Understanding what the fish species you are targeting eats in its natural habitat is the most effective way of catching them.
Once you know what, for example, a pike is naturally looking to eat for its next meal in a river or lake, you can choose a lure or bait that imitates it best, and hopefully catch more!
So, what do pike eat?
Pike are not fussy eaters, they are aggressive in nature and will go after almost anything that swims in or on the water.
Pike’s main diet consists of the smaller bait fish they can find in their habitat, and this ranges from bluegill to crappie, shad, minnows, perch, plus small trout, walleye and bass.
But, there is a lot more to understanding what and when pike eat so you can maximize your fishing success.
Join me as we take a deep look at what pike eat, how much they eat, when they eat, and the best lures and baits to use to catch them based on this knowledge.
Table of Contents
- What Do Pike Prefer To Eat?
- What are the Best Baits & Lures for Pike?
- Winding Up
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What Do Pike Prefer To Eat?
Pike are happy to eat anything that swims in their habitat. But, being intelligent and hungry predators, pike don’t just inhale anything that comes along. They will go for one certain prey over another, but why?
Generally speaking, pike will choose to go after whichever prey is most abundant in their habitat at any given time.
After all, why would any fish waste a lot of energy searching for a trout when there are hundreds of bluegill swimming around? They wouldn’t!
To make things a little bit more complicated, each pike habitat is different. This means a lake in northern Canada may have different bait fish species pike love to eat, and at different times of the year, compared to a lake in the north of Europe, for example.
Let’s take a look at what pike like to eat in North America and Europe before we get into the details around how to understand what pike eat and when in each different lake or river.
A Pike’s Diet in North America
The species of fish found in the lakes and rivers of North America (Canada & USA) are very different from the fish species swimming around the lakes and rivers in Europe.
Here is a list of what pike in North America like to eat:
- Small Bass
- Small Walleye
- Small Trout
- Small Carp
- Small birds
The list is much longer than this, but there is not enough space to label every fish species that a pike might eat in North America. These are, however, the main bait species pike tend to go for in North America.
A Pike’s Diet in Europe
You will notice that the species below are quite different from the species I have listed above. But, they are very similar in one way – they are the most abundant bait fish available.
Here’s what pike like to eat in Europe:
- Small Trout
- Small Carp
- Small Tench
- Small Barbel
- Small birds
As you can see, both of these lists are long. So, how do you work out what pike are eating the day you go fishing? Since this is the information you really need to have in order to enjoy more success on the water!
Working Out What Pike are Eating When You Go Fishing
The first step to working out what pike might be eating the day you go fishing requires you to understand what is happening in the river or lake you are fishing in.
The first step is knowing what bait fish are most common in the lake or river, as a pike will always go after the easiest and most abundant meals available.
The next step is understanding when each different bait fish species is more abundant than the next. For example, crappies may spawn and be the most abundant bait in one month on a certain water, while the following month it may be bluegill.
But, how do you find all this information and gain this knowledge?
Most lakes and rivers have some scientific data available about them online. This data will usually include a species list, population numbers, and if you are lucky even some spawning times. This kind of information will get you 50% of the way there.
Then it comes down to spending time on the water. The more time you are on a particular river or lake, the more you will learn.
You will start seeing patterns like in May there were so many juvenile bass and the pike were chasing them in the shallows, or in July, shoals of bluegill were getting hammered by pike.
Finding, seeing, and remembering these patterns will mean you know exactly what the pike are after and when, so you can use the right lure or bait to match!
How Much Do Pike Eat?
We know that pike are aggressive, like to eat, and are generally open to eating whatever easy meals are available, but how much do they eat?
On average, a pike will eat between 1.5 times to 3 times its body weight per year. So a 20 lb pike will eat between 30 lbs and 60 lbs of food every year.
The amount a pike can eat depends a lot on where it lives. If the habitat is filled with tons of bait fish then a pike can eat over 5 times its body weight in a year, and this fishery will have some very big pike inside it.
But, in waterways where food is not abundant, the pike will eat less than 1.5 times their body weight and chances are the pike in these waters will be a bit smaller!
When Do Pike Do Most of Their Feeding?
There are numerous factors that affect when pike do most of their feeding. These include water temperature/seasons, food abundance, and spawning.
