Best Baits for Northern Pike

Northern Pike hooked on the bait in the river.

Are you spending time trying to figure out the best bait for northern pike? The same happened to me when I was just learning the rudiments of fishing. So, if you’re like me back then, you might as well read on to know the best baits you should choose to catch this ferocious predator. The northern pike, of course, is often referred to as the water wolf. The reason is that it voraciously feeds. Besides, like wolves, it would not hesitate to scavenge when an opportunity comes.

The northern pikes are the quintessential predators of freshwaters. Then can grow very large, up to 22 or barely two feet, and weigh up to 63 lbs. They sport an olive-green shading, with yellow to white shade along their belly. Their flank has short bar-like spots with several dark spots on their fins. Moreover, their aggressive behavior stems from their voracious appetite. They might even eat their fellow northern pike if food is scarce. Aside from that, they might also exhibit aggressiveness when fighting for space.

Live Bait vs. Dead Bait

An expert angler is like a typical predator looking for a big fish catch. So, intuitively, if you’re a real angler, you will know which bait is best for catching certain types of predatory fish. However, if you’re a beginner seeking to capture a northern pike for the first time, you should do your assignment and learn about the behavior of this fish. Otherwise, you might end up empty-handed after a long day of fishing. 

Aside from knowing the innate behavior of northern pike, it will also help learn about their natural habitat and where they usually go to forage for food. Northern pike, of course, like vegetation. They are also attracted to gaudy colors. Yet, one question you should be asking about predators like the northern pike is: “Why would they scavenge decaying fish? 

Isn’t it preposterous to be endowed with superior hunting skills and scavenge for decaying fish? Well, the answer to this question is straightforward: all predatory fish will hunt or forage for foodYet, they are also opportunistic, which means they would take advantage of readily available food even if it is already dead and decaying.

Northern pike tends to ambush their prey. Hence, they would naturally not scavenge. But when food is scarce, and opportunity comes, the northern pike will surely consume dead bait. They will eat dead bait if you rig it or make it look healthy and alive. 

Thus, if you plan to use dead bait, it will be best to rig the dead baitfish. For example, if you use dead cisco or shad, you should rig it up on the jig head and set it up to make it appear healthy and alive.

Artificial Lures vs. Live Bait

When choosing live baits for northern pike, you should know what northern pike often eat. Zero in on this frequent meal of northern pike can make the game easy for you. Pike love to eat healthy and alive bait. Besides, live bait exudes a particular smell that predatory fish like pike can smell from afar. So, you will surely lure the northern pike into taking a bite with live bait. Besides, live bait can be cheaper than artificial lures. 

However, using live bait also comes with some downsides. First, it is more challenging to acquire. Besides, they are a challenge to keep alive when fishing. Moreover, live bait might be prohibited in some waterways that carry pike. Plus, if you want to release the pike afterward, using a live bait might pose a problem because the pike will completely swallow live bait, resulting in a gut-hooked fish. 

On the other hand, you can also use lures to catch the northern pike, and you will not have a hard time keeping the artificial lures alive. Nevertheless, they could be more expensive than live bait.

Besides, you might not catch many pikes compared to using live bait. But if you want to free the fish afterward, you can release them with ease using artificial lures, for they would only get hooked up to the mouth. Additionally, you can catch larger pike using artificial lures.

When Should You Use Artificial or Dead Baits for Pike?

You can use dead bait year-round to catch pike. Nevertheless, if you don’t want to fail and want to ensure that you will catch pike, you might as well fish during late winter when food becomes scarce for pike, making artificial lures and dead bait more attractive. 

Winter is often unforgiving for some baitfish, and their number seems to dwindle a bit during winter. So, as the food becomes scarce for pike, the lure of fast food or easy meal becomes more enticing. As finding food becomes more expedient, pike becomes hard-pressed to eat even dead bait.

