Those who wish to catch big pike better come prepared. Contrary to popular opinion, a mere “Petri Heil!” won’t do the trick. Success hinges on many variables. Across forums, opinions on the best time of day to catch northern pike range from
- to “evening,”
- “always” or
- “in autumn, only between 11-15 o’clock.”
Of course, we all know that these answers have their origin in subjectivity on one hand and on the other on fishermens tales. So let’s approach this matter from a scientific perspective. Luckily quite a few studies have explored this subject.
- Anglers consult science: These are the best days to fish for pike
- Why you can’t catch a pike every day?
- In which seasons do pike feed most? (And do they feed more in winter?)
- What month is best for pike?
1. Anglers consult science: These are the best days to fish for pike
Kuparinen, Klefoth and Arlinghaus explored to what degree the environment impacts the catch rate of pike — which effects increase or decrease our chances? Variables such as
- time of day,
- length of day,
- water temperature,
- season (like for example for spring pike fishing),
- moon phase,
- wind speed,
- and more,
were tracked in relation to the catch rate. The study was conducted at “Kleiner Döllnsee” in Germany. This is a mesotrophic lake with 68 ac (25 ha) in size and with a maximum depth of 25.6 ft (7.8 m).
Those of us who take care of environmental factors can increase their catch rate dramatically. Sadly, in the recreational fishing area, hardly any of us does so. To a large degree, this is caused by the fact that no reliable data sets and analyses are available.
Actually, the study at “Kleiner Dölnsee” of the year 2005 is the first time reliable data that was recorded and analyzed catching pike in a lake. The study was commisioned by the Finnish University of Helsinki, the German institutes “Leibniz Institute for Aquatic Ecology and Freshwater Fishery,” and the “Department of Crop and Animal Sciences.” One of the most intriguing results of the study is the finding of a strong correlation between moon phases and the biting behavior of pike.
The pike catches of 25 anglers across 94 fishing days were included and evaluated as part of the study.
- A population of 544 pike lives in lake “Kleinen Dölnsee”.
- Use of artificial pike baits.
- Free choice of fishing spots.
Here are the results
What’s the best time to fish for pike?
Most pike were caught during the new and full moon phases and at dusk (morning and evening). Scientists suspect that at dusk prey fish enter the open water, giving pike a higher chance of hunting success. The high rate of pike catches at dusk could also be explained by the fact that pike, as visual predators, have a hard time distinguishing bait from fish in the dark.
One surprising finding of the study was that pike bite extremely well during full moon phases, much better than during the ones of half moon. This might be due to the altered illumination of the environment, which could cause a change in the activity of prey fish and zooplankton, forcing pike to adapt their behavior as well.
What temperature offers the highest chance of success?
The weather impacts the temperature of the water, which in turn influences the catch rate. A likely cause is that pike are hematocryal animals without a constant body temperature — a change in water temperature therefore affects their metabolism and speed of movement.
Researchers observed that outside the spawning season, the catch rate for pike is highest between water temperatures of 59 and 63 °F (15 and 17 °C). At temperatures of 66 to 68 °F (19 to 20 °C), the activity of pike decreased sharply. The researchers did not rule out that in warmer waters, our pike baits have to compete with natural prey, the excessive food supply thus causing a decrease in catches.
Shortly after the spawning season in spring, the optimal water temperature for pike fishing was around 57 °F (14 °C), as pike were hunting more frequently to replenish strained reserves.
Many anglers on the lake
The catch rate decreases when waters are heavily fished. This is caused by a general reduction in the fish population. In principle, the catch rate depends on whether the pike are overfed — how much prey is available? If the fish stock is abundant, the pike are overfed and bite less. Therefore, the best days to catch a pike are when there is little food.
Wind and weather
The catch rate for pike fishing increased starting at a wind speed of 6 mph (10 km/h). The stronger the breeze, the higher the chance of success. Wind causes turbidity, affecting the prey’s vision.
You may use these findings to your advantage, only heading out to fish under optimal weather conditions. Cloudy and windy days promise the most success to catch a pike fast. On sunny and calm days, plenty of alternative activities to pike fishing are available. Therefore let us close wit the following statement: “If you catch a big pike on a beautiful sunny day, you are a true master of your trade!”
Now, you know when it pays off to fish for pike. Here is a short summary of the study. These seven tips should increase your odds when fishing for pike:
- Fish at new and full moon.
- Fish at dawn.
- It pays to fish in cloudy weathers with wind speeds above 6 mph (10 km/h).
- Pike feel most comfortable at water temperatures between 59 and 63 °F (15 and 17 °C).
- Pike replenish their reserves after the spawning season.
- In July, pike are overfed – what results in the lowest catch rates.
- End of May and September promise the highest catch rates.
If you want to fish for a pike, follow these guidelines and stack the odds in your favor.
2. Why you can’t catch a pike every day?
Pike are considered active and voracious predators – but how much or how often do they really feed? We will address this exciting question in the following section. If you know about the pike’s feeding behavior, you can adjust your fishing accordingly. This may help to catch one or two more pike.
How often do pike really feed?
Pike feed when they need energy and hunger sets in. Yes, most will not want to admit it, but pike do not eat every day nor need to eat every day. Sad but true… The following chart gives you an idea on the average time between the meals of pike.
|Time interval between feeding (days)|
|Spring||2 – 3|
|Summer||2 – 5|
|Autumn||1 – 2|
|Winter||10 – 40|
At first glance, the interval between the meals of a pike is really frustrating from the point of view of an angler. While we used to assume that pike will be eager to bite every time we go fishing – and we just need to catch them at the right time of the day – reality apparently teaches us otherwise. If pike feed only every 2 – 5 days (summer), and we are on the water only occasionally on weekends, does this mean that we need a lot of luck to meet a hungry pike?