Pike spawn between the months of March and May. Spawning requires a lot of energy for a pike as they can lay up to half a million eggs every year, and this spent energy needs to be recuperated.
This means that after spawning in from late May through to the end of June, pike are going to be extremely hungry and looking to feed as much as possible.
This also coincides with both preferable water temperatures and when a lot of other bait fish have hatched and are cruising around the lake.
Pike will feed hard in May and June, but they will also continue to feed hard through the summer until the water temperatures drop in October and November. This means that the best time to fish for pike is from May through to October.
You can also do some winter pike fishing between November and April, but the pike will not be as aggressive in these months.
This is mainly due to colder water temperatures, as when the water gets cold, pike naturally slow down as they have to use a lot of energy to maintain body heat, plus there is less prey available over winter too.
What Size Fish Do Pike Eat?
Another key to catching more pike is understanding what size fish they choose to eat. We have all experienced or seen pictures of giant pike with huge bait fish in their mouths, like a 2 lb trout or bass.
Pike can eat a fish that is about ½ or ⅓ of their size. This means a big 30 lb pike could eat a 15 lb fish, but do pike feed this like most of the time? No, and here is why.
Hunting a fish that is ⅓ to ½ the size of a pike is a serious challenge and a giant waste of energy. It is much easier for a pike to attack a shoal of shad and eat 20 of them instead of chasing and maybe not even catching a big bait fish.
This means choosing smaller baits or lures is generally more effective than using massive ones, but it depends on the size of the pike you want to catch.
Bigger pike will generally target bigger prey than small pike, as they need more food to sustain themselves.
What are the Best Baits & Lures for Pike?
Now that we have a greater understanding of what pike eat, when, why, and the size of the prey they prefer, let’s apply this knowledge to bait and lure selection.
When fishing for pike, you have three main choices of what to use and these are: live bait, dead bait, and lures.
What Live Baits are Best for Pike?
There is nothing quite like fishing for pike with live bait. It is so exciting watching the bait get nervous before the pike attacks, and you set the hook into a heavy, angry predator.
Generally speaking, if you catch your own live bait in the spot you want to fish in for pike, you will catch the most abundant bait fish around, which is also the bait fish the pike will be targeting the most. Win and win!
Great live baits include:
- Roach (Europe)
- Rudd (Europe)
Pike find it very hard to resist an easy meal, and an injured bait fish attached to a bobber that can’t swim so freely is exactly that. Live baiting is definitely one of the most effective ways of catching pike.
Be sure to use smaller baits, as they are both easier to catch, cheaper to buy, and a large range of sized pike will be able to eat them. If you want a trophy pike, a bigger bait is recommended, but you might have to wait days for a bite!
What Dead Baits are Best for Pike?
Dead baits are very different to live baits as they don’t attract pike by swimming around like a live fish. Pike either have to smell the dead bait to find it, or stumble upon it.
This means the smell is a very important part of picking a dead bait, as if it smells more, it’ll be easier for a pike to find. Here are some great dead baits to use:
- Small Whitefish
All of these dead baits have a lot of natural oils in them and these oils spread out across the water very well and have a strong scent. This makes it easy for the pike to smell and then follow the scent to find them. They are also great for ice fishing for pike!
What Lures are Best for Pike?
There is a big range of different lures that are very effective for catching pike. You will want to have a few of each in your tackle box, in the right colors and sizes, which we will get to after the lure types.
Soft plastics are one of the best lures for pike, and for multiple reasons. The main reason they are so effective is that you can fish them in lots of different ways and at many different depths by adding more or less weight as required.
Soft plastics also swim very naturally and being soft, when a pike hits one of these, they feel like a natural bait, instead of feeling hard and foreign like a crankbait can.
I would recommend getting some soft plastics with paddle tails as they have an action that pike love. To fish them, you simply cast them out, let them sink to the desired depth, and slowly retrieve them with a pause now and then.
Crankbaits are a favorite lure for most predatory anglers as they really do work.
You can buy floating, suspension, and sinking crankbaits with big or small lips to work different depths. The depth they swim at is dictated mainly by their lip, which catches the water and causes them to dive!
Using floating or shallow diving crankbaits for shallow and weedy areas and using the deep diving big lipped crankbaits in open water. Be sure to mix up your retrieve speeds and throw in some pauses so the crankbait looks injured as pike love this.
