Wild Northerner Magazine Spring 2017 - Page 67

Toothy trophies

BY BRUCE HEIDMAN

For Wild Northerner

If catching a trophy pike is on your angling bucket list, there is no better time to fulfill that dream than early spring.

And there is no need to break the bank taking a trip to some backwoods hideaway up north to do it either.

That's because the biggest pike in any lake are most vulnerable to being caught shortly after ice out in the spring, and if you time it just right and find the spot of all spots, you might be able to handpick your fish of a lifetime, - and land several.

Northern pike are one of the first spawners of the spring season and will even do their business under the ice if ice conditions continue late into the season.

However, most often, pike spawn right at ice out, then stay in those same areas for a few weeks afterwards to dine on smaller fish, like suckers and sunfish, that use the same areas to spawn shortly after the pike are done.

The first thing spawning pike look for is an inflow of warm, well-oxygenated water. It can be a small river, a creek, a ditch, or even a seasonal flow of runoff, but moving water is a must. The marshier the area the better, as pike still love the cover of weeds, even this early in the year. If green weeds are in the mix, all the better.

In a perfect scenario, you will find an incoming creek in a weedy, dark-bottomed bay on the northwest corner of the lake, which will warm up sooner due to prevailing warm winds from the south and extended exposure to sunlight.

This pattern plays out everywhere from Lake Huron to the smallest pike lake.

Presentations this time of year need to be relatively slow due to the water temperature. Even though post-spawn pike are looking to replenish energy used during the spawn, their activity level is determined by the temperature of their surroundings, just like any cold-blooded creature.

Jerkbaits are my No. 1 choice, usually the suspending variety, to give slow-moving pike an easy target. Hard twitches with long pauses are normally the game.

I've also had luck fishing large wobbling spoons and lipless crankbaits, while some people swear by big topwater baits, though I have yet to have any success with one myself.

Patience is also important as big spring pike can be notoriously frustrating. One spot I regularly fish in the spring holds giant pike you can sight fish for, but you can cast for hours right to them without any interest whatsoever. Then a light will go on and you will catch two or three within a 15-minute span, only to have the bite disappear again.

Sometimes it's best to leave the non-biters and search out a different area and return later. The fish will still be there, but hopefully in a more receptive mood.

One option to overcome unwilling biters is live bait. Big suckers, and I mean the biggest they have at the bait shop, are best. Hook them on a quick strike rig so you can set the hook immediately and not gut hook the fish, and either run it below a big float or cast and retrieve the minnow slowly. I prefer a float.

If you are chasing big pike, bring the proper gear to handle such fish. Baitcasting gear, or heavy spinning gear, is a must. I prefer a minimum of 30-lb braid with a 60-lb fluorocarbon leader to handle big pike. Be sure to pack a net large enough for the fish you are targeting and good hook removal gear. Jaw spreaders are mighty handy, long pliers are required, and some snips to cut away deeply imbedded hooks aren't a bad idea either.

If it is a true giant you are after - a 40-inch fish is considered a true trophy anywhere you go - do a bit of research to be sure that pike that size live in the waters you choose to ply.

Pike are classified as a cool water fish, and it is rare that trophy sized northerns are caught once the warmer weather arrives. While smaller pike will inhabit shallow weeds and breaklines, big fish will be much deeper and spread out and more difficult to catch, making spring the ultimate time to land that fish of a lifetime.

Early spring offers a window where big pike are shallow and concentrated in predictable locations offering anglers the best opportunity to land that fish of a lifetime without emptying their bank accounts. So if a trophy pike is on your bucket list, get on the water the moment the ice leaves and start your search.