October 04, 2010
There are a lot of people who fish for northerns in our state. Those anglers will be having a blast while fishing for pike on these waters this season.
By Mike Gnatkowski
Surprisingly, there are a lot of pike fanatics in the state of Michigan. Not just the guys who occasionally luck into a big pike or two, but anglers who target giant northerns.
They're the guys who you see on the bigger rivers during the fall with oversized spinnerbaits hanging from the ends of their rods instead of the in-line spinners or plugs of those people chasing salmon. They're usually the solitary anglers trolling huge crankbaits off in-line boards far away from the group of anglers targeting walleyes or panfish. Big pike are loners, and for the most part, so are the anglers who pursue them.
Big-pike aficionados have to have a muskie angler's mentality. Trophy fish are going to be few and far between most days if you're after really big pike, but when you nail one, it's likely to give you a battle you're not likely to soon forget. Big northerns are impressive creatures. Like zealot muskie anglers, anglers who target big pike usually release their quarry to fight another day. The reward is knowing that you've fooled an impressive predator who is at the top of the food chain.
To catch a lot of big northerns you have to fish bodies of water that can grow numbers of these big predators. They have to have ample forage, good habitat and suitable spawning marshes. Usually, these are pretty sizable bodies of water that can support numbers of pike, and have enough baitfish and forage to allow them to reach trophy size.
Following is a selection of big-pike waters that are sure to produce plenty of trophy northerns this year.
The Big Manistee River produced this big northern for Mark Price. Photo by Mike Gnatkowski
MUSKEGON LAKE Muskegon Lake has the ingredients for producing big northerns - excellent habitat and plenty of forage. Pike that push 20 pounds aren't uncommon. While Muskegon Lake's northerns can be caught just about year 'round, fall produces some of the hottest fishing for big fish.
"Right after turnover in the fall is one of the best times for big pike," said Muskegon Lake guide Tom Irwin. "Once the water starts to cool off, the weeds in the lake begin to die. This forces the baitfish out into the open and the pike key in on them."
Irwin said a key is to use your electronics to locate schools of baitfish. They could be along structure or suspended over deeper water. Muskegon Lake pike have a host of forge species from which to choose - panfish, shiners and other native baitfish and alewives.
Muskegon Lake covers some 4,150 acres and most of it is good pike water. The best way to cover water is trolling. Irwin employs in-line boards with crankbaits and body baits when targeting Muskegon Lake pike. Big lures take big fish. Irwin pulls oversized No. 18 Rapalas and Husky Jerks, and takes plenty of fish up to 15 pounds. When the bite is hot during October and November, Irwin admits though that just about anything will work. Anglers who like to cast will find that jumbo spinnerbaits and crankbaits will work, too.
For lake maps, information on access and lures, contact Shoreline Service at (231) 759-7254. To book a Muskegon Lake pike charter, contact Capt. Tom Irwin at (231) 788-6612.
BIG MANISTEE RIVER The Big Manistee River has a national reputation for its renowned steelhead and salmon fishing. What a lot of people don't know is that the river is full of pike during the fall, too.
Big northerns move into the river on the heels of the king salmon run in September. The pike aren't after salmon, though, but the Big Manistee has an abundance of suckers in it that are prime northern forage. Many of the pike migrate up the river from Manistee Lake. Manistee Lake itself is also hot for fall pike. Anglers do well by casting along weed edges in 10 to 15 feet of water off Penny Park and near the mouth of the Big Manistee River.
Many of the pike move up into the Big Manistee River itself. The pike are ambush-feeders and you can count on them lying in wait along the calmer edges where you have logs or weeds. Although we aren't targeting pike in the fall, my clients catch good numbers of Big Manistee River pike by tossing in-line spinners. Most of the pike will run from 24 to 30 inches, but bigger pike are common. Client Jim Drury caught two Big Manistee River pike on one of our October trips that measured 38 and 42 inches. Imagine what you could do if you actually fished for pike with spinnerbaits, spoons or stick baits.
The lower reaches of the Big Manistee River seem to produce the best action. Try upstream from Insta Launch Campground to Rainbow Bend for the best pike action. Anglers can launch at Insta Launch, Bridge Street or Rainbow Bend.
For more information on Big Manistee River northerns and lures to catch them, contact Insta Launch Campground & Marina at (231) 723-3901.
