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Timing the Pike Bite Just Right

 There are three times during the open-water period that can be considered prime for big pike.

 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.

  1. The first period is right after ice-out, which can be a problem in many areas where the season is closed on inland waters.
  2. The second period is as the shallows warm, when the big pike transition from shallow water to deep water.
  3. 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.

Wawang_pike_lures

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.

Wawang pike 46.5

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.

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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.

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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 ’em.

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Strategies for Lazy Walleye

28 (5)They’re there. You know they’re there. In deeper water, you can see them on your fish finder. Or, in shallow water too skinny to move your boat over the fish without spooking them, you simply know from past experience they’re around. Perhaps some subtle bumps or nudges — but no hook-ups — indicate walleyes are present but just not biting. Or at least just not biting anything that moves. Here’s a simple solution. Don’t move your bait. In other words, bring out your dead.

Dead sticking — which basically means tossing a jig out, letting it sink to bottom, and then not moving it for a l-o-n-g time, equates to a war of patience and nerves between your giant-size genius brain on one end of the line and a walleye’s peanut-size brain, staring at the other. Guess who has the advantage?  Definitely not you!   In such conditions, accept some simple facts.

First, walleyes react according to instinct, not thinking. If weather and water and fishing pressure combine and conspire to shut off the bite, amazingly, they’re often all that way.  There’s no way you will get all your fishing buddies to all agree on exhibiting the same mood, based of course upon their superior intellect.

Second, because walleyes are reacting (or not reactive!) in negative fashion, you not only can’t outthink them, but you likely won’t be able to razzle-dazzle them with your array of fancy tackle and gadgets. So your best bet is to stick a food item in their faces and outwait them, hoping to trigger some form of subtle response through sheer time exposure rather than clever tactics.

What comes to mind?   Well, a slip bobber suspending a lively leech just off bottom is a likely candidate, drifted slowly and subtly through prospective spots. So too would be a split shot rig, with you casting a nose-hooked night-crawler on target, letting it descend to bottom, and allowing it to sit there, wiggling enticingly, with walleyes gathered ’round, eyeballing the worm. Occasionally, you could lift the rod tip a few feet to slide the rig a bit closer to the boat, take up slack, and then set the rod down again, waiting for the rod tip to bend, indicating a strike. Pretty darn patient, especially since both tactics would require first anchoring the boat.

27 (3)Are there any slightly more mobile and fractionally more aggressive tactics that might cover a teeny bit more water, especially up in the shallows? Enter dead sticking with a lightweight 1/8-ounce jig, tipped with minnow, half-crawler or leech. Or perhaps even a scented plastic tail (ala bass tactics) although the lack of motion inherent with this system definitely favors live bait in some form, due to its natural lively appearance, scent and taste, even when fished in place.

A DEADLY APPROACH To dead stick a small jig, you needn’t do much different that your normal lift-drop jigging retrieve back to the boat. Except, of course, for the excruciatingly long pauses between lifts of the rod tip. The key is having the confidence to believe a walleye is out there looking at your bait at all times, and to let it sit and soak and tease and tempt and turn that aggravation and exasperation back against the fish, letting the extended pause work in your advantage to eventually fool the walleye into closing the gap, flaring its gills and lightly sucking in the jig. You likely won’t feel much. It might be a tap, but more likely just a sudden slight weight on the end of the line. Tighten up slack while lowering your rod tip to horizontal — if it isn’t already there — and then sweep set the hook.   Thus you should try to minimize slack at all times without tempting yourself to unnecessarily jiggle and wiggle the jig.

25.5 (2)Remember, the extended pause with the jig anchoring the wriggling live bait to the bottom is key to getting bites. The nice thing about dead sticking is that you don’t have to anchor, at least on a calm day. Rather, use your electric trolling motor to creep along, then stop or hover, and make a series of fan casts across a general area to test for the presence of fish. Hopefully, you’ve already established that they’re nearby, because this isn’t a method to be used to locate fish, due to the limited amount of water you’re able to cover. But if you can force yourself into the mode of 30-second pauses between subtle lift-drops of the rod tip, making each cast last at least two or three minutes, then you’re in the dead zone.

