Canadian fly-ins offer the ultimate fishing opportunities for trophy pike. Abundant big fish in shallow water, and most of the time, they're willing to bite. Simply toss a midsize 3-1/2- to 4-1/2-inch wobbling spoon like a Dardevle or Len Thompson, reel it slowly, and impart the occasional pump-and-flutter to trigger following fish. Pike engulf the lure, and the ensuing battle crisscrossing knee-deep water is the stuff of which memories are made.
The fishing's often easy, but not always. Even in the Canadian Wild, cold fronts, fishing pressure, and conditioning (pike repeatedly seeing too many of the same lures) come into play. Here's how to deal with less-than-stellar conditions.
First up, early-spring cold fronts can shut down even the finest pike bite. Fish that were roaming the back ends of shallow bays, nailing anything you tossed their way, suddenly shut down. They don't even seem to be around.
Chances are, their daily movements toward the shallows have been somewhat curtailed, teamed with them behaving more like slugs than savages. If so, approach them like ice fishing, when the best tactics are slow and subtle, often motionless. Rather than tossing rapidly moving lures, switch to a deadstick approach with a jig and pork eel, or better yet, deadbait. Hook up a dead smelt or sucker on a quick-strike rig, add a small sinker ahead of the bait, toss it out, and let it lay on bottom.
Scavenging pike that are filtering through the area will scarf it up off the bottom, much as they do in winter.
To maximize your odds of fish contact, try to predict their route of entry to the back of a bay, anchoring and fishing at funnel areas that bring the fish right past your position. A slot of slightly deeper water running toward the back end of a bay acts like a fish highway, and if you place your bait into it, pike will find it.
Fast forward a few weeks to a month, during which active pike have been nailing almost anything you toss their way. This kind of action seldom lasts forever, though. Eventually, being caught and released on the same spoons takes its toll, and pike often become wary.
Time to switch tactics. Rather than fast-moving baits, go with something that's slow and perhaps neutrally buoyant like a Rapala Husky Jerk. Toss it out, reel slowly, impart a few slow pumps of the rod tip to make it sweep forward and pause, and then stop. The bait hovers motionless, daring a following pike to bite. The results are at times spectacular. Big pike that follow and then turn away from spoons will nail a hovering lure with abandon. Another option: a large, 9- or 10-inch soft plastic bait like a Lunker City Fin-S Fish or Slug-Go, rigged on a big single hook. It's almost weightless, and twitches and pauses of the rod tip cause it to dance, glide, dip, rise, and then, when paused, almost hang there -- too tempting for a big pike to ignore.
Among temptation tactics for big pike, perhaps none has gained as much notoriety as fly-fishing, which combines the neutrally buoyant aspect with stealth fishing in shallow water. Lay a fly out on a short cast, strip slowly, pause, and tease that big fish into following. If they turn away at the boat, simply roll cast back in their direction of departure, and most of the time, they turn back around and follow it in again. Imagine playing cat and mouse with a 20-pound-plus giant, with only 5 to 10 feet of line off your rod tip. When they hit, be ready; the reel's gonna scream on that first blazing run.
Perhaps the easiest way to fly-fish for pike is to use a 9-weight rod loaded with weight-forward floating line, and a relatively short (5- to 7-foot) tapered leader of perhaps 15-pound test, teamed with a lightweight wire leader. A lightly weighted black bunny strip imitation like Orvis's C H Bunny Worm resembles a big leech, and creeps through the water like a snake. It's just heavy enough to cast, and then sink ever so slowly when paused. And it features a weedguard to deflect grass, sticks, and weeds. Pike can't resist it.
For a more traditional fly approach, use a sink-tip line with an unweighted fly, although it's slightly harder to master, since you have to lift the weighted tip section out of the water before casting. Team it with a large streamer, such as Lefty's Deceiver, Bunker, or Gapen's Tantalizer -- all good, although lacking a weedguard. Strip them slowly, with frequent pauses, to tempt big fish into biting. Great when fish are deeper than 3 or 4 feet, down to around 8 or 10 feet.
And should you need to penetrate the edges of flooded reeds or grass, switch back to a floating fly line and tie on a floating-diving fly like a Dahlberg Mega-Diver, which also features a weedguard. Strip, causing it to gurgle and dive a few inches. Pause, and it floats back to the surface. Perfect for tempting fish out of the shallows.
Anglers often are intimidated at the idea of casting big flies on heavier rods, but don't be. The key is to use a double-haul, loading the rod both on the back cast and front cast. Basically, as you lift the fly out of the water, pull the line downward with your reel hand. Then, just as you begin to cast forward, repeat the downward pull, loading the rod tip with sufficient energy to fling the big fly forward. It makes a huge difference, often increasing casting distance by at least 50 percent.
As summer arrives, add other tactics. Crawling a large, shallow-running crankbait like a Mann's One-Minus or Rapala Super Shad just below the surface, wiggling and rippling along, has become a hot tactic for pressured pike. So is retrieving a comparatively small straight-shaft spinner like a #4 Mepps. Perhaps even bass-sized tandem spinnerbaits. Bigger isn't always better when the fish are a bit fussy or spooky.
As fall approaches, however, big pike start putting on the feedbag for winter, and larger lures come into play. Big crankbaits, big spinners, and big spoons fit the bill as pike begin to beef up for the coming winter.
Lots of options, and at times, they're all good. Much of the time, it makes little difference, as big pike are enthusiastic biters. But again, even in the wilderness, the brutes occasionally become finicky. And that's when digging into your bag of tricks really pays off.