How to Catch Giant Pike
When is the best time to catch big pike?
Wow. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked that question in 34-year years as a guide, camp owner and TV personality. When time did not seem to allow a detailed answer and I felt people wanted me to make the choice for them I’d simply pick a date based on a few qualifying questions. For the purpose of this article let me first tell you when and then I’ll tell you where, how and everything else.
The best time to fish for Pike is at ice out, when the Walleye spawn, the Perch spawn, the water starts to warm, the Suckers spawn, the Shiners spawn, the Dragon fly’s hatch, Ducks hatch, Mayflies hatch, weeds emerge, Mid Summer, Fall, the Whitefish spawn or simply “when you can”.
I fished 8 weeks the summer of 2004 for a total of 48 days and boated more than 400 pike over 40″. As a guide I have to catch fish on a variety of waters with a variety of techniques depending of the level of skill and fishing preferences of my guests. Big pike can be caught at any time of year. The best time for you will depend to some extent on how you prefer to fish. Do you prefer to jig, troll, fish dead bait or cast spoons, spinners, jerk baits, crank baits or top water baits? Do you have the equipment and experience to land big fish in heavy cover such as Bulrushes, reeds and thick cabbage? Or do you prefer to use light line?
While we’re on the subject of using light line. If you believe that light line is sporting try running until you collapse from exhaustion then stick you head underwater. At that point you’ll get an idea of how sporting it is to use light tackle. Using heavier line and equipment allows you to apply enough pressure to make the average fish to give up before it is totally exhausted. Do I even have to mention that a hook left in a fish because the line broke can be harmful? I believe it’s only sporting if the fish swims away unharmed
If you want to make the fight more fun learn to make the fish jump by loosening the drag and when the fish is in the middle of a run near the surface gradually tighten up with your thumb. With a little practice the fish will come out of the water at a 45-degree angle.
The new super lines are great. My personal preference is Power Pro, here’s why. All the super lines are strong, some are abrasion resistant but too abrasive themselves and therefore don’t cast well are noisy and cause wear on some rod guides. Some are soft and supple, cast well yet break down quickly and are easily bitten through by toothy critters like pike.
Power Pro is very abrasive resistant. The thin diameter makes it perfect for cutting thru reeds and weeds. I have had very few Pike bite offs. I once caught 380 walleye without using a net and never retied once (not a good idea if you’re serious about landing a trophy). Power Pro is a little noisy thru the guides the first day of use but is very quiet and casts like a dream from then on. I will say that all braided lines give very little warning when they backlash so it’s not the best to learn with. If you’re a beginner with a bait caster spool up with mono until you get some practice in. Becoming proficient with a bait caster is an important part of your Pike fishing arsenal of talents but I’ll save the details for a future article. I should mention that to make the line more baitcaster friendly it is critical to pack the line on very tight. I load the line onto one reel then transfer it to another with the drag on the first reel just slightly looser than the drag on the 2nd reel (the one that I’ll be using). Then when I’m on the water the first thing I do is let the line drag behind the boat for half a mile (with no leader) to take the twists out. Then finally I put on a large tandem spinnerbait, let out 75 yards of line and reel it in while trolling fast. This last bit packs the line on even tighter.
Continuing on the subject of equipment. Your rod/reel requirements will depend on how you prefer to fish but basically cover 3 rods. One rod should be a seven-foot heavy action (not medium heavy) rod with a bait caster such as the Shimano Calcutta 400 spooled with 120 yards of 80lb Power Pro. The second rod should be a seven-foot medium heavy bait caster spooled with 50lb. Power Pro. The third rod should be a six-foot medium/heavy action-spinning rod with 30lb Power Pro.
Rod number one should have a 100lb leader 12 inches in length. This will be used for fishing Suicks in any location and other baits when fishing heavy cover like reeds, Bulrushes etc. In heavy cover you need the thin diameter and strength to cut thru the reeds and weeds. Even in open water you need this outfit to set the hook effectively on giant Pike. Let me share a story demonstrating this dramatically.
Not long ago I was fishing my favorite Suick colored brown on top yellow on bottom with gold sparkles on the sides. I always work a Suick down a few feet then allow it to rise and rest on the surface for 10 seconds up to 60 seconds or more. They tell you not to do that on the package and I’ve always wondered why. Anyways, I had let it sit for about 10 seconds about 30 feet from the boat when a giant swirled just under it. I can usually pretty much tell how large a fish is by the amount of water it moves and from what depth it moves it. This was a very big fish. The fish came up from below with the back of its head facing me. Its entire head and neck came slowly out of the water. I’ve seen very large pike do this many times. The fish had that 10-inch Suick sideways in its mouth and there was nothing hanging out the sides. I waited until the fish fell slowly back into the water and turned sideways and finally (after what seemed like an eternity) it turned away from me. One of the hardest things for any angler to do is wait for that fish to turn away so you can set the hook back into its mouth. Remember it was only about 30 feet from the boat. I leaned into it about as hard as I could, I always have my drag set tight to set the hook then immediately loosen the drag to fighting tension. I felt that I had it made, I had on 80lb. Power Pro a 200lb leader we were in open water with very few weeds, and I started to get excited. I even decided in which city I’d do the first seminar about it. The fish swam in a big arc from about he 7 o’clock position until the 11 o’clock position without even a hint of my being able to turn it. A 40-inch Pike will usually turn within a bout 30 seconds when you apply sufficient pressure. The fish slowly turned towards me and opened its mouth and out popped the Suick. To say I was upset is putting it mildly. Over the years I’ve seen this happen many times (although not with a potential world record). With wooden baits you have to set the hook very hard in order to move it in a giant Pikes mouth. If you can’t move the bait and set the hook and the fish opens its mouth facing you the hook can often simply be pulled right out of his mouth.