The perfect tactic for tempting reluctant biters spread across shallow rock or gravel flats within or adjoining spawning areas; sparse sand grass flats emerging from sandy bottoms; rocky or wood-lined reservoir shorelines where walleyes move shallow to feed aggressively in windy conditions and may linger inactive when the weather turns calm; or basically anytime walleyes are up shallow, skittish and not responding to presentations that move. Turn the tables. Fish lures so slowly that they’re virtually motionless. Bring out your dead.

OTHER DEADLY APPROACHES Think about it. Are you fishing through walleyes that aren’t biting? (It’s a terrible thought, isn’t it?) But is there a nagging feeling at the nape of your neck that your offerings are going unappreciated?

Tone things down, speed wise and action wise. Instead of buzzing along a drop-off with a bottom bouncer, spinner and crawler, switch to a bouncer and plain snell, and creep and crawl along, barely moving, even pausing occasionally. Ultraslow movement requires short lines, with the bouncer barely ticking or slightly suspended above bottom, to prevent it from toppling over at rest. Consider using an upright floating bouncer like the Today’s Tackle Foam Walker, which stands up at rest.

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Extend the principle to other presentations. Casting neutrally buoyant minnow-imitating crank baits isn’t that far unrelated from dead sticking; you pull, then p-a-u-s-e, before pulling again, letting the bait hang there before a walleye’s eyes. The suspense kills them. A three-way rig lets a floating jig head or simple live bait snell hang in place before a river ‘eye. A drop shot rig suspends a live bait or plastic tail above bottom in lakes and reservoirs. Lack of movement is often a key trigger for catching reluctant walleyes, which brings about a closing thought.  Chances are that by this stage in life, however, you’ve been shut down enough times to learn that smooth opening lines don’t guarantee a favorable response and, in fact, can be counter productive. Sometimes, you just have to sit down and do nothing but look good in order to attract attention.

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Trolling Spinnerbaits For BIG PIKE

booyah_super_shad_spinnerbaitTrolling spinner baits is a technique every northern pike fisherman should have in their arsenal.

The idea is to quickly fish pike spots, such as weed flats and break lines, searching for actively feeding fish or enticing neutral ones to bite.

Spinner baits are effective trolling baits for several reasons. They can be trolled quickly and the upward facing single hook keeps baits fairly weedless, allowing trolling through thick vegetation with minimal foul-up. Also, their bucktail bodies equates to a high-hooking percentage.

To properly troll spinnerbaits, match the bait’s weight to the trolling speed.

When using a short arm, 1.5-ounce to 2-ounce trolling spinnerbait, run it between 75 feet to 120 feet behind the boat.   Run them this far back because it’s out of the prop wash area. You will want the bait to pop out of the water every five to 10 seconds.

Lure Pops Out Of Water

The popping attracts pike and in order for the sound to be effective, the baits must be out of the prop wash’s disturbance. Trolling long lines also allows you to position baits over structure too shallow to drive over because of the lag time between the boat and the bait.

When speed trolling, run the baits just below the surface, but not popping out.   At this speed popping baits lose their effectiveness. Use 2-ounce to 3-ounce baits, 75 feet behind the boat, trolling them between 4.5 mph and 5.5 mph. If you want to troll faster, use 4-ounce to 6-ounce baits.

When speed trolling, regularly position baits close to the prop wash.  Baits run beautifully on the side of the prop wash, they dance because of the different currents in the water, darting back and forth, giving you a real irregular troll out of them.

A fundamental to trolling is “S”-turns. Baits positioned on the outside of the turn will be pulled faster through the water, while the bait on the inside of the turn will slow down. When a fish hits on a turn, note which side of the turn the bait was on. This is a good indication of how fast you should troll. Slow down if on the inside and speed up if on the outside of the turn.

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Turns Are Key

Turning is also helpful when working weed edges or breaklines. Meandering along a breakline or weed edge allows you to fish different depths as well as structure and cover on a trolling run, increasing your chances of finding fish.

Spinnerbaits can also be effective over rocky structure. After passing a point, it is advisable to cut the motor and drop the bait down a bit, count to five and then engage the throttle again.   This causes the bait to sink then swim back up to the surface. A lot of time it’s on the uplift when a fish will hit. A BIG pike that sees a bait suddenly shoot to the surface might think it’s a baitfish trying to escape and these big predators will react, hitting it to prevent it from getting away.

