How To Rig For Pike Ice Fishing (Detailed Guide)
UPDATED 18 MAY 2023
by Robert Ceran
Northern pike are among the most exciting fish to target with ice fishing, as they regularly grow to large sizes, and in some fisheries even reach more than 30 pounds.
In addition to this, they are coldwater fish, which means they remain active in winter, and actively hunt their prey under the ice.
But in order to catch pike successfully through the ice, it’s important to use the right rigs for pike ice fishing.
You need to use a setup that is subtle enough to fool pike into eating your baitfish, yet strong enough to handle these powerful fish and their sharp teeth after you hook them.
In this article we’ll walk you through the best northern pike ice fishing rigs, and how to use them.
How do you rig for pike ice fishing?
The best way to rig for pike ice fishing is with a quick strike rig, which allows you to set the hook immediately after getting a bite, and generates a higher hook up rate than other setups.
Another advantage of the quick strike rig is that it can be used for both live bait or dead bait, and can be adapted for either horizontal or vertical bait presentation.
That being said, there are several key variations of the quick strike rig that you should be aware of, as they work quite differently, and you need to decide which one is right for your purposes.
Now let’s dive into the details and look at the most important rigs for pike ice fishing.
Single treble hook rig for pike ice fishing
This is the simplest rig for pike ice fishing, and consists of a single treble hook (size #4 or #6) attached to a 1 to 2 foot long metal leader with a swivel at the end.
All you need to do is attach your main line to the leader and hook your bait fish just behind or underneath its dorsal fin.
If you’re using this rig with live baitfish, you may need to use a sliding sinker to keep it at the desired depth in the water.
This rig works perfectly fine for catching pike through the ice, but one thing you need to keep in mind is that you shouldn’t set the hook immediately after getting a bite, since you want to give the pike some time to get the whole bait fish inside its mouth.
So when the flag goes up, let the pike run with the bait, and wait for it to stop before you set the hook.
Quick strike rig
The quick strike is by far the best rig for northern pike ice fishing, and has been around for many decades.
It was originally developed in Europe and was then adapted and improved by ice anglers in North America.
It’s important to note that there are 3 key variants of the quick strike rig that are significantly different from each other. Let’s look at each of these variations in turn.
Quick strike rig for horizontal bait presentation
This is the traditional version of the quick strike rig, which consists of two treble hooks (size #4 or #6) that are independently attached to a swivel with a 1 to 2 inch metal wire. The swivel is in turn attached to a 1 to 2 foot wire leader.
This rig has been successfully used for pike ice fishing by generations of ice anglers.
It is generally used with dead bait, and one of its key advantages is that it results in a horizontal bait fish presentation.
If you insert the two treble hooks at the head and tail regions of a deadbait, this automatically positions the baitfish horizontally.
Many anglers claim that a horizontal bait fish positioning results in more bites, since it looks more natural to pike.
Traditional quick strike rigs are available from most tackle retailers, but you can also make them yourself with tieable wire.
Modified quick strike rig (for improved horizontal presentation)
This setup consists of a straight piece of fluorocarbon connecting two treble hooks, with a large circle hook threaded on the line between them.
The circle hook is inserted into the gut of a dead baitfish, while each of the treble hooks are inserted near the head and tail of the baitfish, respectively.
This modified quick strike rig has one key advantage over the traditional quick strike rig: It doesn’t spin in the water when a northern pike tries to grab the baitfish, resulting in more bites from wary pike and more successful hookups.
Quick strike rig for vertical bait presentation
This version of the quick strike rig is ideal for a vertical presentation of a dead baitfish, with its head pointing down in the water.
While most ice anglers prefer a horizontal baitfish positioning, legendary Canadian ice angler Gord Pyzer swears by the vertical presentation, and claims it has caught the biggest pike for him.
Since Gord has been successfully catching trophy pike through the ice for more than 30 years now, his advice carries a lot of clout.
One advantage of this setup is that it rarely results in deep hooked fish, which are hard to release without a critical injury.
Especially on fisheries that get a lot of angling pressure it’s important to release the big pike, since they are usually large females that produce the most eggs.
Fluorocarbon quick strike rig
While quick strike rigs are traditionally made with a wire leader, they can also be tied with a 60 or 80 lb test fluorocarbon line instead.
In fact, you can tie all of the rigs discussed in this article with fluorocarbon, which is steadily becoming the preferred method for many ice anglers.
The advantage of a fluorocarbon leader is that it is less conspicuous in the water compared to metal, but you have to keep in mind that fluorocarbon doesn’t protect you 100% against your line being cut by sharp pike teeth.
So if you use a fluorocarbon quick strike rig, make sure to set the hook as soon as you get a bite, since this usually results in hooking the pike in the corner of its mouth, and thus helps to avoid getting the line cut.
Also, every time you successfully land a pike, run your fingers along the rig afterwards, and check for damage.
How to rig dead bait for pike ice fishing
The best way to rig a dead bait for pike ice fishing is with a quick strike rig.
You can use any of the variants of the quick strike rig described above for this, and which one you choose depends on your personal preference.
How to rig live bait for pike ice fishing
The best way to rig a live bait for pike ice fishing is either with a quick strike rig or with a single treble hook rig.
If you go with the quick strike option, use the one for vertical baitfish presentation, and insert the bottom hook near the dorsal fin, and the top hook close to the tail.
If you go with the single treble hook rig, insert the hook just behind the dorsal fin of the bait fish.
What is the best pike ice fishing rig to use with tip ups?
If you’re planning to do pike ice fishing with tip ups, it’s best to use one of the three quick strike rig variants described above.
Most anglers choose the classical quick strike rig for tip up fishing, but another variant that works very well is the one with vertical baitfish presentation.
If you plan on setting up several tip ups, I suggest testing both vertical and horizontal baitfish presentations in parallel, to see what works best for you.
Finally, if you’re also interested in perch ice fishing, check out our article on perch rigs for ice fishing.