Monthly Archives: December 2014
If you’re a ‘gator hunter, you’ll want to add these tips and tricks to your arsenal.
Springtime is pike time and that’s a good place to begin. How early? Well, that sort of depends on your geographic placement, because in areas with continuous seasons, open-water pike fishing commences the day the ice goes out.
This pre-spawn period is coveted. Muscled but undersized males travel with swollen females. Together, they enter sacred breeding grounds to propagate. Really big fish are exposed, cruising ankle- and knee-deep shallows. The submarine backs of 35- to 45-inch gals occasionally break the surface. Visually, mature pike appear as darkened logs that mystically glide through the shallows.
Food runs and spawning runs often share common terrain. Swampy fields of standing vegetation that seem suited for dabbling ducks rank high, as do shallow, weeded bays and tributaries leading to said places. Bulrushes are good, as are cattails and rice paddies. No creek is too small or bottom too silted. In the spring, I’ve seen huge pike travel streams that could be stepped across. Creeks known for their sucker runs are doubly attractive. But remember, once procreation begins, feeding ebbs, so play your hand accordingly.
Begin spring pike fishing in bays. First, they provide the egg-laying environment that attracts pike from far
and wide. Second, said bays host sufficient rations that invade shallow soft-bottomed bays, but to their dismay, hostile pike are there to greet them. Remember this: Where there are perch and other forage food, so will there be pike – spring, summer, winter and fall.
Not all bays are created equal either. Super-shallow ones – those not dipping past, say, 4 to 6 feet – provide supreme breeding habitat, but a short-lived bite, as choking weeds invade and water temperatures escalate into uncomfortable zones. These are excellent for pre-spawn fishing, and during cool and high-water springs when weeds remain manageable through May and into June. Hyper shallows also rejuvenate in the fall, after heavy greenery collapses and temperatures become comfortable once more. Visit them again at first ice with tip-ups and a bucket of suckers.
Overall, multi-dimensional bays are preferred to slough-like coves. so look for ones featuring good depth, 10 feet or more, and abundant features like humps, points, weedlines and inlets. They harbor more pike, and fish linger there longer, not being forced out by early-summer heat and subsequent lack of oxygen and forage. Many are lakes unto themselves, sporting deep flats and offshore bars. In lake-like bays, pike spawn in the shallows, recuperate and then gradually move to the bays’ deeper areas, notably weed lines.
The frequent loss of leadhead jigs to slime and teeth should trigger the conclusion that pike like what they’re seeing. But a change needs to be orchestrated for you to secure the upper hand. Reach for larger haired jigs and tether them with stronger, more abrasion-resistant lines. Big jigs, like the soft plastics mentioned earlier, maintain a large profile and can be presented languidly. Sizable 3/8- and 1/2-ounce bucktail jigs are marvelous. Leer rhythmically pumps a Northland Bionic Bucktail Jig tipped with a 3- or 4-inch sucker minnow. The meaty dressing adds visual stimulation, bulk and flavor. Griz does the same but with a Griz Jig – his own creation, featuring feathered marabou instead of bucktail and thereby achieving a similar dancing effect.
Operating larger jigs demands an upgrade from conventional walleye gear. Where you might have spooled 6- or 8-pound-test monofilament for ‘eyes, use 10- to 14-pound-test strengths. Overall, in a jigging scenario, mono outperforms the current wave of superlines, which impress in other arenas. You’ll want to tie in a leader, though. Spring pike aren’t known to be “leader shy,” likely due to their aggressiveness and usual springtime water coloration, so factor in a 12- to 18-inch seven-strand steel leader. Make your own and crimp the jig on, or go with a factory rendition. Leer likes a Berkley 14-inch leader with a steel ball-bearing and cross-lock snap, thus preventing line twist and allowing him to switch jig sizes and colors.
Spinning gear is preferred for jigging, although some anglers do prefer baitcasting equipment on drifts. I like a long 6 1/2- to 7-foot medium-heavy rod with a forearm-length cork handle. Long handles ease wrist-fatigue and provide a fulcrum during battle. You needn’t be as persnickety with reel selection, as long as you pick one that will spool heavier lines, run drag when it’s supposed to and not backpedal on hookset – instant anti-reverse.
