From Last Mountain Lake, Saskatchewan, to Fort Peck, Montana, to Red Willow, Nebraska and some of the high-country lakes in Colorado. From small tailwater areas in Iowa, to the backwaters of Lake Michigan, and to all the thousands of Canadian Shield waters like Red Lake, Ontarioâand farther east to Quebec and Lake Ontario and many more waters in New York and sister states like Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Vermont. Those who love pike take them where we find themâand we measure the consequences of where we fish against the backdrop of the simple opportunity to pursue them, as much as how many we catch or how much the needle might move on the scale.
Giant pike are special, though. There is simply the overall mass of a big fish to admire. I have not held a 50-incher, but there have been a few about 48 and many fish above 44. They are all incredible in their own way. Looking into their fathomless eyesâknowing theyâve seen many a life-and-death drama. The teeth, of course, stilettos and slashers, tools of certain demise, from ducks to muskrats to whitefish and drum.
One key piece of anatomy shouldnât be overlooked as you hold Brutus The Bad. The lateral line begins as obvious pores on the fishâs head, with one of three facial branches running just above the eyes and onto the fishâs snout, another running beneath the eyes and toward another portion of the snout, the final branch consisting of the large pores on the undersides of each jaw. The branches become one near the back of the head, flowing in a line onto the body of the fish, as deep black pits that gradually become a mere indented line that extends almost to the tail.
We have the same senses as pike save this one, a sensory system that picks up low-frequency waves in water. The lateral line works in conjunction with the inner ear, which picks up higher-frequency vibrations, starting somewhere beyond about 100 cycles per second.
It is the super sensitivity of this organâor series of organsâthat I am convinced so often seals the deal in getting these wary old buggers to bite an artificial lure. Quite simply, the predatory process usually begins with visual cues and at times thatâs all it takes, as the lure is attacked and disappears so quickly that minimal other sensory input is required.
On most occasions, though, old gators in a more wary state, perhaps brought on by fishing pressure or poor weather, donât attack with abandon. They pause to give subconscious consideration to this thing they seeâmore input required. Moving in closer they can feel the movement, and although they usually begin tracking the lure visually, the closer they get the less vision plays a role and the more the vibration pattern spreading over their head and sides determines whether the attack should be madeâand the attack is at times no more than a nip to further sample. But, as I have said, your presentation must first look good and then it also has to âfeelâ right. So vibration plays an important role in how I approach all of my fishing.
The key criteria in the presentation process are first getting depth and speed right. Depth does not always mean running the lure at the level of the fish, for often it works better to have the lure above them, and at times even below them. Getting fish to move, to further explore, often further motivates, changing their mood from neutral to more positive. Meanwhile, speed also includes the way we work a lure, via straight retrieve that allows the lure to give off specific visual and vibratory cues, or more erratically, which does the same thing but with a more curious mix of cues.
There are a host of exceptional pike lures on the market. I donât want to try to discuss all of those that might be applied to the presentation process, given all the situations an angler might face. In my own fishing, I try to keep things as simple as possible and let the fish sort it out, with me going through a series of experiments to further prove the point I believe they might be trying to make. I have a selection of lures and rods rigged and ready, my choices a result of the way Iâm comfortable fishing for pike.
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I have extreme confidence in a flat-sided jerkbait from Rapala called the Glidinâ Rap (#12). In previous articles Iâve discussed similar lures from other companies. In many situations early and late in the year, the Glidinâ Rap is like magic. Work it correctly and it walks-the-dog just below the surface, wobbling and flashing left-right, right-left; stopping and starting and lurching along in fits and spurts; giving off appealing wounded visual and vibratory cues.
I fish it on a medium-action 7-foot casting rod and a reel like the Pflueger President Wide Spool, or one of the Abu Revo 50-class Toros, or an even smaller reel like the Revo XTS. Twenty-pound superline, either a braid like Sufix 832 or a fused line like Berkley FireLine, lets you make giant casts to search big territory and set hooks at long distance.
This lure is so often taken deeply that I prefer about 18 inches of 20- or 26-pound American Fishing Wire Surfstrand Micro Supreme terminally to protect the lure from all those teeth. Double the end of the superline with a spider hitch, then couple the doubled line to the wire by making back-to-back uni-knotsâfour wraps for each knot. I used a #2 or #3 Owner Hyper Snap to connect the lure to the wire. This wire is flexible enough and light enough to not affect the delicate balance of the lure, whereas fluorocarbon with enough diameter to assure not getting cut off quickly becomes too heavy for adequate duty.
