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If you are fishing for northern pike (especially for the big guys), one of the most important factors for success or failure is to choose the best bait. In fishing stores and catalogs you can find a lot of interesting pike lures. There is no a priori good or bad one, because each of them has special properties that make them great catchers under certain conditions.

Many anglers seem to pay great attention to details. They are primarily concerned with special colors or patterns. Or that the lure should look as realistic as possible. In return they pay little attention to its other properties, such as diving depth or vibrations emitted. However, these are just as important for regular success when fishing for pike.

The problem with these properties, however, is that they are not visible at first glance – neither on the bait shelf nor in the catalog. So only when you use them in practice on the water (or at least in a water basin) you can experience the true character of a certain pike lure.

In this article you will learn everything about what makes a good bait for northern pike. As well as whether colors (and especially which ones) really play such an important role in pike fishing.

Table of Contents:

  1. What are you going to learn in this article?
  2. How do we choose the “catchiest” bait color for predatory fish like the pike?
  3. Is the bait color really a crucial criterion for predatory fish? Here is the scientific proof!
  4. How do lure colors change underwater?
  5. Which bait colors are still visible at 10 m (33 ft) depth?
  6. Which is the right bait color for the northern pike?
  7. How to choose the right bait color according to the weather and water turbidity?
  8. Is there a generally right or wrong (useless) pike lure?
  9. Do pikes actually remember our baits?
  10. How strong is cannibalism in pikes – or – are lures that imitate smaller pikes really worth it?

1. What are you going to learn in this article?

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When it comes to artificial pike lures, we all know what it’s like: Today the combination of red and silver guarantees a catch, tomorrow it’s an absolute flop. Why a certain color constellation on some days is irresistible (and on others doesn’t catch an old shoe) is a question that had been on my mind for quite some time.

We all know how complex the subject of lure color can be. Therefore I finally wanted to have some well-founded answers.

For this purpose, I read quite a few scientifically oriented articles. The results and findings I got from these were quite astonishing – although the most important conclusion I could draw was, that there exists no simple answer on the subject. But despite the fact that more and more questions arise, the more you go into depth, there were dozens of aha-effects that sometimes left me almost speechless.

Ultimately, though, that’s what’s helpful in answering the perennial question, “What’s the best bait color to catch a pike… TODAY?”

But wait a minute.

  1. Who says that the color of the bait plays any role at all in fishing? Maybe a certain lure of color X just happens to be successful and another is not.
  2. So that it is really the color that is the deciding factor or rather the stimulus effect of the movement?
  3. Or is perhaps even the lure action the ultimate factor for fishing success?

Two basic rules when choosing the bait color are

  1. That in murky water bright colors should be preferred.
  2. In contrast in clear water rather subtle colors should be your first choice.

The logic behind this is, that bright colors should increase the attention of the bait, while muted colors make the bait appear real prey fish. But one thing at a time.

In this article you are going to learn everything about the best bait color for a certain body of water. You will learn …

  • what can influence the color perception under water?
  • how light influences color vision?
  • what influences the color vision of the fish? (because it’s not how we see the bait that matters, but how the pike sees it)
  • whether UV baits can really deliver what they promise?

What this article cannot provide is a definitive answer to the question of which bait color is best under each and every condition. Why? On the one hand, a written article is very limited in its presentation. It is just text with a few pictures. On the other hand, the topic is so complex that this article would reach a dimension that nobody could read in one try. (And you will see that it is already very long).

Nevertheless we tried to approached the topic of the best lure (color) as profound as possible. We carried out our own studies, trials and recorded live underwater footage of a wide variety of lures to be able to answer each and every question regarding the topic “What bait to use for northern pike?”.

2. How do we choose the “catchiest” bait color for predatory fish like the pike?

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The answer seems quite simple. Our subjective color vision is the measure of all things. Just as we see the lure color when fishing for pike, the pike itself must perceive it as well. That’s at least exactly what most anglers think.

But there are a few key factors that make the color of your artificial lures (like plugs, spinners, spoons or rubber fish) appear different for predatory fish than you actually see them.

2.1. What factors change the color of your lures in the water?

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Some of the factors that change the color of your bait underwater (and therefor for the pike) are:

  • The color of the water.
  • The weather – or the amount of light available.
  • The specific color vision of fish – or of the pike respectively.

But, what does it mean that fish have a special color vision? Let me explain this to you by giving an illustrative example.

Did you know that everyone sees the same red tomato in a different red? This is because the eyes of each person are designed a little bit differently. Furthermore, our brain tells us that the tomato is red. Thus, it always interprets a tomato a little more as red than it actually is.

So let’s keep in mind: Predatory fish like the pike see your yellow, red or green plugs, spinners or rubber fish in a different color (strength) than you.

2.2. What role does the light play in underwater color perception?

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The total electromagnetic radiation spectrum of the sun comprises a wide range of light waves of different lengths. Each wavelength represents a color of light.

