Anglers like the wild and crazy, surface-exploding strikes that occur as shallow pike attempt to snatch buzzbaits off the surface. For my money, though, I’d rather hook fish than see 9 out of 10 flounder in their efforts to engulf the bait.
Pike aren’t muskies, and have a much harder time catching baits off the surface, even with straight, steady retrieves. Put a similar profile spinnerbait two inches below the surface, however, and they’ll nail it almost every time.
For similar reasons, I tend to shy away from topwater hardbaits; I’d rather crawl a crankbait an inch below the surface. Slowly retrieving a No. 13 or 18 Original Floating Rapala Minnow and letting it occasionally rise to rest on the surface can also fill the void. Twitch the bait as well; just make sure you pause long enough to make it a sitting duck.
And although walking baits like Skitter Walks and Zara Spooks can work, I’d rather fish a Rapala SubWalk, which sinks a foot or two, in the same situations, as fish will be able to track and hit the subsurface lure much better.
Editor’s Note: Another good option for pike just below the surface is a 5-inch Berkley Gulp! Jerk Shad fished on a 1/8- to 1/16-ounce jig. This presentation excels in shallow water, where it can be fished at a variety of speeds.
Keep your rod tip high and jerk sporadically during the retrieval to dart the minnow against the surface, occasionally splashing at the top of the water column. Or, fish the Jerk Shad slowly with long sweeps of your rod, letting the light jig drop slowly in front of lethargic pike. Watch closely for a slight twitch in the line which indicates a pike has snatched the jig on the fall. Whether you’re fishing the minnow fast or slow, be prepared to set the hook hard. With a good hookset, the jig often lands in the tough, corner of a pike’s mouth securing a good hold.
You might be surprised at how often you'll catch pike with the slower approach. The obvious application for this presentation is to persuade sluggish pike that are perhaps already full on abundant baitfish and unwilling to chase fast baits because they're in a negative mood. However, consider this: Even when pike are in a feeding frenzy and aggressive mood, the slow minnow approach is effective because hungry pike won't pass up a free meal. In short, it can work with both aggressive and lethargic pike.