To troll spinnerbaits for pike make sure you have the right gear. Rod holders reduce arm strain and must be strong enough to sustain a pike’s strike. With holders you can position rods, and subsequently, the path of the baits.

Longer rods between 7 feet and 8 feet, in medium- to heavy-action are good for trolling. Reels with high gear ratios are crucial to quickly play pike, minimizing stress to the fish. Line counter reels are also helpful. Spool reels with 80- to 100-pound-test superbraid, and use a strong wire leader.

Keep Drag Loose

Keep drags loose, especially when using superbraid lines, otherwise you’ll pull baits away from fish or your gear may fail under the force of a hit. When you get a hit, quickly grab the rod out of the holder. Do not to set the hook too hard. Trolling at these high speeds will often be enough to set the hook. After the hook set, cut the engine to fight the fish.

 

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Trolling spinnerbaits allows you to cover vast stretches of water, increasing your odds of finding a feeding fish throughout the day.

Take advantage of trolling to explore new areas you haven’t fished before or to work productive water. Don’t be afraid to troll fast for pike, these freshwater brutes are torpedo’s and notorious for slamming speeding spinnerbaits.

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FISHING with Soft Plastics

26" walleye

26″ walleye

The evolution of soft plastic baits has greatly advanced over the years virtually giving anglers a wide variety and selection for all game fish. Soft plastics offer many advantages over hard bodied lures such as crank baits and spoons that does not have the soft texture as real food. When a fish strikes a soft plastic bait it feels natural so fish will mouth it longer giving the angler extra time to set the hook. In making soft bait’s the plastic is heated into a liquid form then poured in a mold to replicate the shape, grub, worm, bait fish, crawfish, lizard, frogs, and insects.

During the bait making process additional ingredients can be added to appeal to the fish’s senses such as, scents, layered colors, metal flakes, and flavors. Other significant details of soft baits today in manufacturing is to add life-like realistic features like crescent rings on worms and grubs, floating claws on crawfish, web feet and feelers on amphibians, holographic and translucent flash on shad and minnow baits replicating the scales of bait ish.

Other benefits in fishing with soft plastics are rigging the hook, the point can be buried into the body of the bait where it cannot snag underwater obstructions such as dense weeds, rocks, brush and logs, but yet the hook will penetrate through the soft bait when you set the hook. Another is scents, they can be treated with bottled-paste attractants or purchase them already molded in. Soft plastic’s will hold scents much longer than hard bodied lures that wash off quickly.

Fishing Set-ups with Soft Plastic’s

variety plasticsIn casting or vertical jigging the smallest soft plastic lures for perch use ultra light spinning gear spooled with 4-6lb test monofilament. Species such as walleye  with a mid-sized plastic’s use a medium light to medium spinning gear with 6-10 lb test monofilament. In using larger plastic’s with hooks buried into the bait that requires a strong hook set for large mouth bass and northern pike use medium to medium heavy bait casting gear spooled with 14 to 20lb test low stretch monofilament line. For pike that have the largest plastic’s up to and over 1lb use heavy to extra heavy bait casting gear spooled with 50 to 80lb low stretch abrasion resistance braided line. Many rod manufactures specializes in making powerful fast action rods dedicated for soft plastic fishing.
The popular use by anglers of soft plastics has skyrocketed over the years by the increased number of new products introduced annually by lure companies this is evident with fishing tackle pro shops in store displays, catalog pages for online and print buyers guides.

