Minnows will work well for northern pike. Anglers typically use bigger baits for northern pike, but it is possible to catch pike on large fathead minnows or emerald shiner minnows. Golden shiner minnows grow bigger and they work much better for pike, especially through the ice. Most pike anglers prefer to use larger minnows such as Creek chubs, redtail chubs and suckers. These are the minnows you want to use if you want to consistently catch bigger pike.
Pike love minnows and you will catch a lot of pike with smaller minnows. These types of minnows would be large or extra large fathead minnows or a small shiner minnow. Basically, these would be minnows in that 3-3.5″ range that most bait shops carry. Anglers usually use these minnows for walleye, smallmouth bass, big crappie and big perch. Occasionally, you will catch a very nice pike while using smaller minnows, but you’re going to catch a lot of smaller pike with smaller minnows.
Minnows in the 4 to 5 inch range would be considered medium-sized minnows for northern pike, but they are definitely not a big bait for northern pike. Using a chub or sucker in the 4 to 5 inch range is perfect if you’re looking for action while also giving yourself a chance to catch a bigger pike. If you want to target bigger pike, continue upsizing your baits.
Minnows in the 6 to 7 inch range are definitely more for northern pike. You will catch plenty of smaller pike still, but you will run into much better sized pike with these sized minnows. You will get less smaller pike bites as well, however, plenty of smaller pike will still eat these bigger minnows.
Once you get into the 8 inch range and bigger, you’re talking some pretty big baits. Most anglers will use a quick strike rig when going to some of these bigger baits and it is not uncommon for some anglers to use suckers 12 inches long when targeting trophy northern pike.
Creek Chubs & Redtail Chubs work great for northern pike. The smaller chubs, in the 4 to 5 inch range work great on a jighead, carolina rig, drop shot rig or under a bobber. The bigger chubs tend to work better fished on a quick-strike rig because most pike will grab the bait in the middle. If you have one hook running through the mouth of the chub, you’re going to miss a lot of bites with the bigger chubs. The chubs in the 6 to 8 inch range tend to get more bites from northern pike of all sizes, but especially the bigger fish.
Suckers work well for northern pike. Some anglers would argue that suckers are the best live bait for pike, but there are plenty of other anglers that would argue that chubs or perch work better. Whatever your preference, suckers will catch plenty of northern pike. Suckers in the 6 to 8 inch range probably work best for getting the most bites to go along with many bites from trophy-sized fish. We highly recommend a quick-strike rig with the bigger suckers above 8 inches because it will prevent you from hooking northern pike in the back of the throat. By getting a hookset in the mouth, the survival rate of released fish will be much higher.
Golden shiners are great baits for northern pike. These shiners can get big, so you can use the bigger ones for big pike and the smaller shiners for action. Fish them on a jighead or drop shot rig and you will do well.
Smelt work well for northern pike. Most pike anglers dead stick smelt through the ice. Some anglers will jig a dead smelt during the open water season as well, but smelt are usually considered an ice fishing bait for most pike anglers.
Frozen ciscoes are another good bait for northern pike. Many anglers will use these baits up north in replace of live minnows. Put them on a jig or drop shot rig and work them along. You will catch plenty of pike with dead baits, especially if you provide plenty of action like you would with an artificial lure.
Casting to Cover
A drop shot rig, bobber, or weightless rig are all great rigs to use when casting to cover for northern pike. Target the weed lines or pockets in the vegetation and you’ll catch a lot of pike with live minnows.
When the wind starts to blow, you can drift a lively minnow along a drop-off or weed line and do very well. On the rocky lakes that are known for walleye and pike, you can also do well just drifting along the drop-offs.
Many anglers prefer to jig for walleye and they end up catching a lot of northern pike in the process. If you want to specifically target northern pike by jigging, it can be very effective with live baits.
Slow trolling is very effective for pike and it works great with a lively minnow as well. This technique can be effective in shallow water, but is usually more productive by fishing deeper water.
Still fishing is easy and if you get in the right spot, it can be an effective way to fish for pike. Drop down a lively minnow and let it do the work for you.
Best Live Bait Rigs
A well placed minnow under a bobber or slip bobber is one of the better ways to target pike around vegetation.
This rig is a great live bait rig. Most anglers use the Carolina rig when fishing deeper water.
The drop shot rig is an awesome way to fish a lively minnow. Fish it shallow, deep, in open water or around cover and you can have a lot of success.
A simple jighead and minnow is one of the easiest ways to target northern pike when fishing around rocky bottoms or out in open water.
The split shot rig is a great rig when you just need a little extra weight to get your minnow down farther through the water column. Most anglers use this rig when the pike are shallow or suspended. It can be super effective.