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As primates, we only see a small section of this spectrum (sichtbares Licht = visible light). The daylight visible to us covers the range from blue (short-wave light) through green and yellow to red (long-wave light). Translations: Welche Farben können Menschen sehen? - What colors can humans see?; Gamma = gamma; Röntgen = x-ray; Ultraviolett = ultraviolet; Infrarot = infrared; Mikrowellen = microwave; Rundfunk = wireless; Radio = radio;

Our color impression is therefore created as an electrochemical reaction in our brain as an addition of the three primary colors described – red, green and blue. Our idea of color mixing in everyday life, be it when looking at rubber fish or plugs, is therefore only a subjective impression. At least as far as the intensity of the color is concerned.

Short conclusion: Our brain tells us which color we see. This in turn means that our target fish like pike, perch or zander can perceive the color of our lure quite differently!

2.3. What is the difference between the color vision of humans and fish?

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Our eye (additive color vision) has so-called cones (color cells) for each of the primary colors. These are only sensitive to certain wavelengths of light. For vision at low luminosity, as well as night or twilight vision, the so-called rods are responsible. These are more sensitive and can therefore still recognize objects even under low light conditions.

Colors are then perceived only as shades of gray. The color impression of an object such as a rubber fish is created in the recipients brain as an evaluation of stimuli it receives via the color cells. These color stimuli are stronger the more light waves of a single color are reflected.

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The color with which we see a pike bait does not have to correspond to that perceived by the pike.

In very simple terms, this means that a color is recognized as red, for example, if the light waves of the red light component are reflected by the wobbler, while those of blue and green are largely absorbed.

This biological fact is very important, as we are going to see in the following. Because red light is no longer perceived as red color, if something hinders the reflection of the red light or the red light component is filtered out.

What can prevent the perception or reflection of light? Exactly – for example the water color, as our lakes and seas are not filled with clear distilled water, but with all kinds of suspended matter, algae, etc..

2.4. What colors can fish actually see?

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Fish generally perceive the colors that are dominantly present in their environment. Because of their habitat and the depth of the water, fish can see some colors particularly well. Just think about the colorful reef dwellers for example. Only fish of the deep water regions display limited color vision.

Furthermore depending on the species, fish can have a more or less developed color vision. This is due to the fact, that this ability has developed in the course of evolution in a way that is even more powerful in some areas (young trout are able to see UV light, for example) than the color vision of primates, to which we also belong. But evolution is never undirected (or even lavish), so there is great variation among the color vision of fish according to the requirements of their natural habitat.

In summary, we can clearly confirm that fish see colors. Which they exactly can perceive, strongly depends on the  species and its habitat. Predatory fish like zander, perch and pike, for example, can recognize much less colors than humans (anglers). Furthermore bait colors can change under water due to light reflection or absorption.

2.5. What role do colors play in the life of a fish?

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If you want to fish for pike, then you should seriously think about the importance of its specific color vision. This is the only way to get an idea of whether all the effort you put into the selection of your bait is really justified.

The survival of a fish on one hand depends on how well it can camouflage itself to escape predators. And on the other how quickly and secure it finds its food, which keeps its organism moving and ensures its reproduction.

Predatory fish camouflage themselves to avoid being detected by prey fish, prey fish to avoid being eaten.

  • If you look at a fish from above, it blends in with the background because of its dark back.
  • Viewed from below, its bright silver belly makes it virtually invisible against the light.
  • Horizontally, patterns in the scale dress or brown and green tones make it appear inconspicuous in its plant environment.

Everything according to the motto: See but not be seen. How adaptable in the coloring certain fish species of our latitudes are depending on its habitat, everyone of us has already. Many pale patterned perch are found in clear waters. Those with expressive patterns are found in dark waters or in the depths.

The system of “deception and camouflage” becomes abundantly clear in the case of the colorful reef dwellers. These appear stunningly colorful in the aquarium, while in their natural habitat merge perfectly with the environment precisely because of their colorful suits. Often the coloration also plays an important role in reproduction.

Note: Fish use color patterns for camouflage and reproduction.

2.6. Can predatory fish distinguish bait colors at all?

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Yes, for sure they can. Predatory fish like pike can see your lure color from spinners, rubber fish or plugs. That’s the good news… because based on this fact, the lure color hype may be justified after all.

Scientifically, this question has been answered by a multitude of studies and experiments. Of course, we do not know exactly which images are formed in the brain of fish.

All medical or chemical-physical studies or experiments had the goal of showing what abilities are present in fish and whether there are differences between species.

What is certain, is that fish

  • have a clear image at close range,
  • can detect movement
  • and furthermore possess a very good contrast recognition.

Obviously it should be clear that a certain amount of light must be present so that bait colors can be recognized at all.

