Huge Pike During the Tough Times:
Tactics for Catching Pike in Warm Water Months
One of the questions I get asked the most, and one that has lead to many long discussions, involves fishing for truly big pike during warm water periods. Sadly, most folks don't seem to have a clue. I understand though, I was once the same way. It's a learning process, this fishin' thing. But, let me assure you that very big pike can be caught during the summer months and if approached correctly, fishing can be just as productive as any other time of year. Additionally, because the pike's metabolism is in high gear now, some very girthy specimens are taken during the warm water periods.
As most know, pike are a very temperature sensitive species. Especially the bigger ones. Big pike will start the year in the shallows, but by the time the water temperature hits much over 60 degrees, most have moved on. So, where do they go? This depends on the lake and largely on the forage in it. Some lakes feature whitefish and ciscoes on the pike's menu. These species roam around in the deep water sections and pike follow the schools. On the other hand, some lakes offer up suckers, perch and walleyes. These species are more structure orientated. Additionally, there are bodies of water containing habitat suitable for both types of forage.
One common denominator present in all locations will be the importance of a presence of wind. Pay close attention to the wind direction. It doesn't need to be a strong wind. A gentle breeze is fine, but some sort of wind is imperative. Also, it won't make a huge difference whether it is blowing straight into structure or across it, but be sure to fish the windblown side.
Let's start with the open water fish. There are several productive methods for targeting these. Trolling accounts for a lot of big fish during the summer. I've found that trolling the breaklines with deep crankbaits works very well. Some may question, how deep? I like to start at about 12 to 15 feet or so and troll in a long lazy "s" pattern working out to about 25 feet or so, then back in. When we troll, it is usually with just two rods. I like to run a deeper diving crank, like an Ernie on the outside rod and something shallower, like a Mag Long A Bomber on the inside. These are just two examples of lures we troll. There are plenty that will work just fine. Keep an eye on that depth finder for pods of baitfish and concentrate on that area if you see them.
Another great spot is points. You can troll those big deep cranks here too, but for those who prefer to cast, this is a great spot. A heavy spinnerbait is a good choice to work down the slope of a point. Easy too. Reel a bit and let it drop a bit. Look for spinnerbaits that will "copter" on the drop. Musky Machinery makes a great one.
Jigs, worked at the base of a long point going into deep water, can be very productive. You want a heavy jig with a good strong hook. I like the ones called Esox Cobra but there's several out there that will work fine. Tip them with something like a big twister grub or a Reaper and you're set. Like most times, retrieves may vary. Sometimes snapping it up hard and slowly lowering it works. Other times they might want it swimming slow with an easy raise and lower. Experimentation is usually the key.
One last spot for these open water fish is actually out of the deep abyss. Rocky shorelines, specifically windblown shorelines (I had to bring that up one more time. Very important!) The wind tends to kick the food chain into gear. It stirs up all these little micro-organisms and the minnows feed on them. Then the perch show up to dine on the minnows and the walleyes to chow on perch, and …. Well, you can see where this is going. The big pike are on top of that food chain and they don't miss many meals. Look for shorelines with broken rock with the wind blowing straight into it. Several types of lures will work well here. A good flashy spoon is hard to beat. Crankbaits work well. Personally, I have developed a real fondness for inline spinners here. I have a few of Tanner Wildes' Rabid Squirrels that look like they caught the mange they've been hammered so many times.
One last word on windblown shorelines: If you find one with a mud line on the shore, this could prove to be a real bonanza. Caution must be used though! If the wind is blowing hard enough to create a mud line, you're dealing with some good waves. Sometimes it can blow you up on those rocks before you can land a fish if you're not very careful. At these times it's best to let the guy in the front of the boat have his fun, then switch motor duties.
OK. Let's go find those weed dwelling pike. To start, not all weeds or weedbeds are going to be pike heaven. Pike, like everything else, have their preferences.
Pike will hang out in about any type of grass or weeds, but pondweed, best known as cabbage, is the crème de' la crème of weeds. And the best cabbage beds are going to be those that taper off into deep water. The longer and slower the decline, the better. Forget about sharp drop offs now.
