Big Baits equals Big Pike.
Much has been said recently about the overall decrease in the size of northern pike throughout Minnesota in the past 20 years. To combat this trend, the Minnesota DNR is proposing innovative management strategies designed to reduce the numbers of “hammer handle” northerns in many waters, while simultaneously limiting the harvest of larger pike. The end goal is having more big pike available for anglers to catch.
Sounds like a win-win for everyone. In the meantime, however, what can anglers do to up their odds for catching more and bigger pike today, tomorrow, and in the near future?
Couple things. First, if you’re after really big pike, potentially reaching that elusive 20-pound mark, focus your efforts on large, cool waters with suspended baitfish such as ciscoes or smelt. These lakes historically produce the most truly big pike, hands-down. Lakes like Rainy, Lake of the Woods and Mille Lacs in Minnesota come to mind. So do the Missouri River reservoirs of the Dakotas, as do bays of Lakes Michigan and Superior.
These cool, baitfish-rich waters allow pike to live long and reach their ultimate size. Smaller, warmer waters show a dramatic tendency for pike to live fast and die young, seldom reaching their maximum potential.
Even so, many mid-sized waters have the potential to grow pike into the low- to mid-teens, and occasionally larger. So, what can you do to catch these elusive monsters?
First off, fish for them when the water is cool, such as spring and fall, when pike relate to weeds—which is where anglers fish for them most often. Water temperatures much above 70 F stress pike metabolism, often causing pike to hightail it for deep water until summer is over and the water begins to cool in fall. This takes them out of the province of most anglers.
Admittedly, the early summer time frame to contact shallow pike before the water grows too warm is running short, so you’d best pursue them right now. Wait much past the 4th of July, and the shallow party will be over.
Right now, focus your efforts on the deepest weeds in the lake, where they rim the deep, cool basin. That’s where the biggest pike will be for the next few weeks.
What? You already fish there, yet still catch chiefly small- to modest-size pike? Well, here’s a huge tip: Fish bigger lures! Like muskie-sized lures. Here’s why.
Big pike don’t like to waste energy pursuing smaller baitfish, and prefer to eat meals about 1/3 their length, which is an efficient use of energy. So, if you’re tossing bass-sized spinnerbaits and crankbaits, or perhaps small jigworms, guess again. These lures may appeal to a decent bass, fair-sized walleyes and hammer-handle northerns, but to a 42-inch, 20-pound pikezilla, those lures are peanuts. Muskie-sized bucktails, tandem spinnerbaits and crankbaits in the 9- to 12-inch range—even 12- to 14-inch soft plastics—are more in line with triggering strikes from the biggest gators in the lake.
The upshot is…at this time of the year, upsize your lures—and you’ll upsize your pike, plain and simple.