2.7. Unfortunately we are often led around by the nose when it comes to bait colors

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First of all: This statement is absolutely personal and purely subjective. That should be mentioned. And I know, that it may sound somehow harsh, so that I want to explain a little bit more in detail, what makes me think that way.

Bait colors are often about visibility and appearance. It seems logical to us that an orange lure that glows in our hand must also glow under water.

Then, and now it becomes important – we test the luminosity of the lure on the water, of course. And when we look at it from above, it really shines against the dark background of  the water.

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Pike often attack their prey from below. Visible from below: The dark underside stands out against the sunny water surface.

As we don’t want to badmouth any particular lure, we compared our own one (Futterneid) with a few other ones in practical underwater tests. Marketing wise staged and as you can clearly see: Futterneid is a shining bait, with its bright green main color, the bright yellow fringes and the red ends. If you look at the bait from above, you can see it glow underwater. 

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This is a picture from the TV-documental "Cannibals on cuddle course: When pike celebrate wedding” | NaturNah | NDR Doku

And under water? Exactly, that is the right question. How do lures look under water, from the point of view of a predatory fish like the pike. So, let’s take a look at Futterneid compared to a plain white lure (visibility depth 2.5 m / 8.2 ft, green water, water depth 13 m / 42.65 ft).

Summary of the video: What did we learn?

  1. First of all, the most important thing. Both lures were equally visible the entire time. Any other color would neither have changed the conspicuity much.
  2. It is also a fact that lures are visible to a greater depth than most anglers can imagine. And here begins the partial fooling that we are subject to.
  3. The bright green doesn’t shine at all in this green water, but sets off slightly from the background.
  4. The yellow fringes contrast with the green body and background.
  5. Even when it got dark at 11 m depth, there was hardly any difference between the lures AND the sunlight still reflected off the top of both lures. A white lure is almost maximally visible.

Conclusion: The color of the bait plays a smaller role in terms of visibility than we think. This was at least true for our test in the Müritz (month of August) at 2.5 / 8.2 ft meters visibility. 2.5 meters visibility means that the baits were no longer visible from the boat at a depth of 2.5 meters.

Aren’t we making our bait look bad with this video / test? No, because our approach with it is not the color nor appearance, but the fringes. They should attract the pike because of food envy – and that moreover 5 times more often than because of cannibalism.

3. Is the bait color really a crucial criterion for predatory fish? Here is the scientific proof!

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There are results from several experiments on this subject available. In trout, for example, coloring maggots with red or pink has led to measurably greater acceptance of the food. Such experiments generally are a success, when they copy the natural food intake. In this case red chironomid larvae are the preferred food source in streams and ponds in the spring – and not only the one of trout.

But unfortunately, the topic of bait color is not exactly at the top of the to do list in science. Anyways we found some interesting data from an experiment on black bass, which I would like to present you in the following.

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Experiment: Which color catches best? 8 anglers - 19 days. Dunkel = dark; Natur = natural; Hell = bright.

On 19 days 8 anglers fished with the same lure model in 6 different colors. Every 20 minutes the color was changed. The results were quite interesting: There were two colors that especially attracted the bigger guys.

Perch love food such as chironomid larvae as long as they are present in the spring. Afterwards (after the  spawning season) they switch to fish fry and small fish once they are present in sufficient numbers. Therefore, if we fish for perch in the spring with a perch flasher or a small plug, we are probably going to be unsuccessful – while a plucked small red worm might turn out to be a top bait.

In Canada, the spin-in glow (a type of rotating propeller buoy), is an exceedingly popular lure while fishing for heavy king salmon on the ground. Experiments with different colored types showed that some colors of fishing lures are attacked more often than others when certain conditions (light conditions, water turbidity) are present. Under other conditions the color is not significant for the feeding behavior.

4. How do lure colors change underwater?

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Our color perception is based on the medium, which we live in – air. And while being in this medium we also decide which lure color to use, without thinking which would be the one most visible under water – Seriously?

We know from experience that certain weather constellations (such as smoke and fog), can fundamentally curtail our view as well as color perception, because the reflection is disturbed by particles (smoke) or water droplets (fog).

When it comes to the habitat of fish (water), we quickly recognise that this medium represents a different challenge for us anglers. Many properties of the light change as soon as it enters the water. The explanation for this is not that simple, but helps to understand what fish can actually see. And what consequences this has for us anglers in the choice of artificial lures.

In water, light changes due to two physical factors:

  1. Light scattering
  2. and light absorption.

Let’s start with the absorption.

If we stand in a long hallway with only one window, we know that the brightness (light intensity) is greatest in the window area. Outside of this area visibly decreases as the depth of the room increases. The situation is similar in water.

The deeper you get, the darker it gets. This is due to the fact, that the light is more and more absorbed by the water surface with increasing depth. The loss of intensity already sums up to 60 % at a depth of 3 m / 9.84 ft.