Make no mistake. Light wire is critical to the performance of this lure. Too often I have had anglers approach me to say the lure just doesnât work like I say it should, only to find them rigged with heavy wire leaders with a giant snap on one end and giant swivel on the other.
Although unnecessary in this instance, I also add a 3- or 4-foot section of 20-pound fluorocarbon between the doubled superline and the wire. It isnât for stealth so much as to help in handling fish by the boat. The extra diameter of the fluorocarbon makes it easy to grab to direct fish at boatside.
Work the lure by nodding the rod tip with the tip up at about 11 oâclock when the lureâs at a distance. As the lure gets within about 60 feet of the boat, lower the rod tip to a position just above the water and stroke down instead of upânod-glide-stop; nod-glide-stop, with the rod tip moving about 6 inches to a foot on the nod. Itâs important for the nod to stroke through a bit of slack line before the line comes taut to get the right wobble and kick to the lure. All total, a typical nod moves the lure 2 to 3 feet once the lure stops after the glide.
You donât have to nod-glide-stop the lure all the way back to the boat every time you cast it outâjust depends on the territory youâre working. It might be obvious that the key triggering area is right near a piece of obvious cover. Cast beyond the cover and work the lure past the cover and then reel it steadily in. The lure has enough wobbling action on a straight retrieve to trigger fish. I assume that a fish might have become interested on the way back in, and might be following the lure, so I stop it about 25 feet from the boat and do a couple nod-glide-stops, just in case.
On most retrieves, once the lure touches down I let it settle for a couple seconds, then do a series of nod-glide-stops to cover about 15 feet of water. At that point I assume that pike in the immediate area have probably sensed the lure and rejected it or, more likely, there are no pike present.
So I often just reel the lure forward 10 to 15 feet or so before pausing and doing the nod routine again for another 10 feet, before again reeling the lure a distanceâand so on. This allows quickly covering water. If Iâm in a pocket of fish or Iâm consistently contacting fish as I move along a particular area like a reed or rush face or edge, I slow down and work the lure all the way back to the boat on each retrieve.
Pike often move out away from cover faces when they arenât so active. Itâs common for them to gather in the shallow basin areas of backwaters, in 4 to 8 feet of water with no cover. These fish often seem to hold at a level that allows them to be deep enough to feel safe and still soak up some of the penetrating sunlight.
Swimbaits on a Jighead
I rely heavily on swimbaits to catch just about everything that swimsâand they are truly exceptional pike lures. It is again the combination of the appealing visual picture of the swimbait body in conjunction with the realistic set of vibration patterns given off by the body that makes them so deadly. Whenever possible I fish them in combination with a jighead, leaving the hook exposed, making it easy to hook fish, and just as easy to release them.
For pike, a 6-inch swimbait body on a 1/2- or 3/4-ounce jighead like my favorite Owner Saltwater Bullet Head is just right, but 5-, 6.5-, and 7-inch bodies work, too. My favorite body was the Berkley Hollow Belly Swimbait, but the 6-inch size is no longer available. I still use the 5-inch body from time to time, as well as one of my all-around favorite bodies, the 5-inch Berkley Flatback Shad. But 5-inchers are just a tad small for bigger pike. A 6.5-inch Yum Money Minnow is a good choice. Big Hammer also offers 5-, 6-, and 7-inch bodies similar to the Flatback Shad.
Cast and make straight retrieves after you count the lure down to a desired depth. The lure works along like a crankbait. Then, mix it up a little by adding a pause or two in the retrieve routine. Get your rod tip up at 10 to 11 oâclock and also pump the lure along just a bit to get it to hop and skip a bit as you swim it along, then momentarily stop it. At times you want to stop it completely and let it fall to the bottom to reestablish near-bottom depth control. Often, though, all you want to do is swim the lure along at mid-depth in relatively shallow water.
Other times, especially when the fish are a bit more tentative, a lift-fall retrieve works best. But even in this instance, donât just tip-tip-tip the bait along the bottom like youâre working a small jig and minnow. Lift the lure just a bit with the rod tip and swim it along for 4 or 5 feet and let it glide back to the bottom. This is a great tactic for pike that you can see lounging in shallow water. Bring it past them so they can see it coming. Donât sneak it up on them from behind.