Spinnerbaits are one of the top bass lures out there but they work very well for pike too. Rigged on some wire with a large spinning blade at the top and a skirted lure on the bottom, these lures make a ton of noise in the water.
The spinning blade catches light and flashes in the water to attract pike and it also makes a lot of vibrations that pike pick up on too.
Fish this with a steady retrieve and occasionally increase the speed. It is all about making as much noise as possible!
You have probably all used spinners before and they are great for pike fishing too. Like a spinnerbait, spinners have a spinning blade at the head that catches light and makes noise to attract pike.
These should be casted out, left to sink to your desired depth, and then wind them in at a consistent speed.
Hybrid lures are a mix between a crankbait and soft plastic. They have a front lip so the lure dives properly while having a soft body that ensures a great action too.
These can be deadly when no other lures are working, particularly on a slow retrieve with some pauses.
Swim lures are like wider bodied crankbaits that are filled with ball bearings which makes them rattle. The rattle makes a ton of noise in the water and pike can hear it from a long way away.
These lures do not have a particularly fishy action so the way you fish them matters. It’s best to retrieve them quite fast and then a little slow so it looks like a fish escaping a hunter.
Another favorite bass lure that is also great for pike is a frog bait. Fish these around weeds and lily pads where pike like to hide and are actively looking out for frogs.
Move your frog bait slowly around weeds and pads, and just wait for the moment a pike appears from nowhere and inhales it!
What Size Lures Work Best?
The ideal size lure for pike is around 5 – 6 inches in length. What makes lures of this size the best choice is that pike of every size will happily eat them without question.
From 4 lb to 30 lb pike, these lures will have them interested!
What Color Lures Work Best?
You need a good range of colors across your pike lures and these fall into 3 categories: natural, bright, and dark.
Lures that look like natural prey are a must when fishing in clear waters. When fishing in muddy waters, dark lures and bright lures are much easier for pike to see.
If you are fishing very deep, dark lures are the easiest color for pike to pick out.
Do pike eat worms?
Yes, pike will eat worms but they are not their favorite choice of food. I would advise against using a worm or nightcrawler as bait since there will be different bait fish swimming around they would rather eat.
Do pike eat frogs?
Yes, pike do eat frogs, hence the inclusion of frog lures in the best lures for pike above. Be sure to fish frog lures around places frogs live like lily pads and weeds.
Do pike eat another pike?
Yes, pike will happily eat another pike so long as they can fit them in their mouth. This doesn’t happen very often with adult pike as there are plenty of other fish for them to feed on. But, if there aren’t they will eat each other more often.
Juvenile pike are more cannibalistic and eat their brothers or sisters very often, to the point that maybe 50% of pike fry are eaten by larger pike fry sitting next to them.
What do juvenile pike eat?
Young pike will first eat their egg sacks and once they are large enough move onto plankton and then on to smaller morsels of protein, like their brothers and sisters. Here is what they usually feed on:
What depth do pike feed at?
Pike feed in both shallow and deep water. What depth they are feeding at depends on a few things including:
- Water temperature
- Where their food is
Generally speaking, you will find pike where their food is and their food changes depth based on water temperature.
When the water is too hot or too cold, both the pike and the bait will sit deep to find their optimum temperature. The water temperature is ideal, the fish can be in either shallow or deep waters, so it is best to experiment to find them.
What time of day do pike like to feed at?
Sunrise and sunset are the best times to fish for pike in the warmer months. Pike will be eager to find their first meal in the morning, and to find their last one before darkness sets in.
During these times, pike will come into shallower waters on the hunt, leaving their hiding places in deeper water behind!
Once the day starts to warm up, pike tend to move into deeper areas as the water heats up, so you should fish a bit deeper when this happens.
How do pike hunt?
Pike art smart predators and have a similar approach to bass. Pike tend to hide themselves amongst weeds or fallen trees where bait fish can not see them. Then, when their chosen meal swims past, they ambush them out of nowhere.
They are very clever, using their camouflage to blend into their surroundings and they will always attack their prey from the side so it can not swim away.
Thank you very much for reading my article about what do pike eat. I hope you enjoyed it, have learned some things, and can now use this valuable information to catch more pike than ever.
Please let us know about your experiences of pike fishing, which baits work, things you have seen, and any questions in the comments section below.