"One of the best lure modifications I make is changing treble hooks to single J hooks," says pike expert and In-Fisherman Contributor Jack Penny. "Some lures can be modified this way without changing their action, and with certain lures I catch more fish on single hooks than the trebles that come installed on them.
"Big pike love articulated swimbaits. But if they're hooked on the belly treble, they can thrash and roll and gain enough leverage to dislodge the hook. I like to remove the trebles, add an extra split ring to the one on the belly-hook eyelet, and attach a single hook to it. The extra split ring allows for more movement of the hook and reduces fish dislodging or twisting free of the hook. Fish also are easier to unhook and it eliminates the tail-end treble getting caught in the eye of a fish.
"I also like to swap out the treble for a single hook on spoons," he says. "With the hook point riding on the concave side, the rocking action of a spoon makes it semi-weedless, and what weeds that do hang on the hook can usually be cleared with a few aggressive jerks during the retrieve."
Penny prefers to replace trebles with barbless single hooks, often in 5/0 and 6/0 size. "Hook size for swimbaits isn't as critical as it is for spoons," he says. "They could be a couple of sizes larger or smaller. For spoons, you want them large enough that when you lay the hook down on the concave side of the spoon, it doesn't extend beyond the sides of the spoon but comes as close as possible." Two hooks he likes are the Eagle Claw L308 and Gamakatsu Siwash.
"Another alteration I make is the addition of a trailer to the hook, but not too large as to affect the action of the spoon, Penny says. "It can be something like a small plastic grub or even just a piece of colored yarn. My favorite is a few strands of silicone skirt material. It adds flash and increases the profile of a spoon and often increases the numbers of strikes."
Makes Good Scents
In the split-second that a muskie decides whether or not to strike, scent can close the deal, says In-Fisherman Contributor Marc Wisniewski, who often fishes with soft plastic swimbaits for pike and muskies. "Muskies are sold that a swimbait is real. They see it, feel it, track it, and eat it. Berkley PowerBait and Gulp! baits have scent and taste built, as does the Yum Money Minnow and Northland Rock-R-Minnow. Big Hammers and Lunker City Salt Shakers don't have scent so I add some. I like scents that stick on lures and don't wash off. Smelly Jelly is good. The best I've found is Pro Cure's Super Gel. I don't know if the flavor matters as long as it smells fishy. I have a lot of alewife and smelt scents on hand because I use it on Lake Michigan for trout and salmon, and it seems to work for muskies. Pro Cure also sells a Trophy Musky/Pike scent.
In-Fisherman Contributor Lonnie King, who often writes on pike topics, says this rigging modification worked wonderfully for him on pike last year. He finds it particularly useful for fishing with baits made from ElaZtech material, such as the Grass KickerZ from Z-Man pictured here.
"I add a split ring to the hook eye and tie on fluorocarbon leader and attach a cross-lock snap, which acts as a plastic-keeper and prevents the lure from slipping down the hook," he explains. "It keeps the bait running true after prolonged use. A small elastic also works at times but it can be cut by pike teeth.
"ElaZtech is highly buoyant. The weight of the fluorocarbon leader, hook, and split ring tips the bait nose down, but it doesn't make the lure sink," he says. "This isn't something I was striving for, but it worked to catch lots of pike. The greatest benefit of this rig and the ElaZtech is that it's remarkably durable, which allows you to fish it for a long time, even when subjected to repeated punishment from big pike. On some trips, we would burn through so many soft-plastic swimbaits that we were always fearful of running out. The ElaZtech is highly durable so we need to pack far fewer baits.
"Self-adhesive silicone tape on the hook point makes the rig weedless without having to puncture the soft plastic (puncturing the plastic is hard to do with ElaZtech). If you try to lightly piercing the hook point into the lure, it doesn't pop out of the plastic upon a hook-set like other soft plastics. The material is so stretchy, it is often tricky to pull the barb back through the material, and in the process you often damage the bait slightly (but not nearly as much as a standard plastic). By putting the self-adhesive silicone collar over the fully exposed hook, you can catch fish without doing much damage to the bait, greatly enhancing it's longevity.
"You can buy silicone tape at many home improvement and hardware stores. It's only sticky for a day or so and will eventually let go, so you can't rig up lots of baits in advance," King says.
In 2002, Dr. Keith Jones, renowned fish scientist who works for Pure Fishing, published Knowing Bass, a compelling volume on the biology of fish. Jones offers results of shark research, which identified the types of sounds that proved most effective in attracting sharks. While not specific to pike and muskies, the findings provide thought-provoking ideas that may apply to them. The most effective sounds, Jones reported, did the following:
€¢ Spanned a range of frequencies. Single, consistent tones, even within proper audible frequencies, produced almost no response.
€¢ Lower-frequency bands of 25 to 50 Hz were more attractive than high frequencies of 250 to 500 Hz, which were better than 500 to 1,000 Hz.
€¢ Continuous, non-varying sounds were largely ignored. Pulsed sounds were highly effective, especially faster rates of pulsing.
€¢ Unevenly spaced beats or pulses proved significantly more attractive than regularly spaced beats.
