Jul 10, 2018

Northwoods Pike

Tips to score a ferocious, hard-fighting fish with plenty of action during the dog days of summer

By Andy Mack 

My dad and I were fishing the shorelines of our favorite lake on a typical hot and humid evening in northern Wisconsin. Casting classic Rapalas and various surface lures such as Crazy Crawlers always produced a mixed bag of fish. But like a typical boy, I became bored with these lures often, especially if I didn’t catch anything on first couple of casts.

To quell my protests, my dad tied a Johnson Silver Minnow on my line. He added a piece of white Uncle Josh Pork Strip as a trailer. I had never used this lure before, so while I was reeling it in my dad told me to pay attention to the action of the lure and how it responded. As it got closer to the boat I saw the lure and was just about to pull it out of the water for another cast when a large fish came out of nowhere and engulfed it!

My heart skipped a beat, but I set the hook and fought the fish into the net. The fish was a about a 30-inch northern pike and was the one of the biggest fish I had ever caught at the time.

“Jacks,” “Gators,” “Snot Rockets” or “Slimers,” no matter what you call them, northern pike are a ferocious and hard-fighting fish that provide anglers with plenty of action even during the dog days of summer. Northern pike are often caught incidentally while fishing for other species.

Sometimes pike are thought of as nuisances and therefore do not garner the respect they deserve. Perhaps it is because pike often “bite off” the jigs of walleye fishermen or other lures not intended for catching pike. I also believe pike have the reputation of being very difficult to fillet and therefore are not desired for table fare. However, I prefer pike over walleye when it comes to a fish fry.


The right approach

Several tactics can be used to catch pike no matter where you fish for them. The Northwoods of Wisconsin is no exception. Having the right equipment and tackle will make your excursion to catch pike more successful.

The types of rod and reel used to target pike, or any fish for that matter, is of personal preference. My personal preference is a spinning rod and reel. I admittedly am not very handy with a bait cast-style reel, at least not a consistent basis. I find lighter lures are difficult to cast with a bait caster. Therefore, I stick with spinning rods and reels.

I think we have all caught pike on every power of rod from ultra-light to extra-heavy. But when I am fishing for pike, I like to have medium-light, medium and medium-heavy rods on board. My medium-light rod is seven feet in length and I use it for live-bait rigging. The medium and medium-heavy rods are six-and-a-half feet in length and I use those for casting artificial lures. For spinning reels, a quality multi-ball bearing reel will be suitable.

Line type is important. I prefer the advanced super lines for all my rods and reels. On the medium-light rods, I use Suffix 832 in 15-pound test. This 15-pound test has the same diameter as 5-pound monofilament. On the medium and medium-heavy rods I use the same Suffix 832, but in 30-pound. This line has the same diameter as 8-pound monofilament.

Just remember to start with a monofilament “backing” when spooling any advance super line on your reel unless the reel spool is super line compatible. The monofilament backing will prevent the super line from spinning freely on the spool.

Bait for any species of fish can be broken down into live and artificial. Artificial baits are very popular and often more convenient than live bait. For pike, I like to use crankbaits, spinner baits and plastics.

Crankbaits I use frequently are made by Rapala. Husky Jerks, Shadow Raps and Rippin’ Raps are a few of my favorites. Various colors will work, but bright colors such as chartreuse, red and white and perch patterns are irresistible to a hungry pike.


Where to fish

When fishing for pike in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, no matter the time of year, I like to begin fishing along the shoreline. I will cast crankbaits near emergent vegetation like lily pads, arrowheads and bull rushes. Early in the morning and late in the afternoon are the best times for this. I also have a rod rigged and ready with a surface lure. On those calm warm evenings, pike cannot resist a surface lure.

Most lakes in northern Wisconsin have submergent weed beds. These are prime pike holding locations. Spinner baits shine here. My go-to lure is the Mepps Aglia No. 3 in red and white.

For inline spinners like the Mepps Aglia, a quality ball bearing swivel is a must. The swivel will help reduce line twist caused by the spinner. I also like the Mepps Black Flurry with yellow dots in No. 3 and No. 4 sizes. Another good spinner-type lure to use is the classic tandem bass-style spinner. Fish these spinners right above the weed tops and hold on tight.

Plastics are not just for walleye and bass. Pike love them, too. Plastic lizards have caught a lot of Pike for me. I rig them Texas-style to pitch right into heavy weeds and wood. I also use plastics to fish deep weed lines.

A large twister tail on a jig head or a lizard Texas-rigged with a bullet-weight will allow you to fish deep. One other style of plastic that has been effective is the paddle tail. The Storm 360GT Search Bait is my favorite. You can cast it out and rip-jig it or simply reel it in. The paddle tail will flutter and is deadly.

Live bait is very effective on pike. Chubs, shiners and suckers are all good options. Time of year usually dictates availability. I use live bait suspended under a slip bobber to keep the bait just above the weed tops. Another live bait method I use is a circle hook and sucker with a weight attached a couple of feet above. I drift along deep weed lines or breaks with the bait hanging directly below the boat. I keep the rod in a holder and wait for the strike.

Pike are aggressive feeders and provide plenty of action when other fish won’t. As previously stated, I believe pike make a great fish fry and should not be overlooked. If you have trouble filleting pike, check out the numerous videos on YouTube. Either way, get out and fish and enjoy!