PORTAGE LAKE "Portage Lake is one of those drowned river-mouth lakes that we have on this side of the state that is capable of producing big pike," said Northern Lake Michigan Management Unit supervisor Tom Rozich. "It has excellent pike habitat, fairly good natural reproduction and that steady supply of forage that you need to grow big pike."
Rozich said that 2,110-acre Portage Lake in Manistee County has an unlimited supply of yellow perch, small walleyes, shiners and alewives that pike thrive on. The pike take up residence in Portage throughout the year, but are most active during the summer months and into the fall.
"We've been surprised more than once by big pike when we were trolling for walleyes," claimed Portage Lake regular Paul Boyd. "I mean, these things were huge! A lot of times you don't even want to bring them into the boat!"
Although big pike can be found throughout 2,110-acre Portage Lake, consistent action can be had during the open-water season between the shallower East Bay and the center of the lake of Eagle Point. Big northerns suspend over 15 to 20 feet of water there while relating to a series of humps in 25 to 35 feet of water. Use your electronics to locate suspended fish that indicate big pike and then troll deep-diving crankbaits through them. Another hotspot is along North Point, where northerns patrol a sharp dropoff there.
For fishing reports on Portage Lake, live bait and tackle, contact Riley's Tackle & Guns at (231) 723-3354. Information on lodging in the Onekama area can be had by contacting the Mani
stee County Chamber of Commerce at (231) 723-2575, or at www.manisteeecounty.com.
LAKE ST. CLAIR "I'll tell you one place that is a 'sleeper' for pike and that's Lake St. Clair," claimed Lake Erie Management Unit fisheries biologist Jeff Braunscheidel. "No one really fishes Lake St. Clair for pike. You hear about people fishing for bass and muskies, but no one really pays much attention to the pike. And the lake has a ton of pike in it."
Braunscheidel said that, like most predators, northern pike have benefited from the changes that Lake St. Clair has undergone in recent years. With clearer and cleaner water and an abundance of forage, Lake St. Clair's pike population has exploded. And not only are there a lot of pike in the lake, but there are also some big ones.
"Lake St. Clair is an excellent bet for trophy pike. I don't think that 40-inch-plus pike are uncommon," said Braunscheidel.
Braunscheidel said that Lake St. Clair's northerns occupy a little different niche than the lake's muskies. "I think in general you're going to find the pike in shallower water, say from 3 to 4 feet," he said. Braunscheidel said that a good place to prospect for northerns in Lake St. Clair is on flats near the mouths of channels that lead into the lake. Try off the North Channel and Decker's Landing, at the mouth of the Salt River, Big Fisher Bay, the Middle Channel and off the Grassy Bend Islands.
The pike will hit just about anything when they're feeding. Trollers do well with muskie-sized Believers, T-3 Terminators, Husky Rapalas and other big plugs. Spinnerbaits in white or chartreuse with plastic trailers are pretty hard to beat when casting.
For maps, fishing reports and pike lures, contact Lakeside Fishing Shop at (586) 777-7003 or on the Web at www.lakefishingshop.com.
WHITE LAKE Oakland County's White Lake is a topnotch pike lake that doesn't see much fishing pressure.
"There aren't too many monster pike in White Lake," said Jeff Braunscheidel, "but there are a lot of nice pike in the 24- to 30-inch range." Even with White Lake's excellent pike population, Braunscheidel said, few anglers fish it for pike.
At just over 540 acres, White Lake has depths to 35 feet and features a lot of weed edges - sloping dropoffs and points that offer northerns perfect ambush points. Some of the best locations are along the east side of the lake from Zeller's Point all the way to the public access on the southwest corner.
Like most places, White Lake pike will strike just about anything when they're hungry, but day in and day out it's pretty hard to beat a red-and-white Dardevle.
For more information on White Lake pike, contact KD Outdoors at (248) 666-7799.
DEVILS LAKE "You hear a lot about the panfish in Devils Lake," said Braunscheidel. "The lake has a lot of everything in it, but what you don't hear about is the pike. Devils Lake is a very good pike lake."
