Mighty Northern May
As soon as the 2nd or 3rd Saturday in May hits it's time for Walleye and The Mighty Northern Pike for most central Ontario waters. We've had our fix of small rods and pan fish and it's now time to up size our catch. I personally target Northern Pike from now until bass season opens, with a few pike tournaments in between to kick off the tournament season. Northern pike are big, feisty, toothy critter's that are fun to catch. My favorite lake for northern pike in our neck of the woods has to be Lake Muskoka. It's my home lake and it has some giants in it.
Where to Look
When the season opens the first thing you want to do is check for water temperatures.
I've always found that 56 to 67 degree water is prime for active fish. No matter what lake you're on, always check a lake map or GPS chart and find those North West bays. They get the most sun exposure and warm up the fastest. To find warmer water temperatures it's important to look at the lake's floor. Dark muddy bottoms warm faster than light sandy bays. I look down shorelines for any fallen trees sticking out into the lake. Simple looking shorelines that have a couple of fallen trees and quick drops from 2ft - 10ft might just be enough structure to attract a pike to it, so don't ignore these spots. When you see a down tree just remember that most of the tree could be under water. This tree has 50% of it under water sitting in 10ft of water. That's the kind of trees I like to look for.
Rocks are also excellent structures to find fish, as they tend to hold heat from the sun, which is another attractant to pike. When the sun is out, find some rocks and look for rocky lake point too. Pike can be found up shallow until the water starts to warm past 70 degrees in most lakes, then they will slowly move out to deeper water searching for their summer homes. If pike are not found shallow, chances are they can be found on the next closest drop off or access to deep water. It's a good idea to search out bays with access to deep water nearby.
It's important to have the right gear for these toothy critters. They can be viscous and cut through line and break rods. I use nothing smaller than a 6'9" medium heavy rod up to a 7'6" medium heavy. Line choice for me would be braided line for most pike applications. My casting rods have 50 to 65 lbs on with 20 lb braid on my spinning reels. Even with 65lb braid you still need a leader when fishing pike, it's possible for them to slice through the braid like scissors. You can simply use thin wire 6" to 12" wire leaders, whatever length you prefer, or use fluorocarbon line too. I attach the fluorocarbon line direct to my braided line using a uni to uni knot and attach a swivel clip at the end. I like to use 25 lbs fluorocarbon; it's invisible under water, extremely abrasion resistant, and not too thick to tie with. This is thicker line than using a thin wire leader, and could hamper action on specific lures. Play around with the 2 and experiment with which ones you like the best. The most important thing with leaders is to check for any nicks after every fish, it could mean the difference between keeping and losing a trophy. Personally, the rods I use are the 6'8 medium heavy Kistler Micro magnesium, and 7' Kistler medium heavy Micro Mag with power pro fishing line. www.kistlerrods.com An important tip to remember when using braid is that there is no stretch, so don't go to heavy of a rod, you will just rip lures out. Medium heavy is just perfect when using braid.
Lures and Techniques
I usually keep it simple with 4 main types of lures.
1) In-Line spinners or spinner baits, for flash and vibration. Silver blades in clearer water and when it's darker stained water go to a gold or bright colored blade. This really works well in the shallows and weeds.
2) Jerk baits like #12 and #14 husky jerk from rapala or their new x raps, work well in all areas, but I especially like jerk baits off rocky points and drop offs.
3) Soft plastic lures like stick worms, swim baits and flapping shads are always rigged up on another rod as well. You can get away with only 2 colors, white and pink. Either of these colors will excel in most waters. When the bite is not as aggressive I will slow down with these soft plastics. Sometimes all you have to do is cast out and let it slowly sink and that's what will entice them to trigger.
4) Top water action is so exciting, especially for pike. There are 2 main lures that are best for catching pike on top water: buzz baits and walking baits (like the zara spook). Use these up shallow through weeds and hang on as these will get the adrenaline going for sure. Buzz baits are buzzed back to the boat in a steady retrieve. Walking baits are work with a side to side motion we call "walking the dog". You can do this really slow or fast. Experiment and have fun!
Don't discount old school spoons either. When in doubt, go into Grandpa's tackle box and dig out the old 5 of diamonds red and yellow spoon or the red devil. These are still considered the old reliable lures to many. Another good spoon would be the weedless silver Johnson minnow spoon, which are still available in any store simply because they work.Using all 4 of these methods will ensure you are covering water and get you some luck on catching pike. If you're going out as a family outing in the boat or from shore with young ones simply use a bobber and hook with a big sucker minnow near the bottom and just wait. Pike love cruising around looking for these easy meals. This is very simple and requires no real technique, just cast it out and watch that bobber!
Enjoy your spring, get outdoors and go catch some pike using some of these tips. If you get out to Lake Muskoka you can easily catch into a 40" plus fish there. There are also over 250 tagged fish there so if you catch one please call it into the MNR. Practice catch and release especially with the big ones.