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Simple Tactics for Quality Northern
Spring Time Freshwater Barracuda Success
Catching A Predator
Simple Tactics for Quality Northern
By Jerry Carlson
There are a lot of anglers that look at northern with disdain. They often refer to these fish with terms of endearment such as “slimers” or “snakes.” I have to admit, there have been times when small northern have pestered me to the point I feel the same. However, a good sized northern is quite a remarkable fish and very sporting to catch.
Most of the anglers I know that are really into pike fishing travel far into Canada to remote trophy northern lakes. There is no question that these locations have the quantity and quality of fish that is hard to beat. But that doesn’t mean it is impossible to find some respectable fish on a more local level.
There are some simple tactics that I have used to successfully target larger northern. Granted, these fish aren’t going to always be super lunkers, but they can be impressive fish.
Northern love sucker minnows. That is a fact that cannot be ignored. I have had many of these toothy critters fall to a sucker minnow presentation.
One of the easiest sucker minnow presentations to work with is the standard slip bobber rig. Dangling a sucker minnow on a piece of quality structure can provide anglers with an entertaining day. Remember, large minnows attract large fish.
Although slip bobber rigs are simple and productive, my favorite sucker minnow presentation is trolling. Over the years I have discovered the deep weed line is a real magnet for northern activity and a likely place to find action.
My tactic is simple. I tie my own leaders with 20 to 30 pound test mono. The hook I use is a large Gum Drop floater with plenty of orange in the pattern. Northern see orange and red colors very well.
I fish this combo like a live bait rig for walleye. I hook the sucker through the lips and work it along the weed line. The bigger the sucker, the better chance a person has of getting a big fish. However, small fish will still hit this minnow and can create some missed strikes. Once a hit is detected, give the northern a little time to chew before setting the hook.
I have also caught many quality northern on bottom bouncer rigs. I have had success using large bladed spinners that feature a long shanked hook with a plastic PowerBait grub on the hook. I then tip this rig with a minnow or leech.
I troll this rig quite fast just below the weed line or through an area walleye are using. Northern often consume small walleye for food. This spinner combo will also attract plenty of walleye action as well as northern.
Occasionally, I find a large floating Rapala trolled behind a bottom bouncer can be effective. There have been a number of times that the biggest fish of a fishing event have come from this rig. Like the spinner, large walleye are not afraid of this large bait. I fish this set-up at a pretty good clip.
As a general rule, hot weather and warm water associated with late summer is not a good time for catching big northern. Evidence suggests these fish get stressed when the water temperature rises. Big lakes that do not heat up as much are good places to target when the water is too warm on smaller lakes. Most quality muskie lakes are also good northern fisheries.
Location is one other interesting fact to note. For some reason, large northern seem to come from the same areas year after year. Once a big fish hangout is discovered, there is a good chance others will be in the vicinity. Like other big fish, northern are picky about their location.
Northern are a scrappy fish that can provide lots of entertainment for anglers. They can also be a real pest when anglers are inundated with large quantities of small fish.
However, with a little effort, it is possible to find some bigger fish that will put up a memorable fight. After all, it is the pull on the end of the line that keeps us looking for quality gators.
Visit Jerry's website at www.jerrycarlsonoutdoors.com
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Spring Time Freshwater Barracuda Success
By Michelle Holden
I don’t know if there is a more exhilarating fishing experience than watching a top water bait work through crystal clear shallows as it lures a prehistoric monster from the depths. When the fish makes a ferocious attempt to annihilate the disturbance your heart will skip a few beats. It can be startling, to say the least, when the water boils and your rod is nearly ripped from your grasp. Fishing for pike, when they are feisty - as they often are on a warm, sunny spring day- is not a lounge chair sitting, beer sippin’ vacation.
Springtime northern pike are lethargic before the lake warms which means you’ll have better luck finding these primitive giants in warmer water. Scout for long, shallow bays with a dark bottom where the sun can quickly warm these areas on a bright afternoon. If you spend your time fishing for other species in the earlier hours, before the water has time to warm, you can fish while scouting for northerns. When a bay is populated with good numbers of northerns you will see their white droppings on the lakebed, a good first indicator of a quality fishing spot.
Because big northerns are so sluggish in the spring, you need to be patient. Once you have determined there are fish in the area - after missing one or having watched a fish follow your bait- stick with it, your persistence will pay off. A little later in the spring, when more of the water has warmed, look in bays with weeds and a little more depth. Fishing in weeds is challenging, but has the potential for hooking a sizeable pike and is worth cussing an occasional snag.
Your equipment should consist of a medium/heavy to heavy action rod that can cast far and handle the weight of a fish the size of your blue heeler. Spool line in the eight to 12-pound range will work well but don’t forget to add a 6”- 8” steel leader ahead of the bait. Without the steel leader you’ll lose those $12 lures every other cast.
