Have pike, will strike

It just can’t get much better for northern pike fishermen in North Dakota. Northern pike populations have exploded in many of the state’s waters in recent years, so much so that the North Dakota Game and Fish Department increased the daily limit from three to five. Fun awaits the angler who pursues the feisty gamefish.

Many pike anglers prefer to catch and release most of their fish. They’ll keep and clean what they need for a few tasty meals, but often they’ll catch dozens during a single outing. For pike fishermen the fun is in the catch, from the moment a pike strikes until it is seen or landed. Most pike produce a pretty good battle too, often putting fishermen and their equipment to the test.

Pike may have a reputation as not being particularly difficult to catch, but that is not always the case. Quite often they’ll chase brightly colored spoons, crankbaits and spinnerbaits. Top water baits can be effective and infinitely entertaining too as pike break the water with a fury.

There are times though when pike show a finicky side and become tough to hook. That is probably why pike have a reputation as a “moody” fish. It is then that the angler must figure out where the pike are and what they want, if anything. Like fishing for other species, the answers are sometimes difficult to discover and can require considerable time on the water. However, fishermen who solve the puzzle can be rewarded with an excellent catch and the satisfaction of knowing they have learned one more trick to fooling pike.

A majority of the pike in North Dakota waters probably weigh 5 pounds or less. While larger pike can certainly be found almost anywhere pike roam, a widely quoted axiom is, “The bigger the water, the bigger the pike.” Big water in North Dakota includes Devils Lake and Lake Sakakawea, two locations that have turned out huge pike in year’s past, particularly Sakakawea.

The Game and Fish Department has established 32 inches as a “catch-and-release” length for pike and 20 pounds as a “whopper club” weight for pike. The state record pike is 37 pounds, 8 ounces. It measured 48 inches and was caught in 1968 in Lake Sakakawea.

While Sakakawea was once dubbed the “pike capital of the world,” the number of whopper catches of pike has declined significantly in recent years. However, based on Game and Fish surveys that show Lake Sakakawea’s pike numbers at an all-time high and reports from fishermen who have been encountering pike, it is readily evident that Sakakawea is on the verge of regaining its status as “pike capital.”

All along the reservoir, fishermen report numerous catches of fat, healthy pike. There’s also increased reports by fishermen of pike weighing 10 pounds or more, some up to 20 pounds. If pike can maintain a good rate of growth on Lake Sakakawea, there’s promise of years of trophy fishing ahead.

For fishermen who have never specifically targeted pike, there may never be a better time to do so than right now. The opportunity is here and, hopefully, will remain for several years to come.