Fishing

Fishing for Northern Pike and Muskie: The Basics

Man in black hat holding a Tiger Muskie

Northern Pike (pike) and Muskellunge (muskies) are found in many lakes across the U.S., but not very many people fish for them. If that’s you, you’re missing out.

Pike and muskie are excellent sportfish that offer a great mix of fast action, tough fights, and unique challenges. Here’s a crash course on what you need to know about fishing for these toothy freshwater giants.

Peak Predators

Northern pike swimming in blue water
Image by the U.S. National Park Service

Pike and muskie can exceed lengths of 50 inches and weigh well more than 40 pounds. Their elongated shape makes them like a missile underwater, allowing them to reach extremely fast swimming speeds.

Put all of this together with their many rows of razor-sharp teeth and you’ve got one heck of a predator. You’ve probably realized by now that you need some serious gear to fish for these water wolves.

Rod and Reel

silver Abu Garcia Ambassadeur baitcasting fishing rod and reel combo
Image by Gander Outdoors

When a pike or muskie hits your lure, they hold nothing back. You need a rod that can stand up to that raw power. Look for 6’6” or 7’ medium heavy or heavy action baitcasting rig (like this one from Gander).

Because it gives you way more power and the ability to handle heavy pound test line, a baitcasting reel is a must.

Line

I would recommend a bare minimum of 20-pound test line for pike and muskies. Monofilament line is fine, but make sure you have a steel leader tied on so those razor-sharp teeth don’t clip you off. I prefer to use a braid like Berkley FireLine and because it’s thinner than monofilament, I typically use 30-pound test.

Lures

Black and silver Joe Bucher Outdoors 500 series bucktail spinner
Image by Gander Outdoors

Big fish require big lures. Both pike and muskie are ferocious hunters that are attracted to fast-moving, flashy, and sometimes noisy baits. My personal favorite is an in-line spinnerbait (like the one pictured above).

The heavy vibration and flash from the spinner are like catnip to big pike and muskies. These fish are notorious for hitting these baits within 5-10 feet of the boat so DO NOT look away as you bring your lure in.

Most pike and muskie anglers like to cover a lot of water by trolling spinnerbaits adjacent to weed lines or over drop-offs. This is effective because these fish are loaners that like to cruise the waters as they search for food. You can also cast them perpendicularly towards cover, but make sure your reel speed is fast enough for these big lures.

Another favorite is a soft-body swimbait. These lures mimic real fish so well, it’s not hard to see why these fish crush them day in and day out. Keep in mind that that pike and muskie have sharp teeth, though, so check the soft body of your swimbait frequently to make sure it’s still in good shape so it swims properly. Fish these lures similarly to the spinnerbaits I mention above.

Believe it or not, pike and muskie will happily hit topwater lures. Although I haven’t had as much success as using spinnerbaits and swimbaits, a topwater strike from one of these big fish is something I hope you experience in your life. Use a large stickbait (like this one) to ‘walk the dog’ over suspended weed lines or over drop-offs during twilight hours and watch out.

Other Gear

Man holding northern pike on pontoon boat
Image by Author

If you hook into a 40+-inch pike or muskie, your standard net won’t fit one of these beasts. Carry an extra-large net in your boat, like this one from Gander, for the fish’s and your own safety.

A mouth spreader is a great tool to have for toothy fish. Simply open this spring-loaded gadget towards the front of the fish’s mouth and you won’t have to worry about getting chomped on while you attempt to remove your hook.

These fish have long mouths and your standard forceps or pliers may not be able to get all the way back to where your hook is lodged. Extra-long pliers like these from Gander will make removing a deep hook a whole lot easier.


Are you new to fishing for pike and muskie? Have you landed a 50+” fish? Please share your thoughts and stories in the comments below.

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