How to Catch Giant Pike
By Kevin Geary
Sight fishing 101
Increase your arsenal
Adjust your approach to suit the situation
We were fishing north of Red Lake in Northwestern Ontario but it could have been anywhere in Canada. Most people believe that May and June are the best time to catch Giant Pike and all that is needed is to throw a spoon in a shallow weedy bay. If you don’t catch a bunch of big pike the lake is no good, bad camp owner, poor guide, should have been catch and release sooner. In fact some of that is true but mostly it’s a simple matter of possessing an arsenal of knowledge and techniques to fit the situation and a willingness to do what needs to be done. Much of the knowledge needed to find success can be acquired through articles such as this but nothing will replace time spent on the water. I have spent nearly two hundred days on the water each year the past 34 years. I’m 43 you do the math let’s jut say I started guiding young.
Let me share a story with you about a week that I encountered in early July of 2004. Luckily I had realized after the second week of the season that 2004 was going to be a summer like very few that I’ve experienced.
I knew that the fishing was going to be different past hot spots would still have there high times but timing would be different. As the season went on more and more people told me about how the fishing was slow.
This was my first time fishing with Lou and Dan. We were fishing post cold front after about a 40-degree temp drop. It had actually dropped to 28 degrees Fahrenheit the morning before.
It was typical cold front with a miles high clear blue sky and almost no wind. Any slight wind that came up was from the North East or South East as it warmed to the high 80s over the next 4 days.
First day we went to Kennedy Lake, which I had never fished before. We tried casting in a few bays that looked appropriate and got nothing but little guys. Lake must be no good right? I snuck up on a few pike which were laying in 3 feet of water put a jig a foot in front of their nose and got no reaction at all. I didn’t take any more than that to convince me that the river mouth would be our best bet. I’ve found over the years that river mouths and fast water areas recover quickest and remain more constant during and after a cold front. We immediately had good walleye action in the mouth of the McGinnis River. We Used bare jigs and occasionally tipped a large jig with an 8-inch sucker minnow. I only had a short stinger hook, which reached, about midway down its back. The big walleye would grab it by the tail just behind the stinger. These were fish that had most assuredly never been caught in their lives and they already knew that much.
The mouth is about 75 yards wide with an excellent cabbage bed the water is 4-8 feet at the mouth then it drops into 45 feet of water. This cabbage bed will assuredly have some great fishing in the mid summer months.
We pulled a 44-inch pike from the mouth and lots of big walleye from a switchback below the rapids, which is about a quarter mile up.
Lou and Dan had fished Canada several times and had plenty of luck tossing Johnson Silver Minnows in shallow weedy bays and river mouths (sound familiar). In fact they had decided that all they really needed was Johnson Silver Minnows and this year brought almost nothing else. I can’t really blame them at times it does seem that is all you would ever need and I myself would consider that my first choice in many situations. I’ve caught literally thousands of big pie on them. In fact of the 40 or so pike that I’ve caught which measured over 50 inches I can only think of about 9 that were not caught on Johnson Silver Spoons. However I have learned that you need to be flexible. I carry an exorbitant amount of tackle for which I have received more than a little bit of ribbing some good natured, some not, depending on how much room there was on the plane. I told Lou and Dan that each of them would catch the largest pike of their lives this week and that unfortunately on this week it would almost assuredly not be on a Johnson spoon. However not to worry I have plenty of tackle and am not averse to trying anything that needs trying and do not feel that using dead bait is beneath me when the situation calls for it. I do however draw the line at watching a bobber for hours on end.
Tuesday we went to Setting Net Lake and it was still slow with lots of follows but managed to get 8 in the high 30’s. My guests seemed intent on continued success on spoons and I didn’t object hoping that conditions would soon make that possible.
On Wednesday the fishing was even slower, it was still dead calm, I began to I realize how major this system was. So I concentrated on 2 spots, which I know, held fish and more or less made them bite by trying different things until I found the right trigger.
The ticket turned out to be Husky Jerks and flashy rattletraps ripped through the thickest cabbage in one spot. Most of the strikes were reactions as the bait ripped through the weeds past them. In the other spot, which was a large flat in front of a river mouth, more subtle jigs and small tandem spinner baits were the answer. This spot was still holding quite a few small male Walleyes lingering near the end of the shiner spawn. A few weeks earlier I had fished this spot and hammered more than 30 trophies pike one afternoon using Suiks and various topwater baits. This had been at the height of the shiner spawn and was just one of seven great days of fishing. However I digress, back to my story. We had to sort through a lot of small pike to get to a few bigger ones but it was all fun. We managed to convince 3 over 40 inches and a bunch of 30 somethings into frolicking for our viewing enjoyment. Lou and Dan called it one of the best days they had ever had. I knew we needed a change in the weather system or our approach for the situation to improve.
