Lake-Link Home

Top end size structure for pike. What's your experience?

12/29/19 @ 12:50 AM
User since 4/2/02
From my observations of ice fishing, fishing with others, talking to people etc....

It seems like pike on most lakes follow a top end size structure pattern.

Seems like 90 percent of top end pike in most lakes are between 30-32 inches. 8 percent between 33-34 inches. And 2 percent 35 or above.

30-32 seems to be a very common top end size (except for a few select waters).

What is your experience? Do you see a top end size for pike in the lakes/waters you fish....other than a few exceptions from time to time?

3/3/20 @ 11:59 PM
User since 4/2/02

Awesome fish Esox. Small shiner. 7 acre pond. Love it!

SuspendedMusky-Those are some pretty hefty pike. Off the charts! Interesting results from your northern vs. southern zone data.

About up north pressure, just to be clear, I think a "little" pressure can be a good thing. Not a lot of pressure. Just enough to thin things out.  When I say "weedy" lakes, I'm not referring to lakes that are completely choked. Just lakes that have a weed presence. Plenty of lakes up north have virtually no weeds. It's those 100 acre lakes in the woods that are shaped like bowls with big drop offs and crystal clear water. Not very pikey. But, sometimes a couple of big pike are in there. But, very hard to find. And, certainly not pike in numbers. 

N.Pike guy-So true about the U.P. The 24 inch 2 fish limit is  more effective than the 5 fish no size limit we have in northern Wisconsin. It does make a big difference. I would agree. But, it's also true that the U.P receives very little pressure in most cases. 

I do find that not many up here target pike in the summer. But, in the winter, lots do and very few CPR. 

In southern Wisconsin,  many of my biggest pike came in shallow water situations. These types of water would likely freeze out in northern Wisconsin and have too much snow on top to provide any light. So, they don't really exist up here unless a strong current goes through them. Southern Wi can afford waters 6 feet deep to survive the winter, and pike often thrive in those situations. Especially if carp are around. Those carp really seem to fatten up the pike. And, those pike were very accessible to me compared to a 30 foot deep lake that I often see up here. 

Great thoughts everyone. Love hearing your thoughts and especially your experiences. Nobody can argue with somebodies personal experience. 

3/3/20 @ 8:30 PM
User since 12/9/08

My northern zone pike experiences have all been ice fishing.  In regard to top end size structure, we have iced a couple fish in the 42-43" range where we fish, several in the 35-37" range, and the majority of the top end fish in the 30-33" range.  So the relative percentage breakdown would be somewhat similar to what n.pike indicated.

My southern zone pike fishing has all been open water casting.  There we definitely have caught a higher percentage of "top end" pike in the 35-38" range than in northern WI.  In addition, there have been a higher percentage of the 40" class fish also.  Once on a relatively shallow (10 ft max depth), but weedy southern zone lake I had a very large pike T-bone a smaller 23" pike I was reeling in.  The bigger pike completely destroyed the small pike (internal organs hanging out, etc).  The larger fish dropped the small pike, but I got a very good look at it (est. 45" or so from what I saw).  2 days later in that area a 47" pike was caught.

3/3/20 @ 8:05 PM
User since 2/3/20

N.Pike, I agree with with you on a couple of points. There are definitely more lakes up north and much bigger and plentiful walleyes. There are very good reasons why the walleye are bigger up north, but that is a different topic.   I do differ on the point about weedy and pressured fishing lakes. It has been my experience that the great majority of 50-200 acre, weedy lakes I have fished have produced numerous, yet, small northern.  

Interesting side note. I caught my biggest pike of the ice fishing season on Sunday. A beautiful 38” on a small shiner on a 7 acre pond. Go figure.  Of course, like all my pike, it was released for another day. Tight lines and hey, CPR!

(I normally don’t hold pike vertically but I wanted to contrast it to the size of my 8 year old daughter.)

3/3/20 @ 5:39 PM
User since 8/25/08

I could go on forever about this topic but in my personal experience size regulations and ice fishing pressure trump all other factors when determining the top end size structure for pike. I'm lucky to live five minutes from Mendota where a 40" minimum provides you with a great shot at 36-42" fish compared to the rest of the state. Hop over to Waubesa and Monona and it's an entirely different story with the two over 26 limit. Still plenty of nice fish but I've never caught a 40 on those bodies of water. Perhaps the most compelling evidence of regs/pressure influencing the size structure of pike is when you compare the lakes in Northern WI to those just across the border in the UP. With a limit of two over 24 you see a lot more fish (and bigger fish) in similarly structured lakes. I know that it's been mentioned already in this thread but a lot of people don't target big pike effectively. Once they hit 32 inches or so they begin to act a lot more like muskies so bigger baits on bigger structure will generally get you bigger fish.

