All fish are predators, but northern pike come dressed for the part: needle teeth, vacant eyes, thick slime, serpentine shape. Their primeval morphology has changed little in 60 million years. Pike belong to the northern wilderness, where they remain most common.
The best time to target trophy sized pike in the northwest Ontario are note worthy trophy lakes, such as Wawang Lake. May is a great time since they are recuperating from spawning, they prowl the shallows for panfish and baitfish. With little yet in the way of weed growth, the northerns don’t have all that many ambushing spots. They haven’t seen a lure in six months. In short, spring pike fishing is as good as it gets but at Wawang these jaw snapping monsters bite throughout the entire season. These tips should help you catch them.
LEAVE THE 4X AT HOME
Pike will bite through regular monofilament, so you always need to use a heavyleader of some sort. Twenty- or 30-pound, 12-inch black wire leaders arestandard, except when you’re using floating plugs (because the weightinterferes with the action). For these, get the shortest wire that you can—usually 6 inches—or make your own from 12 inches of 30-pound mono tied to a snap at one end and a swivel at the other.
PACK THE PLIERS
Pike won’t just bite line, so watch your fingers when you’re handling them. Lift pike that are under 10 pounds across the back of the head,behind the eye, or over the back of the gill plate. Bigger pike should be netted and subdued with a firm grip while in the net. Needle-nose pliers are a must; jaw spreaders can come in handy. Pinch down the barbs of your lures to expedite extractions.
SIX LURES YOU SHOULD USE
White, orange, blue, red yellow, and chartreuse are great pike lure colors, probably because they resemble the belly of a struggling food fish.
1. IN-LINE SPINNER
In early spring, before weed growth becomes a factor, focus on covering water.The bigger spinners are a top choice here because the weight lets you cast them farther and the blades throw more flash. Retrieve the spinner steadily, just fast enough to keep it off the bottom. Think:
- Rooster Tail
- Blue Foxspinners in 1/6 to 1-ounce sizes.
Start by steadily and slowly reeling, just fast enough to keep the spoon wobbling. If that doesn’t produce, try a “flutter retrieve,”accomplished by imparting a jigging motion as you reel. Spoons are particularly effective along dropoffs because you can precisely control the depth. Try:
- Little Cleos
- Thomas Buoyants
- Johnson Silver Minnows weighing ¼ to 1 ounce.
3. MINNOW-IMITATING PLUG
Begin with a steady retrieve. If that doesn’t work, try stop-and-start reeling. Early in the season, use a shallow runner. As waters warm up, go to a crank bait or a soft-plastic swimbait that runs in the 10-foot range. You’ve got plenty to choose from here:
- Rapala Original
- Shad Rap
- Rebel Minnow
- Rattlin’ Rogue
- C.C. Shad
- Bomber Model A
- Mann’s 1-Minus
- Storm Wild-Eye Swim Shad
- 5″ Swimming Charlie (Bucher Bait)
- 8″ to 10″ Swimming Joe (Bucher Bait)
Draw a spinnerbait past sprouting weeds and stop the retrieve for a three countjust as the bait approaches a possible hideout. Add a twist-tail or rubber-wormtrailer for action and color contrast. Models abound. If you had to use only one pike lure, it would be a white spinnerbait with a trailer. If the water is a little tainted, try a bait with a chartreuse skirt.
5. JIG AND WORM
As the temperature in the shallows reaches 60 degrees, pike begin to set upshop along 6 to 10 foot dropoffs. These are best fished with a jig in full, 2 to 3 foot hops. Pike often take the jig as it drops; the strike may feel like a nibble or a perch bite. It’s not. Use:
- bucktail and marabou jigs in the ¼- to1-ounce range.
6. SURFACE PLUG
In late spring, fish topwater lures over weedbeds in the calm water of morning or late afternoon. Over the years the combination of a slim minnow shape and propeller fuss has been most productive. Tie on a large (4½- to 6-inch):
- Heddon’s Crazy Crawler
- Dying Flutter
- Storm Chug Bug
- Smithwick Devil’s Horse
- Zara Spook
RODS, REELS, AND LINE
Wilderness northern pike that are located in remote lakes—are bigger than fish that you drive to (never leaving the blacktop), and this distinction is what you should base your tackle decisions upon.