On each cast work your bait to imitate a food source the pike will devour. Dying fish are easy prey for northerns so let a 1-ounce yellow Dardevle, with a red ladder, sink and rise to cause an erratic movement that will entice the fish or try a Len Thompson, #2 Five of Diamonds. Some pike won’t pass up a challenge and when they see a Mepp’s Giant Killer flash in front of their nose it usually triggers a chase. Spinner baits and top water buzz baits are also good choices when using a stop and go motion to trigger the bite. White - red and yellow - black are great combinations when choosing colors.
The best way to fish for pike is from the casting deck of a boat. If you have the good fortune of a slight breeze, drifting along the shore allows for the maximum time fishing without driving. If the weather is not cooperating, an auto-pilot on the trolling motor will help or use a foot pedal to slowly troll back and forth along the shore casting to all parts of the bay covering it from shallow to deep.
Keeping the 25-29” Northerns provides plenty of meat if you learn to take out the Y bones. Pike provide a meal that is not surpassed by any other fish. Old wives tales and the horrors of Y bones scare many people but they are not any more difficult than taking the rib cage off a walleye. They just happen to be in the meat rather than at the surface. There are many resources on the Internet to help walk you through the process and doing a You Tube search will get you headed in the right direction. Serve up pike and chips to your friends and they will swear they are at a coastal café!
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Ginny holds a 44 inch pike taken while fishing with small baits.
Photo submitted by Bob Riege
By Bob & Ginny Riege
In big lakes, pike spread out into various summer patterns after postspawn. Some pike remain in shallow weeds all summer. Some cruise open water as loosely associated packs, chasing huge schools of baitfish. Some hunt near bottom across mid-depths flats in the 40 to 60 foot range. Each pattern suggests different presentations. A consistent wind, blowing from the same point on the compass for several days, can draw pike from all of these patterns into one area, at which point they can be easily targeted.
Summer pike fishing begins when the weeds become fully established. In fact, the first week or so after the weed growth becomes mature can offer fantastic fishing. But the northerns go right on hanging around the weeds for the rest of the summer. Sometimes they’ll be just outside them.
Wherever the weeds stop, that is the magic depth. It will be a certain depth that will remain constant throughout the lake. That is, if the weeds end at 15 feet at one point, they will probably end at 15 feet all over the lake. So if you troll at a constant 15-foot depth, you’ll be presenting your lure right in front of the deepest edge of the weeds.
And that’s exactly where summertime northerns like to hang out. You’ll need a good depthfinder to keep your lure right where it should be.
Generally the idea seems to be that you use gradually larger lures throughout the season. For the first month or so the most popular lures have been the Mepps #4 and #5 spinners both dressed and undressed.
Similar Blue Fox varieties are also very popular. Plastics and jigs are also effective at this time. Although these lures seem smaller than what you would normally envision as pike tackle, they are producing record class fish. Over the course of the season the most popular lure may well be the Mann’s Minus 1- in various sizes.
Pike fishing traditionally means BIG baits, but what about those days when the fish continuously follow the lure but refuse to strike? Small baits are the answer to the question. Pike can become conditioned to big baits that are commonly thrown by the majority of anglers. Some of the fish there are 30 to 40 years old and they have seen just about every bait known to man. Although pike can attain tremendous weight and size, there is something about a small bait under the right circumstances that can work pure magic. Early season is one of those moments. Northern pike are less likely to exert themselves chasing down large prey, but can be convinced to take a swipe at a bite-sized snack.
Cold front conditions are another situation that calls for downsizing your presentation. We've all been there before - bright blue skies, sunny and without a cloud in the sky. This is darn tough fishing in anyone's book. Pike can be caught during these periods, but it will take something small, natural and unobtrusive to do the damage. This isn't a time for monster cranks or behemoth trolling plugs, but scaled down versions that will be appealing and noteworthy to the lazy pike with lockjaw. The other small bait that we used was a Mann’s Minus 1 bait. It has a wide wobble and can be cranked over the top of the weeds without getting hung up. We selected colors that varied from silver to bright red to attract the pike.
Northerns slide deeper as water temperatures warm. On cloudy days, they may be found feeding on shallow flats. But, generally by mid-summer, they lurk down to 12 feet depths, or on mid-lake humps.
For shallow work, concentrate on points, inside turns and bends. Narrow the search to the ones with thicker, greener cabbage. Look for the sharpest drops with the quickest access to deep water as things heat up and fish move deeper. I'm looking for the secondary break, the deep-water ledges that drop way off after that.
For the most part, pike are associated with weeds. They lie in ambush in weeds, and then attack their prey with astonishing speed. You cannot move a lure too fast for a northern to catch it, either trolling or casting. In fact, a lure that zips past a pike at extremely high speed is likely to trigger a strike that a pokey lure might not.