When we look at our visible light spectrum, however, this does not happen uniformly. Long-wave light (such as red or orange) fades out faster than short-wave blue light.

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Which light (color) reaches how deep into the water?

Red has practically already turned into gray at a depth of five meters. So if you think that your red rubber makss are particularly catchy at a depth of 10 m (32,8 ft), you possibly should reconsider your bait choice.

This further means that the UV light (which the human eye can’t see), reaches deepest into the water. Followed by blue and green. This also means that your green rubber fish only appears green as far as the green light reaches into the water. If you fish deeper, your green lure will be any other color – but definitely not green anymore.

Note: All your efforts choosing your lure color were good for nothing, if you don’t know how deep the red, yellow, green or blue light reaches into the water of your fishing grounds! If you have no idea about it, you are probably going to spend quite some money on a few quite useless baits. 

But that’s it with the general theory. As at this point you already know more than almost 70 – 80% of all anglers.

Let me just give you one final piece of advice. The above picture represents the incidence of light under nearly optimal conditions. Clear water with 30 – 70 m (98 – 230 ft) viewing depth. So the light can penetrate the water almost unhindered and individual colors get lost exclusively due to their respective energy.

However such circumstances are rather rare. Maybe close to the equator, where the sunlight can penetrate the water almost vertically. But more up north in the northern hemisphere (Europe, Nort America), we have to deal with a visibility from a few centimeters to several meters. And nearly never with a clear and unobstructed visibility depth of 30 – 70 m (98 – 230 ft).

5. Which bait colors are still visible at 10 m (32,8 ft) water depth?

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Colors that are still present at 1 m depth in brownish turbid water.

What does this image tell us? The arrows symbolize the luminosity of the light with the respective color in a lake with brownish turbid water. Here, at a depth of 1 meter (3.28 ft), most of the light is still more or less present.

If blue, green, yellow and red light is still present, then by implication blue, green, yellow and red lures can also still be seen. It should be noted briefly that UV light however has already disappeared. (So don’t be fooled when it comes to UV lures. These are not always the secret silver bullet.)

But now we are getting to the more important question: What light do you think is still available at 3 or even 4 m (9.84 – 13,1 ft) fishing depth? Any idea?

Remember: If you know which light is still available at which depth, you will also know unerringly which lure colors are still visible to catch the eye of a big pike. Lures can only be seen in their respective color, if the light of this color is still present at the respective depth. For a lure to be yellow, for example, yellow light must be present.

Where does our data come from? We have collected and analyzed data from various scientific records, where light intensity and energy in water were measured. All to determine how much light of different wavelengths is present at different depths.

The fundamental message of these measurements was: With increasing depth some colors (or the respective radiation) lose their energy. When all colors have disappeared it becomes black, i.e. it is dark.

Depending on the degree of turbidity, the light loss in 5 – 10 m (16.4 – 32.8 ft) water depth is already 85 %. Colors furthermore often appear differently in water.

Therefore, for the decision which bait color to use, it is not important which color we see in our bait box, but only what remains of it in the water. And that can be fundamentally different from what we assume.

Now what about predatory fish like the northern pike?

Well, the fish may have to fight their way through the “fog” just like we do, and its surroundings may even disappear in dense “smoke clouds” at times. Evolution has therefore equipped them with a number of other sensory organs that ensure its survival under such conditions.

They can perceive sounds, smells and pressure waves very sensitively, so that they actually only need their eyes as a final confirmation. This may be the reason why for example blind pike can still hunt successfully. The one or two I caught were still normally nourished.

With this knowledge you know may also understand why fish only see sharply at a close range (myopia). In fog, the high beam is also completely unsuitable for us, our fog lights only work at close range.

Most fish perceive the colors of their environment, but there exist significant differences between different species of different habitats.

  • Fish in clear, shallow freshwater or shallow reef regions can recognize colors very well.
  • While sea fish (especially the ones living in greater depths) possess only a reduced color vision due to their rather color-poor habitat (blue, green).

However, the most important finding of our research was the fact, that predatory fish recognize their prey merely by the contrast and silhouette that it exhibits against a colored background. And not so much because of its color.

The type and the details of the contrast depend on many factors:

  • The time of day (hour),
  • the background,
  • the depth of visibility in the water,
  • if the sun shines (as well as its position),
  • the cloud cover
  • and ultimately the time of year (season).

Therefore you should always try to choose your bait for the best possible contrast.

Knowing the maximum contrast effect of your artificial lure when fishing, can make the small (or rather big) difference between your lure or the one of another angler being interesting for a hungry pike.

6. Which is the right bait color for the northern pike?

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How to create contrast in sunny weather and blue skies?

Many fish attack their prey (the bait) from below. So in bright daylight they only see its contrast against a bright gray or blue background. With such a constellation, all colors appear the same.

We know this just to well ourselves. In backlit photos, the objects photographed become dark to black, if we do not brighten them with the flash. Colors furthermore can only be recognized vaguely.