3/3/20 @ 2:04 PM
User since 3/15/08

I remember reading that  males top out at 32-34"(could be bad memory)?  If so, then only females could get up to 36" + which eliminates half the pike.  I also seem to remember reading that it takes a pike 5-7 years to reach 27" and then the growing really slows to about 1" per year average.

3/2/20 @ 10:54 PM
User since 4/2/02

Esop-You are right in that southern Wisconsin is better overall for big pike. No doubt about it. I just think the water is more fertile and the growing season longer. Plus, the 26 inch size limit helps tremendously. I was looking at  tournament results for Puckaway about a month ago. There were some really big fish caught, stuff that would be really out of character up here.

However, the advantage we have up here is this and it's obvious: Tons of lakes! And, the best pike lakes that I've found actually have a little fishing pressure. Just enough to keep things in balance. Weedy lakes are a huge plus. Lakes without weeds that are simply deep bowls and super clear seem to rarely have pike. Just bass and panfish oftentimes. Some of the worst lakes up here for pike are surprisingly the out of the way lakes that nobody fishes. Those lakes seem to rarely hold pike. And, sometimes those lakes are full of a lot of very small pike. I used to think lakes with Muskies meant bad pike fishing, but it's actually quite the opposite. Musky lakes tend to have some of those pike in the 28-34 inch range too. Much more percentage wise than a typical up north lake. But, A 40 inch pike up here? Very very difficult. 

But, a side benefit to pike fishing up here, especially when using large suckers....walleyes! I've caught more nice walleyes up here by FAR then ever down south. Fish with pike suckers and when you do happen to accidentally get into a walleye, it's often a pretty big one! Really fun!

2/24/20 @ 7:31 PM
User since 2/3/20
Outstanding topic!

I mainly fish for Northern Pike as it is easily my favorite fish since I caught my first one when I was seven. By the way, like my good friend, Deadbait Walking, I CPR every pike I catch. Always.

First of all, I really appreciate the posts from Ulbian, JKB and Deadbait Walking. You three use science and reasoning behind your posts and I appreciate that. Nothing worse than reading posts from those who seek to blame the DNR and others for sheer ignorance. 

Ulbian, you made me think about my own north/south experiences. I’m from northern central Wisconsin and fished many glacial lakes and major river systems up there. You are right when you say the pike are significantly smaller (at least I the lakes I fished).  My cottage was on a 80 acre lake that yielded me only a handful 25-30 inch pike out of thousands I caught. No one targeted pike on that lake other than myself. In fact, I rarely see anyone fish on the lake except for maybe bass or panfish. There was plenty of forage in the lake, including shiners from the inlet, but the pike were small and thin. Several other lakes in the area yielded similar results. 

However, rivers like the Wisconsin in Portage/Marathon County allowed me to catch bigger pike but nothing like what I catch down here in southern Wisconsin. 

While I agree with JKB that deadbait has been responsible for my biggest pike in fall and winter down here, this winter has been unusual.  From August to November I primarily used deadbait and caught a number of large pike, including my first 40+ (in a fairly small river). This winter, I have had not much luck using deadbait at all. In fact, I have caught a number of low to mid 30 inch pike on very large shiners. This even holds true in areas that deadbait was always the key. 

Yet, there has been inconsistency using live bait amongst fisherman on the same waterway. Last month I took my son and his friend ice fishing on a lake that Deadbait Walking fishes on as well. The three of us caught 5-30”+ pike all on live large shiners. We got nothing on deadbait. A few days later Deadbait Walking went to the same lake and caught nothing on live bait but a ton of pike on DB. 

And just recently I discovered a 10 acre retention pond that is very well hidden and quite inaccessible during non-icefishing season (only 4.5 feet deep).  I was able to land multiple 30+ pike, again all on live bait.  Not sure what the pelagic forage is.  Maybe none. Im willing to bet frogs have a lot to do with it. The pond is completely surrounded by cattails and a swamp. Again, no access to it other than via ice. The big question here is where do these big pike go when the water warms up?