Mastering the Figure-8
To increase your boatside conversions, Don Schwartz, an avid muskie angler who has captured remarkable underwater muskie footage, makes these suggestions:
Jerkbaits: If a muskie follows a jerkbait like a Bobbie when you're making short hard twitches, don't abandon those movements when you get to the boat. Keep doing the twitches intermittently throughout your boatside routine. That's what piqued her interest to begin with. I keep slow-twitching, right into the turn — this is where a fish often tags a jerkbait.
Minnowbaits: You can work these baits either fast like a bucktail or with slow twitches like a jerkbait. Stay consistent. If the fish follows on twitches, keep twitching — often all the way through the figure-eight. If she follows on a fast retrieve, maintain that speed.
Surface Lures: I get more fish to bite by taking the lure down as it nears the boat. I make slow turns and speed up in the straightaways. I also alternate moving the bait up and down — usually down on the straightaway and up in the turn.
Bucktails: As soon as you spot a fish on the retrieve, speed up. This can trigger a strike before you reach the boat. Once in the 8, just keep things nice and smooth — speed up in the straight stretches, and slow down fractionally on the turn. Keep the turn big and wide. If the fish won't commit, give the bait a little twitch or two.
Repeatability: Do the figure-eight the same way every time. If you're right handed, move the bait left to right on the initial turn.
Sharpen hooks: The problem of dull hooks is magnified at close distance when a fish might well get a good grip on the lure and you might not remember to pull the lure back into the fish instead of pulling up and away.
Long Rods: Use 8- to 9-foot rods, which get the lure out away from the boat, as well as deeper. Long sticks also ease wide turns while the extra length allows adding more speed in the straightaways.
Anglers hunting toothy species in saltwater often use fluorocarbon leader because it's believed fluoro blends into ultraclear waters and it's harder and tougher than monofilament. While fluorocarbon provides a fair measure of protection, it's not averse to being sliced by a well-placed chomp.
Eighty- to 150-pound-test fluoro leaders hold up well to pike and muskie teeth. Fluoro leaders of around 25-pound test also work well on smaller pike to prevent bite-offs when targeting other species. Many anglers now wield fluoro exclusively for presentations such as in-line spinners, tailspinning topwaters, crankbaits, and rigging live suckers, as long as you run a short hook rig with thin braided wire. Fluoro leaders 24 to 36 inches long work for trolling in clear water — even around rocks — but the thickness of the line prevents lures from diving as deep as they do on wire.
For high-action presentations, such as glidebaits and walk-the-dog topwaters, wire offers better performance, as fluoro often foul-hooks and hinders lure movement. Also, fluoro isn't recommended for large Bull Dawgs and softbaits of similar style, which muskies often engulf, increasing the odds of bite-offs.
Fluorocarbon leaders of 80- to 150-pound-test can be tied using heavy-duty crimping sleeves and or knots such as the perfection loop, nail knot, or Centauri knot. Or you can buy pre-tied 12- to 36-inch leaders from companies like Stealth Tackle, Berkley, Smity's, or Buchertail Tackle.
Some anglers spurn fluoro leaders, but used carefully in the right scenarios, such as in clear, highly pressured waters — they can augment presentation and up your odds. Fluorocarbon also can help minimize damage to fish that can roll in sharp thin wire and damage skin, scales, and slime coats.
Pike in Space
In summer, big pike often vacate shallow water and move offshore. Also, preyfish such as ciscoes, white bass, crappies, and shad may move out of shallow littoral areas in favor of deep flats and basin areas. Finding bait is the key to finding toothy predators.
Speed-trolling big crankbaits, swimbaits, bucktails, or large spoons within the top 15 feet of the water column frequently turns up electrifying results. On the hottest, calmest days and evenings, big pike and muskies can even be seen and caught on the surface — often over some of the deepest zones in a lake. In recent years, several top muskie anglers on the Canadian Shield have caught 50-inch fish, casting walk-the-dog style topwater baits in these types of areas.
Lipless Rattler Mod
Lipless rattlebaits are among our favorite lures for pike, and we always pack them on our Far North fly-in trips as well as for local fishing. Rattlebaits are often overlooked for more traditional selections like spoons and blades, but they can trigger big fish when other presentations fail.
Smaller, thinner-steel trebles that come stock on rattlebaits often can bend under the load of a toothy gator, or rip free from pike that surge powerfully on low-stretch braid. As a solution, In-Fisherman Editor In Chief Doug Stange swaps out the trebles on rattlebaits. It started as a trick for extracting bass quickly in stump-laden waters, but also proves useful for big pike.
"Most lipless cranks have 2X hooks, about half as stout as 4Xs. I found that by pulling hard to keep the bass from grinding down into the timber, I was also bending out the 2X hooks, reducing their temper, which made them bend out even easier on subsequent hookups," he says. "So I started replacing them with the Lazer Sharp L774, a 4X hook. It's built heavier all the way around, has a sharp needlepoint, a distinct barb, and a tighter gap between hook point and shank. They hook up and stick like they've been welded in — and you can't bend them on most freshwater fish."