Speaking of wobble, crankbaits and stick baits (long, shallow-running cranks) are the next line of offense. Beginning with the latter, focus once more on big and slow. Baitfish-mocking stick baits, like spinnerbaits and bucktails, can be cast or trolled. A healthy-sized Rapala Husky Jerk, Bomber Long A, Smithwick Rattlin’ Rogue or shallow-running Storm ThunderStick can be lethal. Realistic minnow finishes – gold and silver – are reliable, as are patterns involving white and red. Fire-tiger, a bright perch imitator, also smokes pike, and most manufacturers offer it. I utilize straight retrieves with infrequent twitches, modifying as conditions warrant.
Unquestionably, springtime pike react more strongly to lipless rattling crankbaits than any other variety.
- Bill Lewis Rat-L-Traps
- Rapala Rattlin’ Raps
- Frenzy Rattl’rs score big time.
They’re wide-profiled and highly visible, plus the incessant clacking and wickedly tight wobble cause pike to come unglued. Because they sink, you’re able to control running depth. Unlike stick baits, which I retrieve methodically with occasional twitches, lipless cranks should be burnt through the water. Cast, point your rod tip at the splash and bear down.
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- Canola oil (for frying)
- Boneless perch fillets, cleaned and dried
- 1 large bowl all-purpose flour
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 3 eggs, beaten
- 1 large bowl milk
- 1 large bowl cornflake crumbs
- Lemon juice (to taste)
- Tartar sauce
- Heat oil in a cast-iron frying pan over a hot wood fire or a range set to medium-high (the oil is hot enough when it foams around a smidgen of bread).
- Dredge fillets in flour seasoned with salt and pepper.
- Pour eggs into bowl of milk, then submerge each fillet in mixture. Next, coat each fillet with cornflake crumbs.
- Carefully add coated fillets to pan and cook until each side is golden brown. Remove from pan and season with additional salt and pepper, lemon juice and/or tartar sauce.
- Serve with fried potatoes and corn.
The Lure of Mepps Spinners Flash & Vibration
Most fishing lures are imitators. They look like a minnow, worm, crawfish, frog or other aquatic creature. Soft plastic fishing lures and crankbaits are molded in these shapes. Spoons imitate minnows. Feeding fish are quick to grab these lures.
While the Mister Twister TwisterMite may be the best hellgrammite imitator you’ll find anywhere, it won’t do you a lot of good if the fish aren’t feeding. When the bite gets tough you have entice the fish to strike. This is the time to tie on a Mepps spinner.
Mepps spinners are very different. They are not designed to imitate anything. They entice a fish into striking by appealing to its basic survival instinct. “I don’t know what that is, but it’s invading my territory and I’m going to kill it.” Or, “Look at that. I can have some fun with that.” How does a spinner do this? It really is simple. Spinners use flash and vibration to attract fish. This flash and vibration comes from their revolving blade. No other fishing lure has this unique feature.
For this very reason, Mepps spinners will catch fish when no other lure will. Have you ever played with a cat? Feed a cat all it wants and it stops eating. It may even go to sleep. But, tie a toy to a string, drag it across the floor and the cat comes to life. It pounces on the toy. It’s not hungry, it’s been enticed it into striking. A Mepps spinner has the same effect on a fish. The fish sees the spinner and goes on the attack. The “key” word is “sees.” The fish must “see” the spinner to attack it.
“What is the best Mepps lure to use for…” To answer this, Mepps offers more than 4-thousand (that’s right 4,000) different lures in a wide variety of sizes and colors.
Lure size is important. The general rule of thumb is use smaller lures to catch smaller fish and larger lures to catch larger fish. But, this a rule of thumb. It is not pure science, nor is it etched in stone.
Mepps spinners in sizes #3 and #4 are preferred by walleye fishermen. In fact, the #3 dressed Mepps Aglia was rated the best all around lure.. Size #3 Mepps spinners are also ideal for walleye three pounds and over.
