By Nick Simonson
In the crystal-clear bays after the last of the gray ice has disappeared, they lurk on the edge of visibility. In the running creeks, channels and coulees they swarm in the relative warmth of muddy spring runoff. They are northern pike, and at this time of year, with spring just beginning, they can provide incredibly fast fishing for those who have been longing for openwater action through the chilly days of winter. What follows are some top tackle tips to connect with and land more toothy critters swarming the shallows this season.
High Visibility, Low Hassle Lures
Pike are creatures of sight. Their long muscular bodies are designed to shoot out at anything edible that comes into view, and they rely on their strong vision to stay full. In spring, while some areas of still water where pike may lurk are clear, many times these fish are found in muddy stretches of creeks and the bays below them where water is turbid, and visibility is decreased. Thus, providing the biological senses of pike that trigger a strike with high-visibility offerings is important in triggering a strike. Bright colors, such as pink, orange, yellow, red and white are classic hues for springtime pike, and don’t be afraid to go bigger – it’s not uncommon to watch pike slam offerings half their size – especially in spring.
With the idea of providing a brighter, bigger bait to make things easier for pike to see, provide yourself with an easier bait to unhook. Large jig-and-twister or swimbait combos that have only a single hook are perhaps the best option and can often entice spring walleyes lurking in the area too. The one point removal makes for a quick turnback on those fish to be released, and don’t tangle in the net on those bigger specimens that come to shore. Single-treble lures like spoons and large inline bucktail spinners raise the complexity level a bit especially when a landing net is involved, but those options still aren’t too difficult to deal with. Avoid multi-hook offerings like stickbaits and crankbaits, as two or even three treble hooks are prone to snagging in eyes and gills, hindering a healthy release, and when they get wrapped in the mesh of a landing net as part of a classic northern gator roll, the extraction process can be exhausting.
Leader of the Pack
The sharp and plentiful teeth in a pike’s mouth are capable of cutting through most superlines under thirty-pound test, and can still do some damage to thicker options as well, making a leader a must have when targeting these fish. Any standard wire leader of six- to 12-inches in length will help eliminate bite-offs and are particularly useful when casting spoons and bucktails for northerns. In those areas where the water happens to be a bit clearer, fine wire leader may be a better choice. In recent years, many anglers are turning to thicker fluorocarbon leaders for their near invisibility in the water as well, with their thicker-diameter material providing shock resistance without the visibility of monofilament or thick wire.
For quick and effective landing of northern pike, nothing beats a rubber net. Where teeth, gills and fins can easily tangle in the standard mesh of a normal net, a rubber net or one with mesh that has been coated in a rubberized seal will prevent damage to the fish. Additionally, hooks are much easier to remove from the more rigid rubber material as opposed to the yarn-like mesh of standard nets which reliably traps many hooks down past the barb and requires some work – or worse, cutting – to get them back out. A needlenose pliers and a jaw spreader are also two important tools to have on hand to get fish out of the net and back into the water quickly. Putting these three relatively inexpensive and indispensable tools together for a spring outing will ensure fast fishing, and less time wrestling with a gator on the shoreline of any favorite place where pike run.
Key in to the strong sense of sight pike use to find their prey and your lure, adjust the presentation to their sharp teeth with a leader that works to the given situation and be prepared for the unhooking process to find the most success when pike are on the move.
Featured Photo: Early spring is pike time. Have the tackle and the tools to catch fish fast and turn them back just as quickly. Simonson Photo.