Late season pike fishing, is heart stopping, exciting, and full contact. Forget finesse. Get big, get aggressive, and go prepared.
One word best describes late season pike - aggression. Fall is when I catch huge northerns, using equally huge lures. It's blatant fishing. There's nothing subtle about it.
My favorite presentation is jerking a 9" Suick along the surface, waiting in anticipation of the attack. At any time, one or more three-foot plus pike may explode on my lure, sending water everywhere. I have even had them attack as I lift the lure out of the water, right next to the boat. Some people fish to relax, but that's not what this is about at all. Fishing for big fall northerns is exhilarating. It boils your blood.
"Gators" in the 20-pound class, demand attention to detail. Is your gear up for the challenge? The line needs to be fresh, the hooks sharp and the leaders new and strong. If even one piece of your equipment isn't up to the job, you can bet the farm that big pike will exploit it.
A Friday off work screams fishing, so I hooked up with my buddy Arnold and took off to a nearby lake for some late season pike fishing. Earlier that day, I spooled up with fresh mono on my favorite rod and reel, but after breaking off three nice pike in just over two hours, it was obvious something was wrong. I switched to my heavy action back-up outfit. If I hadn't brought that other rig along, I wouldn't have been able to land the giant northern that hammered my Suick not 10 feet from the boat. It went airborne, silhouetted in the fading light. At 38 inches, it was a nice ending to the day. That night I re-spooled my main reel, and the very next day boated a magnificent, thick 44 incher - still my best pike to date.
There are a couple of reasons why fishing for big pike is so good in the fall, but the main reason is temperature. Big northerns prefer cold water. Yes, I know you can catch little pike in the soupy warm shallows all summer long. But we're talking big fish here, and if there's one thing that big pike can not handle, it's warm water. No wonder they spend their summers hanging out in the cooler depths. Problem is, locating big pike through the summer is tough. Very tough.
Not so come autumn. The shoreline waters cool to the big "gator's" comfort zone. Then they cram up into the shallows to gorge themselves, in anticipation of winter and the upcoming spawning season. Look for late season pike in the shallows. I catch most of my big autumn pike in less than six feet of water. As fall progresses and the weeds die off, the remaining healthy weeds are pike magnets, and will concentrate a lot of quality fish into surprisingly small spaces. It's common sense - decaying, dead weeds use up oxygen, while healthy green ones generate it. You'll find the fish were you find the oxygen, so look for green weeds and you're on the right track. As the season progresses and more weeds die, larger concentrations of big pike will congregate at ever-shrinking patches of live weeds. Once you find one pike, you find them all.
What if your pet pike lake doesn't have much in the way of weeds? I've found that setting up at the edges of small dropoffs produces fish. Many of these lakes hold large populations of cisco and whitefish which, during late autumn, will be looking for spawning sites. Gravel-bottomed drop-offs, in up to 10 feet of water, are perfect. Big pike never stray far from their primary food, so places that attract whites and cisco inevitably attract big pike.
Big Baits for Big Fish
Most anglers wouldn't think of a full grown whitefish as bait, but pike sure do. The same goes for ciscos, burbot, walleye and smaller pike. In the fall, it's just not that unusual to catch a 30 inch plus pike with the distinctive tail of a large fish poking out of its gullet. It takes a lot of protein to sustain a 12, 15 or 20 pound pike, and little minnows just won't feed the bulldog.
When you consider the size of the fish these big pike snack on, most fishing lures look positively miniscule. You need big lures to catch their attention.
Over the years I've come to rely on a small assortment of really big minnowbaits and jerkbaits for the vast majority of my autumn pike angling. My hands down favorite would have to be a Suick.
The standard, basic Suick jerkbait is an incredibly versatile pike catcher. You can fish it in mere inches of water, or by simply bending the tail fin, work it over submerged weedbeds four feet below. Suicks are big enough to interest trophy fish, yet light enough to cast all day long.
The only thing about Suicks or other larger pike plugs is the three-hook setup. I don't like them. I always remove the middle treble. It does less damage to the fish and is far less dangerous for me to handle. While Suicks get my nod for favorite big pike lure, the Magnum Rapala and the magnum Bomber Long A lures are also terrific. Size is key here and just about any large lure will attract and catch pike.
As far as lure color, it's really up to you, but I carry both very dark/natural and very brightly finished lures. Generally, I start with a bright colored one; if no hits result, I'll switch to the darker colored ones. Bright lures are easier for you to see in the in the water, so you'll need less effort to monitor your retrieve.
Oddly enough, the darker lures seem to work best as evening comes around and the sky starts getting dark. I'm not sure why darker baits seem to produce in low light, but they most certainly do.
The key to fishing any big plug or jerkbait is to twitch and pause the lure along the surface. Try to imitate a wounded fish and don't be shy. Make a little ruckus on top, slash and splash the lure by jerking the rod tip hard. Pike have a keen sense of movement, and anything that appears to be out of the ordinary - like a big splashy plug - will be checked out at once.
After selling the wounded fish act, pause. It can even be for a full 10 seconds or more. If a pike has zeroed in on your lure, it will likely be going nuts over whether or not to strike. Often they'll suspend inches below and at the next slightest movement, they explode and hammer it. On many days, a plug or jerkbait left to float lifelessly on the surface, was all that was needed to get a commitment from the pike. I call this the "do nothing" retrieve, but it works like magic.
I normally fish a spot for 15 minutes to half an hour. If the fish don't answer, I'm off to the next likely spot. Although pike may home in on a particular area of lake in the fall, they'll move around within that area. The more areas and more pike I expose to my plug or jerkbait, the more fish I'll catch. It's just a matter of putting in time and keeping my lure in the water.
I generally prefer to fish autumn pike on cloudy/overcast days. Especially so, if there's a light wind to add a little chop. I suspect the pike feel more comfortable with the reduced light intensity, so they're more likely to feed heavily. Flat, sunny, calm days normally make for tough fishing. Happily, typical fall weather brings unsettled conditions before too long, and a return to easier fishing.
Many people consider early spring the best time to catch big pike, yet fall brings great opportunities too. If you've never tried it, you're in for a pleasant surprise - and maybe even the trophy of a lifetime.
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