Between the two of us, we’d caught close to 20 pike and missed about 10 more good ones—all in a little more than an hour. The fish were pigs, too. Aside from a couple 8-pound “runts,” the ’gators had all fallen in the 10-to-20 range!
I could say I was on a remote Canadian fly-in, on a spruce-rimmed lake full of huge pike that had never seen a lure. I’d also be lying through my teeth.
Here in the real world, the mercury had climbed from the mid-70s at dawn to the high 90s by lunch-time and sweat was bleeding down my sides. Oaks ruled the shoreline, which was cut by a railroad track that trains rumbled over every 15 minutes. A lawnmower hummed in the background, and a crowd of teenagers floated on inner tubes nearby.
My fishing partner wasn’t a Cree guide, but rather FLW walleye champ Nick Johnson of Elm-wood, Wisconsin. Most amazingly, we were on the Mississippi River, just shy of an hour from downtown Minneapolis.
Johnson is a top-tier walleye pro; a consummate competitor on the FLW circuit who took first place and $300,000 in the 2004 event at Moline, Illinois and another top spot at Arkansas’ Bull Shoals in 2005. How-ever, he’s also a born river rat who loves to tackle any species. Pike are one of his favorites and as our trip proved, he’s dialed in a can’t-lose pattern for summer giants on big rivers and some natural lakes throughout pike country.
When surface water tops 75 degrees, temperature-sensitive pike beat the heat by seeking cooler water. As many savvy anglers already know, this means finding spring holes and coldwater inflows like trout streams. Look for springs in and around marinas or riverside railroad beds, where the river bottom has been dredged and springs exposed.
Cold water sources sheltered from current are best, as the chilled water isn’t mixed with the warm, or swept downstream. Key on subtle depressions within these larger cool zones—they’ll hold the coldest water and most pike.
“Pike pile into these spots,” Johnson says. “Once they’re there, they’ll stay put until fall. The great thing is that the fish are usually real mules.”
Despite the fact spring-hole fishing is no great secret, Johnson says most anglers miss the message. “A few locals pound a handful of these spots, but most don’t think to fish them, and even if they do, they’ll only hit community spots,” he says.
What’s more, many an-glers don’t fish the sweet spots, nor do they use ideal presentations. Johnson and I saw this firsthand when a pair of anglers pulled within 30 yards of us and began fishing the same spring.
We were getting bit on nearly every cast; the newcomers, however, went fishless. “They’re not on the coldest water,” Johnson said. “Spring water’s seeping out by them, but it’s not staying there—it’s settling down into the depression we’re on.”
Another part of our success was bait selection. While the other anglers threw topwater lures, we fished wide-wobbling spoons like the venerable Eppinger Red Eye Wiggler (spray painted white on bottom).
Swimbaits, jigs, soft jerkbaits and suspending minnowbaits also take pike. Use baits you can work just off bottom on a blue-hair-slow retrieve.
And forget what you know about pike strikes—many times these fish feel only like a clump of dead leaves dragging on your rear treble. Set the hook!
Spring To It!
Remember, this pattern isn’t confined to the Upper Mississippi, or even rivers. When nature turns up the heat, you can apply the principle wherever pike swim. Look for cool springs and inflows, then lock on inconspicuous depressions within these areas, and you’ll find the water’s biggest pike!