Late winter gets also characterized by a dwindling level of oxygen in the water. Natural decomposition and the absence of current and wave action lead to decreased oxygen in the water. Besides, the water temperature tends to dip, making fish less active but more passive. All these factors add up to the tendency of the pike to grab whatever seemingly food they see.

Best Artificial and Live Bait for Northern Pike

Now that you’re familiar with the behavior of the northern pike and the pros and cons of using live bait over dead or artificial lures, it will also help if you are cognizant of the following best live and artificial bait and lures for northern pike:


Cisco is a schooling baitfish that you can use as bait when fishing in rivers, lakes, and reservoirs. Northern pike really loves to eat this fish. Ciscos, however, tend to dwell in the deeper strata of waters, making them a bit difficult to catch for use as bait. If you can’t get cisco, you can instead settle for inline spinners, crankbaits, swimbaits, and spoons that work like cisco.

Locating the school of cisco using your electronics will allow you to engage in some exciting chase of northern pike because the pikes will never be far behind where there is a school of cisco. 

You only need to drag your lure or bait around the cisco’s main school. Some places ban cisco as bait, while you need to secure a permit to process and smelt cisco in some areas.


Many big freshwater predators love suckers, and the northern pike is one of these predators. But among the live bait, it is the second most liked by the northern pike. Suckers can grow up to a foot long or more. Suckers come in small, medium, and large sizes. You can buy them in a half-a-dozen bunch, and they are available year-round. 

If you can’t get access to a live sucker, you might as well go for lures that mimic the appearance and behavior of suckers. With these artificial lures, you can catch tons of northern pike.


Alewives are small meaty fish that belong to the valuable herring family. They could grow up to seven inches, though they average in size from four to five inches. These fish are a crucial ingredient in the daily diet of the northern pike. Besides, they usually dwell in the open waters and school deeper, making them more difficult to catch by casting nets. 

Alewives are also popular for catching walleye, trout, blue catfish, and striped bass. If you can’t have live alewives, you can utilize fishing lures that mimic alewives. Select those lures whose backs are colored navy blue and white. You can also go for those with silversides.


Shad is undoubtedly a favorite of gamefish. You will not end empty-handed if you use it as bait for yellow perch, chain pickerel, crappie, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, catfish, walleye, and northern pike. Adult shad can weigh up to 8 lbs and comes with a delicate flavor. 

Shad have many species, and you may find small and big chads. 

Examples of shad species include the threadfin and gizzard shads which are the favorite baits of many anglers. You can catch shad by casting nets, but they don’t survive long after being caught because they quickly get stressed. 

So, if you don’t want to end up with dead shads, it will be best to use lures like spoons, swimbaits, and crankbaits that are somewhat like shads. You can catch pike with these alternative lures.

Yellow Perch

One of the tastiest fish you will find in North America is the yellow perch. It is also one of the most beautiful. Anglers love to catch yellow perch for their delicious meat, but they also love to use it as bait to catch larger fish like northern pike. 

Yellow perch thrive well alongside the northern pike. As such, northern pike loves to eat them, and they are a tasty food for northern pike. Walleye and muskies also love the taste of yellow perch. 

Live perches are perfect for catching pike, and you will surely not end up empty-handed if you use them. However, if you can’t have yellow perch as bait, you can use bit lures that mimic yellow perch. 

The yellow perch has a vibrant yellow color. So, you can go for lures with a vibrant yellow pattern. You can also go for big crankbaits and bucktail spinners.


You will find thousands of lures and baits, but nothing appeals more than live bait. One excellent live bait is the bluegill. In fact, the current world record of largemouth bass caught by Manabu Kurita was caught using a bluegill bait. As bait, small bluegill is perfect. It should be lively and moves naturally. Besides, you can use a large hook to rig it. 

Pike prefers to eat bluegill. Pike, however, find it harder to catch bluegill because of their agility and body shape. So, pike usually settles for alewives and suckers. If you can’t have bluegill as bait, you can use a soft plastic or swimbait that mimics the bluegill. Pikes would surely get enticed by these artificial lures.


