It doesn’t matter where you live in the Midwest, there’s a lake close by where you can catch northern pike. Slimy, toothy and voracious, pike are often found crashing an angler’s party. Someone will be floating a bobber with a small minnow on it for crappies when a pike comes along and grabs the bait. The ensuing battle sends all the crappies fleeing and creates some excitement for the panfish angler.
Picture the walleye angler vertically jigging a dropoff when the hook is set and the resulting snag begins to shake its head and run. With 6-pound-test line and a lightweight rod and reel, it’s going to be awhile before that fish gets landed, if it ever does. A bigger net would have come in handy. Picture the look on that walleye angler’s face when he thinks he is fighting the world-record walleye and a huge pike surfaces.
Bass anglers are always crying the blues about lost crankbaits and twisted spinnerbaits because pike and bass both tend to favor weedy cover, and pike will hit many of the baits used by bass anglers. You’ll never convince bass anglers to use a wire leader because they believe the leader adversely affects the action of the lure. It sure drives a bass angler crazy when a big pike runs off with a $15 crankbait. You can hear the screams from one end of the bay to the other. (Continued)
Now, some of us like to target pike. From the time the ice melts until the lakes freeze over again, we’re out on the water slinging heavy metal on big-diameter rods fishing all day for just a couple of bites. We might also be pushing that bow-mount electric motor to the edge of its specifications in vegetation so thick on the surface it’s hard to believe there are loads of pike hiding around the sparse stalks just a few feet down.
On any given day, you might see the contrast in pike-angling technique. You’ll spot the boat anchored up next to a huge weedy flat with two grizzled veterans dangling sucker minnows under baseball-sized bobbers waiting for a big pike to inhale the bait and run.
Just 100 yards down the weedline is an angler on the front of the boat, foot on the control for the electric motor, casting a 1/2-ounce jighead tipped with a scented plastic body. His goal is to find the aggressive fish by staying on the move and using an artificial lure to cover ground. Both strategies are likely to be successful, a testament to the pike’s willingness to be anywhere and bite on anything that moves.
Pike ambush their prey, which means cover, in the form of vegetation, is a good place to find them. Wherever there is a big weedy flat, there will be pike.
During the early season, you cannot beat a spinnerbait for pike. When the fish are aggressive, you can use up to a 1-ounce lure with a big willow-leaf or Indiana-style blade. When the pike bite requires some finesse, a 1/2-ounce lure with a Colorado-style blade is the best option.
With a willow-leaf or Indiana blade, you must maintain speed for the lure to produce enough flash to attract pike. The Colorado blade is the slow, precise option. When you quit reeling and drop the tip on a Colorado-bladed spinnerbait, the lure flutters down, creating a helicopter effect and floating the skirted leadhead right into a pocket or along the edge of a weedline.
I’ve gotten to the point where I always tip the spinnerbait with a scented plastic trailer. This not only gives the lure more length and bulk, you get the benefit of additional attraction in the form of the scent. I’ve fished side by side with anglers who were not tipping their spinnerbaits and outfished them exponentially. When we switched rods, and they began using the tipped spinnerbait, they outfished me by the same margins.
Crankbaits are deadly for pike, but when combined with a heavy wire leader with big snaps, there is a definite impediment to the lure’s action. There is a remedy for this situation. It’s called Tyger Leader. Tyger Leader (www.tygerleader.com) is a stainless steel knottable leader that you can tie directly to the lure. A 5-, 10-, even a 15-pound-test is a small enough diameter to allow the crankbait to run true to form.
Start with a small barrel swivel on the line from the reel. Tie the Tyger Leader to the swivel. Use a piece about a foot long and you’re covered. But if you’re like me, changing lures every half hour, start with 18 to 20 inches, and by the end of the day you’re left with about 6 inches. You can tie the crankbait directly to the leader and it will run straight and wobble just like it’s been tied to the braided line from the reel.
Some pike anglers swear by spoons. I used to swear at them. Spoons can generate some solid bites, but there are days when pike will just follow the lure and not hit it. When this is the case, I thread three 2-inch scented grub tails onto a treble hook. The fluttering tail with the added scent turns those followers into biters.
If you are a spoon aficionado, try the 1 1/2-ounce Sebile Onduspoon. I used these spoons last year and they are loaded with rattles and have a unique action when used with a steady retrieve. Pike seem to love them, so be sure to use a wire leader because they will inhale them.
Pike love plastic worms. Those reaper tails and brush-hog bodies that are found by the gross in bass anglers’ boxes are deadly, but pike anglers haven’t figured it out yet.
One of my favorite plastic presentations for pike consists of a No. 4/0 weighted worm hook tipped with a Gulp! Crazy Legs Jerk Shad. You don’t rig this with the hook weedless like you would if fishing for bass. No, you make sure the hook is exposed.
Use a 1/16-ounce weighted hook so the drop is slow. With the plastic body you can cast this rig some distance, but the goal is to just pitch it into pockets in the weeds and let it sink for a few seconds. Then, using a twitch-and-stop retrieve, bring it back to the boat.
It sure drives a bass angler crazy when a big pike runs off with a $15 crankbait. You can hear the screams from one end of the bay to the other.
Those old grizzled pike anglers with multiple scars on their hands from getting too close to a big pike’s gill rakers prefer to use minnows — big sucker minnows. These anglers anchor at a favorite spot or set up a lawn chair on the shore and watch
those bobbers swim around as the big suckers try to submerge into the vegetation.
That’s the secret. You want the minnow struggling to escape, so position the hook below the bobber so the bait is a few inches above the vegetation.
There are tricks to get the minnow to attract even more pike. Some anglers trim fins. Take a nip off one of the side fins and the minnow will swim in an erratic circle. Knock off half the tail fin and the minnow really struggles to stay upright. A struggling minnow is an enticement pike cannot resist. That’s why it’s important to keep the bait fresh as well. After a half hour, replace the minnow with a fresh one, although if the fish are biting, you may go through a few suckers in that amount of time.
Other items found in the complete pike arsenal are a mouth spreader and long-nosed pliers. The prevalent mouth spreaders are wire springs that wrench the pike’s jaw open and cut right through their mouth. Toss it out. Berkley developed a new mouth spreader that has a low impact on pike. The pliers, of course, come into play when the pike’s mouth is spread open. You can see by the sheer numbers of teeth that it would be a really stupid idea to reach into that cavernous maw and dislodge the hooks with your bare hand.
Pike are aggressive, they fight hard and they are plentiful. They may be the redheaded stepchild of the Midwestern game fish world, but for those that know how much fun they can be, we don’t mind if the majority of anglers ignore them.