As a reference listed below are a few of the most commonly used soft plastics in order to help you identify each type.

wormsWorms

The invention of the plastic worm spawned more variations of soft plastic baits than any other in fishing lure history. Grubs, jerk worms, crawfish, tubes, lizards, swim/bait fish all were developed based on the introduction of the soft plastic worm technology back in 1949 by a Ohio lure maker. Worms come in sizes from a few inches for perch up to 12 inches for walleye and pike. The types ( floating and sinking) and the colors of worms made today are in hundreds of thousands with the multitude of color variations and scents. The main fish attracting action components of worms are the texture (ringed, ribbed or smooth) affecting the sink rate and the tail (ribbon, twister, paddle, or straight) which provides vibrations when the worm is moved. In rigging a worm, there are two options pre-rigged with a hook or series of hooks, or using a Texas rig the most common, Carolina rig, wacky rig and the drop shot rig.

grubsGrubs

Fishing with soft plastic grubs has been a longtime favorite among anglers for all species. Grubs are composed of soft plastic round body either ringed, ribbed or smooth, combined with single curly tail, double curly split tail, paddle tail, or straight tails for various actions. Grubs come in various lengths from 1″ up to 12″ and hundreds of colors combinations. The most common use for grubs is tipped on a jig, or as a trailer on an inline spinners and spinner baits. Grubs are also popular to fish using a drop shot rig, split shot rig and Carolina rigs.

bait fish

Bait Fish

Soft plastic bait fish come in numerous sizes and colors to mimic forage fish. Determine what bait fish are in the waters you’re fishing and select a profile size and color to match, for a natural presentation. Usually the smaller the better. Many soft plastic bait fish baits feature a paddle tail that wiggles when retrieved, but others have curly tails and forked tails that give them swimming action. Fishing soft plastic bait fish imitations are an excellent choice jigged along the bottom or brought in on a straight retrieve.

tubesTubes

Tubes are rounded hollow soft plastic bodied bait open-ended with a series of tentacles on the base. The main body is usually smooth but some have a ribbed exterior. The interior hollow design works well with holding liquid or paste scents. Tubes range in sizes from 1″-2″ for perch 3″-6″ for walleye and up to 14″ for big pike. Most often tubes are rigged using a weighted tube jig placed within the tube’s body or to make a tube weedless anglers use a wide gap hook threading it through the nose and securing the hook into the body on the outer wall of the tube. Upon casting a tube it will display a spiral action on the fall with the tentacles undulating providing an injured bait fish look, in jigging the tube off the bottom it will appear as a crawfish imitation especially good for feeding walleye. Tubes can be rigged as bait using a Texas Rig, Carolina Rig, or on a drop shot rig.

crawfishCrawfish

The soft plastic crawfish or crawdad is a deadly on walleye at certain times and when presented along rocky bottom area’s. The main feature of an imitation crawfish is the pinchers when tipped on a jig it gives the bait a realistic defensive posture by raising its claws that sends bass a signal to feed. Crawfish soft plastic’s are available from craw trailers to the highly detailed featuring pinchers, antennae, legs, abdomen and tail.

lizards

Lizards

Although not widely used for walleye these have been known to catch walleye at certain times during the summer.   Lizards come is a wide variety of colors, scents, ribbed, smooth, floating and sinking. The most common fishing techniques are similar to fishing plastic worms, using Texas and Carolina rigs or tipped on a jig for flipping and pitching.

leeches

Leeches & Reepers

Leeches and reapers are a basic variation of a soft plastic grub, rounded head and body leading to a soft thin membrane sides. The smaller reapers resemble a leech while the larger reapers mimic bait fish. The sizes start from 3″ for walleye and bass up to 12″ for pike. Most anglers rig a leech/reaper tipped on a jig head inserting the hook through the head or use a split shot rig and a single hook. Reapers are a good bait to use on waters that receive a high amount of angling pressure.

frogs

Frogs

Using a floating soft plastic frog around heavy weeds for pike is exhilarating as the pike comes out of the water and gulps your lure. The advantages of soft-plastic surface frogs are, they are weedless with the hooks positioned against the body, they feel natural with their soft spongy body, so the bass will hang on to the lure longer giving more time for the angler to set the hook. The best fishing tip we can offer while using a top water frog is fish slow. After a cast let the frog sit until the ripples subside now pop or twitch the frog once or twice, then let the frog sit for a few seconds and repeat. To change-up the presentation upon reaching weed pocket or opening let the frog sit and just barely twitch the frog so just the legs quiver. Summertime pike laying in the weeds aren’t active at these times, but can be enticed by an easy meal.

magnumsMagnum

From the 1950’s through the 1970’s the soft plastic bait industry was focused on worms and grubs used for walleye. That changed in the 1980’s when small basement lure companies started producing larger soft plastic lures designed for pike. This spawned a revolution in the 1990’s regarding the soft plastic lure market as larger companies began taking notice and adding larger soft plastic baits to their product line. Today there are hundreds of variations, colors, combinations of hard bodied soft tail baits, some even weighing 1 lb and 15 inches in length. Fishing with super sized soft plastic’s opened a new chapter and presentation for pike anglers throughout the world.