Another alternative live bait is frog. Many fish like pickerel and bass like to eat frogs. Pikes, however, will find frogs juicy. You will also see huge pike falling for frogs. But they would never get satisfied with frogs because most frogs are not big enough to satisfy their appetite. If you use frogs as bait, you can choose from several frog lures. 

Golden Shiners

In many waterways, golden shiners usually live side by side with pikes, and northern pike would usually prey on them if they happen to catch one in the open. This bait is also a favorite of smaller fish species like walleye, bass, and pickerel.

However, if you can’t buy golden shiners, you can settle for shiner lures. It will be best to choose one that is larger. Go for swimbaits, spinners, and spoons, for they are the finest.

Creek Chubs

If you haven’t used a creek chub for angling, you’re missing out on something. The creek chub has something about it that drives the predatory fish to snap and bite most of the time. If you properly rig it, it will mean you will catch something. 

Creek chubs as lures and baits are nothing novel. Yet, they have gained more attention recently due to the frequent use of creek chubs in many fishing tournaments. They are pretty expensive, but you can easily fish them out of the creek. 

Creek chubs are meaty, and they got white flesh that is easy picking for foraging predators. So, you will likely ensnare a northern pike using a creek chub. Moreover, you can buy a lure that mimics the creek chubs.

Fathead Minnows

Fathead minnows are fish species of the temperate freshwaters. Throughout the United States, fathead minnows get utilized as bait for small predatory fish like walleye and crappie. So, with the fathead minnows, you can surely catch small pikes. 

However, larger northern pike will only ignore this bait because they will go for a bigger and more sumptuous meal. So, you should not go for fathead minnows to catch larger pike unless you are after small pike.

The Most Recommended Northern Pike Fishing Spoon

If you’re a beginner in fishing for northern pike, you might get confused with the myriads of fishing spoons out there and fail to zero in on the right ones for catching northern pike. So, if you want to select right the first time, it will be best to check out the following most recommended by expert anglers:

Eppinger Daredevil

The Eppinger Daredevil is a classic fishing spoon for northern pike anglers. It has a characteristic spoon shape that offers slow and rhythmic wobble when in water. The most popular Eppinger Daredevil weighs about an ounce and is around 3-5/8” long. 

You’ll surely snag one of those northern pikes with this Daredevil spoon. You can also go for the “five of diamonds” and Chrome for productive finishes.

Acme Kastmaster

Another excellent casting spoon is the Acme Kastmaster. Kastmaster offers a wide array of colors and finishes, though many anglers prefer gold and silver or a combination of these two colors in an ounce weight. The Acme Kastmaster belongs to the best lures for catching northern pike underneath the icy lake. 

Johnson Silver Minnow

A weedless spoon example is the Johnson Silver Minnow. It hits the water with its flat side facing down and its hook writing up. It also features a metal weed guard that covers the hook point. This thin weed guard causes the lure to bounce off weeds and grass. 

The guard gets depressed, however, when a pike or another fish bites on the bait. This allows the fish to get hooked quickly. Its single hook with a wide gap provides a quick release of the fish. You can opt for silver and gold finishes for the best results.


Most spoons will come with a lone treble hook on their rear, making it relatively easy to release your catch. This design is in contradistinction to the multiple hooks, which will not allow for quick release. The single treble hook is perfect for open water fishing or when fishing over submerged grass or weed beds. You can also use this single treble hook spoons along sporadic grass. 

You will also find other spoon designs with a lone upturned hook equipped with a weed guard. Besides, you can go for these spoon designs if you will fish in heavy weed or grass water area.  

As you become familiar with the excellent baits and lures for northern pike, you can ensure that you will not end up empty-handed when fishing for pike. Moreover, you can zero in on the ideal bait and lure for pike after knowing the pros and cons of using live bait and dead or artificial bait. Such knowledge will prove invaluable if you’re a tyro in fishing.

Leave a Comment