Located in northwest Lenawee County just east of Addison, Devils Lake covers some 1,330 acres and is made up of two basins separated by a shallow sandbar. Excellent pike fishing can be found in both basins. Devils Lake sees fairly heavy fishing pressure for pike during the winter, but most anglers who fish the lake during the open-water months are targeting panfish. One hotspot for pike is right off the public access on the west side off Manitou Beach Road. Pike can be caught along the dropoffs and weed edges that extend from Sandy Beach to Clark's Cove on the north end of the lake.
Spinnerbaits, crankbaits and spoons will all take their share of Devils Lake pike. Northerns up to 30 inches are routine, and fish pushing 40 inches are not uncommon.
For more information on bait shops, lodging and accommodations nears Devils Lake, contact the Lenawee County Chamber of Commerce at (517) 265-5141.
FOUR MILE LAKE "Four Mile Lake is one of those lakes you don't hear much about," stated Jeff Braunscheidel. "The lake is relatively small and shallow - you can only launch small boats there - but it has a real good population of pike."
Located near Chelsea in Washtenaw County, Four Mile Lake is surrounded by the Chelsea State Game Area. At just over 256 acres, Four Mile Lake isn't huge, but it offers excellent pike habitat - weed edges, dropoffs and a marshy shoreline. While the chances for a trophy pike are slim, that lake has plenty of decent-sized pike that will put a bend in your rod. Typical pike fare will work - spinnerbaits, plugs and spoons - but soaking a sucker minnow under a big float on a cool summer day might be the best way to fool the lake's plentiful northerns.
For more information on southern Michigan pike lakes, contact the Lake Erie Management Unit of the DNR at (734) 953-0241.
BIG & LITTLE BAYS DE NOC If you're looking for a real trophy northern, you need to look to waters that can grow big pike. Most times that means one of the Great Lakes and their connecting waters. Here pike have room to grow, an unlimited food supply and the potential to reach 20 pounds or more. Both Big and Little Bays de Noc have a well-deserved reputation for producing big pike.
"Not too many people really target pike around here," said Escanaba fisheries biologist George Madison. "Most people around here are more interested in perch and walleyes, but there are some giant pike in both the bays."
The key to locating big pike in Big Bay de Noc during much of the year is to find weedbeds in 10 to 20 feet of water in Ogontz Bay and off the Fishdam River. Concentrate near the mouths of shallower bays like Ogontz, Garden and Kates. Trolling is the quickest way to cover water and provoke active pike. Use in-line boards pulling jumbo Rapalas, Rebels, Bombers or medium-sized muskie baits. Pick up your speed when water temperatures creep into the upper 60s. In late spring, target the outflows of rivers and streams that lead into the bay, like the Ogontz and Fishdam rivers and Garden Creek.
Big pike infest Little Bay de Noc south of Gladstone. Prime areas are the dropoffs near the Escanaba Yacht Club and off Portage Point.
For more information on the Bays de Noc pike, contact the DNR Escanaba field office at (906) 786-2351.
GREEN BAY The fertile water of Green Bay near Menominee is another location that is a consistent big-pike producer.
"May is probably the best time to catch pike," said Russ Greenley of R&B Pro Tackle in Menominee. "Not many people are fishing for pike then, though. Most are after walleyes or brown trout."
Key locations, according to Greenley, are off river mouths like the Peshtigo, Cedar and Menominee where post-spawn pike recuperate after spawning in the spring. Later in the summer and fall, northerns can be found patrolling the edges of cabbage weedbeds scattered in 10 to 14 feet of water between the Cedar and Menominee rivers. Try off Henes Park, Kleinke Park and Arthur Bay. During the heat of the summer, the pike retreat to the cooler waters of Green Bay.
Legal targets year 'round in waters of the Great Lakes, pike in the 12- to 18-pound range are routinely taken, and fish topping 20 pounds are common near Menominee. Greenley recommended using giant baits for the biggest pike. Soak a foot-long sucker under a big float or pin the sucker to a jighead and work it along the bottom when pike are inactive. When pike are actively feeding, just about any presentation will work. Speed-trolling with Shad Raps, Rapalas and ThinFins will trigger aggressive fish. Casting with giant jerkbaits, bucktail spinners and spinnerbaits will bring arm-jolting strikes from big Green Bay northerns.
For more details on Green Bay's giant pike, contact R&B Pro Tackle at (906) 863-4650.
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Catching trophy pike isn't much different from hunting a trophy buck. You need to do your homework, put in your time and make sure you're where the big boys live. The rest will eventually take care of itself.
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