New Spring, Same Old
Stuff For Pike
Is there anything better than having a thick, mad pike on the end of your line when the trees are just starting to bud? Compared to those eighteen inch winter rods, feeling that seven footer buck around is great. Some of the biggest pike of the year are catchable right now. The fishing world changes around pike like clockwork every year, but they sure don't. You can have success by experimenting with where you fish and how no matter what the spring weather. Don't get hung up on dates, water temps or what you've heard and read. Get out there and poke around.
One of the first things to watch for is the rest of the food chain. What are the walleyes doing if there are walleyes in the water you're on? In or near the shallow bays, what other kinds of fish are you seeing or catching? Are there schools of spawning perch? What about pods of carp or gar rolling around? Have the smelts started running yet? Lots of fishermen don't like fishing the mayfly hatch, but I can tell you that some really nice fish are easier to locate at this time than at most others. All you have to worry about is catching them. Use your eyes and your sonar. Pike live under the water just like everybody else, and it's all connected in one way or another.
Pike, especially big ones, are going to be in and ready to spawn earlier than muskie, bass or panfish, most years. And always keep in mind that different populations of fish do different things at different times. Some pike will be in and out early (some years when there's still ice in spots) and others will show up late. Others will be somewhere in between all that. Watching what other fish are doing and where they're doing it helps get a feel for what stage of the game the water is in, and possibly even what's being used for food. I think you can lead yourself off track pretty easily by thinking, 'It's May X and the water is Y degrees, so let's do this.' The old Catch 22 is that most of us only get a Saturday and Sunday to figure things out. Making good use of your time becomes even more important. You can catch good fish doing more than one thing, and you can also waste a lot of trips trying to do too much all at once.
When I'm casting, I try to use long, long casts. Spooking the fish has very little to do with it. We all watch the 48 inchers caught in a foot of water on the TV fly-in lakes all winter, but the reality where I fish is that numbers of big fish hanging around water that shallow is extremely rare by the time the season opens. Long casts are obviously good for covering water. But they also give you extra time and space to entice or call fish over to your bait. If and when fishing slow is what's needed, I'd much rather tease one long, slow retrieve back to the boat over a spot than three or four shorter ones. This is true for five feet of water or fifteen. Having extra time and distance to lay that lure on the bottom, flutter it down, let it break the surface or suspend it really makes a difference sometimes. Finding baits and then deciding to bite them over a longer time period is pretty common for pike early on. It isn't so much that they're negative or not interested, they're just two steps behind. Like the guy at the airport running with a brief case versus the guy trying to run with two huge suitcases. They both still want to make their flight, one just gets there a little slower and needs a little help. Long casts just give you more room to 'work' a fish.
For sure, there are times when baits get smacked the second they hit the water or when you're going fast and wild with them. You can really use speed to comb water, and pike will respond to this also. Most of the better categories of pike baits can be fished over a range of speeds. Sometimes, within the same cast. Floating minnowbaits, as an example, can be ripped and jerked wildly or floated back to the surface after a few slow, smooth pulls. Years before suspending baits like Husky Jerks were invented, baits like the #18 Floating Rapala were the killers, in spring. Long A Bombers were another one. A few cranks, then a few snaps and then letting the lure wiggle all the way to the surface for a few seconds is deadly. Delicate, balsa Slammers are another one. They're sort of like a large AC Shiner.
I know that pike love lures that hang
suspended, but they're also suckers for lures that float up towards
the surface. This works with baits like Suicks, Wade's Wobblers and
Bobbies as well as smaller, more traditional minnowbaits like
Rapalas. Try it with a floating bait one time. Get the bait about
half way back to the boat at a good pace and then force yourself to
stop it dead and let it break the surface. Lots of vibration, noise
and maybe flash to get them thinking about it, then the Death Rise.
They love it. Spoons and lipless crankbaits work in the opposite
way: let them flutter down and/or back near the boat after laying
out an erratic, noisy path through the water. Along the same lines,
don't be in a huge rush to start wheeling any kind of lure back to
the boat. With some practice feathering your reel, flat-bottomed
jerkbaits like Suicks or Bobbies can be laid on the water with a
nice 'splat.' Fish that get to the bait a little late will pick it
off the surface sometimes, or crunch it when you pause it after a
few moves. Waiting a few extra seconds to start the lure back to the
boat is tough after a winter of jigging through a hole, but it makes
a difference some days. I've seen it a thousand times: slow down
that extra half step and fish start hitting the net. Identical
lures, identical spots, just attention to that one critical detail.
Sometimes, much more aggressive baits
and trolling can methods work, too. Crunching over and through pods
of shoals and islands in the 15 to 20 foot range with bigger
crankbaits also works on big pike earlier than you might think.
Later in spring, this is one of the best way to find better fish (muskies
in muskie season, too). Well into June, picking up the pace while
still staying reasonably shallow and lots of rock contact using
baits like Ernies, Depth Raiders, Perchbaits, Cisco Kids and Jakes
works sometimes. No matter what the weeds look like down in the
bays, big pike love rocks. Put a series of large, irregular shoals,
rocky ledges or shallow points anywhere near a fertile patch of
sheltered spawning water and I will definitely bounce a few baits
over and around them. Rocks that have new weeds mixed in are an
added bonus. And if weed growth is late, rocks become an even better
hide-out option all on their own. You'll be closer to the boat,
making more bottom contact and working pike that are relating very
closely to this kind of structure. If nothing's happening casting
shallow or trolling high in the water, give this a try. Just tell
yourself it's October and not June.