Size #4 and #5 Mepps are ideal for large rainbow trout and steelhead, as well as coho (silver) and chinook (king) salmon. Giant tackle busting northern pike will inhale a dressed #5 Mepps spinner. Or, if you are after trophy northern pike try a Mepps Musky Killer, Magnum Musky Killer, Giant Killer, Mepps Marabou or Musky Marabou.
Does water temperature influence lure selection? You bet is does. Fish are cold blooded creatures. This means their body temperature rises in warm water and falls in cold water. Fish are most active when the water they live in is cool. Think about it. Even though you are not a cold blooded creature, you are most active when the atmosphere you live in is comfortable… not too hot and not too cold. Cool is, “just right.”
When you are too hot or too cold, you alter your activities to adapt to your environment. If it’s too cold, you warp yourself in a warm blanket and hunker down with a favorite magazine or book. If you’re watching television, the remote had better be near-by because you are not getting up to change channels. If it’s sweltering, you’ll slip into a pair of comfortable shorts and stretch out in front of the air conditioner. You’re not about to get up to make yourself a sandwich, as just the thought of moving around can make you queasy.
Fish react the same way, only their reactions are stronger. They cannot warm or cool their blood as we do to control our body temperature. Instead, when the water is cold a fish will move to shallow warm water, especially if the sun is out and it is warming that water. Here it will rest until its body temperature warms up. On the other hand, when the water is warm, a fish will move into a deep pocket in a lake, or into a fast run in a stream. Here it will “rest” until its body temperature cools down.
Just like you, under these less than ideal conditions, a fish isn’t about to leave the comfort of his pocket or run. In other words, it’s not about to go chasing around after a lure. It’s also not about to eat, so it doesn’t matter if that crankbait is the perfect crawfish imitator, it will be ignored.
However, let a small Mepps spinner slowly “swim” by and that same fish will grab it, and why not? Here is a small unrecognized creature, bug or “thing” invading the sanctity of its comfort zone, its “easy chair” so to speak. BANG! After all, you might not get up to make that sandwich, but what if someone were kind enough to drop a piece of your favorite candy in your lap? BANG!
Now let’s take a look at what you do when the temperature is ideal. You wade your favorite lake, You jog, you go biking. You play 18 holes of golf and you carry your clubs. You may even paint the house or build a deck. In other words, you exercise and, as you do, you work up an appetite. So, you stoke up the grill.
When the water temperature is cool, a fish reacts the same way. This is the time to toss spoons and other imitators. Fish them fast or slow. Vary your retrieve to see what works best. Keep in mind, however, you will only catch fish as long as they are feeding. When they stop biting its time to tie on that spinner.
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Pike fishing is one of the fastest growing areas in sport fishing today. Ask any long-time pike angler if fishing pressure is increasing, or look at the growth of Pike or Musky lure manufacturers, and you’ll be convinced that pike fishing is on the rise.
With more anglers pursuing these predators every year, the need for proper releasing techniques is crucial to ensure the survival of post-release fish, and to sustain the sport fishery.
The Right Tools And Gear
You need the right tools to play, and to release a big pike without exhausting or over-stressing the fish. The right tools begin with your fishing equipment. Your set-up should include heavy-action rods, and reels with high ratios and large spools to quickly retrieve line. Spool reels with quality line with a minimum rating of 65-pound-test. The terminal end should have steel leader with strong snaps and ball bearing swivels.
You will need the right tools to land and release these big predators. Opinions vary on the best device to land a muskie, but nets and cradles (large enough to comfortably hold, or pen, a pike) are two popular options. You will also need tools to help cut and remove hooks from the fish’s mouth, including long-nosed pliers, hook cutters, jaw spreaders, and hook-removers.
Remember, cutting hooks can be faster than removing them with pliers, but it is critical to remove all the hook pieces. Pieces left in the fish can lead to infection and, potentially, death.