Thursday rose calm once again and brutally hot. I realized we would get no help from the weather gods and although my guests had caught several very nice pike they still didn’t have their biggest pike ever. North Trout Lake is a gin clear lake. Everyone in camp considered North Trout a good Lake Trout lake but didn’t give it much credence for big Pike. To me this meant unpressured fish – right on. Virtually no one had fished the lake since I had a ball there with my guest several weeks earlier as we caught dozens of big pike feeding on spawning suckers where a small rapids flows into the lake. So I went to North Trout Lake for a little sight seeing – actually I meant sight fishing. Have you watched bone fishing or fishing the flats? Well, the way it works is that I maneuver the boat until I spot a big fish then have Lou or Dan take turns depositing jigs with sucker minnows about 6 feet in front of the fishes nose. Today the flat water and bright had the biggest pike lying on the bottom in 10 –16 feet of water making it quite difficult to spot them. Amber colored polarized glasses and plenty of experience is a must in this situation. I believe it was Lou who tossed the first jig. As I said it takes a bit of practice to spot these fish in deeper water and I’m not sure if either one of them believed me when I said “cast 11.00 o’clock from the bow about 50 feet, let it sink, now draw your rod high letting your jig make an arc and falling about 10 feet in front of her nose, now wait, wait, get ready okay she’s going to pick it up okay got her” At that precise moment Lou definitely believed me as he set the hook on the largest pike of his life. Then it was Dan’s turn and he waited with considerably more enthusiasm. It wasn’t long before he too had the largest pike of his life. Throwing Johnson Silver Spoons were the furthest thing from their minds as the day went on and what was for many an exercise in futility quickly became the day of their dreams. In fact it got even better as Lou and Dan became more proficient at spotting these fish well enough to see which way the fish was facing and how they were reacting some of the big pike began moving into shallower water closer to the rapids of the feeder creek. Obviously they were still hoping for a meal as they were tuned into feeding on the spawning suckers. Lou and Dan had never done anything like this and had a great time watching these big bruisers and how they reacted to an easy meal. The fish alternately hit quickly and with a vengeance or watched our offering with apparent disdain for many long (and painful for Lou and Dan) minutes until they acquiesced to lowering there standard enough to delicately mouthing the bait. Each pike can react dramatically different even on the same day and in the same location. On several occasions a big pike remained motionless as we deposited our bait directly in front of it. However as another pike swam nearer up off the bottom obviously actively searching for food the first pike raised itself up several feet off the bottom and turned its body to present its side profile to the approaching fish. When this did not deter the approaching fish the first pike moved directly above our jig and finally turned head down tail up and inhaled our jig the way you would expect a large walleye to inhale a 1/8 oz jig. By the way the jig I prefer in these situations is called an Esox (something) made by Bait Rigs. It has a very large wide gapped and sturdy hook, the head is flat so it lands with the hook and your offering facing up off the bottom.
I have sight fished for pike most of my life in every type of water from dark water lakes where you have to be almost directly over the fish to see them to a lake in the Yukon where we could spot the pike cruising over white bottomed flats over 200 yards away. Probably over 50% of the big pike that I’ve boated were spotted before they were “chosen” to do battle with. When they are active they will be up off the bottom if they are moving they are most susceptible to a top water bait. This is in my estimation the most exciting as you see a 40 inch plus pike zip across the flat hit you topwater bait and soar 15 feet and 3 feet above the water. When the pike are laying on the bottom and won’t even move 6 feet for a sumptuous sucker minnow you know that they are in a negative mood but patience, persistence and knowledge pay off.
On this day one thing was consistent – if I had not spotted the fish and supplied a super slow presentation virtually none of those fish would have been caught. We did try a cabbage bed across the lake and had one big pike and several smaller ones hit small spinners. We likely could have worked that cabbage bed with some success but chose more fishing on the flats as Dan and Lou were quickly becoming addicted to a very fascinating technique. This was just one of many techniques that I had to deploy during a very tough week of fishing. The results were more than satisfactory as both Lou and Dan caught the largest pike of their lives.
Until next time keep smiling and keep the line tight, practice catch and release. The future of fishing is in your hands.
For more information on How to Catch Giant Pike or how to get a copy of my 2 hour DVD “How to Catch Giant Pike” email me at firstname.lastname@example.org