The tackle required is a stiff rod, like a Shimano Clarus Series rod that you might use for muskie. The line should be a low stretch monofilament in about 12 to 17 lb. test, Berkley XT is good choice. I will also spool this up on a Shimano Calcutta bait casting reel. The reason that I use a baitcaster is it allows me more line capacity and I can use a long handled rod to tuck under my arm while speed trolling.
Downsizing your baits will increase your odds of catching trophy fish.
It might be a technique that you can even use on some of your local waters as well.
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Catching A Predator
Fishing for northern pike is a thrill, and the memories will last a lifetime.
The northern pike is a popular game fish throughout North America. They can be found from the upper Midwest, out in the west coast states, throughout much of Canada and in Alaska. Their favorite habitat ranges from sluggish streams, weed infested areas in man-made lakes, cold water streams and in glacial lakes in Canada and Alaska. They are typically ambush predators that lie in wait among the rocks, weeds or along the bottom of a body of water waiting for their prey to swim by. Once they spot their prey they accelerate quickly then attack and devour their victim in a lightning-quick burst of fury, muscle and sharp teeth.
The northern pike is known as a pike in the United Kingdom, jackfish in Canada and northern pike in the US. It is most often drab olive green which shades to yellow and white along the fish’s belly. Its flank is marked with short, bar-like spots that are lighter than the olive background giving the fish a perfect mottled camouflage that is suitable for hiding among aquatic plants and rocks. Dark spots on the fish’s fins add to the camouflage. Younger pike will usually have yellow stripes along their green body – as the fish matures the stripes divide into light spots and the body color turns from dark green to olive green. The lower half of the gill cover lacks scales and they have large sensory pores on their head and the underside of their lower jaw which are part of their lateral line system.
Pike will inhabit any water body that contains fish, but they require suitable places for spawning. Because of the cannibalistic nature of large pike young pike fry need feeding and security cover where they can take shelter among the rocks and aquatic plants so that they can survive.
Northern pike fishing is popular because pike give a big fight that few other fresh water fish can match. They are aggressive predatory fish and anglers can use their predatory nature against them while angling.
Pike respond well to a number of fishing techniques including casting, trolling and tempting them with large streamer flies during a fast stripping retrieve. Anglers who enjoy northern pike fishing love the chase, the burst of activity during the hook set and the fight that these freshwater giants provide.
There are a lot of pike fishing tips out there and I have tried most of them including a few “off the wall” techniques that I picked up along the way, but the pike’s predatory instinct is the key to fishing for them successfully. Pike are aggressive and defend their territory against anything that swims through their neighborhood. Using conventional tackle, a red and white Dare Devil or big Rapala jerk baits are favorite ‘go to” lures. All have big barbed hooks which are required when trying to land large pike. Sometimes, it seems that the larger the lure a fisherman uses translates into catching larger pike – there’s just something about large, brightly colored and life-like lures that aggressive pike can’t resist.
Bait fishing is arguably the least successful method used for fishing for northern pike. Many fishermen use the technique as a last resort when nothing else seems to work. Rigging a live chub with a large hook attached can be reasonably effective. Big pike will probably think it’s a free lunch. Smaller lures like rubber worms or small jigs don't tend to work as well, but a lot depends on the place and exact circumstances of where and when you're fishing. Pike are aggressive fish, so there are many choices when it comes to finding tackle that works. What he doesn’t want to eat he wants to fight so as long as you can get him to take the bait through any legal means then you’re in business. Pike are aggressive, but sometimes they like to toy with their prey before they eat it so don't get frustrated if there are some light taps, but no strong strikes. Just be patient - the pike will take the bait after he is done playing with his food.
Winter time ice fishing is a great way to catch pike through a hole in the ice, but we’ll focus on summer fishing techniques. Summer time hits are usually hard and aggressive with a short fight that feels like you’ve hooked a much larger fish. Usually, the subsequent fight will be violently aggressive. I recommend using a medium heavy to heavy weight rod with enough spine to withstand the violent side to side action that follows the hook set. If fishing for pike using fly fishing tackle is your game I recommend using a balanced eight or nine weight rod with a heavy braided bite tippet or a steel leader. Use a large streamer fly that resembles the bait fish that live where you’re fishing. For any tackle, but especially fly fishing tackle, avoid “high sticking” the rod once you’ve got the hook set – instead use a line stripping hook set and leverage generated by using a side-to-side motion when reeling the fish in. Keep your line tight and don’t generate any slack. If you set the hook using a traditional high stick set, at best, the fish will come unhooked, and at worst your expensive four piece fly rod may become a six piece rod.
Fishing for northern pike using an ultra light fishing rod or a fly rod is great sport. When using an ultra light or a fly rod a fisherman can feel each tug and jolt of the fight with a large fish. Once you land a large northern pike take a look at his dental work – don’t try to “lip” one like I did on the first pike I caught. You’ll appreciate why I recommend using a steel leader or a heavy bite tippet. Fishing for northern pike is a thrill, and the memories will last a lifetime regardless of the other fishing adventures that you enjoy throughout your fishing career.
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