The Best Devils Lake Pike Baits
Northern pike are great fish. And Devils Lake has a lot of them.
This fish is abundant, of course, but more pleasing is its willingness to attack. Pike don’t “nibble.”
They’re a delight for introducing kids and novices to fishing, since they’re so eager to tangle. They have all the attributes of a great fish, a perfect fish, really. They don’t argue, they’re not shy, they don’t discriminate and they don’t quit. They personify the purest idea of fishing and catching fish.
I’m a huge fan.
For a lot of us, despite some disdain among those who don’t understand the undiluted joy of catching fish, pike are special. When I’m fishing Devils Lake, I know I can always count on them to provide action, even when all else fails.
Over many decades of fishing, I guess I’ve unhooked at least 7,000-8,000 northern pike, lost another 1,000 to 2,000… one at a time. Those figures may be conservative.
The stable pike tackle we used as kids is still going strong today — hammered silver/gold spoons, Mepps Spinners, and of course, the venerable red and white Daredevle. We’ve improved on those choices.
Here, in my humble opinion, are the top five lures you need to enjoy the best northern pike fishing of your life. These lures work so well, are so accessible and are easy to use.
The first task, of course, is to place a good pike lake in front of you. There are many waters across the Dakotas that contain northern pike, but Devils Lake may well be the best. These baits are listed in no particular order of effectiveness, as each should be used in conjunction with conditions you’re fishing at a given time.
Bear in mind, these baits are used for casting, not trolling. When you fish pike, you hunt them. The fishing experience is greatly enhanced by casting.
• Shallow-running minnow crankbait — The short-body, stubby cranks that work well for walleyes and bass aren’t as effective for pike. They’ll work, but the elongated minnow-type bait is much better.
Considering that most of our pike fishing takes place in shallow water, this bait is highly effective in depths under 6 feet. It can be fished from shore, near weeds, rocks, even open water.
These baits cast well, even for kids, and will run from 1 to 3 feet deep.
While pike favor shallow water, they will still associate with habitat. If none is available, they’ll relate to the bottom. That doesn’t mean they will lay their bellies on the mud, just that they’ll relate to it, use it to find food.
Color matters nothing, but have a variety anyway.
These baits are generally inexpensive.
One more thing: Don’t use a steady retrieve with these baits. “Twitch” them on the retrieve… short erratic strokes. Make them look wounded (vulnerable.)
• Bucktail Jig — Bucktail in the water has a marvelous action. It’s thick, wavy, enticing, alive.
The important thing, as you remember you’re casting in the proximity of cover, shorelines, rocks, grass, etc., is to use a light jig so it doesn’t sink to the bottom quickly and get snagged. A light jig allows you control over it.
In most cases, a 1/4 oz. is maximum, but a 1/8 oz. is better. Just make sure the tail has lots of “hair”, and that you can cast it easily. Northland’s Buck-R-Roo is a perfect jig for this in the 1/8 oz. size. Color doesn’t matter.
Again, “twitch” the jig back to the boat or the shoreline, avoiding the steady retrieve. Raise your rod tip a bit and work it back in short, jerky motions.
The nice thing about a jig like this is that it only has one hook, as opposed to the crankbait which has six to remove, often a hassle. (I’m assuming here that you’re going to catch a lot of pike and you’ll want to release all but a couple for dinner.)
• Surface Buzzer — Now, here’s a fishing thrill that has no equal. It’s exciting to catch any fish on a surface lure. Bass are uninhibited at striking topwater baits. The thing is, though, if they miss the strike, which happens often, they won’t come back for another try. They just about always give it one shot.
Pike, not. If they miss, most often they keep coming. They’ll torment you, determined to kill the moving object on the surface. Pike let nothing go. Perhaps it’s an ego thing with them, but they usually stay with it.
I’ve introduced a lot of people to the surface buzzer over the years. After seeing and experiencing the hit of a pike at a flapping bait splashing carelessly across the top of the water, they’re amazed at the excitement.
The surface buzzer will catch largemouth and smallmouth bass, too, but pike make it a point to go out of their way to ambush these lures. They can’t stand the arrogance of such a thing in their presence.
Again, color doesn’t matter, but for some reason I can’t explain, I like surface buzzers with the black skirt.
• Pike Spinnerbaits — This lure is built much like the surface buzzer, except it doesn’t rise to the surface on retrieve.
The lure is meant to be fished under the top, and it can be controlled to fish any depth.
It’s a single-hook bait, effective for all predator fish, but because it can be fished slowly, pike love to ambush it. It’s big, brassy and brawny. Pike see that as an invitation to kill.
Dakota Country staffer and world pike chaser Mort Bank, lists the spinnerbait as his top choice.
Avoid the elongated willow-leaf blade and go with a smaller, nickel-size round hammered blade like a Colorado. Chrome or silver is best. Flash is effective.
A 1/4 oz. size works well, but you might consider a 3/8 oz. size if conditions dictate, which means slightly deeper water, down to 8 feet.
Again, color is a non-factor.
• Countdown Rapala — For many years, decades in fact, our family has relied on the blue top, white bellied No. 11 Rapala Countdown as the most productive pike lure we’ve ever used, Devils Lake a prime example.
The lure sinks at the rate of 1 foot per second, which allows you to control it. At that, it’s somewhat buoyant, allowing you, again, to “twitch” it back to the boat or shoreline rather than a steady retrieve. Doing that, you can control the depth, realizing that you’re casting this great bait in water less than 8 feet deep, much of the time less than 5 or 6 feet.
Here, however, I do like the blue combo. Silver may be second, but a distant second.
The No. 11 size seems to fit the mold for all conditions.
In all the years our family has fished Devils Lake, the blue back No. 11 Rapala countdown has taken thousands of northern pike.
Honestly, I’m not here to sell Rapala lures to you. You already know them well. But for pike, this one works so well.
Bonus tip: If you’d like to experience the ultimate, the very ultimate thrill in fishing, learn to fly fish. It’s not hard for most folks, and sooooooooo much fun. There are flies like bunny leeches designed especially for northern pike.
A fairly stout rod to enable you to cast the necessary distance, a pike of fluorocarbon leader, and you’ll enjoy what I believe is the most exciting moment in the world of fishing. Most of all, you don’t have to get a PhD in bugology.
A pike will usually hit the fly softly, just sort of “picking it up”. After all, it’s a slow-moving bait, imitating a vulnerable leech or minnow, easily caught. But when you lift that fly rod and put that hook into the jaw of that predator, you’re going for a ride. If it were possible for smoke to come from a “singing” reel, this would be it. Rod tip bucking like you’re on a bareback bronc.
I love getting young kids started on fly fishing. They think it’s better than red licorice.
As with all matters concerning northern pike, use a wire leader, black or fluorocarbon. It’s not necessary to use strength weights in the 40 or 50 lb. region; 12-15-lb. test will do.
For the use of this great resource, please respect northern pike. I’ve seen them laying on shore, rotting in piles, I’ve seen them dragged behind boats, I’ve seen them tossed into the air like weeds in a garden. They don’t deserve that.
Skip the brash nicknames, the disdain. Northern pike are stately fish, prominent among wild creatures and deserving of our respect.