Let’s talk about some of the times that are good times to catch Giant Pike. It will take several articles to talk about all of the good times.
One of the favorite times of many pike anglers is the spring. Many anglers think that you can only be successful fishing with dead bait. There are many techniques and locations where you can find success.
One of my personal favorites is the back of bays with depths of 6 feet or less extending 400 yards or more. A Southwest exposure is preferred. Heavy bulrush (reeds) cover is essential. Somewhere in the bay there will be a “sweet spot” usually this coincides with a break such as a tiny point or simply a few boulders along side of a very dark stretch of bottom. These are the areas, which will warm first and attract the most active pike. It doesn’t take more than a few degrees. There may be fish spread across a 500-yard stretch of a large bay but there will be sweet spots on the spot that hold the most fish.
Pre scout the area to learn the layout thoroughly. Then when you find fish you’ll know where similar structure exists. Approach fish holding structure quietly and anchor within casting distance. On sunny days as the water warms big pike will move ever closer to shore. If your in the sweet spot don’t be banging the boat or starting the motor as excessive noise will spook the bigger pike. You may find deadbait more effective on cloudy days or early on sunny days. Spoons and spinners will become more effective as the day goes on. In recent years my favourite has been a Suick. I’ll place the bait in behind some of the thickest reeds work it a few short strokes (it’s only 2 feet deep) then let it rest. I’ll wait 10-60 seconds (sometimes 3 minutes) then work it some more. I’ve outfished deadbait fisherman many times using this method. Although I have caught literally thousands of big pike on a 11/8oz Johnson silver minnow tipped with a power grub I have used it sparingly for the past few years. The #4 Len Thompson in five of diamonds pattern can be very effective. A large Gramma lure moved lazily thru and around the reeds can also be productive.
Don’t be stuck on one method, dead bait, Suicks, spoons and spinners all have there time and place in a given week or even time of day. The most successful anglers use their arsenal of knowledge to know when it is best to use which method. Articles such as this can help but can only supplement experience garnered from time on the water. The knowledge gained by fishing with a quality guide can be worth its weight in gold. With enough experience you’ll just know however that knowledge will be based on a wide range of elements and your experience will tell you what picture the pieces of the puzzle make.
Sometimes it’s not what will be the most successful but also which is most fun. I prefer to use a Suick simply for the excitement generated by a 45-inch Pike jumping 3 feet out of the water 15 feet from the boat. Part of this is practical as well. When I’m guiding often I have to leave the bait in mid retrieve to tend to some matter. With a suck it is still doing its job while simply resting on the surface.
When I started guiding at the age of 9 I found it difficult and got a lot of resistance when offering advice on how to fight a fish. Now I’m very subtle and teach each client in a calm, quiet manner saying just enough as dictated by their level of skill. One of the most important skills that I have learned has been how and where to move the boat as dictated by reading the movements of the fish before the fish gets into a position that will likely cause it to get away. This can be as simple as moving the boat further into open water as soon as the fish swims into open water so that the fish can’t get back into heavy cover. If the line can’t cut the reeds follow the path the fish took in order the get the line out of the weeds. Of course you must pay particular attention the both the lay of the line and the present location of the fish. This subject itself could be an entire article, perhaps in the future.
As I said don’t get hung up on one presentation or location. There are other places that will produce giant Pike. Above and below rapids in 3-6 feet of water, the mouths of creeks and rivers and the points of spawning bays are other key locations at this time of year. I’ll discuss these spring locations in detail as well as summer and fall locations and techniques in next months article.
If you have specific questions about How to Catch Giant Pike email me at firstname.lastname@example.org I will do my best to answer your questions. Until the next issue – tight lines.
Kevin is the past Producer/Host of Outdoor Encounter TV Series, Producer of the 2-hour video How To Catch Giant Pike, Camp owner and Fishing Guide. If you would like a copy of How to catch Giant Pike Two visit www.anglerskingdom.com . Kevin has caught more than 3000 Pike over 40 inches and is considered the authority on modern freshwater Pike fishing.