February 19, 2013
By Matt Straw
That's Shoggie out there, tentatively pulling in Dacron by hand, feeling for tension. As soon as he feels anything, he's going to set the hook. That's the whole point of the new quick-strike tip-up rigs from companies like Bigtooth Tackle and Northland Tackle. Set the hook immediately.
As mentioned in the last post, bluegills managed to make monkeys of us. But the flags started popping before we could finish drilling out our first area
If the spindle is turning, I carefully lift the tip-up out of the hole, let the line slip through my glove until I can set the tip-up down, get both hands on the line, then grip and set in one motion.
This is all of Tony's fish, as promised, taken on a "decoy" sucker about 10 inches long, set beneath an HT Enterprises Polar Tip-Up. A quality specimen anywhere. Lucky for us, the toothy critters seemed to be playing whack-a-mole with the bluegills, which would not come out and play (can't say as I blame them).
Seeing a flag go up on a remote lake is anticipation incarnate. but we walk to the hole. If the shaft is turning, it's hard not to run, but many a game is lost that way when fishing in 8 feet of water near creek mouths — as we were. And we had plenty of anticipation to deal with.
Shoggie jumped out of his truck after exploring the far end of the lake. "Flag!" Concentrating on bluegills that refused to bite, I looked up. The flag was pretty close to Dan Quinn, field promotions manager for Rapala.
"Dan," I said. "Flag." He spotted it and shrugged at me. "Take it." He sauntered over, pulled in a few feet of line and set the hook. The water, stained the color of Oolong tea by the surrounding tamarack and cedar bogs, seemed to encourage short runs by the pike. The infighting was brutal, fun stuff. Better have your act together or you could loose a boot.
Toothy critters were on parade, periodically, until the sun settled just above the trees. Those periods may or may not have coincided with moon phases. We may never know. When you plan on being there dawn to dark, what difference does it make?The tip-ups will be waiting whenever the pike get active.
If we were true woodsmen, we'd trap suckers from the systems we're fishing. I wouldn't even know how to go about that through the ice. We can start catching them in rivers pretty soon, but transporting them is illegal because of the threat of spreading exotics, so stream suckers are out as bait. I've caught some huge suckers in lakes at the mouths of creeks right at ice-out — too big to rig for muskies. But we're pretty much confined to using what the bait shops have to offer this time of year.
Suckers from the same system as the pike you're after are livelier, wilder, and more likely to panic. Bait-store suckers often come from environments free of predators. They don't panic and trip the flag even before being devoured the way suckers from the 'hood do. Suckers from the 'hood are like, "I'm out."
But bait-store variety baits prevailed this day — and all winter long, on rigs by those companies mentioned up above or with hand-tied rigs. I use 80-pound fluorocarbon from Sufix or Seaguar with size #6 to size #2 trebles. I use premium hooks from Trokar, Gamakatsu, or Owner. Pike touch these rigs and the hooks penetrate skin, making it increasingly hard for them to shake it.
And I like to tie a 6-foot stretch of 60- to 80-pound fluoro to the end of my black tip-up line to break up that opaque profile leading down to the bait. Old pike freaks say it doesn't matter. But do old pike freaks catch many pike in uber clear water? Survey SAYS: Whatever. Not that we were fishing in uber clear water. It was dark, and stained. And, predictably, the bite died before the sun hit the tree tops. We scrambled up a pretty sporty knob with our four-wheel drives and hit the trail before dusk.
Where else would I rather be this time of year? Let me explore that next time around.