The following appears in the February issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:
BY DENNIS MUSGRAVES
Alaska’s winter fishing season is a great time to target northerns, with the frozen lids of lakes literally putting anglers right on top of the action for a unique perspective.
Ice fishermen pursuing pike in Alaska can choose between conventional rod-and-reel jigging techniques, deploying tip-up devices, or dark-house spearing with decoys. Some fishermen even try their skills with a bow and arrow. These options are simply unavailable during open-water months.
With all the options available, I still prefer using a good spread of tip-ups. Dead-baiting a tip-up is my favorite method, and although the format is very passive, the fishing system is deadly effective.
Fishing a tip-up mechanism is not extremely technical; however, there are specific factors involved with knowing how to best deploy and present bait in order to obtain the greatest chances for success at catching a big toothy using this method.
A tip-up is a free-standing mechanism used for ice fishing so that an angler can present offerings without holding an actual fishing rod. The components consist of a base, spool (which holds line) and a flag or indicator. Using a tip-up allows fishermen to work multiple holes at the same time, fish various depths at once and try various positions on drop-offs or other bottom structure.
Tip-up devices are available in a variety of models and styles, so deciding on one the first time can be a bit confusing. A basic wooden unit is inexpensive and easy to set up, and really, all you need to get started.
Elaborate units will cost more, but they will include features like insulated covers, spools with handles, lighted indicators (for fishing during limited visibility), and enabled motion (for no-touch jigging action).
No matter which model tip-up you decide to use, I suggest spooling the device with a braided or Dacron-type line, with a minimum of 30-pound test for hand-lining these large, aggressive fish to the surface.
Hanging dead bait in the water column is a proven method for icing pike. Hungry fish are naturally attracted to the large stationary silhouette, which is unassuming and looks like an easy meal for an opportunistic predator. In addition to being an easy target, bait provides the ideal scent and taste for the fish. The aroma bleeds into the surrounding water, triggering pike senses and attracting them to the presentation.
Whitefish, herring, hooligan and eel are all popular choices of dead bait. They can either be harvested during the year to be frozen for later use, or purchased at local grocery stores or sporting goods outlets. I have found that frozen whole herring, which are approximately 6 to 8 inches in length, work very effectively. Keeping the herring slightly frozen allows for easy placement of a hook and keeps the bait on longer as it becomes waterlogged and softens up.
Dead bait can be rigged on hooks using several methods. Simply piercing the bait with a single hook can get the job done. However, using a quick-strike-style rig is my preferred technique when using a tip-up. Quick-strike rigs can be constructed easily or can be purchased prefabricated.
The advantage of this adjustable rig is that it allows bait to hang in a horizontal presentation while suspended in the water column, plus the ability to set a hook as soon as the fish bites.
Additionally, prior to sending my bait down the hole on a quick strike, I like to cut slits along the sides of the fish. This allows the juices and scent to disperse in the water and attract hungry prowling pike towards my offering.
Make sure you check the Alaska Department of Fish and Game sportfishing regulations before you start hanging bait to catch pike. Rules for some bodies of water do not allow baitfishing for northern pike, may be seasonally controlled, restricted or closed. The types of hooks and amount of lines an angler can tend is also strictly regulated.
LOCATION AND PLACEMENT
Pike can be found feeding in basically in two ways: an offensive patrolling pattern, or hunkered close to the bottom in ambush mode, simply waiting for a meal to come by. The sunniest part of the day is when they are the most aggressive.
Finding active fish is my initial goal when starting out the day. I like to cover a wide range of possible areas to find feeders by initially drilling holes in varied depths of water, from 5 feet out to 20 feet, and keeping my bait close to the bottom (1 to 2 feet).
Presenting an offering off the bottom in this fashion allows cellar dwellers to see the bait above them, especially in shallower waters. I can position bait very effectively and check depths by using portable fishing electronics. Once I locate actively feeding fish I concentrate my efforts in those places.
Preparation should not be overlooked in setting a good spread of tip-ups. Ideally you should have a good feel for employing your tip-up and rigging your bait. Make sure you’re familiar with your equipment by practicing actual set-up of the device to ensure your equipment is rigged and ready prior to leaving in order to maximize actual fishing time on the ice.
Also obtain and review a bathymetric map of the lake to help plot a plan of attack for a set-up. Having electronics to assist in confirming water depths will certainly also be very helpful.
The top reason I like fishing tip-ups for pike is the simplicity of the system. It offers anglers of any skill level a great winter fishing experience. Anticipating a flag going up, running to the hole and feeling the head shakes of a potential trophy-size pike while line slides between your fingers is exhilarating. It’s winter sportfishing fun in Alaska for all ages, and you don’t even need a fishing rod. ASJ
Editor’s note: For more of Dennis Musgraves’ fishing adventures in the Last Frontier, check out alaskansalmonslayers.com.