Many people, who have spent more hours than myself tossing flies to trout, or pulling spoons and maggot tipped wedding rings in pursuit of kokanee, will tell you that they absolutely HATE the Northern pike. After all Esox lucius, (or as we call them, northern pike, northern’s, or just plain ol’ pike) is the alpha predator in most northern lakes. A pike see’s it fit, and has absolutely no problem eating anything that enters its body of water, including every game fish, rodent, amphibian, or reptile that musters up the courage to try to and enter his domain. (there are even quite a few videos online of pike making quick meals of young ducks!) In that it is no wonder that most people in other sport fisheries despise the pike. So what is the answer to the problem? EAT THE THREAT!
As I stated before, pike are ferocious opportunistic hunters, and under the right circumstances can be taken on just about any bait , as long as you can keep your line away from their teeth. (Pike have huge chompers, the outer row being similar to what you see on a barracuda, and the roof of the mouth is covered with pin-like teeth that are angled backwards. In other words, anything that is unlucky enough to end up in a pikes mouth is more than likely going to stay there.) In the warmer months, pike spend most of their time traveling bays chasing bait fish, in the morning and early evening the fish are the most active, and in the heat of the day they tend to rest in cooler spots and digest their meals. During these months, pike are easiest caught with standard bass fishing tackle (elongated stick bait’s like the Husky Jerk work very well, as do standard shaped lure’s like the Glass Shad Rap), and spoons (if ever a lure was to be called “the northern pike lure” it would definitely be the Dardevle spoon, developed by Lou Eppinger of Ontario in 1906. Even if you don’t recognize the name, you would recognize the lure… Big red and white spoon, treble hook on one end. Everybody’s tackle box more than likely has at least one.) Summer fishing is all well and good, but I really like to fish for pike in the early months of spring just after ice out. (plenty of BIG PIKE get caught while ice fishing, but during that time I would rather shoot ducks) undoubtably the king of spring pike fishing tactics is dead-baiting, which is basically using dead fish to lure in the pike who are quite hungry after the cold winter months under the ice. Dead bating basically falls into two categories:
1: Free-Line dead baiting consists of 2 treble hooks attached to a steel leader that are affixed to the bait (in this case a smelt) the leader is tied onto your line and thrown out into the water to float around in any way that the water current takes it.
2: Float rigging dead bait is a very similar process except a float and float stops are used to monitor your bait. Float rigging can be very beneficial in lakes that have a fair amount of aquatic vegetation. By setting your stops correctly you are able to keep your bait just slightly above the weeds, and present it easier to the fish.
With either style of rigging, the most important thing to remember is that you cannot set the hook immediately upon the strike, you want the fish to turn, then start to swallow the bait before you set the hook. If using the float technique, wait until the bobber totally submerges, count to 5, then set the hook. Another important aspect of dead baiting is bait selection. Some people will only use natural bait (like pike minnows, and other non-game fish.) Others only use ocean fish (mackerel, herring, and smelt), while still others use natural bait injected with fish oil from their local tackle shop. I use smelt, the purpose of running rigs like this is to get a scent trail in the water that a pike can use to lead it to the bait. Ocean fish tend to have a higher oil content, and if you use injectable fish oils (which by the way are made from OCEAN FISH!) you are defeating the purpose of using only natural bait. Why go to the trouble when you can get a bag of smelt for such an affordable price, and cut out some of the work?
One thing that I have not done yet, but plan on doing before my next trip out, is to try brining my smelt before hand. Salmon fishermen have brined baits for years, but until recently is has been limited to only that. Lately ice fisherman have been using brined smelt with a ton of success. Not only does it make your bait stand out like crazy, but it also toughens your bait up a bit, and gives you the luxury of not losing your bait as frequently. The basic rule for brine color is as follows. Dark or cloudy water you need a darker color to be visible. In shallow or clear water use brighter color brines. if your fishing a clear lake with a depth of 4 feet, you can run orange and Chartreuse all day. But if your fishing in 8 feet of silt fed pond, the darker color’s like blue and purple will stand out much better in the limited visibility. Brining the bait is rather simple, Pautzke bait company makes both fire brine and fire dye that do this quite quickly and efficiently. Just add a couple of drops of the dye in with your brine, shake the bottle, put your smelt into a ziplock bag, and pour the brine over the smelt. It’s that simple, let it sit for 30 minutes then throw it into the freezer until your headed to the lake.
Tackle is another big question that is often asked when people decide they want to fish for pike. I usually tell people that they should match their gear to the size of their bait. If you plan and casting 9-10 inch long smelt and 4 ounces of bobber all day, you should probably match that to a fairly stout fishing rod with decent line. If you plan on only throwing 6 inch baits, you probably can get away with whatever you normally fish with. I personally will often use a 2-piece, 10 foot medium heavy rod when I am throwing the big stuff, spooled up with 15 pound P-Line CXP. But a lot of that is just personal preference, I have seen kids fishing with a Mickey Mouse, closed face fishing rod and a bobber, catch pike that went over 40 inches, the biggest determining factor is having a rod in the water.
Ok so you decided that you want to thin the threat, went out pike fishing and actually got a couple of pike. Now what to do? Pike are simple to filet, cut them like you would any other fish (start your cut behind the gill plate and continue the cut all the way down to the tail) Make sure to leave the white belly meat behind, that is where the heavy metals tend to settle. Then skin the fish. If you miss a rib bone in the fillet process, there is nothing to worry about, a pikes rib bones are forked at the end and very thick, you will have no problem identifying/ removing them. As for cooking pike, they are just like most other white fleshed fish, and any recipe you would use for other species can be used for pike. I like to grill fresh fillets in aluminum foil with a little garlic, butter, salt, pepper and lemon zest. but if I’m feeding newbies that are a little scared to try new things, I will fall back on the standby of “poor mans lobster” (I will put the recipe below)
Spring pike fishing is a hoot, most local lakes in our area have a population of pike that is pretty enormous, and with $15 worth of equipment ($25 if you count in your beer cost 😉 ) a bundle of wood for making a fire on the bank (check your local rules as to where you can have a fire) and a couple of lawn chairs, you are primed and ready to be an early season pike angler. Even if pike isn’t your main target the rest of the year, a little early season pike fishing gives you a chance to be outdoors, fill the freezer a bit, and to lower the numbers of another species that may be harmfully impacting your other favorite fisheries. Eat the threat, and good fishing.
Poor Mans Lobster:
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup kosher salt
- Old bay seasoning to taste
- 2-3 pounds pike fillets (cut into 2 inch chunks)
- Clarified butter (butter that has been warmed and skimmed of fat, you should end up with butter that looks yellow/clear. Like what you get from Red Lobster)
- Add sugar, salt, and old bay to a large pot of boiling water (roughly 4 quarts+/-)
- Once all ingredients are dissolved (except the old bay will have herbs floating on the top of the water) drop your pieces of pike into the boiling water a handful at a time. as soon as the fish floats, it is done.
- Remove the pike from the water with a slotted spoon and allow to drain.
- Place drained fillets into a warm oven, while you cook the rest of your fish.
Serve poor mans lobster with a cup of clarified butter to dip the fillets in. Throw in a side of cole slaw and some hush puppies and you have yourself a meal.
-Grant Willoughby 4/22/2017-