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Northern Exposure

Northern Exposure

Add a little action to your fishing season in 2010 by tangling with a monster pike on one of these Wisconsin waters. Your reel will be screaming for mercy! (March 2010)

The northern pike is a fish that certainly deserves more respect that it receives. Whether you call them snakes or sea monsters, northern pike are prevalent in many lakes throughout the state, but very few anglers intentionally try to catch them. But those who target pike know how much fun they can be to catch, and although cleaning them can be challenging, the meat is mild and delicious.

Despite the ferocity of their strikes, northern pike are often overlooked and under-appreciated as game fish.

Photo by BLP Studios.

Northern pike are common and widely distributed in Wisconsin, thriving in more than 2,000 inland lakes, streams, flowages and rivers. Pike also inhabit shallow bays and estuary areas of Wisconsin's portions of Lake Superior and Lake Michigan. Regardless of whether you are a pike veteran or novice, the fishing forecast looks fantastic for 2010. Here are a few specific spots where you can track down a monster this spring and summer.

John Reddy of Reddy Guide Service (262-949-3470) says Delavan is the top lake in the region for both numbers and size of northern pike. "I've seen more 32- to 36-inch fish this year than in the past three years combined," Reddy said. "The main reason for this is likely the 32-inch size limit. The 30- and 31-inch fish are thrown back, plus the pike seem to go in cycles. We will catch a lot of big fish one year and not so many the next year. There are more legal fish in the lake right now because we are on top of the cycle."

Delavan is one of those inland lakes where trolling is allowed. In the spring, Reddy trolls in 6-10 feet of water depending on how tall the weeds are. If there are no weeds yet, the pike will be even shallower. "I'll float shiners, suckers or small bluegills that I catch at the dock. I'll anchor and cast to the weeds and let the wind push my bait over the weeds. When I fish artificial baits, I'll use casting spoons, spinners and chatter baits. Some guys even catch pike while fishing for bass with Senkos."

In the summer, the pike go into 15-20 feet of water. "The hotter the summer the deeper they'll go," said Reddy. "Around Father's Day, when surface temps are 65-72 degrees, the pike will be in 18-20 feet. Come August, they can be at 30 feet or deeper. During these hot times, you'll want to fish at or above the thermocline. To reach the deeper fish, Reddy uses a Lindy Rig with live bait or crankbaits with snap weights to get the baits deep enough. Zip lures also work well for the fish 30 feet down.

To up your odds, concentrate on inlets and springs. Often these areas have no telltale structure. Reddy uses an Aqua-Vu underwater camera to find the springs. If you don't own a camera, some maps show where the springs are located.

If you want more action, you can always find smaller pike in and around the shallow weeds. Because they are smaller, they don't experience the warm-water stress to the same extent as the larger fish. When turnover happens in the fall, pike will migrate back into the shallow weeds after baitfish. Bucktails, Suicks, and other traditional muskie baits work well.

"Last summer was a tough one on Geneva," said Reddy. "There wasn't a thermocline because the lake didn't stratify. The temperatures never got hot enough. In fact, guys were catching northern (pike) off the piers in August."

In May and June, good pike spots include Geneva Bay and Fontana Bay. "The water is so clear I don't use floats," Reddy said. "I only use a hook, sucker and split shot. Work the sucker just like you would a jerkbait. If you don't like using live bait, you can troll perch patterns in 8-15 feet of water." The population isn't as dense as Delavan, but there are a few pike in the 35- to 42-inch range.

In the summer, the pike hang near steep breaks. "Find spots where there is a 20- to 30-foot drop in only a 10-foot span," Reddy suggested. "The pike like to eat the ciscoes, but the ciscoes hang out in deep water. The pike will slip out into the deeper water and feed at will." In the fall, Reddy likes chatter baits and spinnerbaits. "White, blues and blacks, greenish hues, and perch patterns," he suggested. "I've caught pike trolling 60 feet down for lake trout. The perch can be in the weeds or suspended in 70 feet. Use your electronics to find the thermocline and the baitfish, then troll at that depth."

Koshkonong is different from Delavan and Geneva in that it is associated with a river. The pike that hang out in the lake most of the year will migrate into the river during the summer. "In the spring and early summer, guys catch pike when fishing for walleyes with flathead minnows," Reddy said. "In the river, you can cast Rat-L-Traps in a sheepshead pattern or other minnow-style baits. The fish will be as shallow as 1-5 feet. There are a lot of snags such as downed trees, so lipless baits that run 3 feet down are best."

In the summer, when the fish are in the lake, the best spots are in Stinkers Bay, Haight Bay, Bringham Point and Blackhawk Island. You'll want to troll minnow-style baits some 15 feet behind the boat with planer boards. This way, your baits will run 3-4 feet deep. Husky Jerks and Shad Raps work well. For live bait, try a crawler harness, and don't be surprised if you get a few walleyes as well.

In the fall, the pike will move back into the river as they go after shiners. "If you can find the shiners, you will find the pike," Reddy said. "In fact, sometimes you will see the pike forcing the bait to bust the surface. A lot of guys catch pike when fishing for saugers. Just use a jig and a minnow and you will catch pike."

