By David DiFranco aka “The Bandit”
When I was a kid, my dad and I would treat opening day of pike season (then 1st day of May, now 1st Saturday), like the Holy Grail. THIS was the official (in our minds), kick off to the year’s fishing!!! The game plan was simple, some live bait and big spoons. We didn’t own a boat, so sometimes we would fish from shore, or rent a row boat. Back then, catch and release was not as common as today. Fish were sought as food, as well as sport. This is still common with “panfish”, not so much among pike fishermen. A common live bait rig included the use of “English Hooks.” These were two pronged hooks, designed to lay flat along the back of a lively shiner or sucker chub. They had a steel snell and were “threaded” just under the skin, using a long metal needle. The whole idea was to let the pike SWALLOW the bait and hook, thus making it nearly impossible for the pike to escape capture. Fish caught in this manner were to be eaten, since hook removal meant tearing out the guts. Yeah, no catch and release HERE! A more humane way to rig bait, was with a large treble, hooked just behind the dorsal fin. Most fish, that took the bait, usually got hooked in the jaw area, making hook removal and safe release of fish, possible.
Most live bait fishermen use a big, round float. You know, the big red and white plastic type. Although, I don’t live bait fishmuch, when I do, I prefer big pencil floats, that are weighed on one end. They cast easier and will enable you to set the hook more effectively. Always check with state and local regulations, when using live bait. Where allowed, using natural forage, like small yellow perch or sunfish, is the bait of choice.
Casting spoons, plugs, spinners baits or large plastics, can all be effective as well. Big spoons, 1 oz. or better, like Dardevles, cleos, or red eye wigglers, have been used for decades. Red/white, gold/copper, fire tiger and perch finishes all produce. I use the painted patterns on cloudy days, or in stained water. The metallic finishes depend on flash to attract fish. I use them mostly on sunny days and/or clear water. If also using live bait, use “fan casts” to draw fish to your bait rig.
Big spinner baits, like the Mepps #5, have been catching BIG pike, as well. I like to burn the shallows, just under the surface. The pike will often bulge the surface, right behind the lure, before the strike! Very cool!!
Some pike need to be coaxed out of weed edges. This is where big plastics come in. I like to use a 1 oz. jig head and attach a long grub with swim tail to it. Natural finishes and pearl often out perform other flashier presentations, when pike are reluctant to smash baits.
When attaching spoons or spinner baits to your line, use a CROSS or COAST LOCK ball bearing SNAP SWIVEL. Don’t use any cheap stuff as you will experience line twist! I prefer Sampos, using silver for most applications and colors. When using plugs, use CROSS or COAST SNAPS. Tying the line directly to the lure impedes action, unless using a loop knot. Make sure to pass line TWICE through snap, or snap swivel ends, using an improved clinch knot or similar strong knot. Always wet your knot, before drawing tight! Completing a knot, with a dry line, creates friction which can weaken the knot, UP TO 50%!!!
Trolling is a great way to locate scattered fish and cover a lot of water. When trolling, my favorite way to fish pike, is to drag BIG FLOATING stick baits. Rapala #18 have been my go-to bait for years, and are solid producers of medium to big pike. Work as close to the weed edges as possible, without hanging up. A good flasher is all you need to mark real time depth. I also pair this up with a graph, to get a better idea of the bottom contours and composition. Pay special attention to inside curves and points, as these will often hold more than one fish. In early May, many weed edges will be in no more than 10’ of water. By June, the edge might extend to 18’ or more. Plan accordingly. When trolling stick baits for pike, 2.8 mph seems to work best. Find your speed, then run your bait along side the boat, to make sure it is tracking straight. If your plug runs up on its side, it needs to be “tuned.” GENTLY bend the nose line guide in the direction the lure needs to go, to run right. A needle nose plyers is all you need. I spool my line counter reels with 17# test Berley big game mono, green. To this I attach 6’ of 40# test fluorocarbon leader, using a ball bearing SWIVEL. I put a bead in front of the swivel to prevent the rod tip from being damaged by swivel. I’ve caught pike over 20# using this set up and have NEVER had a bite off. By running 125’ of line at 2.8 mph, your plug will run at 10’-11’. The swivel/bead combo will help prevent loose weeds from running down the line onto YOUR BAIT! I use 8 ½’ medium light trolling rods, and I lay them out flat, perpendicular to the boat’s gunnels. This gives me 17’ of spread, plus whatever the width of the boat is. For fishing deep weed edges, place a ½ oz. keel sinker ahead of the swivel. Follow the weed edges as close as you can.
I remove the middle hook from the lures, and replace the front treble with a red one, that is one size bigger than original. This does not affect action much, but makes hook removal from fish and net MUCH easier!
Use a hook out, or very long needle nose plyers, to remove lure. A jaw spreader is very useful for lures or bait that have been engulfed. NEVER put your hand or fingers in the pike’s mouth or near its gill rakers! Grabbing the pike firmly by its neck, right behind the gills, will make it easier to control the fish. Don’t grab a pike, that’s going to be released, by its eyes, as this will damage the eyes and possibly cause blindness.
Lastly, make sure you have a BIG ENOUGH NET! Really, even a 10# pike can be close to 3’ long, so come prepared! (A STRONG rope stringer helps too!)
These are just a few tricks to help you PURSUE THOSE PIKE!!!
Have fun and fish safely,