Hidden Havens for Big Spring Pike
Most good pike fishermen and women know that when springtime rolls around, the place to be is in the backs of dark bottomed bays and around incoming water. But there’s another spot that many over look. A spot that could hold the biggest pike of your life. And the best part is, you may have it all to yourself.
Most lake maps in pike country will show areas of open water off the main lake or river but connected by small streams. They can vary in size from potholes to ponds to small lakes and most are fairly shallow. Pike use these ponds and potholes as nurseries and most will remain there until water temperatures reach somewhere between the mid 50’s to the lower 60’s, or until water levels start to recede. Now is the time to try these spots. Water levels are usually at their highest during spring, making access easier. Later on, or during low level years, these places may be next to impossible to get into. Find a place and succeed in getting in there and you may be the first fisherman in years to fish that water, possibly ever!
Now, getting into some of these honey holes can present a variety of challenges, but where there’s a will, there’s usually a way. Blow downs are common, and may require pulling the boat either over or under them, or dragging them out of the way. Water too shallow to run a motor can demand paddle power or even getting out and dragging your vessel. Then there are beaver dams. I personally try to traverse these with as little interruption into their lives as possible. This may mean dragging a boat across land around the dam or if possible, up over it. If that’s the case, we’ve found that the easiest way is to rig up a roller system using branches or logs from the dam to drag the boat over. We’ve found it best to use the largest log, or roller, on the bottom rung and progressively put smaller ones in place. But be very careful where you step. Years ago we were in an outpost camp in Manitoba. This camp featured a chain of lakes accessible through a small creek system. Boating across the main lake to the creek, we were greeted by the mother of all beaver dams. This thing was the size of a condominium! It was a good 30 feet tall and completely sealed the stream, plus both sides were blocked so we couldn’t go around. Up and over was our only option. We rigged up the roller system and made our way up it in fine fashion by putting a fisherman on each side of the boat and pulling the boat up and over. Everything was cool until I stepped on a soft spot. The next thing I knew, I was buried up to the hip with one leg and the other leg felt like it was positioned somewhere around my ear. With help, I extracted myself and found my leg was completely coated in thick beaver goo and the musky smell was enough to gag a civet cat. Wonderful. While I was kind of sore from my plunge, I didn’t suffer any injuries and felt lucky even though I stank to the high heavens. Most of the goo washed off in the stream but this stuff is extremely oily and that pair of jeans got sealed in a garbage bag until we could get it into the Maytag at home. But those rollers sure made things easier and by the end of the week, the other boat that was with us could make a run at the dam, raise their motor at the last second, and run right down the rollers on the return trip to the cabin. Of course they had the daredevil Donny Ingle at the throttle.
Going up these small creeks can provide great wildlife viewing too. One time we paddled up on a big bull moose but didn’t know it until we heard a splash and the crashing of branches as he mowed down everything in his path getting out of there. Another time, Donny Ingle and I slowly floated towards a mother moose giving her two calves what looked to be their first swimming lesson. She kept looking our direction but with their poor eyesight she couldn’t make out what we were. Finally, before we got too close, I stood up in the boat and mom just grunted and all three took to the bush. Priceless. If you’re not especially into wild encounters of the close kind, making plenty of noise on the way in will clear the path. This is clearly a good idea if you’re in an area with a high density bear population. A mother bear with cubs does not make for a pleasant surprise and they are fairly common in the spring. Banging on the side of the boat with a paddle once in awhile and talking loudly will send them packing before you ever get close.
On another expedition I took with Donny, we saw a spot on the map that looked great and was just a short jog down an outgoing river. I don’t normally pay much attention to outgoing water, but this spot just looked too good to ignore, plus, on the other side it was incoming water, so we went for it. With me at the throttle, we approached the mouth to find what appeared to be some gentle rapids. Raising the motor, I wasn’t too concerned as we made our way along with paddle power, until we hit the “staircase” section. The river was flowing downhill and was picking up speed when we went over the first step. Suddenly we hit a dead stop as the boat bottomed out and the Chukuni River came flowing over the transom. And I mean it was flowing in hard! It looked like the whole river was coming in! I just had time to yell at Donny, took the paddle, and gave a shove out the back for all I was worth. Off we went, with a boat half full of water and tackle boxes and everything else bobbing around the inside. Well, it’s live (hopefully!), and learn out there and you can bet I never tried that trick again. We did find some big pike though, and a ton of walleyes.