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Deep Water Walleye Fishing

DSCN0898When you catch a big Walleye, big meaning over 6-pounds, there is a 95% chance that it’s a female. The big females generally only go into the shallows in the spring where they are up along the shore, in rivers or over sandbars, which are their favorite places to spawn. The smaller males seem to stay in the 2 to 15 foot range all year. The bigger females tend to go deeper then 15 feet. When fishing deep for big mid-summer/ early fall walleye fish between 20 and 40 feet deep.

Why do the big females go deep? There are several explanations depending on the size of the lake and how far north the lake is.

1) Bigger females have a larger air bladder, which makes them hyper sensitive to changes in atmospheric pressure. Being deeper makes the adjustment a little easier when the weather changes.LOTM-rapala-ice-jig

2) Bigger females spend too much energy chasing small bait fish that are found in shallow water. The bigger bait fish that are found is shallow water like perch etc., are hard to swallow as they have defensive spins in their fins. Lake Chub, Whitefish, Lake Herring  are all found in abundance down deep AND this food source is abundant in Wawang Lake. They are easier to swallow and more rewarding when considering the amount of energy needed to catch them. These deep water bait fish, especially Whitefish, have more oil in their meat thus more calories.

3) A walleye metabolism speeds up in shallow warm water. As a result, the bigger they get, the more food they need to maintain their weight. If the food is not there, they go to deeper cold water so their metabolism slows down. The dangerous thing about this is there is a fine threshold between eating more or conserving energy. If a big Walleye gets to the point where they can not find enough food to maintain their weight, they do get smaller, then they die. As soon as a Walleye gets to the point where they are starting to weaken from lack of food energy, they do not have the energy to catch bait fish and starve to death.

4) In smaller northern lakes, there is a larger population of Pike regularly attack walleye and bigger slower moving females are an easy target. This is another reason why they go deep right after they spawn.

 

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Some Types of Lures to Use on the Big Lake:

When you are Walleye fishing on big water like Wawang Lake, the walleye tend to stay suspended along with the schools of bait fish. Lets say you were on a big  part of the lake, , the best thing to do is troll until you come across a deeper school of bait fish and then keep trolling over the bait school.

These schools of bait-fish can be 15 to 40 feet deep and the walleye will be there too. The most popular lures are the Rapala Husky Jerks and the Rattlin’ Fat
Raps.
–> 10 to 20 feet deep – Regular Husky Jerks
–> 20 to 40 feet deep – Down Deep Husky Jerk or Down Deep Rattlin’ Fat Rap

Just troll around and use your depth finder to spot schools of fish. To determine how deep you are, the Regular Husky Jerks go down about 1 foot for every 10 feet of line out. The Down Deep Rapalas go down about 3 feet for every 10 feet of line out. So using a Down Deep Rapala, getting down 30 feet deep means you need 100 feet of line out. This is just a general estimate. The speed of your troll will affect how deep the lures will go.

3-Way Swivel Rig:

 

The best way to fish down deep for Walleye is with 10-pound test line and a 3-way swivel rig. This technique is also excellent for other fish that are right on bottom in the 20 to 60-feet of water.

You need 8 to 10 pound test because thicker line has too much friction with the water and it will be hard to find the bottom. You also need a 1-oz or 2-oz weight, a 3-way swivel and a lure that does not sink. Use an Original floating Rapala, Junior Thunderstick, Countdown Rapala or a worm harness with small spinner blades and a big fat worm.

This rig is smaller than the standard type; You need a 3-foot lead line from the 3-way swivel to the sinker. Then you need a 5 or 6-foot lead line to your lure.  Get a strait slow troll going and slowly let out line until your sinker hits the bottom. Then reel up a foot and wait.. Keep those lines tight!