For more information, contact or (262) 949-3470.

Chequamegon Bay
For legendary monster pike, many fishermen head to Chequamegon Bay. The big water of the bay can produce big pike in the 50-inch range. Roger LaPenter of Angler's All in Ashland guides the bay nearly every day and knows it well.

"In the spring, the bay is a shoreline fishery. The pike will be in 2-8 feet of water along the shore or in the river mouths. Spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, crankbaits and spoons like DareDevils and Crocodiles work well because there aren't any weeds yet. Good colors are chartreuse, orange and white. Some guys even soak a fresh or frozen smelt on the bottom," LaPenter said.

"In the summer, the pike move deeper in 15-30 feet of water. The deeper weedbeds are more productive. There are some grassy weeds in the 30-foot areas that are really good. Or look for a serious d

rop, an area that drops from 15 to 30 feet in a short distance. The fish will hold in pockets along that steep break.

"In the fall, you'll want to fish the deeper weeds before they break up. Cast to weeds with slip-bobbers and sucker minnows. Guys will also fish smelt on the bottom from the shore."

If you want to keep a few pike for the table, remember that the minimum size limit on the bay is 26 inches. Regardless of how you go after them, there are a lot of hungry northerns in the bay.

For inland lakes, LaPenter likes Namekagon. "This lake offers simple fishing. Plastics and spinnerbaits work well all year long," LaPenter said. "There are quite a few northerns and they are always active. Spinnerbaits in sunrise colors of orange and chartreuse are good. You want the bigger spinnerbaits, but not the muskie size.

"In the summer, the pike move into 8-15 feet of water near the weeds. This lake has stained water, so black and purple can also work well in the summer," LaPenter said. Namekagon has a lot of structure. Rock bars, weedy points and shorelines all provide the pike with good ambush points where they can feed on unsuspecting panfish.

As the cooler fall temperatures move in, the pike return to the shallow weeds. Most fish average in the mid-20-inch range, but 40-inchers are possible.

Wisconsin River Backwaters
The Wisconsin River backwaters and lakes such as DuBay, Lake Mohawksin and Lake Wausua hold 24- to 38-inch northerns, with a good shot at a 40-inch fish. Phil Schweik of Hooksetters Guide Service knows these waters well. "In the spring, the big fish are in the shallow-water bays from 1-5 feet," Schweik said. "I usually use spinnerbaits, Mepps in-line spinners, Rapalas twitched on the surface, or small topwater baits. The best colors are white and chartreuse.

"In the summer, the fish move to the deeper weeds. Fish the deep edges that are in 12-14 feet of water. I've found the best bait is the Baby Depth Raider in either the straight model or the jointed. Firetiger, sucker, and perch patterns are the most effective. I'll also troll from 10 to 50 feet behind the boat, often without planer boards."

Eau Pleine Reservoir
The Eau Pleine Reservoir is a clear-water lake that has a very good population of 28- to 39-inch pike.

"In the spring, you can troll No. 9, 11 and 13 Rapalas in black and silver, gold and orange, or gold and black," Schweik suggested. "I'll either cast or troll along the shorelines. I'll try the reeds in early morning, but as the day goes on, the rock bars will warm up and the pike will move onto the rocks. Spinnerbaits, DareDevils, Rapalas and Mepps in-line spinners all work really well, especially before the weeds grow up.

"In the summer and fall, the pike will hold to the deep edges of reeds and rocks in about 8-10 feet of water. They will hold in these areas all the way to freeze up. Your best bet is to stay in the main lake. Some guys like to try the tributaries, thinking the fish will move into the rivers, but I've always done better in the main lake in the fall."

Eagle River Chain
The Eagle River Chain consists of 28 lakes and has a great population of northern pike. Unlike the Eau Pleine and the Wisconsin River, the Eagle River Chain has a lot of weeds

"You'll want to target the shallow weeds," Schweik said. "Rapalas and spinnerbaits in orange and black work the best. Chartreuse can work, but orange is more consistent. These are weed-related fish, but you'll find that the lakes will vary in water clarity. You'll want to move from lake to lake to find the lake that is on that day. One of the lakes will be on, so you need to find out which one. Another thing that triggers the fish is current flow. When it is raining, you'll want to target neck-downed areas where there will be current. Try both the upstream and downstream areas. The current draws the pike because it also draws in baitfish, plus there is more oxygenation."

If there has been a long period of no rain, the main parts of the lake are best. The pike will be buried in the weeds. Work baits over the weed tops -- small jerkbaits like Reef Hawgs in chartreuse or orange and black. Most fish are in the hammerhead range of 18-24 inches, but there is great action.

For more information, contact Phil Schweik at Hook Setters Guide Service ( or (715) 693-5843)

Over the years I have become a big fan of northern pike. I like fishing for them with the family because my kids get a huge smile any time they catch something bigger than a bluegill. In fact, last fall, my son got a 27-incher that hit right at the boat. The fish almost took the rod out of his hand! My son was shaking the whole time. Once it was in the boat, he couldn't believe he had done it. So the next time a northern bites off your leech or bass bait, consider targeting them. You might find yourself giving them more respect.

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