For these type of northern pike, which means fish that weigh 10 to 20 pounds (and occasionally more),choose spinning outfits that handle:
- 14- to 25 pound-test
- medium-heavybaitcasting out-fits in 17 to 25 pound test
- or 9 weight fly rods (becoming popular)
To catch the 5 to 10 pound pike you have to convince a nervous 30-incher that the plug sputtering across the surface really is a wounded perch. Use your lighter tackle:
- 6 to 14 pound-test spinning gear
- light or medium bait casting outfits
- 12 to 14 pound-test
- or a 7-weight fly rod.
WHERE TO FIND PIKE
The wilderness waters in the Canadian provinces have the least fishing pressure—and the biggest pike.
HOW TO READ A PIKE BAY
Mouths of swampy inlets make good starting points, but you’ll probably catch more pike in the flats just off shore. Find one where the depth is 3 to 10 feet. Pike might have traveled up the inlet to spawn and will now be drifting out into the bay. These flats serve as staging spots for spawning panfish or bait-fish.
• Ice-out pike gravitate to secondary coves, areas that warm before the main bay. In fact, pike might have spawned in the marshy shallows and in particular spring fed openings. Fish the flats at the mouths of these openings within-line spinners.
• Prominent shoreline structures—beaver dams, flooded timbers, downed trees—always deserve at least a few casts. Work your way in, combing the flats in front with an in-line spinner. This is a good spot for lunch; cast out a bobber and minnow while you’re eating a sandwich.
• As the spring sun warms the bay, weeds grow and pike orient to cover near dropoffs. Weedy points make particularly good fishing spots, as do mid-bay weed shoals. Search adjacent waters with an in-line spinner, flutter-retrieve aspoon, or stop and start a spinnerbait along the edges of the weeds. If the water is calm, try your topwater lures.
• Deeper weedlines with access to deep water are the last spots on the spring tour. Find the 6 to 10 foot break. In general, pike over 10 pounds are the first to vacate the shallows for cooler water. This edge is the spot to try a jig and a minnow, or perhaps to flutter-retrieve a spoon.
Some anglers believe that “nervous” baitfish such as minnows are better than chubs and suckers as pike baits, but the minnow’s accessibility to fish is more important than its species. That’s why proper rigging is key.
When you’re fishing near a prominent obstruction, around the mouth of a tributary, or over weeds, using a bobber is a good approach (you want it as small as possible to minimize the resistance when a pike takes the bait and runs). Rig a bait in the 6 to 12 inch range on a size 1/0 hook, with a snelled wire leader attached to a snap-swivel. Position the float so that it holds the bait, hooked lightly through the back, a foot or two above the weeds. Give the pike a couple of minutes to turn the bait around in its mouth before you set the hook.
Cover long sections of definable structures such as weed edges, drop-offs, or shorelines. A 6 inch minnow hooked through the lips with a size 1 hook is about right. Match the sinker weight to the speed of the drift and the depth,starting with a single light split shot and adding until you hit bottom—or fish. When you get a bite, drop the rod tip, open the bail, give a 10 count,reel in slack, and set the hook. You may need to allow extra time with bigger baits, but if you wait too long, the fish will either swallow the hook or feel the sinker catch in the grass as it runs and will drop the bait.
JIG AND MINNOW
Our friendly staff is always nearby to help you hook that minnow properly. When hooking through the head use a full (2- to 3-foot) but slow jigging motion and be ready for a strike on the fall.When a fish hits, drop the rod tip for a moment, then set the hook hard. Jig-heads in the ¼- to ½-ounce range seem to provide the best minnow action, but it’s more important to adjust for the depth and speed of the drift. NOTE: read our article on jigs, as not all jig presentation is equal.
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