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Timing the Pike Bite Just Right

 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.

  1. The first period is right after ice-out, which can be a problem in many areas where the season is closed on inland waters.
  2. The second period is as the shallows warm, when the big pike transition from shallow water to deep water.
  3. 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.

pike

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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Choosing the Right Gear Ratio

reel gear

Buying new fishing reels overwhelms many anglers, as an abundance of options can muddy the waters. One of the big decisions involves choosing the right gear ratio reel. Understanding gear ratios in fishing reels will increase your efficiency on the water and decrease your stress level when faced with a big purchasing decision.

Some quick technical talk

The gear ratio of a reel is measured by how many times the spool turns for each single turn of the handle. For instance, if a reel has a gear ratio of 6.4:1, every time you turn the handle, the spool inside turns exactly 6.4 times.

As a result, a reel with a gear ratio of 5.1:1 is going to be a much slower reel than one with a 7.1:1 gear ratio—the spool of a 5.1:1 reel will spin 5.1 times with each handle turn, while the 7.1:1 spool will turn 7.1 times with each handle turn.

It also helps to know the IPT of a reel or Inches per Turn. This is a measure of how much line is retrieved into the reel with a single handle turn. It can also mean a gear ratio reel that claims to be the fastest may really be the same as other high speed reels.

Because spool size, depth and width can impact IPT, just because a reel is 7.3:1 or 8:1 doesn’t necessarily mean it reels in more line per turn than a 7.1:1 reel– it also depends on the spool and line size.

Uses for a low gear ratio reel | 5.1:1 thru 5.4:1

•    Deep crankbaits
•    Big swimbaits
•    Deep water spinnerbaits

A lower gear ratio reel is ideal for big baits that pull a lot, such as deep crankbaits. These reels have the highest amount of torque, allowing you to put less effort into retrieving the bait and more energy towards finding the fish.

These reels are also great for slow rolling big, heavy baits such as spinnerbaits and swimbaits. In cold water when bass are especially wary, a slow gear ratio is perfect for these slower, non-threatening presentations. A slow reel also aids in keeping these baits in the strike zone longer, which can prove invaluable when fishing moving baits in deep water.

Uses for a medium gear ratio reel | 6.1:1 thru 6.4:1

•    Squarebill crankbaits
•    Medium depth crankbaits
•    Shallow spinnerbaits
•    Shallow castable umbrella rigs

These reels are great for multiple techniques and presentations, making them very popular among northern pike anglers. Whether you’re plowing through nasty cover with a squarebill during the prespawn or bombing spinnerbaits on shallow flats in the fall, a medium gear ratio reel will do the job.

Many prefer a 6.4:1 reel whenever using anything that triggers a reaction strike. The extra speed will let you fish the bait quickly, forcing the most aggressive fish to react. Conversely, opt for a 6.1:1 reel when fishing crankbaits that run in 8- to 14-foot range. The small decrease in speed helps keep them in the strike zone longer, while still maintaining enough speed to solicit a reaction strike and giving me added torque.

Uses for a high gear ratio reel | 7.1:1 thru 8.1:1

•    Jigs and big worms
•    Shaky heads
•    Texas rigs
•    Carolina rigs
•    Topwaters
•    Jerkbaits
•    Lipless crankbaits

If you’re fishing any lure that you primarily work with your rod, a high gear ratio reel is the way to go. You’re often pulling the bait with your rod tip, but you need to have the ability to quickly take up your slack when you get a bite. A fast reel also helps when fighting a big walleye—you need all the speed you can get in order to quickly pull it away from any line-fraying hazards.

Topwaters, jerkbaits, jigs, plastics and even lipless crankbaits warrant the use of a high speed reel. These techniques create a lot of slack in your line, and if you get bit 30 yards away from the boat, a high gear ratio comes in handy for getting a solid hookset.

Choosing the right gear ratio reel can be a bit confusing, but with some basic understanding of what the numbers really mean, it gets much easier to understand. When purchasing your next reel, try to keep things simple by remembering this simple gear ratio guide.

reels

 Left to Right: Abu Garcia MGX, Abu Garcia Revo SX, Lew’s Pro Team, Lew’s BB-1

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