Think Outside The Box For Pike

If you are the type of person who just likes to soak a minnow under a bobber to catch northerns, then it's time for you to try this pike program! (March 2007)

Kolt Ringer has a bunch of tricks up his sleeve to catch more northern pike.
Photo by Tim Lesmeister

When Kolt Ringer flips the lid open on his huge tackle box, you see the normal mix of northern pike lures.

There is a corner where the big bucktailed spinnerbaits are hanging, surrounded by a mix of both deep-diving and shallow-diving crankbaits in all the popular color patterns. There are a few spoons mingling with the big wooden and plastic minnow imitators, but one-fourth of the box is laden with big jigs next to packages of big plastic bodies. There are even a number of pre-tied wire leaders sitting on top some 3/4- and 1-ounce egg sinkers. The leaders are sporting 2/0 hooks secured directly to the stranded wire, with a ball-bearing swivel secured to the other end.

"Sometimes you need to think outside of the box when you're chasing pike," said Ringer.

Ringer is an avid pike angler who chases northerns wherever the bite is hot. One day you may find him on a river's backwaters, and the next day he'll have the boat packed up and headed to a large manmade lake. Two days later, the pike will be snapping up his offerings on a small natural lake where he got word the fish were biting. He is a master of the standard techniques that trigger northerns to commit to a lure, but he won't rule out a technique that a pike angler may find unusual.

"I guide all summer long," said Ringer, "and you fish for whatever the client wants to fish for. That might be bass, walleyes or pike. It's not uncommon to be using plastic worms on a weedline for bass, and catching nothing but pike. That tells you something."

What it tells Ringer is maybe northern pike are suckers for a plastic worm, and this is a good option when fishing other lakes, rivers or reservoirs where pike can be found. "Some of my buddies like chasing big bass using the 10-inch plastic worms," Ringer said. "I decided to try them on pike, and they work well."

Ringer rigs the long thick-bodied worms on both the heavier jigheads he carries and also on those pre-rigged leaders. "Pike see spoons and spinnerbaits all day long and they get conditioned to these lures," Ringer said. "They never seem to get conditioned to those plastic worms."

It's a simple presentation, according to Ringer. Just cast out the jig and slowly retrieve it. "There's not much to it," he explained. "Pike will poke their noses out the edge of a weedline, and when they see that worm swim by, they grab it."

Ringer has tried to fish the jig like you would for walleyes or bass where the lure is allowed to sink to the bottom and either dragged or hopped back to the boat, but the swimming style works best. "I find that pike are more likely to hit a swimming bait over one that is resting on the bottom," Ringer said. "I don't think pike prefer to suck a bait off the bottom like a bass. They would rather take the bait as it's swimming than try to pick it off the bottom."

Jigs work well for a vertical presentation as well. "When pike are just off the bottom at the base of a weedy flat or point, I can get right over them with the boat and just drop the jig straight down," Ringer said. "You have to twitch the jig and keep it moving, but when you're fishing vertically like that, you can target those deep pike you see on the sonar."

To get right into the vegetation, Ringer will take one of his pre-tied leaders and rig the plastic worm up Texas style and fish it just like he would fish a worm for bass. "Use a cone sinker above the swivel for this so you can get it through the weeds easily," instructed Ringer, "and just move that worm through the weeds. Pike like vegetation, and you can dig them out of it with this big plastic worm rigged weedless."

Those pre-tied leaders also work well with live bait. "It's no different than a live-bait rig you would use for a walleye," said Ringer, "except that you have a stranded-wire leader and a bigger -- much bigger -- hook."

Ringer will slip one of the egg sinkers on the line and then tie on the barrel-swivel. "You just hook a sucker or shiner through the lips and send it down."

Ringer admitted his live-bait rig for pike works best along a sparse weedline or just out from the vegetation where there is little vegetation to get snagged on. "If you're working in heavy cover with live bait, you're pretty much stuck using a bobber, but when you can work an edge, this live-bait rig is the best option."

Live-bait rigging for pike and jigging for them with plastics are both techniques more prone to a walleye or bass angler's game plan. These are probably techniques that only get used under unusual circumstances, right? "Actually, the standard lures are going to catch fish, no doubt about that," Ringer said. "But when you're on a body of water that gets some heavy pressure or the weather has created some tough fishing conditions, these non-traditional techniques should be your go-to options. It's just that anglers are so used to the standard presentations that they don't think about trying something different."

Like a swim bait? "Bass fishermen love swim baits," said Ringer, "but pike fishermen still haven't discovered how good these work."

Ringer described a situation where it was a swimming lure that saved a trip for him on a river.

"Tie a piece of colored yarn to the eye of that treble hook, and you've added a splash of color and made the lure a little different, maybe more attractive to a pike."

"It was early season, and the pike were still up in the backwater vegetation and timber," Ringer said. "My partner and I had been dragging spinnerbaits and shallow-diving crankbaits through the cabbage and tree branches, and all we caught were a few small northerns. You could see these schools of minnows busting out of the water around you and we were casting to this forage because we figured something was trying to eat it, but we couldn't get the fish to bite."

After a few frustrating hours, Ringer finally started digging for something different and discovered a package of 4-inch Slurpies' Swim Shads he had picked up at the bait shop to try on largemouth bass. He tied one on.

"That was the right move," Ringer said. "Every time some minnows would break the surface I would cast right to the boil. That lure wouldn't sink a foot and a big pike had grabbed it. We tried crankbaits and spinnerbaits, but it was the swim bai

t that the pike wanted. I've used them a lot since then, and they're something different that the pike haven't seen a lot, and that lure triggers bites. For working over the tops of a big weedbed, you can't beat a swim bait."

So, are the spinnerbaits and crankbaits in Ringer's box becoming obsolete? "Hardly," Ringer said with a laugh. "Those lures still catch plenty of pike, but I have learned a few tricks to spice them up."

Consider what he might do to a spinnerbait that has had a few pike chase it to the boat and fail to grab it. "I'll pull off the plastic skirt and replace it with a scented body, like a Berkley Power Hawg or a 7-inch Gulp Turtleback Worm," he said. "This way, I not only get some additional squirm action, but I also get the benefit of the scent."

But you can't doctor the crankbaits without messing up the action, right? "Sure you can," Ringer said. "Just take a piece of thin red yarn and tie it to the eye of the back treble hook. That little dash of color, and pike really trigger on that red, won't affect the action of the lure at all, and it works. But don't limit yourself to just red. Sometimes green or orange or even blue might be the color that does the trick."

Does the yarn trick also work for spoons, too? "You bet," Ringer said. "Tie a piece of colored yarn to the eye of that treble hook, and you've added a splash of color and made the lure a little different, maybe more attractive to a pike. I'll take a Johnson Silver Minnow and thread a grubtail on the hook. That adds some scent, too. It's a little added enticement that can make a big difference."

What about the old "minnow-under-a-bobber" presentation that is a fixture in a pike angler's repertoire? There isn't any thinking outside the box for that technique, is there? "That's why I carry that scissors," Ringer said. "Clip one of the side fins or trim off the tail on that sucker or shiner you're dangling under the bobber, and you get a struggling minnow instead of one that is just happily sitting there. Pike can't resist a minnow that's struggling."

Ringer said what differentiates the anglers who catch fish and the ones who don't is the fine line between those who are using presentations that they were told to use and hope for a bite, and those who think outside the box to create a bite. Ringer is always thinking outside that hefty box he carries with all those lures and gadgets -- which is probably why he always catches fish!

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