As a direct consequence a lure with a high contrast effect is more important than its mere color. Those who now object that they always catch very well with lure color X may be absolutely right – only that the cause for their fishing success may be more the contrast (resulting from the color and shape of the bait) and not so much the color itself.

Nevertheless, two things generally can be said:

  1. Red, orange and yellow are effective for shallow waters.
  2. While blue or green for the greater fishing depths.

In addition – and as already mentiones  several times – the colors appears different outside of the water than in it. In deeper water regions, therefore an optical stimulus effect is far less important than motion and possible pressure waves.

With regard to water turbidity, it furthermore seems more effective to use higher contrasts in turbid water and less in clear conditions. Especially the silhouette of the bait is important in turbid water. So it is essential for us to know which forage fish is the favourite dish of our predators. Smelt have a different shape than perch and small bream are clearly different from gudgeon.

As a basic rule, the bait offered should fit the prey pattern of our target fish as good as possible.

  • While the pike on the one hand, with its high aggression potential, is quite willing to take unnatural baits.
  • The zander on the other hand reacts rather sensitively to the offer, if it deviates too much from its natural prey. For the zander, bait shape and contrast must match the current prey offer. However, with the right choice of lure color, we can stand out from the rest of the offer.

7. How to choose the right bait color according to the weather and water turbidity?

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In order to provide you with a plan or guide, we are constantly doing our own research on this topic. We for example regularly take our own underwater pictures of different bait types in a variety of situations.

Therefore, what you are going to see in this chapter, comprises only a tiny fraction of all the information we have already gathered on the matter. But even this small glimpse is going to ensure that the chances of your lure catching the eye of a hungry pike will increase drastically.

Basically, you should consider the following factors when choosing the color of your bait:

  • Color of the water,
  • Depth of visibility (turbidity),
  • Fishing depth,
  • Season,
  • Weather and cloud coverage of the sky,
  • Time of day (hour),
  • Position of the sun,
  • Strength of the UV radiation.

7.1. Which is the best pike bait for very turbid brown water on a cloudy day? (visibility not more than 50 cm / 1,64 ft)

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With this scenario, we already know that very little light penetrates the water. The contrast and silhouette of your lure should therefore be striking, as it are precisely these two components that are most likely to be recognized by the fish. Generally it can be said that shock and fluorescent colors in yellow, green, pink are super catchy (or even UV baits). The reason is quite simple – their luminosity makes them more visible under low light conditions.

In gray and cloudy days, the UV portion of the light is high. These light rays, which are not visible to us, also penetrate deep into the water. Therefore it makes sense to use fluorescent lure colors in turbid waters and cloudy weather – especially in greater depths.

Attention: This is what you generally hear and read – BUT – the real situation is completely different.

Why can we say that?

  1. Because we firstly know what different colors of bait really look like under water.
  2. And because we secondly also know the reflective and absorptive capabilities of differently colored water.

We remind you of a question from one of the previous chapters. What do we need to know again when choosing the color of our bait?

Exactly: Which light really reaches the bait at the respective fishing depth?

If your choice is a bright red lure, you need to know if red light is present at all at your fishing depth of, lets say, 2 – 3 meters (6.56 – 9.84 ft). Only in this case it will also appear red to the fish that may be present in this depth .

At this point I briefly want to touch the topic of UV baits again. You get almost no more rubber fish that do not somehow glow under black light. If we have chosen a rubber fish that glows pink under UV light, UV light should also be present in our fishing depth. … And here meets the profiteering of manufacturers and ignorance or whatever … Just take a look at this lure glowing bright green under UV light.

But how strongly do you think does it glow in murky brownish water?

Exactly – it is very poorly visible. The tail fin is even almost invisible. This proves very well that lures that shine beautifully in our hands can have the exact opposite effect under water. You’d be surprised how visible some other colors are without UV effect. While others recommend to use shock colors (preferably with UV effect) in murky water and, our recommendation is:

In murky brown water, with moderate light, use very light or very dark rubber fish or plugs.

Congratulations and welcome to the club of a small elite! Now you already know more than almost 90-95% of most anglers and also quite a few Pro’s. 

7.2. Which is the best pike bait for turbid brown water on a sunny day? (visibility up to 1 m / 3,28 ft)

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In sunshine and turbid water, the reflection conditions are significantly improved. A predator fish recognizes contrast differences more clearly.

Bright colors cause a beautiful shadow play under water. The sunlight reflects on the bright upper side of the wobbler, while the underside appears dark in the shade. Some colors are still clearly visible in the surface area.

However, if you fish in a greater depth, you have to choose your bait colors wisely. A rubber fish for example may well tolerate dark accents on the light ground. Points, a dark tail plate or a differently colored head imitates the natural contrast image of a typical prey fish.

As a top bait under this conditions has turned out a bipartition with one black and one white side – referring to the flanks and not the head and tail.

