Merry Christmas from Ted Cawkwell up on Tobin Lake. Getting the idea that Saskatchewan is the place to be at first ice? Maybe that's because it is. Ted hauls monsters like this from Tobin every year. He was there when a friend (a minister, in fact) pulled a 35 pounder up through the ice.
The first safe ice generally occurs in early to mid December in all the best pike venues from Rainy Lake and Lake of The Woods west to Tobin, north to Last Mountain, and south to Fort Peck in Montana. Lake of The Woods still produces some monsters, but those Saskatchewan lakes have to be the odds-on favorite for icing one over 30. And Ted seldom misses that prolific first-ice bite on Tobin.
"Winter is the best season for monster pike on Tobin," Ted says. "I've pulled up 2 over 30 lbs at first ice. The biggest was 31.5 lbs. It seems like it rarely happens to you, but somebody usually catches a pike over 30 every year. Certainly every other year. Hard to know if what you hear is true unless you see it, but the lake record is 38 ¾ pounds, so the potential is there."
Ted uses big, reliable wooden tip ups from HT Enterprises, Inc. "They're strong," he said. "The heavy wooden ones don't break when hauling them across the ice. I tie my own bait rigs with tiable titanium leader material and four size #4 Owner salt water hooks — the real heavy duty trebles that won't bend out. You need tough terminal tackle for these beasts. I'm in a hotel right now, so I don't have the hooks packed in boxes with the model numbers with me. Just get the triple X, super strong versions. Every other style of hook I've used has been bent by huge pike. These do not bend."
Ted uses huge deadbaits (mostly lake herring and suckers) and he suspends them way off bottom. "I like 8- to 12-inch deadbaits," he said. "Depends on the weather and the conditions. Strong bites, big bait. Slow bite, smaller bait. I typically have the bait in the bottom quarter of the water column, but I've learned to change it up, staggering the depths through the column all the way up to the top if the bite is slow, just to experiment. They'll hit it anywhere, but sometimes get picky about precisely where it should be. Sometimes I use a 'flasher' (Len Thompson spoon) inline above the bait to get their attention. Sometimes they hit the spoon and sometimes it doesn't seem to help at all. That's fishing. Another thing to experiment with every time out."
Ted uses Mason vinyl-coated, 50-pound Ice Free on his tip-ups. "Mason Ice Free is safer," he laughed. "It won't cut my hands when a 30 decides to do an about face. When big pike run on a hand line and it wraps, something's got to give. Earlier in the season I like to fish old river channel drop offs-The Petagin River is best. Tobin Lake flooded right over this river and the fish still travel down the deep corridor. The river channel is 20-30 feet deep in some places, I fish 15-17 feet and up to 4-5 feet on the ledge. I still prefer shallow baits on top but somedays you need to go deeper. Typically more fish but smaller fish in the deep and fewer bigger fish in the shallow. In March, I fish the shallow bays where pike stage before spawning."
Next up: Back on steelhead patrol with some interesting developments, and a frozen-spray adventure on the high seas.