So my conclusions:  

  1. Ulbian is correct, there is no simple equation for an excellent pike fishery. However there are some generalities.  Forage and fishing pressure is super important.  Pelagic species for forage is usually important. The river system I frequent has a high chub population and suckers too.

Here are my current truths (could change)

  1. Southern Wisconsin has excellent pike fishing. Better than “up north” for me that is. 
  2. Big pike can be scavengers as others suggested and even scoop up frogs. 
  3. Deadbait can be effective but maybe not as much as I thought. 
  4. Big shiners are currently the key for me but that can change. 
  5. January and February can be excellent months to catch huge pike. 
  6. Have both live bait and dead bait on hand as you need to figure out what mood they are in. 
  7. I have become much better at catching huge pike within the last few years by research, and trial and error. 11 30+ since mid-December. 40.5” the biggest and my PB. 

Good luck all!

2/24/20 @ 7:04 AM
User since 9/24/03

“So, in my experience, they do generally top out at 32 or so”

Why is that? Is it genetics or human interference? 40 inch pike are rare in the northern management zone where harvest is higher. In the southern zone where there are tighter size and limit restrictions 40 in pike are more common. I’d bet every last cent that I have that if the restrictions were tighter statewide you wouldn’t have as strong of an opinion that 40 inchers are rare. Two trips this winter and I’ve iced 16 of these things. Two of them were under 32 inches. The average size is just a tick over 35. None over 40. I have been fishing in the southern management zone. Youre not going to find the consistency in size like that in too many places farther north. 

2/24/20 @ 12:00 AM
User since 4/2/02

Great stories guys. Enjoy it.

My biggest is a 39. I have one at 35.

I think I've probably caught 50 between 30-34 in the past 18 years of fishing.

So, in my experience, they do generally top out at 32 or so...with a few that grow much bigger. And, of all the guys I've ever fished with, talked with, etc...a 40 inch pike is EXTREMELY rare in Wisconsin. They exist, but in very low numbers apparently. 

2/21/20 @ 10:26 AM
Dead Bait Walking
User since 3/7/02

Great topic since I love to target big pike whether it's in May or middle of summer or during ice fishing season.  I just landed a 37.5" northern last week and this was my 5th biggest pike ever landed.  Typically Dead bait will land the biggest pike, especially late ice but my tactics have changed over the years. I like to find out what the mood of the pike is when fishing, sometimes is big lively baits (shinners, chubs, etc. ) or it's only Dead bait or a combination of both.  I landed the 37.5" on a big lively shinner when my friend said only deadbait was the only way to go.  By the way I was the one who introduced him to using dead bait but sometimes you have to go with your gut feeling and each lake is a tad different to figure out when to use live bait vs. dead bait.

I typically focus on deep lakes with high forage or smaller lakes that don't sustain winter kills that have trout stocked in them or are attached to a river/creek to prevent winter kill.  I landed a 38" and 39.5" pike on the same lake that has trout in it and it was the same pike due to the same skin markings.  That pike was caught late ice on a 7" lively chub and then the next year it was on a fresh dead chub. That same lake also landed me the fattest 36" pike and another 37" pike.  They don't bite on every trip, but patience is the key since knowing they are in there makes it all worthwhile.  

Also landed my first 40" on a small lake connected to a small creek/river and it only my second time ever ice fishing.  This pike was landed 20 years ago on a large dead shinner.  

My biggest pike came out of Eagle lake (Racine) and it was 41". This pike fish was landed twice my me in late fall, caught 10 days apart in the same spot using the same technique (using a dead shinner that was purchased on the same day).  Water temps was 51 degrees and then it was landed at 42 degrees.  I fish Eagle lake alot and landed at least 12-15 pike at 34 - 35", but the only one I landed bigger was the 41 incher.  

I also landed a 37" northern fishing fox lake when I was 12 or 13 years old casting a rapala from the shoreline, so that's when I was hooked on pike fishing.  

So I've been fortunate to have landed 7 pike that were 37" or bigger and off course I would never keep a pike, so CPR for me is the only way to go...  Good luck trying to land those bigger pike, it's always fun trying.   Feel free to reach out to me with questions.  Take care, Geno

Advertise here
Advertise here
Please take a moment to visit our sponsors. Without them we would not be here.