By Dave Csanda
While northern pike abound throughout Canada, there's something remarkable about Saskatchewan, where the cool climate, remote locales and abundant food sources form a perfect storm for growing monstrous pike.
Lakes and reservoirs in the southern region of the province shed their ice earlier than those in the north, where ice-out may not occur until June. Regardless of locale, the fish display similar behavior throughout the developing season and Saskatchewan offers a variety of options for anglers, from full-service lodges to do-it-yourself adventures, to cash in on the great pike action here.
Where to Fish
In spring, fish the back ends of shallow, marshy bays—particularly those with incoming creeks. Post-spawn pike like to hang out in shallow, wind-protected areas where sun penetration bakes the water on calm afternoons.
Peer into the shallows with polarized sunglasses, and you'll often see good numbers of pike—large and small—yet relatively little else. Contrary to popular belief, large pike do not necessarily enter the waist-deep shallows to feed, although they will certainly pounce on smaller pike or other forage fish that are present.
In actuality, the largest pike typically feed on ciscoes or whitefish suspended outside shallow bays during the early morning hours, and afterward begin sliding up into the back ends of the bays. By late morning, warming water here helps kickstart pike digestion.
When pike first arrive in the shallows, they're sluggish, often lying motionless on the bottom. After an hour or two in the warming shallows, activity levels rise, and pike go on the bite, sometimes smashing anything you throw near them.
What To Use
Spring and early summer generally call for horizontal-swimming lures, rather than vertical presentations. Pike love to follow 4- to 4½-inch wobbling spoons, large shallow-running crankbaits or tandem spinnerbaits that create a wake across the surface. Straight-shaft subsurface spinners, and unweighted magnum softbaits that glide, then slowly sink also work well. Slow, methodical retrieves are usually best, although it pays to impart a jerk-and-pause several times per retrieve. This causes following pike to run up on the vulnerable lure, often turning curious follows into strikes.
Heavy bass flippin' sticks of 7' 6" to 7' 10" in length collapse for easy transport, then extend out to their full length for fishing. Spool a good casting reel with 30- to 40-pound test superline, and add a 12-inch wire leader of about 50-pound test to prevent bite-offs.
When pike are fussy—and even when they're not—it's hard to beat a large streamer fly. Cast past their location (you can often see and target individual fish in the waist-deep shallows), then slowly and tantalizingly strip the fly past their noses. Even if they don't strike right away, this usually gets them up and moving. As they continue to follow, they'll become more aggressive, eventually engulfing the fly.
Team a 9-foot, 10-weight fly rod with a fly reel spooled with either a floating or sink tip line. Use tippets of 12- to 16-pound test, and tie in a foot-long leader of wire or fluorocarbon to deflect razor-sharp teeth.
Pike action in the extreme shallows remains predictable into early July—and perhaps even longer in the cooler northern portion of the province. But eventually, the water warms sufficiently to minimize pike entry into the extreme shallows. At that point, look for healthy green cabbage weeds in the main lake, typically in about 5 to 12 feet of water. Use the same lures as earlier, but experiment with faster retrieves.
In mid- to late summer, pike may temporarily drop into deep water of 40 to 60 feet, feeding on ciscoes or whitefish along the edges of deep rocky structures. If you aren't seeing big fish shallow, try vertically jigging 1½- to 2-ounce jigheads dressed with 6-inch, soft plastic, baitfish-imitating tails where your electronics reveal large fish near bottom in deep water.
As summer wanes and water temperatures cool, large pike reappear along points, atop shallow humps and at the mouths of bays. Big pike really put the feedbag on in fall, and are likely to chomp down on larger lures.
Where To Stay
Saskatchewan offers a vast array of resorts and outfitters servicing guests? on world-class pike waters. Remote, far-North fly-ins range from 4-star deluxe facilities featuring American plan meals and experienced guides, to self-guided fishing out of outpost cabins where you do your own cooking. Drive-to destinations in the lower half of the province provide equally good pike angling, with the option to fish out of your own boat if you choose not to hire a guide. In short, there's something for everyone at any budget level, whether fishing with family, friends or colleagues, amidst nature's unspoiled wilderness and scenic splendor.