February 09, 2018
Much of angling success is driven by weather, and no weather element is more influential than wind. Too much and conditions become unsafe or unmanageable for effective fishing. Too little wind and things go stagnant. Large predators like pike become lethargic and catches of big fish dwindle.
Anglers have no control over these conditions so wind can be the bane of our existence. We curse it and praise it, sometimes within the same day. The best we can hope for is to understand how it affects fish, then take advantage of tactics that play into the behavior of pike in various situations.
Anglers seem comfortable with the premise that pike are more active and angling success is greater under semi-windy conditions. Theories vary on the cause. Most suggest increased water movement associated with windy conditions. Wind gets prey species moving and increases oxygen levels in the water. This may increase the feeding behavior of predators.
Wind also adds chop to the surface and cuts light penetration. Studies have shown that the feeding habits of pike are linked to light levels. Their activity spikes during low-light conditions. Clear blue skies and calm lake surfaces work against those ingrained feeding cues.
Some anglers note that windy conditions often are associated with changing weather patterns and a corresponding shift in barometric pressure, which could increase fish activity. They contend that wind is a corollary to changing pressure but not the true cause in altering the mood of fish. Regardless, wind can drive some of the best pike bites for those willing to put their backs to it and battle on.
Wind Moves Water
Channels present the most obvious location to witness the wind's power to move water and position fish. Whether the channel is a manmade canal between two bodies of water or a natural narrowing of a lake or saddle between mid-lake islands, the effect is the same. Wind and channels funnel current and make lake-run pike act like river fish.
For river anglers, the principles for catching pike in these settings are second nature. Any piece of cover can concentrate and position pike. When wind and current first start to build, pike loosely associate with cover such as boulders, logs, or bridge pilings, or structural elements like humps and cuts.
Pike may hold off to the side or be positioned in front of the cover when current is slight. The stronger and more sustained the water movement, the more tightly pike position behind cover and structural elements that serve as current breaks. These objects form current seams that can funnel preyfish into a spot. In stronger current, slip-drifting downstream with the waves often is the best approach. Use the trolling motor to position the boat for the best casting angles and to slow the drift. If the trolling motor can't slow you enough, deploy a driftsock.
Make casts quartering downwind and slightly to the outside of potential fish holding zones. Avoid casting beyond or behind the target. The goal is to allow the lure to swing in front of the cover so that it's in the field of vision of pike holding behind or off to the side of cover. While pike can be aggressive predators, they're also easily spooked by lures presented from behind them or on top of them.
Lures that work well pike fishing in wind include the 4.5-inch Berkley PowerBait Rib Shad and 4.8-inch Kalin's Sizmic Shad rigged on a 3/4- to 1.5-ounce Kalin's Ultimate "S" Jig Head, as well as the prerigged 5.5-inch LiveTarget Yellow Perch Swimbait and 6-inch Storm WildEye Swim Shad. These lures cast well with the wind. And single-hook options are snag resistant. They deflect off cover and swim through patches of vegetation easily. Above all, swimbaits offer deadly action at slow and fast speeds.
Pike fishing in wind often means multitasking as you operate the trolling motor, tend to driftsocks, change lures, and mend line. Paddletail swimbaits continue to thump as the body sways from side to side. Quick bursts of speed, followed by stalling, which send the lure to the bottom, are more than pike can resist.
I favor a 7- to 7.5-foot medium-heavy casting rod and reel with a 6.1:1 or higher gear ratio, spooled with 30- or 40-pound-test braid. This outfit aids in feeling the action of the swimbait and driving home the hook even if there's a slight bow in the line. A 12-inch Terminator Multi-Strand Titanium leader saves you from bite-offs and doesn't deter strikes from aggressive pike. The leader's Touch-Loc snap makes it easy to change lures. Switching to a different color or style of swimbait can make a difference, as can changing jighead weights.
Unlike fishing a jig for walleyes or crappies where the lightest possible jig size is often preferred, upsizing jighead size with swimbaits for pike means greater casting distance and more importantly it allows the bait to be worked more quickly and at greater depths. Pike don't feel the extra weight of the jig on the take as they're typically striking on the move, not sucking it in between hops or on the fall. A lighter jighead comes in handy when a slower retrieve is desired or when fishing above cover or in shallow water.
Wave Deflection and Reverse Currents
Wind and current can be complex. The In-Fisherman book, Critical Concepts — Walleye Fundamentals, contains a whole chapter on the characteristics of wind in relation to water. These principles apply to all species of fish and are well worth a read by any studious angler. The chapter describes how Coriolis Force can produce currents that don't travel in the same direction as the wind, but instead deflect at an angle to the direction of the wind in the northern hemisphere. In essence, based upon the earth's rotation at 1,040 miles per hour, water currents deflect at an angle to the right of the direction of the wind.