Itâs a toss-up for me if Iâm fishing water where weeds and other cover arenât a problem whether to start with the jerkbait or a swimbait. Any time fish might be a bit deeper, perhaps the swimbait. Itâs faster to check areas with a swimbait, so the question always is: Do I know where fish are or do I have to do a bunch of searching to find them? Overall, fish are easier to deal with on single-hook lures, especially if youâre weeding through numbers of smaller fish.
A Cover Option
To work around or through cover I fish a swimbait body on a weighted swimbait hook, rigged texposed so the hook is partially hidden just enough so the lure doesnât hang up. The hook needs enough weight to fish in the same fashion as the jighead and swimbait combination mentioned previously. The lightest jighead I fish is 1/2 ounce. The heaviest weighted swimbait hooks I know of are the 7/0 Gamakatsu or the 7/0 Falcon, each offering a 3/8-ounce option. The 6/0 and 7/0 hooks couple best with the 6- to 7-inch swimbait bodies, while 4/0 and 5/0 hooks work with 5-inch bodies, and 3/0 works best with 4-inch bodies. A hook weight of 1/4 ounce also works well in most situations.
Rig the swimbait body flat on a weighted hook. Say you want rig a 6.5-inch Money Minnow. Screw the head of the swimbait onto the keeper. Lay the swimbait body flat with the hook under the body so the hook point is up and forward. Push your thumb fingernail of one hand against the bottom of the bend of the hook. Pinch the lure right there. Thatâs the exact spot to run the hook point through the swimbait. You never get it wrong.
See how much more hook gap you have when the body is rigged flat? Itâs easy to get hookups even when the hook is partially nicked into the softbait. The lure swims perfectly like this and also swims down better anytime you kill it during a straight retrieve. You need more weight on the hook to make swimbaits swim on the fall.
The same retrieves mentioned before work with this option. If youâre working it near cover and find yourself in a situation that calls for working away from cover, remove the hook point from the top of the softbait so the hook rides exposed.
In most cases, even near cover, I use the same casting tackle mentioned before. At times, though, I switch to a medium-heavy 7-foot rod and reel rigged with 30-pound braid. You can pull stumps with 30-pound braid, but you have to beef up your leader.
A New Option
For several years Iâve been using a swimbait body on a weighted swimbait hook behind an in-line spinner. Sized correctly, this combination is dynamite on pike. This rigging can be used in open water, away from cover; but with the hook texposed it also runs through heavy cover, including timber and brush. The weighted swimbait hook acts as a keel to keep the package running straight and as a pivot point for the swimbait body to work against.
So far as I know, nothing like this is available already rigged for commercial sale, except for the Mepps Comet Mino, which lacks a paddletail. My rig requires deconstruction of an in-line spinner and adding a swimbait on a weighted swimbait hook. Matched with the in-line spinner, smaller swimbaits can be used to achieve the same overall size of about 6 inches, which works best.
One of the first options I used was created by removing the treble hook from a Blue Fox Vibrax Musky Buck with a #5 blade, adding a 5/0 Lazer Sharp #L111 weighted swimbait hook weighing 1/4 ounce, coupling it with a 5-inch Berkley Hollow Belly Swimbait. Iâve also caught lots of fish on a bigger option, by deconstructing a Blue Fox Fluted Musky Buck (#6 blade), adding a 6/0 Gamakatsu Swimbait hook (called a Weighted Superline Spring-Lock hook) weighing 1/4 ounce, coupling it with a 6.5-inch Yum Money Minnow.
On the smaller side of things, deconstruct a Terminator Snagless In-line Spinner (#4 blade), weighing 5/8 ounce, adding a 3/0 Lazer Sharp #L111 weighted swimbait hook weighing 1/4 ounce, and coupling it with a 4-inch Berkley Hollow Belly.
So many other lures might come into play, given the circumstance. When Iâm searching on reservoirs with brush I also like to use a 1/2-ounce spinnerbait. Dress it with one of the hybrid swimbait bodies like the Berkley Havoc Grass Pig to add bulk and vibration to attract bigger pike.
Iâve used this system successfully for pike across North America over the past 5 years, during early season and late.