Our recommendation: Start with bright plugs or rubber fish and switch to two-tone colors from time to time.

7.3. Which is the best pike bait for clear water on a sunny day? (visibility well above 2 m / 6,56)

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Clear water is a challenge for any angler fishing for predatory fish. The target has visibility beyond the close range. In simple words: The catch numbers automatically decrease with increasing visibility in the water.

In addition you also have to consider the color of the clear water. For some mean by clear water, the water of lakes colored green by algae. While another one fishes happily in brownish waters, nearby the forest, where he encounters great depths of visibility. Therefore clear water is not always the same as clear water. Everyone has a slightly different idea of it. 

Another point you should pay close attention to: The depth of visibility of our lakes and rivers changes in the course of a year (or the course of several years). Algae blooms in spring or late summer can turn its clear water into a green soup from one day to another.

To give you an example: One of the great Shannon lakes in Ireland (Lough Ree), has visibly cleared its water turbidity in recent years by significantly increasing its freshwater mussel population. Pike and perch catches therefore have decreased proportionally. If you want to be successful at all under these conditions, you should use perfect imitations of the natural (and seasonal) prey fish.

When choosing a bait for fishing in clear water: You significantly increase your  opportunities  with a white fish lure (colors white or silver) featuring some glitter application, with which you can perfectly imitate the scale flash of the prey fish.

7.4. Which is the best lure to fish for pike at dusk or night? (e.g. in moonlight)

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If you belong to the night hunters, you can fish for pike with a pure black lure in an appropriate design. Against the moonlight, a black imitation stands out in high contrast and corresponds to the natural image that a prey fish would give in this situation.

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Black pike lures are especially easy to spot from below in moonlight (at night).

Conclusion: According to our current state of knowledge, your bait box may be equipped sparingly. It is certainly not necessary to have a jumbo collection of different color variants, as the fishing industry would like to make us believe. To catch a big pike, it is normally enough to have a handful of different colors at hand. The choice of these colors furthermore should be adapted to the particular waters. If you complement the appropriate bait colors for predatory fish with high-contrast elements, you are certainly well prepared for any weather, any depth and any water color.

8. Is there a generally right or wrong (useless) pike lure?

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Are there actually right and wrong (useless) pike baits? An exciting question, as the correct answer would certainly save us unnecessary costs. How great would it be to know before buying a certain bait, whether it is more likely to serve our needs than another. In the following chapters, we try to clarify this issue with some scientific facts.

8.1. How does the pike hunt its prey?

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Certain pike are specialized on certain prey fish. They know exactly how these react to an attack and where they flee to. Instinctively, the predators adjust their attacks exactly to this escape behavior. This is the only way they will have maximum success.

However, this does not apply to all pike, as especially lurking pike are masters of efficient hunting. They hunt with as little effort as possible. That is due to the fact, that a pike must always obtain more energy from the prey it has catched, than it has spent on the attack to chase it down.

Note: As a result, many pike wait for exactly the right moment, in which the prey (or our bait) is as easy to catch as possible. It is therefore important that its instincts grasp a promising hunting situation (get to know everything about the best time to catch pike). Our lure must therefore firstly be close enough to the pike and secondly represent a vulnerable or distracted prey. Once these prerequisites are met, an attack is more than likely.

8.2. How can we therefore determine the perfect bait for a certain body of water?

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The trophy system helps us to quickly classify a certain water body – as well as to estimate the occurrence of certain prey and predatory fish in it. Now, let’s think about those fancy giant 3D trout lures. Everyone knows them.

And at some point – when your nets remain empty – you become interested in those promising baits… which cost not more and not less than 20 Euros. Each.

With the purchase the practical fishing success should now somehow magically occur (get to know how you really catch pike fast). But, if you for example are fishing fishes in a shallow and usually warmer body of water, where trout do not “naturally” reside, you should ask yourself one simple question:

Does a trout lure make sense in these waters?

Trout are fish that need cold water and high oxygen levels. Naturally they occur in mostly oligotrophic waters. Pike in general are specialized in their pursuit of certain prey fish and rarely target more than one or two different species. This has been proven by various scientific studies. Which prey fish these are varies from habitat to habitat as well as over the course of the year.

The instincts of the pike are furthermore designed to save energy. It is an efficient hunter, that wants to catch prey with as little effort as possible. Therefore as many attacks as possible must be successful.

  • But how do you attack prey that looks so different to what you normally hunt for?
  • How will this rare prey react to an attack?
  • In what direction will it flee?

These are the questions that the instincts of the pike have to deal with, when they encounter a potential (and unknown) prey.

The clearer the water is, the better a prey (or our bait) is visible to the pike. Therefore he can more easily integrate the appearance factors into his decision to attack – or not. In murky water, the contours or vibrations of the prey or bait may be more important, while the appearance plays a less important role.

