Notice the big rod. This was my first open water pike caught six years ago at Spruce Run Reservoir, a nice fish, but all that power in an eight-foot rod unnecessary to catch it. Thanks to a little experimentation since then, and Manny Luftglass's persuasions in his Fisherman articles, I now use medium-power spinning tackle with six-pound test monofilament. To catch a pike over 15 pounds in New Jersey is a rare event. I've fished for them late March to May 1st persistently for six years now and haven't caught any over nine pounds. I usually bring guests along with my son, too.
Pike spawn shortly after ice out. When they have spawned this year I don't know, but they've been caught in the shallows of Spruce Run since early February. For spawning, they seek out residual vegetation in very shallow water near the mouths of waterways. In Spruce Run, for example, this gives you five options, all of which are accessible by foot, some more easily than others. Even in rivers such as the Passaic, pike will seek the mouth of the little creek in Verona, for example, and even enter that creek to swim upstream. For reasons I don't understand, pike stick around these areas long after spawing until about May 1st, so long as a major heat wave does not drive water temperatures through and out of the 50's.
Pike eagerly hit spinnerbaits, minnow plugs, crankbaits once the water temperature hits 50, and will possibly strike these lures in colder water. The best bet for water colder than the upper 40's, in my opinion, is the Rapala Husky Jerk because it suspends, which means you can retrieve it ultra slow, allow for pauses, and possibly provoke strikes no matter how cold the water. Pike are caught in shallows of four to six feet or so under ice, so cold open water invites this lure. But nothing beats a large shiner for cold water and I like to use them even in 50 degree water for pike at Spruce Run. Large shiners allow longer casts; they also have more presence in the water, more lure appeal from longer distance.
I use a barrel swivel to separate line from 15-pound test flourocarbon leader, with a size 6 plain shank hook. The shiner makes its way to bottom poking about on its own while I slowly help it cover the range of a retrieve, this known as live-lining. Often you'll feel the strike only as a tug. Swing the rod in the direction of the pike to allow a quick run. The pike will stop after running about five yards to turn the minnow headfirst into its maw. Don't wait long to set the hook so that healthy release is possible.
With kids along, setting bobbers may make sense. My son is very proficient with retrieves and lures; he's been fishing since age two. But he prefers to set a bobber for pike. The jetty at Van Syckle Road, for example, is actually a lot of area to cover live-lining. While you do, you can set a bobber for yourself as well, and never get so far from it as to not to be unable to check on occasioin.