Have The Knowledge
You’ve just spent a couple hundred dollars on a quality net, a rod and reel combo, a dozen lures, and the latest release tools. Better yet, you’re on a beautiful lake and have a good population of monster pike. Adrenaline rushes through your body, but are you prepared to safely land this fish? This is an important question anglers new to muskie fishing need to ask themselves before fishing. Netting a fat walleye, requires skill and confidence, but handling big, aggressive fish is more demanding. The good news is there are many ways to learn how to land and release pike properly.
One of the best ways to learn is by doing. Joining a club will connect you to a wealth of pike information. Hiring a credible guide is another way to gain first-hand experience. Reading publications specific to pike fishing and attending seminars at fishing shows are two other ways to boost your release know-how.
Confidence And Patience
“Zen and the art of pike fishing?” you ask. No, but confidence and patience are two traits that will go a long way to ensure you properly release fish. When working in close quarters with pike, you must be confident in your actions; this is where the right tools and knowledge will really pay off. For example, if you’re leaning over to grab a trophy sized pike and you hesitate just as the fish thrashes in the net, the situation could quickly get dangerous to both you and the fish.
Most multi-season, pike anglers know stories of hooks in hands and fish freak-outs. Being confident when handling pike will likely save you a hospital visit, but it can’t guarantee it.
Being patient comes into play on many levels in fishing, but let’s focus on how it relates to releasing these toothy brutes. After hooking a pike you intend to release (which should be almost always), you’re responsible to do it properly. Pike that battle hard during the fight may require time to recuperate before swimming away. It may take only 10 minutes or 20 minutes, but some pike may need more than an hour of boat-side support. One thing to remember is to avoid shallow water during hot months as this water doesn’t hold much oxygen. Bringing the fish out to a little deeper water will be advantageous to the fish. As a responsible angler, you must be patient enough to hold and support that fish as it regains its strength before being able to strongly swim out of your hands. If you’re not prepared to spend the time to properly release a fish, you shouldn’t be fishing in the first place. It’s that simple.
Being organized is more than just having the right tools and gear accessible in a tidy and hazard-free boat. It’s also fishing with a partner and knowing your responsibilities once a fish is hooked. While one battles the fish, the other should ready the release tools, camera, measuring tape, and landing device.
Having a plan for playing and releasing fish, and keeping all tools needed within reach, reduces handling time and overall stress to the fish. Furthermore, a planned and properly executed process for landing, handling and releasing fish will ensure the fish is kept in the water as much as possible.
Key to any successful release is keeping the fish (especially its head) in the water at all times, and only removing it for a quick photo if necessary. Some anglers let the fish recuperate in a net or cradle after the hooks are removed before handling the pike again to take a picture. When photographing a fish, a good rule of thumb is to hold your breath as you lift the fish out of the water. When you need to breathe, so does the fish, and it should quickly be returned to the water to minimize harm.
Try these tips the next time you’re on the water to protect this outstanding resource.
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There are three times during the open-water period that can be considered prime for big pike.
Each of these windows of opportunity lasts from 10 to 14 days and is key for large-sized northern because during this time, the bigger fish of this species are more concentrated in the shallower water. Here’s where they can be found easily and caught with lures that allow anglers to cover some ground in their search. Once these big pike head to the cool depths where they spread out and suspend, finding and catching them requires tremendous amounts of luck. It’s better to time your fishing for big pike to these three periods to take advantage of factors that give the edge to the angler instead of the pike.
- The first period is right after ice-out, which can be a problem in many areas where the season is closed on inland waters.
- The second period is as the shallows warm, when the big pike transition from shallow water to deep water.
- The third is right before a water body turns over in the fall, when big northern will move up into shallow water after spending summer in the depths.
Right after ice-out, you find huge northern pike in the spawning areas. These will be shallow weed-choked bays in the lake, and weedy backwater bays up the river.
Little northern aren’t hard to find and catch, but the big pike are a challenge and they put up one heck of a fight. When you hook into a really nice pike, you can’t make any mistakes.
Don’t let the cold water temperatures right after ice-out deter you from using an approach that allows you to cover some ground. This is the perfect time to be tying on a spinner bait because it’s a lure that works well in shallow vegetation.
