as above, if none of these option are available then look for any other type of bait fish such as:
They have also been known to take cut bait such as Crappie or Walleye fillets as well.
Check out these: Portable Aerators for Live Bait
What should you be looking for?
As you look to source and use your own live bait, below are some things that you may want to consider when using bait for Northern Pike:
Where the fish are – We have touched on this above however the type of bait you choose can depend on where you are trying to catch your fish. For example if you are working in shallow waters, then suckers would work well. Keep in mind here that unlike lures, you are generally not casting and retrieving a bait so you will need to match your bait to the species that are found in that area.
Weight requirements – Bait weight, usually determined by the size or amount of bait you use, is important for a number of reasons including:
- Heavier baits can be cast a little further – this may include rigging with a sinker.
- Heavier baits will anchor and drag on the bottom more effectively (which is good if you are in a kayak or on a boat).
- Lighter weights are easier to jig and ‘flick’ around.
- Lighter baits will float better than their heavier counterparts – which is where insects can work.
Again, do your research into the environment that you are fishing in. If you are working in shallower waters – which is common for Northern Pike, then a light weighted bait will work very well. Heaver options may be needed in deeper areas however they will ‘catch’ on the bottom a lot more often and fall off if you are drifting.
Rod specifications – The next consideration (and a very important one) is to ensure that any bait size you use fits within the specification details of your fishing rod. In some cases, rod specs include a tackle weight which is the highest designated weight that the rod can handle.
In most cases, however, you are going to be looking at this from the power rating of the rod. This is effectively a measure of how ‘bendy’ it is. Light power rods bend with little force and heavy ones need a lot of pressure to bend. So, in short:
- Light – very bendy – even whippy – will bend a lot with even the smallest fish. Use these for light baits only.
- Medium – needs a bit more pressure to bend – In general, this is a good measure for all-round use with light to medium-weighted baits for Northern Pike fishing.
- Heavy – takes a lot to make it bend – I would probably avoid these for Bass fishing unless you are working in particularly deep water.
In general, the main rule of thumb when it comes to using bait is to match your hook to its size. As Northern Pike have big mouths I would err on the side of a larger hook as well meaning you will avoid getting caught up with smaller species.
Stick to a 1/0 to 3/0 hook with a bait size to match with the hook set through the snout (or head of crayfish) on a running sinker or running float rig.
Local knowledge – As mentioned a number of times in this post, when I discuss live bait options for any fishing type, I always say to check with the locals to see what is found in the local system. The idea behind this is that you want to match your bait to what it is that the fish eat naturally.
And there it is – my post covering the best bait for Northern Pike this year. I hope it has been helpful and as usual, please let me know of your experiences with them.
Also, please do not hesitate to comment below if you have any questions, concerns, corrections, or would like me to check anything else out for you.
Until next time