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Crankbaits for Pike

Pike caught with a crankbait

The overriding question when fishing for Northern Pike isn’t what type of crankbait to use, but more simply, “Why use any other bait except a crankbait?” Pike are aggressive, territorial, and brutal in their unique style of ambush attack. Northern Pike may not be the best eating fish you can catch in the Northern United States and across Canada, but no one has ever questioned the ferocity of their strike, how hard they battle, and the sheer joy that comes when you hook into a big one.

You don’t have to read in a book that Northern’s are an apex predator, all you have to do is see one. Those rows of razor-sharp teeth, the torpedo-like profile, and their ability to swim faster and hit harder than any other cold water species in American waters (with a tip of the hat to their relative the Tiger Muskie) is unsurpassed. These fish, which resemble freshwater barracuda in appearance and attitude are a blast to catch.

Crankbaits make catching them a much easier proposition than any other bait you can offer. The motion and sonic vibration created by a good quality crankbait is a siren call to hungry, territorial Northern Pike. They viciously feed on baitfish for their diet, ripping these smaller unwary shad, shiners, fingerling carp, and other game fish apart when they strike. Larger Northerns eat good sized walleye, perch, and trout with equal abandon. These predators don’t have much regard for other species that sit atop the food chain once they reach maturity, anything that swims in their waters is fair game.

Northerns are true world citizens, inhabiting Russia, Scandinavia, Britain, and Northern Europe. They feed near the surface, striking from beneath their prey, and require very shallow water, often less than a foot deep to spawn. If you find a locale like this in the upper Midwest, Rocky Mountains, Great Lakes, or the Columbia River drainage, you’re going to find Northerns.

Recommended Crankbaits for Pike Fishing

Pike will hit crankbaits in a wide variety of colors and sizes. Since Northern Pike don’t discriminate on what they like to eat, a crankbait resembling a perch, walleye, or even another pike is on the menu. They’ll hit shad and shiner patterns as well. The best way to choose a crankbait for pike fishing is through experimentation and many trials. The weather is a key factor in terms of cloud cover, sky color, and the color and turbidity of the water. You can catch pike in a wide combination of climate conditions, but cold, clear water with a good influx of baitfish from a stream or river is best.

Rapala X-Rap Twitchin' Mullet Lipless Crankbait - Albino Shiner

Let's get the ball rolling with a lipless crankbait specifically designed to bring out the aggressiveness in Northern Pike. This is a “walk the dog” style surface and near sub-surface crankbait that drives pike crazy. The back-and-forth motion of the “Twitchin’” style of this crankbait resembles a frog, salamander, or wounded bait fish struggling in shallow water. Since pike like to remain motionless, suspended in deeper water, and attack from below, this is a perfect crankbait to toss over a shelf with good cover that is 10 to 15 feet deep just beyond an inlet.

Casting the 7/16th inch lure is easy, and the lipless design allows more acrobatic movement aside from rising and lowering depth as traditional lipped designs offer. This is a great universal pike lure that will work in all seasons, but especially during the spawn when the big fish move into shallow spawning beds to reproduce.

Color Blue – holographic
Size 7/16 ounce – 3 1/8inches
Depth 0 to 2 feet

Rapala Shad Rap RS Crankbait

Since Northern Pike and yellow perch often share the same lakes and rivers, a crankbait designed to carefully mimic an immature perch is the perfect disguise when trying to get a Northern to strike. The original Shad Rap was an extremely popular pike lure, and this next generation improvement, in an entirely plastic design, will generate as much interest as the original but is much more durable.

The Shad Rap RS is made to cast well with or against the wind. The 7/16 ounce weight provides a little heft on the end of your rod when casting, and the variable seven to 15 feet retrieval depth is controllable by the rate you crank your reel. Since pike usually strike in shallow to mid-level water, this depth range is perfect for getting one to ambush your bait from below. There is perch on the menu tonight, but not for you.

