Where you’ll locate big northerns duringthe summer months depends on thewaterways you’re fishing
The northern pike is one of the most unique predators on the planet. Esox luscious (for you Latin buffs) has a veracious appetite and is not picky when it comes to what they will or will not eat.
These plunderer’s torpedo-shaped bodies are made for hunting. They have eyes positioned near the top of their elongated head so they can easily zone in on their victims from afar. And they have a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth, set at an angle within their bony jaws that doesn’t allow their quarry any hope of escape. They are quick, attacking prey in mere seconds and seemingly from coming from out of nowhere, yet, can sabotage unsuspecting prey stealthily.
But even with such a ferocious reputation, there are certain times of the year even lakes loaded with northern pike seem to be void of the species.
No, they didn’t just disappear. No, they did not lose their teeth and are refusing to eat as many an old wives’ tale tells. They did, however, move from the shallows and into deeper, colder water, and are feeding well on the other species of fish that, too, have migrated into the depths for a little reprieve from summer’s sweltering heat.
Present the right lure properly in the right place, and catching a trophy northern pike will be reality rather than just a dream.
And pike can thrive in just about any kind of water, be it an oligotrophic (large, deep, cold) natural lake, mesotrophic (shallow, warm, soft both) lakes, as well reservoirs and rivers; in clear water and stained. And where you find the biggest of these beasts will depend on the type of waterway you are fishing.
Deep, Yet High
In oligotrophic lakes, for example, pike may suspend and feed on herring, shiners, whitefish and shad in the upper third layer of the water column.
More often than not, when I am trolling large Rapala crankbaits for suspended northerns, I’m not so much worried about marking these marauders on my Lowrance HDS-12 Gen3, but more so schools of forage fishes.
But baitfish will often scatter out from under my Lund as I pass over them (especially so in clear water); this is why I like to use Lowrance’s StructureScan HD feature.
StructureScan allows me up to 600 feet of side viewing in one direction (300 feet each direction if looking out both left and right) in high detail that’s easy to read; in which I can see where baitfish are bunched up. I can even add an icon over what I see on the screen so that I can pinpoint the exact location of the forage, even hundreds of feet away, turn and troll my lure right through them on the next pass.
After that is getting my Rapala crankbaits in right front of the fish, which I do by trolling them behind one of the many styles of Church Tackle in-line planer boards. The reason my Down Deep Husky Jerks, Magnums and Deep Tail Dancers are pulled behind planer boards is to get the lures out from behind the boat and into the strike zone of fish that are unaware of my presence.
I pretty much use the same equipment for northern pike that I do when trolling for suspended walleyes, which include Fenwick’s Eagle Telescopic Trolling rod, and an ABU Garcia line counter spooled with 12-pound-test Berkley Trilene XL monofilament. And if I need to get my crankbaits deeper yet, I’ll have a reel spooled with Sufix’s 832 Advanced Lead Core, which I’ll use with a 7-foot-long leader of 12-pound-test Berkley 100% Fluorocarbon line.
The Outer Limits
In smaller mesotrophic lakes—including the tannic filled lakes in Canada such as Granite Lake where I take an annual fly-in trip to PK Resorts every summer—you will see me targeting pike with both trolling and casting techniques.
Although the equipment will most likely be the same when I am trolling in the Canadian Bush as anywhere else, my Rapala crankbaits selection tends to be slightly different here. This is because the lakes are shallower and often packed with weeds, thus I use lures that don’t dive quite as deep – like Original Minnows, Shallow Shad Raps and X-Rap Shad Shallows.
When casting for pike, I’ll use those same crankbaits, as well Blue Fox spinners, Northland Fishing Tackle’s Magnum Series Reed-Runner spinnerbaits and their Forage Minnow casting spoons.
When using Rapalas, I’ll use a medium-action Fenwick HMG spinning rod and ABU Garcia reel filled with 10-pound-test Berkley FireLine. When using the spinners and spoons, I’ll beef up my equipment to medium-heavy spinning gear and use 14-pound test Berkley Trilene XT.
If bite-offs and lost lures become an issue, I’ll use a short (about 6 inches) piece of Terminator Single Strand Titanium Leader in 20-pound test. This leader material can be tied with a clinch or Albright knot, and is thin enough not to impede the action of your lure.
When targeting northerns in shallow lakes, it’s best to look to the outer edges of weed beds that are adjacent to the deepest water in main-lake basins, or nearest the mouth of bays. Sunken islands, saddles and steep breaks near points are always worth a look, as well.
Twist And (Don’t) Shout
One of the many reasons many anglers don’t like catching pike is because they never give up a fight – even after in the net and on the floor of the boat. There are several items you can use to make life easier after landing.
Well, actually, the first item is for during the landing procedure, and that’s to use a Frabill net with “Crankbait Net” webbing. It’s the unique design of the coated mesh that allows a pike to twist up in the netting, then unroll and be easily removed (lure and all) without hours of untangling.
Also from Frabill are the multitudes of pliers and mouth spreaders that are essential for a quick unhooking of the lure from the fish’s mouth quickly and without harm to both fish and angler. (Reminder: Take a quick photo and release those trophy-size fish to fight again. Keep the smaller fish for excellent table fare if that your prerogative.)
Looking to land the trophy pike of a lifetime? Troll crankbaits high in the water column in deep, cold and clear lakes, and target the deep edges of weed beds in shallower, warmer lakes and chances are you catch the biggest northern of your life.
Mark Martin is a professional angler and walleye tournament pro, as well instructor with the Fishing Vacation/Schools, who lives in southwest Lower Michigan. Check out his website at markmartins.net for more information.