Once you’ve made it to your destination the real fun begins. Break it down just like the main lake. Look for bays if it is big enough to have any. Check for dead yellowed reeds and newly emerging weeds. And especially look for incoming water. Nearly all of them will at least have a small creek running into it, and it may lead to yet another pothole. This is where I prefer to start, pulling the boat quietly up within casting distance of the opening and fan casting the area. Small spoons like a 1 ounce Daredevle work great here and you can usually get away with using a treble hook. Another good bet would be an inline spinner like a Mepps or Vibrax. My next spot would be those yellowed reeds conveniently located right next to that creek. This requires a change of lures. Some pike will position themselves way back in the thick stuff and a weedless presentation is in order here. Weedless spoons, like a Nemire Red Ripper or a Johnson Silver Minnow shine in this spot, but keep a hook hone handy. Weedless plastics like a Slug-o or a lizard or a frog are good options also. Something that you can drag over the top, letting it sink into open spots. Best use stout tackle too. Hook a big one here and you’re going to need it. This is akin to slugging it out toe to toe.
After covering this area, look around. Most of these ponds will be at least partially ringed with newly emerging weed growth. Head to the shoreline with the wind blowing into it. Usually reeds or bulrushes grow closest to shore followed by coontail, lily pads, or cabbage. I check all of it, starting at the outside and work my way in. Where the pads, coontail and cabbage are starting to grow, any number of lures will produce. The small spoons are a good choice, as are spinnerbaits. Swimming a jig and lizard is another. But my all time favorite is top water lures, and this period provides the best top water bite of the year. One favorite is a Nemire Spoon Buzzer Sr. While it’s not a floater, it’s design allows for a slow retrieve while staying on top, plus it’s a dandy little bulger with just a slight reduction in retrieval speed. They’ve got some new colors coming out that I can’t wait to try this spring. In the sparse and newly emerging weeds, I also like a smaller, bass sized, floating propbait like a Rip Roller by High Roller lures. Just a slow steady retrieve with an occasional jerk seems to work best, but try different techniques if they aren’t responding. And different lures. One day they’ll go for the buzzer but the next day may find them with a preference for the propbait or a lure that plops along. A smaller profile bait that can be retrieved slowly seems best. After working the outside, I’ll head back into the thick reeds again and have at them with the weedless stuff.
Another area to search is the open water out away from shore. If there’s a breeze blowing, it makes it easy to drift across these areas and cast to roaming pike seemingly out on the hunt. Mary and I usually cast different styles of baits until one of us starts to out distance the other. I try to give her first choice, but if she starts scoring and I’m not, well, you know what happens then. Out here a bit larger lure can be used. Spoons, cranks, jigs, and larger top water baits all will produce at one time or another. The pike in these open areas seem more aggressive and that makes me think they are searching for food. There probably won’t be packs of pike roaming together. Usually it’s solitary fish, but there are enough of them to make it worthwhile.
The last place I check before leaving is the area where our creek leads back to the main lake. All of the biggest pike using these ponds will eventually head back to the main lake and cooler waters. But they don’t all leave at the same time. Some will stage in the area you first came into and hang out there waiting for the right time to vacate their nursery. Always fan cast this area on your way out. And when you make it out to the main lake, be sure to check the area around where the creek flows in. You may find pike that have just left the nursery.
Now all this may sound like a lot of work for the unknown, and sometimes it is. No, not every one of these spots is going to hold that monster, but some will. And sometimes you may work hard only to get to an impassible spot along the way and have to turn around. But it’s the spirit of adventure. The feeling that you are somewhere that not very many people get to. You know, sometimes it’s not the length or weight of a fish that makes it special. Sometimes it’s the trials and tribulations, the trails you’ve taken and the dues you’ve had to pay to get there that makes a fish a trophy. And if you succeed in getting into one of these spots and catch a real gator of a pike, and you very well may, it just makes it that much more of an accomplishment.
So if you’re in pike country this spring, look that map over and give these potholes a shot. Some of them hold fish that dreams are made of. Be aware of your surroundings, watch where you step, and use good common sense and you may find some out of the way pike havens that never get fished.