Targeting and triggering trophy northern pike
Doubt And Anxiety Produces Respect For The Pike...
August 01, 2011Pike make my blood boil! They have ever since I was a kid. Are you a pike angler? Many of us are trout, muskie and walleye fishermen but we don't admit to being a pike fisherman. But if we change the way we look at things, the things we look at - change. We are not talking about snot rockets and hammerhandles here. Trouble is, years of pounding the weedbeds in our favorite lakes has taken its toll and 3-5 pound pike are sometimes hard to find in many lakes.
But the memories are still there - just under the surface. All we have to do is slow down - relax - muse - meditate - if you will. What we are talking about here is a battle, where the act of fighting the fish is doubtful in itself, let alone hooking one, let alone landing one. But herein lies the excitement, for such doubt and anxiety produces respect for the pike again.
Let's look for such fish, searching for a world-class fish and a world-class fight, a photo or a trophy. Remember when you couldn't wait to get home to tell the new fish story? Well let's take the challenge and think big.
If we think back to our childhood days, one of the first big (a relative term) fish we ever fought was a northern pike, or northern if you prefer.
As we progressed as an adult and as an angler, taking Canadian trips and/or just refining our fishing tactics, fonder memories unfold. Is it because we don't have many left? Here's an exciting story (true) to start us off!
Just last June in Lighthouse Gap, at the entrance to Lake Of The Woods from the big, wide, fast water of the Rainy River near Baudette, Minnesota, a 25-30 pound pike took a half-ounce gold jig for a ride, then a thrilling 3-4 foot leap out of the depths in 21-feet of water. It was a grand half-hour plus battle, with six-pound fluorocarbon line, chasing the pike with the boat to the tune of a ZZzzzing drag, meanwhile jumping from bow to stern in the boat. We had her boatside three times and saw the monstrous pike. In the end, however, the hook just popped out and stupid me forgot to ask Joe or "Snowman" to take a photo.
But, ahhh, the memory will always be there - and so will that most pugnacious of all memorable pike be there too, to chase those walleyes in the current of Lighthouse Gap.
Let's take a look at places like current gaps and deep-weed edges, places that do not require a fly-in trip, places right here in Michigan where the overlooked sports fish, the pike, can show you the right stuff, places that do not require a large investment for a large reward. Places we can drive to.
Locations On Locations
First of all, when we are discussing big and trophy pike, we are talking about a cold water fish, a fish that rarely survives in many of our shallow, fertile, weedy fish factories. So, look for prime locations before we jump in the boat? We can surf the Internet, looking for DNR reports that discuss pike population surveys, maybe some special regulations such as slot sizes, higher minimum size limits, and numbers of fish measuring above the 30-inch mark. There are two lakes in Iron County in the U.P., Cable and Porter Lakes, that have a 30-inch minimum size limit. These lakes can and do have some real "gators" swimming around. Check your 2011 Michigan Fishing Guide.
Of particular interest to the author are lakes that have a spearing ban and high protein forage available. Pike enthusiasts love lakes with cisco, whitefish, trout, and rainbow smelt in them. High-protein forage builds big pike.
MDNR Fisheries Supervisor Mark Mylchreest, working out of our Crystal Falls office, has, over the years, educated me about the whereabouts and why-abouts of shallow lakes and backwaters connected to tributaries and rivers that produce monster pike. Keys to these locations are current - cold inflows and spring creeks or seeps. Colder water combined with the right baitfish population produces good habitat for 10-pound and trophy pike potential.
Mark adds, "White suckers, redhorse, and yellow perch populations also grow big pike, but an overabundance of baitfish makes for tough fishing. Balance is the key."
|This pike was caught on a muskie pole and reel with the drag turned down about as far as it could go and the pike made three long runs. It was released but the memory of a great battle will live with the author forever. Author photo|
As they say in real estate, location-location! With the economy the way it is, we all want to watch our pocketbook, so let's suggest a few drive to locations where your odds for catching trophy pike in the 25-30 pound class increase exponentially. Personally I have done well on LOTW, an 8-hour drive to Baudette, Minnesota or 9-hours to Morson, Ont. and Saboskong Bay, (Redwing Lodge is good), on LOTW. Green Bay and Sturgeon Bay in Wisconsin's Lake Michigan. Also, Stagecoach in Colorado.
There are Bays Little and Big deNoc and the Michigamme Reservoir and Peavey Pond in the U.P. and countless locations on the Great Lakes that surround the great state of Michigan.
Weed & Wind Connoisseur
Friends tell me I go wild-eyed (and looney) when I see good, green and deep cabbage beds. Okay! Now let's get in the boat and search for big pike. It's August, not a great month for pike, but soon signs of fall will appear. On lakes known for larger pike, as we are cruising for a good place to start fishing, I look for deep weedlines, from 8 to 15 feet, for example. If I see a weedy bay, then go in and inspect it and notice that it is only 5 or 6 feet deep, and it is August, forget it, unless there is a creek or river flowing into it. That's a different story. I would make a few casts. However, a large flat on a shoreline that is west or north facing is a better bet.
Better yet is having this shoreline exhibit a deep edge, where pike can come out of 20-feet of water and feed. Hey, sometimes you get what you ask for. So we now have a 10 to 15-mile an hour wind blowing in, making it harder for the sight-feeding pike to distinguish your boat or exactly what that alluring lure really is. Chaos and turmoil is a big plus, especially if you are in close to shore and the baitfish are roiling around like they are enclosed in a clothes dryer. Perfect!
Better yet is a combination of cabbage and coontail weeds with pockets and/or inside turns. I'm getting excited now. Don't rush the cast. Make shorter cast to the above-mentioned areas. Yikes! I see an interruption in the structure. A rockpile! Now I remember a 43-inch pike I caught in Canada, twice, off the same rockpile. I fall into a dream-state, recapturing that trip.
Now the weedline folds in and comes back out onto a point, with some cabbage growing on it. My hands are trembling as I see boulders and an old logjam. My God, I'm in heaven!
Techniques & Lures
For Summer And Fall
Personally, I have to say that, for me, during summer or fall, the most productive of all pike lures is the "in your toothy face", zigzagging, 8-inch ReefHog by Fundally; Chartreuse bottom, orange on top.
Tinkering with "Reefy" over the years, the back treble come off and is replaced with a small "O" ring and a small gold spinner blade. "O" rings are put on the other two trebles, which reduces any leverage a wild pike attempts. Most of them slam Reefy sideways and get a mouthful of trebles.
Big pike were conditioned to spoons; not so anymore. Therefore, the Acme spoon in the Wob-L-Rite with a hammer copper back and orange/copper front is still fantastic. The color, flutter, and flash is hard to beat (inexpensive, too). Remember - size matters. Match the hatch!
For searching large areas the inline bucktail and the weedless spinnerbaits cannot be beat. Vary your speed, fast during summer - slower for fall, maybe try helicoptering and slow-rolling them. For some reason, chartreuse/white combos trigger 'em.
Reefhogs take some experience to use, but today Rapala and Storm have a couple of exciting, new, easy-to-use flashy lures: the Flat-Rap and the Glidin' Rap; and by Strom lures - the Giant Flat Stick, Jointed Thunderstick, and the Kickin' Stick.
Pike are aggressive, so when they see an old Rapala or crankbait with the back treble removed and a leader attached to a spoon, they want in on the chase.
Finally, I discovered a livebait lure called a "JB" Intimidator - it utilizes a Spring-Lok System which keeps your sucker or chub straight in the water. Therefore, it is good for trolling with large minnows.
Get the net - Dock!