Even worse are the winter months. There are supposed to be periods when the pike doesn’t feed for 10 to 40 days? Who is supposed to catch pike like that – and most importantly: How is that supposed to work for the pike itself?
Nevertheless. With these numbers, we need to seriously think about our hobby … or to put it positively: If we now come home with empty buckets, we finally have a plausible reason for the rest of the family.
There is also a big difference in feeding behavior between the sexes. Females have a very high energy demand in summer due to spawning in spring and feed 1.5 to 2.5 times as much as males. This is probably also the reason why females hook more often than males.
But how could the researchers determine how many days lied between the individual meals? Among other things, they could tell from the state of digestion of the fish in the stomachs of the pike. Very often, these showed large differences that indicated when the respective fish entered the stomach.
If several prey fish showed the same digestive symptoms, it could be assumed that they were hunted at about the same time. If pike hunt and eat more than one prey fish, it will happen at a more or less short interval. This short period of time can be several minutes, hours or even the following day. Once the pike is full, the longer it takes until the next hunt. How often it finally feeds, depends on
- the individual pike,
- the general conditions
- and how hungry it is.
3. In which seasons do pike feed most? (And do they feed more in winter?)
Easy prey means that pike become incautious. This is exactly when our baits need to be in the water. At different times of the year there is sometimes more and sometimes less prey easily available. But the fact is that certain times stand out. If you know these times, you can easily persuade pike to bite. Knowledge is power – or in other words: Knowledge is pike.
The spawning season of the prey fish, which begins following his own spawning season, is characterized by unrestrained feeding of the pike. The spawning fish are careless and hundreds of them are present in small and large groups. The pike will never find such easy prey again during the year.
In summer the pike has to work hard for each and every meal. The plants on the one hand offer him great cover but on the other they also protect his prey. The pike has to hunt more often to make a catch as a high percentage of its attacks is unsuccessfull. Also, its prey tends to be smaller fish, since the larger adults have widely moved back to the open water, while the pike mostly stays close to the shore.
Towards autumn the probability to catch prey improves again. The water plants slowly die off and its cover therefore decreases noteably. In addition, the underage (but now already larger fish) are still very careless. Until now they have spent their lives under the protection of the vegetation and must firstly get used to the new situation.
Now the Darwinian quote “survival of the fittest” applies to every potential prey fish. Only the ones that manage to adapt quickly enough to living with less cover will survive the fall and winter. Because pike activity levels are highest, when they are feeding, studies have used heart rate monitors on pike. The results allow us to draw conclusions about pike activity and therefore feeding activity.
Cold water means little need to feed. The metabolism of the fish has adapted to the water temperatures and is at its lowest level of the year. Easy prey for the pike are sick and dead fish. In waters covered by ice, it also likes to pluck small frozen fish from the bottom of the ice cover.
4. What month is best for pike?
If you know the answer to this question, you know when to go to the water to fish. We have looked at the feeding activity of pike in various studies. The pike were fished regularly at equal intervals over a long period of 6 years. It is interesting to see why pike bite more on the one hand and have empty stomachs on the other hand. Of course, the captured pike were killed quickly and in a manner appropriate to the species in order to control and scientifically record the stomach contents.
The pike and its prey
The following list is based on data from a study in Serbia. Of course, these values differ from region to region. At mid-latitudes, spawning begins later, so shifts may occur. However, the list shows us a clear tendency, which months are better for pike fishing than others.
|Month||Bite Rate||Number Of Pike Caught|
|January||High||50 - 60|
|February||Low||0 - 10|
|March||Middle||20 - 30|
|April||Middle||10 - 20|
|May||Low||0 - 10|
|June||Low||0 - 10|
|July||Middle||30 - 40|
|August||High||50 - 60|
|September||High||100 - 120|
|October||Highest||140 - 150|
|November||High||60 - 70|
|December||Low||10 - 20|
Due to the warmer climate in this region, one should look at the dates with a certain distance and mentally shift the months according to his latitude. As much more decisive than the months are the calendar periods. In the USA this division is standard, because there are hardly any equal climatic conditions due to the mere dimension of the country. The distinction is there made according to
- “before spawning season”,
- “spawning season”,
- “after spawning season”,
- “before summer”
But let us now return to the table. While the spawning season probably takes place in February in the region, where the study was carried out, this does not apply to Germany. Here February can be a very good month as pike are hungry and bite with a higher probability. The records show very nicely how the biting activity of pike differs over the different seasons of the year.
- Likewise, it can be seen that very few pike were caught in the months of February, May and June.
- September and October, on the other hand, seem to be top months for pike fishing, just like in our country.
- Surprising is the greater number of pike caught in the months of April, August and September, although most pike here had a completely empty stomach. The question is, whether the pike had launched their first attack of the day on the researchers baits. Or if they were biting out of some sort of territorial defense instinct.
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This brings us to the end of our article about when is the best time to catch a pike. If you have any questions, additions or comments, please let us know – we are looking forward to your feedback. Here you can find more tips on pike fishing. or have a look at the fish finder reviews in our extensive fish finder test (including the newest models of all important fish finder manufacturers like Garmin, Lowrance, Humminbird or Raymarine). Have fun on your next fishing trip and “Petri Heil”! – Martin and Jens.