As just said: The pike is an efficient predator and applies specific hunting tactics for different prey fish. You should definitely keep this in mind, when choosing your bait! It knows how a perch or how a roach flees – if it normally hunts them –  and can prepare its attack accordingly.

With a novel prey, on the other hand, the individual pike does not instinctively know, how it is going to react. Aggressive and active pike probably not care as long as the situation appears as a welcome opportunity for an easy catch. Lurking ones might not even lift an eye to your all attractive (and above all expensive) bait.

Here you can learn more about pike fishing in rivers.

 

How big should pike lures be?

Here we like to advise courage to size (of course, always taking into account the total casting weight, which can tolerate your fishing rod). And this for different reasons.

Pike attack prey that is half their own length. And the best pike lure is still one that best imitates the natural prey. With a slightly larger lure of 15-20 cm you will not only attract the big pike. But maybe also the lazy ones, with the prospect of an extra large meal that will last for several days.

Large lures also attract attention due to their stronger pressure waves as well as vibrations and are therefore well perceived. Regardless of the color or turbidity of the water.

Note: We believe that a novel prey will make one pike curious, while it will leave another one uninterested. Pike furthermore often feed erratically and therefore have a lot of time to wait for the right moment.

In the end, the decisive factor is always going to be, if your bait seems like easy prey. If that´s the case, the pike is going to attack. If not, it won’t. You should always keep in mind that many pike predominantly hunt the same prey fish. Especially in clear water. The murkier the water, the more experimental you can be with your bait selection.

9. Do pikes actually remember our baits?

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There are stupid and smart specimen of pikes. As well as cautious and aggressive ones. While some rush at anything that looks like prey, other ones tend to wait and watch. Having an answer to the bait-recall question is especially important when fishing for big pike.

Older and therefore larger fish are more likely to be cautious – and that for a good reason. They seem to be able to remember an unpleasant experience (like for example getting hooked) and instinctively act differently in the future. This would explain why some pike grow very large and old. And others not.

If we now would like to distinguish between predators and whitefish: Predators are smarter and more intelligent. Since they actively hunt, they have to make complex decisions. To do this, they need greater thinking capacities than their prey – what has its consequences.

9.1. When the pike reminisces

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For the following chapter we used data from a study carried out in the river Frome, England. This study examined the recapture probability of pike. It was shown that the probability of catching a pike with an artificial lure decreased progressively the more often it had already been caught with it. After only one catch the changes were noticeable and the recaptures decreased rapidly!

By the way, there was less impact with dead fish as bait. Here, the 266 pike could be caught again and again – a total of 366 times (1971-1980).

The numbers of recaptures with dead bait fish are probably a revelation to many. We ourselves were amazed at how improbable a third, fourth, etc. catch of a pike with the same artificial lure can be.

If you can’t find the time to go baitfish hunting before your fishing trip, you need to consider if the usual suspects in the bait box are good enough or if it’s time to try something else.

Knowing this, we anglers have to try all the harder and seemingly keep trying alternatives in the bait box. Those who do not fish with what everyone fishes with probably have better chances in the long run when fishing for pike.

Note: So, now the cat is out of the bag … bait mania or not … we should come to terms with the fact that artificial baits are not always the only guarantee for successful fishing. Maybe it makes sense to really go for dead bait fish more often. It’s natural. Looks like a fish. Smells like a fish. And in the end is a fish.

10. How strong is cannibalism in pikes – and are lures that imitate smaller pikes are really worth it?

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northern-pike-bait-cannibalism
Does cannibalism in nothern pike occur - and how frequent is it? Are pike baits that imitate smaller pike therefore worth a try?

Let’s start the answer to this question with a counter question: Why should there be a difference if (and especially at which moment) pike consider other pike as prey?

It is clear and known to all of us that cannibalism among pike is virtually standard. Everyone knows the photos of greedy pike almost choking on their half-devoured conspecifics. For this reason, pike imitations are always a bank as bait. But is it really that easy?

In reality more often the reason that pike attack other pike is not cannibalism, but food envy. That is, when pike want to steal the prey from other pike. Anyways, in the following chapters we exclusively want to deal with the topic of cannibalism.

Pike feeding behavior and prey are well researched, although there is still a lot to be investigated. Let’s take a look at scientific data to find out, if it’s worth it, to go for a pike bait.

10.1. Is cannibalism in the genes of all pikes?

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Absolutely. As soon as the mini pike (which are only a few centimeters in size), switch to fish as food, the strongest of them often fall victim to a few of their siblings. On the one hand, this is about competition for living space, on the other hand, it is about nutrients.

This is also the keyword, because when the small pike hatch many whitefish like roach, perch or bream are often still a few weeks away from spawning. Therefore they may lack food depending on the season or water section. So the bottom line is that conspecifics represent the only possibility for a nourishing meal.

So let’s take down as a first point, that cannibalism among pike is more pronounced, when prey is scarce.

