Let's get right to it-your best shot at a true trophy pike these days is on remote waters, and ice-out is prime time.
That's why NAFC members by the thousands will be headed north over the next couple months, with Canada being the first choice of most serious pike hunters.
It's no secret where to find ice-out pike on these waters, as everything the top-rung predators do is driven by water temperature. Look for the warmest water in the system and you will find the biggest pike.
Pay particular attention to bays surrounded by marshes. Not only are marshes preferred spawning areas for pike, they are also a good indication that the bottom is covered by a dense layer of dead, rotting vegetation. Dark-bottom bays warm more quickly than light-bottomed areas.
Wind direction plays a role in which areas produce on a given day. Wind can push warm water in or out of the area. Bays that narrow at the mouth or are shaped like a meandering creek arm tend to hold warm water better than unprotected areas and produce more consistently.
Water depth is another key factor. Spring pike will move into areas as shallow as a foot during warm, sunny afternoons, but bays with water down to 12 feet are typically better under a variety of weather conditions.
The Poop Pattern
Resist the urge to fish a new spot the second you arrive. It's generally a good idea to scout a bay first using a good pair of sunglasses and your outboard. Look for both fish and signs of fish.
At times, pike poop (yes, they do poop) will give you an indication of the number and size of pike using an area. Look for small (3 to 9 inches) white deposits on the bottom. These areas really stand out against a dark background if you look for them.
But the best indication of an area's potential is the fish themselves. Have a buddy or your guide run the outboard while you stand in the bow looking for fish. Don't worry about spooking 'em, they'll settle down within minutes.
Some bays hold only small pike while others are literally carpeted with giants. If all you can find are small fish in a given area, move on.
Cold Truth On Big Pike
In the February 1994 issue of North American Fisherman, Larry Dahlberg described how the daily activity levels of spring pike are tied to water temperature. His findings highlight why giant pike are typically less active than smaller fish during the spring.
With as much as almost 24 hours of daylight available in much of the Far North from late May to early July, areas favored by pike can warm from the low 40s in the morning to the mid-60s by late afternoon. Pike react by moving onto shallow flats as the water warms and out again as it begins to cool in the evening.
Dahlberg found that small pike are typically at or very close to the temperature of the surrounding water, while large pike can differ by as much as 5 degrees or more!
A big pike's greater body mass requires more time to warm or cool. It's also the reason big pike are tougher to catch during changing conditions.
Just last June, during a trip to Gangler's North Seal River Lodge in Manitoba, I fished a lake that was still 60 percent ice covered. One bay held more than 30 giant pike, but they were so lethargic that I had to poke them with the rodtip to get them to move.
We moved on.
Midmorning, we headed up a little creek that lead to a dark-bottom bay that maxed out at eight feet. The mouth of the creek was littered with pike poop, so it was no surprise when a bunch of good pike spooked as we entered the bay.
The water was too dark to effectively sight-fish, so I started fan casting a weedless black bass jig tipped with a 7-inch black plastic worm. In five casts, I caught four pike up to 8 pounds, but nothing bigger, so we left.
The day was sunny and the water in the bay was warming so quickly, we needed to give the big fish a chance to catch up. It was a great decision. The giant pike were so active that afternoon even topwaters were producing!
You don't need a ton of baits to catch spring pike-just the right ones. Bring lures that cover all parts of the water column and can be fished slowly. Here are the ice-out baits you can take to the bank:
Bottom-Thumpers: Black and black-and-blue bass jigs in 3/8- to 3/4-ounce sizes are tough to beat. Tip the jig with a scented 7- or 10-inch plastic worm or pork rind.
Another top setup is a Gulp! Saltwater Bait Swimmer (visit NAFC Links at fishingclub.com). Fish it hooked through the nose and out the back on a 1/2-ounce or lighter swimming-head jig.
Mid-Column Baits: Spoons like the Johnson Silver Minnow, Williams, Red-Eye Wiggler and Dardevle have caught millions of giant pike.
Thin "flutter" spoons are solid, too. Despite their light weights, these "trout" spoons cast well, land quietly and offer tremendous side-to-side action at very low retrieve speeds.
In-line spinners like the Blue Fox Vibrax, Terminator, Buchertail, Mepps Aglia and others are also deadly early in the year. Think small. Baits with blades in sizes 4 and 5 are perfect.
Soft plastic shad from 4 to 6 inches also shine. Rig the bait by running a heavy, long-shank 7/0 hook through the nose and out the top of the back and swim it with a slow, steady retrieve.
Topwaters: Dog-walking baits like the Zara Spook and Frenzy Walker drive pike wild. Use them when the daily water temps peak.
Double-bladed buzzbaits are also dynamite. Twin blades provide tremendous lift, keeping the bait on the surface at even slow speeds. Nothing does a better job mimicking a baby duck scurrying after his mother! Adding a stinger hook helps prevent missed fish and broken dreams.
Around The Corner
Just the other day I found a few pictures from the old days stacked in box of several hundred images. They show me posing proudly with a couple 8-pound pike, my biggest at that time.
I didn't realize it then, but what I learned catching these "big pike" actually prevented me from catching true giants. When I finally realized the big girls are different, the pieces started to fall into place.
Remember this, and your camera will get a true workout this spring!