February 03, 2020
Gord Pyzer: I’ve searched for more than 40 years to find a winter pike spot that is the equal of the one I’ve illustrated for this article. Some come close, but they’ve never been on par. Why? It is as Aristotle noted 2,000 years ago—the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
What distinguishes the location is, firstly, the inflowing river at the northeastern end of the bay. It’s big enough that you could canoe it and each year it deposits mud, sand, and detritus from upstream to fertilize a lush 20-acre bed of green cabbage growing at the delta. Cabbage growth is significant, as other weed species like milfoil don’t hold the same pike-attracting qualities.
The river also hosts annual spring runs of walleyes and, in particular, white suckers. When the pike have finished spawning on and around the remnant weeds, reeds, sticks and branches, there’s a conveyor belt of food streaming past them for at least a month.
Vital, too, is that the main lake more or less begins at the end of the cove. It’s only a short distance between the main lake where pike can overwinter in depths in excess of 60 feet and the prime shallow spring spawning habitat. This deep water also hosts summer and fall forage options—ciscoes, whitefish, and suckers.
Lastly, there is only one hard-rock main-lake structure—the point on the northwest shoreline—that interrupts fish movements back and forth and offers them the perfect spot to stage. The point is classic and there is only one of them in the entire bay area. Nothing beats perfectly placed structure.
For much of winter and especially from early to late prespawn (basically most of March), the bedrock point is the key “spot on the spot” in the bay to set tip-ups. As the spawn draws near, the deep cabbage weedline in front of the river is the place to be. It’s a myth, proven conclusively by Project Noble Beast, that predators like muskies and pike (and likely all other species) avoid decaying weeds because of some presumed loss of oxygen. Besides, in this case, the river is injecting plenty of oxygenated water into the area.
Overall, there isn’t one thing that sets the bay apart and distinguishes it from other good pike spawning areas. Rather it’s the combination of parts—inflowing river, rich delta, lush cabbage, sucker spawning site, main-lake proximity, ciscoe-whitefish-sucker forage base in the main lake, along with the perfectly placed single bedrock structure that focuses fish activity. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Doug Stange: Playing on Gord’s theme “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” I offer one of the most memorable of a host of great spots where I’ve set deadbaits during the past many years. It’s a spot from the past, a classic for the same reason that Gord’s spot is so good—the spot itself is a singular perfectly placed saddle area in a giant bay with deep enough water on each side of it to hold pike all season long. But then, to top it off, this big bay also is attached to the Winnipeg River, which is a giant river-run-reservoir system, running from Lake of the Woods to Lake Winnipeg.
I haven’t been back to this spot in more than 30 years, but I remember its general layout, even though we didn’t fish the spot with sonar back then. Sure enough, looking at the Navionics ChartView online when it came out about a decade ago, there the spot was, pretty much as I had envisioned it over the years.
Weedgrowth always plays a part in the life of big pike, but one must remember that rocks in or near deep water, or rocks near deep water that also intersects shallower weedgrowth, often hold big pike during winter. The reason, of course, is that these spots also hold forage fish. In this case, a rock hump 20 feet deep lies in the middle of the big bay. The saddle, which runs about 23 feet deep, connects the hump to shallower shoreline habitat. Deep water surrounds the hump and each side of the saddle. We never explored that shoreline habitat, but I’d bet there are plenty of options for big fish there, too.
We made sets over the hump, along the outside of the hump where it connects to deeper water, but the best spot was the area where the saddle connects to the hump, along with portions of the saddle itself, away from the hump toward shore. A small group of us totaled a dozen pike from 18 to 25 pounds in two days of fishing.
Meanwhile, my biggest pike of all time also came from a singularly distinctive structural element set in just the right spot in a large section of lake. It consisted of a shallow flat with weedgrowth that terminated in a gradual-sloping point projecting far into the main lake. Shallow weedgrowth provided cover for prey and predator pike alike, and any pike moving through this portion of the lake had to contact this structural element. No surprise, the biggest fish all held near the point, which is where the 44-inch fish that weighed 28 pounds was caught. Otis “Toad” Smith and I were fishing together that day in March, probably about 1987.
Jason Mitchell—I’ve fished so many great spots over the years, I can’t pick just one as the perfect spot. I can, however, generalize what I look for in a great spot, whether I’m fishing Devils Lake, the lower end of Fort Peck reservoir, or portions of Lake Sakakawea. Let’s just focus on what a great spots would consist of on Fort Peck and Sakakawea.
I love big prominent structural elements that lie right at the mouth of or just outside of big shallow bays or feeder creeks. The best spots have sand, gravel, and rock, and usually where there’s sand there’s submergent weedgrowth, most often some species of pondweed we usually call “cabbage.”
Other softer bottoms are okay at times, but the weed-rock combo is vital to producing bigger pike. These points or reefs can be as shallow as 5 to 12 feet and they all drop off in stair-step fashion into water that is over 20 feet deep.
The bigger the spot the better as big spots just naturally gather more fish. Then individual spots have more potential when they offer a variety of elements—shallow fingers and distinct inside turns or cups in the structure. Piles of big round boulders usually are better than scattered chunk rock. Distinct weededges usually are better than scattered clumps of weeds.
Still, a spot can be missing a component or two and still be outstanding, so long as the spot’s placed as I’ve suggested and especially if it’s the only spot like that in the area. But then that’s what Gord and Doug have already said—the spot has to be singularly perfectly placed.
Steve Wald, with Josh Loebs—I guide for pike in conjunction with Josh Loebs, of Loebs Lake Oahe Guide Service (loebslakeoaheguideservice.com), based in on the upper portion of Lake Oahe near Pollock, South Dakota. This portion of the reservoir has an outstanding population of giant pike, many weighing over 20 pounds.
I often refer to “old water being the home of giants.” I’m not talking literally about “old water,” but about water that grows old pike. Giant pike don’t get big overnight; it takes years, even decades for these alpha predators to get big. So, as is the case on Oahe, we’re talking big water with deep-water and shallow-water options, where the fish don’t get a lot of fishing pressure, so much the better, too, that the biggest fish that are caught get released.
I have picked one key favorite spot from my memory. An inflowing creek provides constant year-round flow to the bay connected to the main reservoir. Shallow sunken stumps and willows from drought years past provide cover for forage species, large and small. The bay is used by walleyes, perch, and crappies, as well as smaller pike and suckers. At times, ciscoes, shad, and smelt also push into the bay. Old creek beds are the main structure in the bay. Fish of all species use these old channels to navigate the bay. The Ys in the channels and hairpin bends that create sunken islands are perfect spots to ambush giant pike.
Starting in the fall, fish of all species push their way into the bay. As winter sets in these fish settle into predictable winter patterns, using those creek channels to navigate the bay. Year after year, pike follow the edges of the old channels, which lead them to one piece of structure or another. Whether feeding on crappies in the sunken willows or perch on the mudflats, every structural element holds the potential for a meal.
Maybe the most unique thing about this spot is that it offers the opportunity to set tip-ups with deadbaits over a variety of cover options all at the same time—two creek channels and channel bends and intersections, a mudflat, and a rock point. I often walk around a wide set of holes working a rattlebait to pull fish toward one portion of the spread or another.
I think fishing for giant pike is a lot like hunting for big whitetails. Study the structural items in an area to find funnel points. Rock points push fish toward the tip of the point. Channel bends stop prey fish and pike alike and concentrate action.
So, yes, here again, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts—but you need the right kind of individual parts in combination to create great fishing.