Color Yellow Perch
Size 7/16 ounce – 2 ¾ inches
Depth 7 to 15 feet

Strike King KVD 1.5 Square Bill Shallow Diving Crankbait

Nothing quite hits like a Northern Pike in shallow water. There are as likely to strike on a lure a foot below the surface as they are in deeper water, and the additional tail dancing you’re apt to get as they fly out of the water, shaking their head back and forth to get rid of the lure is just icing on the cake. Strike King makes great lures for bass, walleye, and Northern Pike. You won’t often see the Square Bill advertised exclusively for Northerns since bass and walleye fishing are much more popular sports, but all three of these predators feed on the same lowly shad, and this lure makes that plastic imitation come to life for the pike anglers.

The lure is available in a wide range of colors, but the body design resembles a shad, or bluegill, both preferred snacks for a big pike. The magic of this crankbait is the erratic action it has on retrieve and the limited range of just three to six feet depth. Northerns strike most often in this depth range, and the wide range of colors allows you to match the sky, water, and cloud conditions perfectly to fool that hiding monster into thinking dinner just swam into range.

Color Shad, bluegill in 24 colors
Size 7/16 ounce – 2 ¼ inches
Depth 3 to 6 feet

Salmo Hornet Floating Crankbait

This is a great spawning lure, designed to work at five to 10 feet depths, it is on the smaller side when it comes to pike fishing, but pike aren’t trophy eaters. A pike won’t turn down a meal, and avid Northern anglers know that stomach contents on the pike they harvest contain far smaller inch to two-inch baitfish than they do full-size perch or bluegill.

This is a floating lure. That means when you cast it and leave it on the water it just sits there on the surface. To get it to the advertised five to 10 feet under the water you have to adjust your retrieve. The magic of a floating lure is that it gives you another way to present the crankbait by varying your retrieve. When you slow down the bait “swims” to the surface, and when you speed up the bait dives back to depth. This creates a very natural swim pattern for the crankbait and attracts even more Northern Pike to ambush the lure.

Color Shad, perch in 10 colors
Size 1/16 ounce – 1 5/8inches
Depth 5 to 10 feet

Strike King Pro Series 3XD Crankbait Deep Diving Crankbait

Heavier crankbaits, with longer, more aggressive bills dive deeper, at least that’s the conventional wisdom The 3XD by Strike King goes against that thinking with a small, two-inch long crankbait that can achieve depths of over 10 feet when worked correctly. This is not a “dive and float” crankbait but a solid body, plastic lure with an aggressive bill that allows it to bend the laws of physics and send a smaller lure to greater depths.

Most of the time we consider baitfish to be surface dwellers, or at best to inhabit shallower water just a couple of feet below the surface. This crankbait allows you to present a smaller lure, that still resembles a baitfish to greater depths. Perch, bream, and crappie often inhabit deeper sections of a lake during the hotter days of summer, even in the fingerling stage. When the pike aren’t hitting near the surface, this is a lure worth trying.

Color 18 shades, shad, bluegill, perch
Size 7/16 ounce – 2 inches
Depth 10+ feet

Salmo Freediver Super Deep Runner Round Bill Extra Deep Diving Crankbait

Hot Parakeet, Purple Rain, and Green Tiger are just three of the eight slightly outlandish color patterns advertised for this lure. This crankbait presents an option not available in the other lures in this review. This is a large, deep-diving, heavy lure that can reach extreme lake depths beyond 40 feet. This is a crankbait designed for trolling big water. The larger weight, combined with the five-inch length creates a crankbait that is realistic at these lower depths. A smaller baitfish would never swim to this level, but a five-inch perch or shad might inhabit these waters, especially during late summer when the upper surface of a lake is too hot to hold enough oxygen for fish to survive for longer periods of time.

This is an option for charter fishing on the Great Lakes or for recreational anglers fishing large western and Canadian reservoirs during the last days of summer in August and early September. The wild patterns are designed to catch the less intense light that reaches into the deeper sections of large lakes, and the double-rattling design creates sonic vibrations that will attract Northern Pike.

Color 8 Shades – perch, shad
Size 7/8 ounce – 5 inches
Depth 40+ feet