July 28, 2021
By David A. Brown
In my central Florida home waters, when a big toothy figure bursts forth from shallow vegetation, there’s no question—it’s an alligator. However, the beastly form flaring its jaws around my Northland Reed Runner spinnerbait was no reptile.
A day prior, when I stepped off a small jet from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, one of my first photos was the sign reading “Welcome to Stony Rapids - North of 59.” Don’t bother looking it up, I assure you that’s way too close to the Arctic circle for any member of the crocodilian clan.
However, not long after a brief drive and a 20-minute boat ride to the dock at Cree River Lodge, I found myself fishing a water cabbage-filled bay that was absolutely perfect for the ambush hunting ways of the region’s apex predator—the northern pike. Far from heavily trafficked waterways, dense with aquatic vegetation and plump with yellow perch and other forage; such backwaters are just the place to find one over a yardstick in length.
Granted, my 46-inch (measured and confirmed by my guide) leviathan and the entirety of Northern Saskatchewan’s wild, unspoiled habitat may be a bucket-list exaggeration of the norm. However, one truth remains consistent wherever big pike roam: these magnificent monsters eat what they want, when they want.
More than once, a captured walleye was “t-boned” at boatside by enormous pike that simply believed it had more right to that fish than the angler. Pretty awesome sight to see a hulking figure casually disappear into the shadows with a keeper walleye.
True, such losses can be frustrating, but it’s just this moxie that makes these hulking brutes worth pursuing. Live-baiting big pike is usually a pretty easy sell, but there’s something uniquely rewarding about fooling a trophy fish with an artificial bait.
Call it the thrill of the chase; the mental chess match that requires the right move at the right time. Frame it any way you like but fooling an experienced predator with a ruse of plastic and metal makes what can often be a high number of casts well worth the effort. Some fall easier than others, but there’s no denying the fact that artificials enable you to cover water and find those active areas.
During the course of three fishing days on the Cree River and one of its tributaries, we caught big pike on a variety of soft plastics and “hard baits.” My first, a 33-incher, gobbled a No. 2 Len Thompson spoon in the Five of Diamonds pattern in a small bay with a shallow flat adjacent to a deeper bowl sprinkled with patches of water cabbage.
For a Floridian on his inaugural pike trip, that was a special moment. However, 10 minutes later, the same spoon tempted my first 40-inch trophy.
Throughout my trip, I’d see big pike caught on a 7-inch Yum Money minnow swimbait, smaller plastic body swimbaits, shallow diving crankbaits and big topwater plugs. Other boats reported catching big pike by walking topwater frogs through holes and gaps in shallow reeds.
After my mind-blowing giant pike adventure, discussions with far more experienced northern anglers cemented the notion that these fish have diverse tastes. It’s always good to get other opinions, so how ‘bout these suggestions from a few professional pike punchers:
Troll With It Baby: Expecting to find big pike patrolling deep water structure during summer’s warmer weather, Chris Granrud of Minnesota’s Rainydayze Guide Service, trolls reef edges with big Berkley Flicker Shads or Taildancers. New Hampshire’s Tim Moore likes trolling a Salmo Perch (14cm floating) crankbait or a 6-inch Storm Wildeye Swim Shad. He prefer both baits in white, but Moore levels up the presentation with a blood trail look by painting their backs red.
Ups and Downs: When big pike hunt cold water baitfish like ciscoes, whitefish, smelt, lake herring, or tullibee off the sides of deep structure like points and reefs, North Dakota guide Jason Mitchell’s keen on jigging with rattle baits (No. 7 Salmo Zipper), tube jigs and fluke or paddle tail swim baits on a Kalins jighead.
One of Mitchell’s top pike tactics: Enhancing a Little Cleo spoon with a tube for a larger profile and more action. (Using a swivel to link main line to a titanium leader avoids line twist.)
Spin Cycle: Jeff Anderson, who also guides on Minnesota’s Leech Lake, also likes spinnerbaits, but he’s partial to the Big Tooth Tackle straight wire models. He’ll throw the single hook model in thicker cover, but when habitat permits, he appreciates the double hook bait’s twin 9/0 hooks. This model packs a lot of pike grabbing firepower, but the stationary, in-line rear hook design keeps the bait weedless.