Maximum deflection of 45 degrees can occur on huge bodies of water like Lake Superior, with its massive volume of water. More modest bodies of water, such as Wisconsin's Lake Mendota, covering 9,600 acres with maximum depth of 80 feet, has a current deflection of about 20 degrees to the right of the wind. This same deflection applies to rebounding currents created when waves crash onto solid shorelines.
Rolling waves race across the surface of the lake until they break on the shoreline. These breakers form eddies close to shore that collect phytoplankton and zooplankton.
Plankton attracts baitfish and subsequently draws predators including pike that face into the rebound current to feed.
In Canadian Shield lakes and other fisheries with sharp-breaking or sheer rock shorelines, rebound current areas are key spots to catch big pike. Numbers of large fish often patrol these areas when winds are right. Here they're in search of ciscoes, walleyes, perch, or even small lake trout.
Rocky cliff shorelines that drop quickly into deep water are fine areas for casting large deep-diving minnowbaits like the 5.25-inch Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnow, Rapala X-Rap Mag 15 and 20, and 6.25-inch LiveTarget Yellow Perch. These lures present a large profile to get noticed as they're cast toward the bank and retrieved out over deep water. They dive quickly to maximum depth and are most effective on a straight retrieve.
Switch often between sizes and diving depths of lures. Cover water quickly and fish various depths to intercept packs of feeding pike. This isn't a matter of hunting a solitary trophy pike holding on an isolated piece of cover. Often if you encounter one big pike on a sheer rocky shoreline with wind blowing in, you may connect with several big fish.
Main Lake Points and Bays
Areas that generally hold pike throughout summer, such as rocky points and main-lake bays, become even more productive with a 10-mph wind pounding into them. There are many lure options, including spoons and jerkbaits. One effective tactic is burning spinners above active pike. Focus on fish feeding in the upper 4 to 6 feet of the water column over points that extend into the main basin and in bays with hard bottom that don't muddy up in the wind. Small depressions in the backs of bays with even a small patch of vegetation can be magnets to concentrate baitfish and pike.
During windy conditions, pike venture shallower and feed higher in the water column than under calm conditions. Even with waves in the 2-foot range, surface turbulence is generated only to a depth of about twice the cresting height of the waves, perhaps 4 feet down. Much of the shallow feeding activity of pike takes place high in the water column.
Select a spinner with enough weight to stay down at high retrieve speeds and a fast-rotating blade to generate lots of flash and vibration. In most settings, muskie-size bucktails are overkill. Instead, try spinners, like the 3/4- to 1-ounce Worden's Roostertails in fluorescent colors or those bright enough to get noticed. These compact spinners cast well in windy conditions. Their Hilderbrandt modified willowleaf blades create minimum lift to allow for extra-fast retrieves, which means more casts and more water covered.
Fancasting is standard practice for this presentation. Keep moving and keep casting until you find pods of baitfish and stalking pike. Wind often traps pockets of warm water. So if you find a plume of warmer water, the bite can be fast. Take your pick between medium-power spinning or baitcasting equipment and 30-pound Sufix 832 braid.
If points, backs of bays, or small depression areas with scattered vegetation fail to produce, slide out to deep cabbage beds and concentrate on outside edges. A great one-two approach is to use a Bucher Slopmaster Tandem Spinnerbait to fish quickly over the top of plants. Focus on denser clumps of cabbage and outside turns. Then, follow with a 3.75-inch Johnson Silver Minnow and Dynamic Lures Craw trailer to fish a bit deeper for pike that are reluctant to strike the spinnerbait.
While Slopmasters and other tandem spinnerbaits can be retrieved straight like a spinner, they have an added benefit. On the pause, their trailing willowleaf blade spins attractively on the fall, unlike the blades on spinners that stall. So it pays to occasionally pause Slopmasters as you probe pockets in the weededge and along outside edges.
Follow-up by casting even farther into the vegetation with a Johnson Silver Minnow. This weedless spoon is great for working slower and deeper among the stalks of mid-summer cabbage that harbor prime preyfish. Its wobble isn't pronounced, but with a pork or softbait trailer, the package takes on a lifelike look and feel.
Fish these lures with a straight retrieve, but they're often more productive with a pause-and-go or a rip-jig-and-crank approach. During the pause, watch your line jump as pike lunge and strike. On a steady retrieve, be ready for your line to go slack as big pike rush the lure with their mouth open and push it forward prior to turning and clamping down. If you detect any slack or the pulse of the lure stops, crank as fast as possible and deliver a quick sweeping hook-set.
Don't let wind throw you off your game for summer pike. Instead, an understanding of the dynamics of wind, water, and waves can be a game changer in locating and triggering windy-day pike. Once you identify prime feeding zones, the rest is easy.
*In-Fisherman Field Editor Steve Ryan, Chicago, Illinois, is an avid pike angler and regular contributor to In-Fisherman publications.