Sunday, August 23, 2009

Do Anglers Hate Northern Pike?

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It certainly seems that way. Fishermen seemingly go out of their way to avoid fishing lakes that are heavily populated with northern pike.

These fish, like carp and suckers, like Rodney Dangerfield, get very little respect. Which is a pity because these fish are fun to catch.

Mind you, catching little pike of 15 to 20 inches isn’t very exciting. They fight harder once they are in the boat than when they are in the water, and pike slime gets all over everything and then the bugs come visiting.

I’ve been spoiled by big pike. I caught my first biggie when I was 11 years old on the Batchawana River about 40 miles east of the Canadian Soo. The fish was 48 inches long, and weighed 19 pounds on antiquated scales, and even as a little kid, I suspected those scales weighed low. I suspect that big pike weighed 23 or 24 pounds but who cares now?

I’ve fished most of the big-pike waters during my lengthy magazine and newspaper writing career, and can remember once when Babe Winkelman and I were trying to be the first to catch a 30-pounder. We caught 28- and 29-pounders, but we never cracked the 30-pound mark.

Name other big-pike hotspots, and I’ve probably been there. I’ve fished most of Ontario’s great pike waters, and hit those of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Quebec, the Northwest Territories, and several great spots around Michigan.

This state hosts some really big pike. Luck and skill play important roles, and like muskies, it’s important to be there at the right time. When is the right time? That’s easy: when the big pike are biting. Your guess is as good as mine.

Where have I found big pike? It may be helpful to determine what I consider to be a big northern pike. The minimum size in my mind is 15 pounds, and a host of waters are capable and regularly do produce northern pike that size or larger.

Manistee Lake is a big-fish lake, and we’ve caught northerns to almost 20 pounds from it. Squaw and Thunder bays at Alpena produce some fish of this size. Lake St. Helens is another good bet.

Carp Lake in the northern Lower Peninsula can be a good bet although I haven’t heard as much about it as in years past.
Saginaw Bay, especially in Wigwam Bay near Standish, is capable of producing big fish. Tawas Bay delivers some very big fish during open water and through the ice.

The Upper Peninsula has some tremendous spots. The most remote spot is the North Shore of Isle Royale, and it’s best as soon as the season opens in mid-May. Huron Bay near L’Anse is a great spot for some 20 to 30-pound fish. There aren’t many, mind you, but they are caught each year. It could be you. Time on the water, in the right place and at the proper time, is important in any search for big pike.

Big Bay de Noc also produces some trophy northern pike when the water is cold. Any water temperature of 50-55 degrees will keep big fish in the shallows.

Potagannissing Bay on Drummond Island is another overlooked hotspot. Little Bay de Noc, especially from the Escanaba River mouth north to the mouth of the Whitefish River can be dynamite during spring, fall and winter.

An old adage holds true with northern pike. Big lures catch big pike. My favorite fishing lure for jumbo pike is a large Dardevle, and I’ll use any color as long as it is red and white or yellow with five red diamonds. I like lures measuring about eight inches long, and keep the hooks sharp with a file.

These lures sink well, and can be fished fast or slow. Cold weather and cold water slows down a big pike’s metabolism. Fish any lure so it wobbles slowly, and occasionally speed up the retrieve for 10 feet and then slow it back down again.

Look for early weed beds, and fish along the inside edges. If that doesn’t work, fish the outside edges or near fallen trees or drop-offs. Work an area thoroughly, and fish deeper water but don’t overlook the shallows, especially in shallow bays.

A big pike is a handful. They are rough and tough, and although they may come to the boat quite easily, things change when they are 10-15 feet away. It’s then they race off for deep water. Be prepared for these last-ditch efforts to get away. Many big fish are lost at this point if the angler freezes on the reel or the drag is set too tight.

Trophy northern pike aren’t easy to find, but make up your mind to fish specifically for them, and experiment with lures and lure colors and retrieval or trolling speeds, and if you fish the key areas outlined above, your chances of hooking up with a big northern pike are good.

Catch yourself a 20-pounder, and email me and tell me they don’t fight. The little tiddlers wiggle around some but fish of 15 to 20 pounds or more will put a capital F on the word Fight.

Check it out this year.

Posted by Dave Richey on 08/23 at 07:54 PM
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