Late Summer Piking
Northern pike are the gangbangers of the Mississippi, preying on the weak, crippled and clueless. They are built for fast attack with long, slender bodies, large anal & caudal fins and a powerful tail enabling them to shoot forward quickly in a serpentine motion, just like a snake.
Snake is just one popular nickname for this alpha predator. Other popular descriptions are hammer handle and my favorite: snot rocket. Regardless, anglers seldom describe these gamefish in favorable terms until they grow to at least 30″. News regs which went in place this year changed the daily bag limit to 3 with only one over 30″. Last year and for long as anyone can remember the daily bag here has always been 5 with no minimum length limit.
Harvest restrictions on northern pike is one place where I take umbrage with learned fisheries biologists. Regarding all other harvest restrictions which took effect this year–I don’t think they are restrictive enough. But with pike I believe the desultory and often profane comments echoing across the water when a pike finds your hook will see drastic increase in years to come and snot rockets proliferate to dominate the fishery. This year a remarkable number of 18-22″ toothers have found hooks intended for other species for my clients. Many times their visit is only confirmed by a slack line and a $7 lure gone forever.
Late summer snot rocket and fish bigger than 30″ which deserve to be called
” Mr. Pike” behave like two different species, something to consider when actually targeting Esox lucius. With binocular vision, pike are primarily sight feeders. Water with visibility of at least 2′ because of overall water clarity and light penetration are major factors in location and behavior.Of course, the presence of easy prey trumps all other parameters.
Since they are sight feeders, pike tend to cruise weed edges in thicker submergent growth instead of tucking back in the midst of the canopy. They like to hang around points, narrows, beaver trails and tributary entry points, waiting in ambush.
Although pike are explosive swimmers, they don’t waste energy. Wary bluegills swimming just a few feet away are relatively safe. But the injured fish–or one on the end of your line is in real peril.
Fishing is generally tough for all species except panfish at this point in the summer because there is so much forage in the water. If you want to catch pike of substantial proportions, the adage big bait=big fish holds true.
My two favorite big pike baits are a 1 oz. Northland tandem spinnerbait in orange/chartreuse and a 3/4 oz. FLOATING RT-97 Rat-L-Trap.. Several years ago Bill Lewis lures honored me by naming the classic ‘Trap with a red head/white body ‘Uncle Ted’s Red Head’ because the color pattern and vibration of this lipless crankbait are so very, VERY effective on Mississippi River pike.
My next lure choices for pike this time of year are Z-Man buzzbaits & chatterbaits in black/blue pattern. I like to add a 2″ blue Kalin scrub to the buzzer to enhance both action and lift and a 4″ Kalin Sizmic shad to the chatterbait to enhance bait profile. In both cases, these lures are further tweaked by adding a stinger hook. On the Z-Man chatterbait I swap out the snap for a snap attached to a 6″ steel leader to prevent buying a pike from enjoying a five-dollar lunch.
Static tension on the water’s surface produces a “bubble line” when retrieving a buzzbait. If this bubble line is not at lease 3′ long another lure is likely a better choice. Static tension is usually greatest on hot, muggy summer days like we typically see in late August and early September.
Returning to that that 30+” pike behave like a different species than snot rockets, with normal summer pool levels drawing lots of forage to main channel rocks, trailing edges of wingdams and closing dams become prime spots for a big pike to wait in ambush. The confluence of two currents at any trib entry point is also worth at least a few casts.
Using livebait for bigger pike requires more patience than I’m typically known for can be very effective. But a 4-7″ bluegill with half its tail snipped off, impaled on a 5/0 hook with a steel leader pegged 2-6′ under a big bobber–presented at an optimum ambush point–will almost always produce a decent pike…especially if you can watch the cork with a cold beverage from a shady spot.