When I approach a weedbed, the first thing I look for is how the wind is hitting it. It won't matter if it's blowing straight in or across it, but knowing which will help me decide what I want to try first. If the wind is blowing straight in, I'll first motor up and have a look at the weed tops. Up shallow, they will be up to the surface and lying over. I'll then slowly work deeper until I find the spot where the weeds just start to submerge and it is at this edge where I'll begin my hunt.
To start, I'll be throwing something that runs shallow. Something like an inline spinner with a Colorado blade that will just tick the tops of those weeds. Certain crankbaits work well too. Mary has a small Believer she calls "Spot" that has caught a ton of big pike. It still amazes me how that thing goes through weed tops without hanging up.
As I work out deeper, I still want to get down into those weeds. One lure that works extremely well is the correct spinnerbait. Some may be questioning my sanity here, but believe me that the correct spinnerbait used with the correct technique can be retrieved through the thickest cabbage without dragging in any trash.
First, you need a spinnerbait built with substantial wire that features a short upper arm. That arm holding the blade cannot have any flex in it during the retrieve. The technique involves making a short to medium cast and letting the spinnerbait sink to the desired level. Then, with the rod tip pointed directly at the lure, you start your retrieve. You'll feel the lure bumping into and careening off of weed stalks, but the important thing is to keep that rod tip pointed straight at the spinnerbait and don't jerk the tip up or off to the side. If it hangs up, grind on that reel handle. If it's still hung, pull straight back on the rod. The thing is, if you keep a direct line to that spinnerbait, it will remain upright and eventually come through those weeds. But if you jerk up or out, it will roll on its side and become hopelessly snagged and you'll have to go get it or drag in a ton of trash.
Weedless spoons are another great option in weeds. Tip them with a grub or hootchie but be sure to keep a hook hone handy. Once the weeds get a bit deeper, I like to use a slim heavier spoon, like a two ounce Dardevle Cop-E-Cat, with a single hook. These can be cast a long ways and usually are more productive with a quicker retrieve than other spoons.
Once the deepest edge of the weedbed is found, jigs will once again prove their worth. I use those same Esox Cobra jigs tipped with large plastics and try to swim them through those last few patches of deep weed growth.
The wind blowing crosswise on a weedbed brings another tactic into play that at times can out produce all the others, yet is so simple it can be mastered by even a beginner in just minutes. Taking some kids fishing? Or someone not up to the rigors of casting all day? Read on; this may be tailor made for you.
This technique involves drifting across the weedbed, swimming a jig and lizard through the weeds. When you find a weedbed with the waves going across it, boat to the upwind side and watch those waves. You'll be able to pick out a "lane" or path to drift down. Turn your boat sideways with the motor running to make adjustments during your drift. Simply pitch your jig and lizard out about 20 or 25 feet, kick back and guide that lizard over and through that cabbage. Don't let out too much line. You want to keep visual contact with that lizard. As you're drifting along, you'll see the weeds before your lure gets to them. It is a gas to watch those pike come up and snatch it. And if you've never seen a 25 pound pike from 25 feet away smash a lizard, well, I'll tell ya, it's an eye opener and then some! Also you'll want to use stout tackle here. Once they grab that lizard, they will undoubtedly head for the safety of the weeds. This can be toe to toe combat!
How heavy of jig to use will depend on how fast you're drifting. If it's a pretty good breeze and you're clipping right along, you'll want a heavier jig. If it's a gentle breeze, cut it back down in weight. You want to be able to drop it into open pockets and down between weed stalks. And be sure to use a jig with a pointed nose and the hook eye straight out the front. It will swim through the weeds much better and if it does hang up, a quick snap will usually break it free.
For colors, I like a brightly colored lizard but they are not always easy to find. My current favorite is the Bass Pro Shop's Tournament Series floating lizard. It's 8 inches long and comes in a bubblegum pink. It is a great lizard and color for drifting cabbage for pike, one of the best I've ever found. Another product from Bass Pro that works very well is the Perfect Worm hook by Luck "E" Strike USA. It has a worm weight on the shank of the hook and because the heaviest model weighs only 3/8ths of an ounce, it serves best in lighter breezes.
If you have trouble catching big pike when the weather turns hot, give these tactics a try. They might change your mind about when is the best time to catch huge pike!