Jul 10, 2015

Hot Summer Cool Fishing

Primetime Pike

By Dave Duwe

As a guide for over twenty years, I know that the desire of most of my young anglers is to catch a big northern pike. As the heat of the summer moves in, northern pike fishing can be one of the most consistent bites on the lake. The key to northern pike in the summer months is to find the coolest water that the lake can offer. Pike will associate with the deep weedlines, the thermocline or the cool water of a spring or an in-flowing stream. This preference for cool water makes it fairly easy to pattern the fish and land some of the best sized fish of the summer.

Targeting deep water pike is easy to do if you understand the thermocline on the lake, that thin stretch of water that separates the warm surface water with the colder bottom water. The average thermocline on typical Midwest lakes runs between 18-28 feet. The fun part is when you find the schools. Where you catch one, you’ll likely get more. Search for rock with scattered deep weeds or turns in the weedline, preferably around main-lake points. You can find the harder bottom areas by using your electronics. Once the cool fall temperatures approach, the bite ends because the upper water column will cool making the pike more comfortable throughout the entire water column.  

Northern pike love the outside edge of the weedline in summertime so they can ambush their prey; whether it is a small crappie, perch or other baitfish. I’ll target weedline northerns by trolling crankbaits at 1.2 to 3 mph, staying right on the edge with the aid of my tiller-handle outboard. Boat control is imperative for ultimate success. Follow your locator and stay on the depth contour and weed edge to maximize success. Vary your speed to figure out the mood of the fish and stick with what works. My preferred bait choice is small to midsized crankbaits with a tight wobble. I will match the baitfish in the lake, firetiger (which mimic perch) and a crappie pattern Bandit 300 series are my “go-to” baits.

Because the fish in July and August are in the 18 to 28 ft. depth range and associated with deep weeds, one of the best ways that I have found to catch these fish is by Lindy rigging suckers. I use a ¾ oz. walking sinker and a 1/0 bait hook. Circle hooks will also work well. The leader length I like is 24 inches.  I don’t use a swivel, instead I prefer to use a small split shot to “peg” my walking sinker.  This way if you get a deep hooked fish, you can simply cut the line and release the fish.  Once you re-tie a new hook, you can simply slide your weight higher on the rig.  It’s faster than having to re-tie a whole new leader if you were using a swivel.  It also eliminates the need to bring leader material with you. 

This system is pretty basic. The key to this method is the hook set. You want to try to position your boat directly above the fish before setting the hook. If you set the hook from the side, you will drag the line across the sharp teeth and loose more fish to break-offs. I like to use 7 ft. medium heavy rods with reels that have bait clickers. Abu Garcia’s 5500c or 6500C3 are my first choices. The reels are spooled with 20 lb. test line.

A good way to present the bait is slowly back trolling with my Minn-Kota transom mounted electric motor. I always prefer back trolling because I can keep a more consistent depth. Back trolling into the wind will help you maintain boat control and keep your bait in better contact with the bottom.

The bite can sometimes be very subtle and other times as strong as catching one on a tip-up in the winter. I typically will give fish line for about 30 seconds to 1 minute to position the bait deeper in its mouth. 

With the warm summer temperatures, a real issue to be aware of is keeping the bait alive. Because my preferred baits are 4-6” sucker or chubs I like putting them in a floating bucket and then putting it in a 5-gallon pail of cooler water.  Once the water warms to a similar temperature of the lake, I will put them in my aerated live well.

Wisconsin offers some of the best northern pike lakes in the country. Delavan Lake in Walworth County, Lake Mendota in Dane County and Big Green Lake are great choices.   This time of the year, it is not unheard of to catch 10 to 20 fish in a 4 hour outing. And, you may have a chance at landing the trophy fish of a lifetime. 

If you are fortunate enough to fish a flowage, or other body of water that has cool water streams entering the warm lake waters, or a lake with deep cold springs, you have another option for targeting the pike.  A good example is the Petenwell Flowage.  The flowage has areas where the bays are relatively shallow and a trout stream enters at a much cooler temperature.  This stages the fish in only a couple of feet of water.  They are readily taken on Bucktail spinners and spinnerbaits. The color choice of most anglers is white.

One tip to landing pike, that you do not intend to keep during the summer, is to take the hook out of the fish while it is still in the water and then release it while still in the water. Netting the fish can cause fin damage.  You can easily see if you catch a fish that has been netted previously, the fins will be split and bloody.

Please note that there are different size/limit regulations for different lakes in Wisconsin, so be sure of these regulations before you keep any fish.  For more information contact Dave Duwe, Dave Duwe’s Guide Service, (262)728-8063