The pike move up into whatever vegetation is still standing from the previous year — and any newly emerging weed growth that can often be found in very shallow depths. Use a 3/4-ounce spinner bait with a large Colorado blade. This lure casts a long way and can be retrieved slowly, if that’s what’s necessary. You can also burn it a little faster just below the surface in the real shallow water.
Some of the pike will have already spawned, more than likely while ice still covered the surface. Others are still spawning or are preparing to. Occasionally you may catch a big pike and you can tell is post-spawn, most of the really big pike after the ice has just gone out are still fat with eggs and just on the verge of spawning. All trophy fish are released back to Wawang Lake.
It’s the transition period when the shallow shoreline regions are warming and the big northern are moving into the deeper, cooler water when most anglers get their first shot at big pike. This period usually falls into a two-week time frame a couple of weeks after the traditional opener. Anglers who can be on the water at this time can capitalize on big fish that are still in reaching distance for a spinner bait or crank bait.
It’s no secret that big pike like the colder water. You will seldom find the bigger pike in the shallower regions in the lake during the summer months, because the water temperatures there are just too warm for their liking. If you miss this transition period, you’ll likely be into fall before you get another chance at a really big pike, because those bigger fish get hard to come by when they disappear into the depths.
This is a good time to get out Spoon plugs. Any lake that has a well-defined deep weed line is a perfect candidate for Spoon plugs.
The Spoon plug is a lure that was promoted years ago by famous angler Buck Perry, and is a staple of many diehard big-pike anglers. It allows an angler to troll a weed line or break line precisely at speeds of 1 to 4 mph.
You can cover some ground and find out where those pike are, although during the transition, it’s more important to have your lure in the right place than worrying about the speed. Those Spoon plugs will get the lure to the right depth and stay on the weed line, no matter what speed I find triggers the bite.
So how does an angler know when the transition starts and ends? Water temperature signals the start. When the surface temperature hits about 67 degrees, you know it’s going to start pushing those fish out. This could be early June during some years and early July in others. The weather is the biggest determinant in when this transition period occurs.
You can tell it’s over when the fish quit the bite. You’ll have a week where the weed line and shallow rock piles are producing big pike with some consistency, then one day you go out there and they’re gone.
The pre-turnover period is when those big pike come out of the deep water as the shallow water cools, just prior to the lake rolling over.
Turnover is a tough time to call, which is why the guys who can get out on a body of water often generally hit this time just right. If you miss it, then there is a period for a couple of weeks after turnover when the fishing is tough all over a lake. It’s just luck and timing.
The big pike will be roaming over the tops of the vegetation, you’ll just want to be ticking the tops of the cabbage, coontail or milfoil with that spinner bait, and if the blade is just a nice slow thump, that’s perfect.
Back troll slowly over the vegetation, with only about 25 to 35 feet of line out — the line from the reel at a 45-degree angle toward the lure and the spinner bait right above the vegetation. By wearing a good pair of polarized glasses, an angler can watch the bait as it dances in and around the stalks and branches. As the boat moves from shallower to deeper water, drop the rod tip or lets out a little more line until the lure starts ticking weeds again.
If seeing an opening in the weeds, drop the rod tip and let the lure settle in. It’s amazing how often you see the big pike react to the spinner bait and come out of a big pile of milfoil or coontail and attack that lure.
These big pike are the top predators in a lake and they fear nothing at this point. You’ll see them swim right into the prop wash to hit a spinner bait or spoon as it’s trolled out from the boat.
Back trolling allows more depth control. It’s easier to get the speed down and work a depth more thoroughly when backing the boat. If the pike are deeper switch to crank baits or Spoon plugs, then front-troll. But when pulling spinner baits over the tops of the weeds, back troll.
Open-water season in northern Ontario lasts about 28 weeks or so and the time frame for quality big-pike fishing is between five and six weeks, so it’s imperative that you be on the water for these peak times. Those big pike don’t give you many opportunities, so you need to take advantage of every one.
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