10.2. When does prey shortage (and thus cannibalism) occur?

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Lack of prey can have several underlying reasons.

  • For example, diseases can significantly reduce fish populations. Especially small and isolated waters can be affected be a disease outbreak.
  • Another reason, that can especially occur in spring are high water temperatures and the associated lack of oxygen.

Many fish cannot withstand this lack of oxygen for a longer period of time and die. Especially when it is already very hot at the end of spring, an oxygen deficiency can have devastating effects by e.g. disturbing the successful spawning. Not only that thereby fish fry as food basis in the autumn is missing. In addition, in the following year much less adult fish are available for reproduction.

Freezing winters, ice sheets and snow are some more triggers for fish deaths. So-called winterkill can reduce the population of an entire lake to just a few fish. Snow on top of a sheet of ice blocks sunlight. Furthermore there is no oxygen exchange between the water surface and the air possible. Underwater life must therefore get along with the oxygen that is already present in the water – and that for quite some time.

Depending on how persistent the ice and snow cover is, the fish sometimes die after only a few days. Pike survive a lack of oxygen quite well. But many whitefish do not. First the big fish die, which are then missing in the spring when spawning.

Note: If prey is missing, pike become cannibals. A growing boy has to eat well – right?

10.3. What are the differences in cannibalism among pike in individual waters?

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To be honest, there are quite some differences. But let the data from various scientific studies with hundreds and thousands of pike speak for themselves.

In the “Greifswalder Bodden” (Germany) values of pike as prey for other pike of about 10% were measured (scientists extracted the stomachs of quite a few specimen).

But: Other studies from other parts of the world showed totally different results.

For example, in the lake “Windemere” (Great Britain) the stomach contents of 2,783 pike (length 20 cm – 105 cm) were examined. And surprisingly in only 33 of them were found remains of conspecifics. That is as low as 1.2 %.

The situation was even more drastic in “Heming Lake” (California, USA). In a study lasting twelve years (1950 to 1962), more than 29,477 pike stomachs were analyzed. And the result was, that in only 169 (or only 0.57 %) pike remains were found.

In Europe, the paradise for pike anglers, the values are of course different. For example, cannibalism values of 3.9 % were measured in Danish rivers, while in Holland the cannibalism rate still sums up to 2.25 %.

10.4. What? – Does cannibalism among pike really occur that rarely?

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The answer is yes and no. Let’s therefore start with the yes. Cannibalism is not a given among pike, although each and every one is a cannibal by nature. But this is a trait, which often manifests itself only very rarely – or even not at all. If there is enough prey, there is no natural compulsion to eat each other.

But there are situations, in which cannibalism occurs up to 14 times more frequently.

If we look at the percentage of cannibalism in terms of specific seasons, things look a little bit different. In a 12-year study that tracked it during the 12 months of the year, an increased cannibalism of 7 % was observed in October and November. What is twice as much to 14 times more compared to the results of the studies, which we had mentioned in the previous chapter.

Other studies showed similar values after the spawning season, when less prey was available. So in our German latitudes that would be approximately from April to early June. (Read more about pike fishing in spring)

Cannibalism was also observed more frequently on the shore than in open water. Since for scientific studies, fish are often caught with nets, this finding is an important factor. As these nets are mainly used in open water, the studies therefore strongly disregard pike that have their territories in the immediate vicinity of the shore.

Cannibalism: Size matters

Average values also include smaller pike. They are included in studies as early as from 20 cm (0,66 ft) body length on. In the “Heming Lake” study for example, cannibalism occurred in only 0.2% of the cases. But if you take a closer look at the numbers, interesting facts are revealed to you.

As with the larger specimen from a length of about 60 cm (1,97 ft) on, the rate bof cannibalism was already significantly higher: Ranging from 4.2 to 6.6%. Clearly above the average values. We remember that this study wass based on almost 30,000 pike. This means that we are talking about 1,000 to 2,000 specimen that preyed on their conspecifics.

In France, during a study in the River Frome, the highest cannibalism levels were measured in 4 year old pike. Here from 55 specimen as much as 33 were cannibalistic. In addition, the percentage of pike biomass in total feed intake was determined in this study. The result: A whopping 13%.

Conclusion: Many studies, many results. But what we can clearly see is throughout all of these, is that cannibalism is not as common among pike as some of us would have believed. Or certain YouTube videos would like to make us believe. But a rate of cannibalism between 3 to 10% is already quite respectable – at least from our point of view. In this order of magnitude a pike-imitation can make sense as bait. Always depending on the season and the offering of other prey.

This brings us to the end of our article about the best bait (lure) for northern pike fishing. If you have any questions, additions or comments, please let us know – we are looking forward to your feedback. Or read some more articles with tips for pike fishing, like for example the best strategy to catch northern pike from the shore. Have fun on your next fishing trip and “Petri Heil”! – Martin and Jens.

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