Got Those Old Summer Blues?
Play A Different Tune For Pike This Summer
Once the summer sun warms up the shallows to around 65 degrees, pike vacate those areas and for many become tough to locate and tougher to catch. I’m sure lots of you have heard the old wives tales and excuses. Shedding teeth, sore gums, and pike losing their appetites are some of the most used ones. All I can say to that is “Hogwash!” Animals, fish included, have to eat to survive. Remember, all fish do is eat, swim, and make little fish. No exceptions. And they don’t take a month or two off from feeding because of water temperature changes or find soft forage so they can gum it down.
In lakes, I try to locate cabbage beds. Now mind you, not all cabbage are created equal. Some will be home to just little snot rockets and possibly a few teenagers. Hey, these beds are great if action is what you’re looking for. Or say if you’ve got a youngster in the boat and want to play the numbers game. But if your goal is big fish, those of 20 pounds and more, you’ve got to find a cabbage bed with the proper composition.
The best cabbage beds will be those that grow on a very gradual decline to deeper water with wind blowing into them. The longer the gradual slope is, the better. How deep the weeds grow will depend on water clarity. The clearer the water, the deeper weeds will grow. In tannic stained waters, cabbage usually bottoms out at about 14 to 16 feet. In gin clear water, it can be 20 to 25 feet. Sometimes more.
Once you’ve located a cabbage bed like this, start at the deep end first. Casting heavy spoons with a single hook and working them deep works very well. Another great lure here is a spinnerbait. I prefer one with willow leaf blades in this location. A medium to slow pumping retrieve has served us well. If both of these techniques are ignored, or if the bite has slowed, I’ll go to trolling deep cranks before moving and this usually accounts for a few more good bites.
After exhausting this pattern, it’s time to move further into the cabbage bed. Look for the edge where the cabbage just starts to submerge. Position the boat out a ways and cast into this edge. There are a number of options to use here. Those spoons and spinnerbaits and cranks are effective here, but so are jerkbaits. Starting at this edge, gliders like the Magic Maker or an Eddie Bait work well as do the dive and rise jerks like a Burt or a Suick.
Another of my favorites here is the swimming jig with a lizard. It is easy to control the depth with it and I can work it progressively deeper following the tops of the cabbage. I really like the Cobra jigs for this and also a Pyramid jig made by Jack’s Jigs in Milwaukee. As always, you’ll have to let the fish dictate their color preferences. I nearly always start with a pink lizard, followed by white, chartreuse, yellow and black.
Ok, time to head into the thick stuff. There’s a couple of ways to approach this. I have caught some huge pike slowly trolling the dive and rise jerks, short jerking them along. The problem with this is that you have to stop to clean weeds off the lure a lot and every so often you’ll have to pull the motor and clean the prop. You can grind spinnerbaits through it and this works well in keeping the hook weedless and will definitely catch big fish, but you’ll still have to clean that prop once in awhile. A much more efficient system is to play the wind. Motor upwind and watch the waves. Pick out a lane that goes over the thick stuff, turn the boat sideways, and drift. This is so easy even little kids can master it in no time. Put on one of those jig and lizards, cast it out 20 or 30 feet and guide that critter over and through the weeds. With the short line, the lizard will be visible most of the time. When you drift over heavy tall weeds, you’ll see them before the jig gets there and it is easy to pick up on the rod tip and guide it over, then lower the rod and sink the lizard into open pockets. Hang on as they usually hammer that lizard hard.
There is one last thing to discuss when fishing at this time of year. Proper handling for successful releases. It takes longer to revive pike now and pike are more easily stressed. As we all know, a release is only successful if the fish lives. A lot has been written in the pages of this magazine on the proper tools for catch and release and it is well worth repeating. First off, you need to unhook these fish in the water. The best way to do this is to have a big net with knotless, treated mesh. I use the ones made by Frabill. This serves as a holding pen for the pike and will contain them while you take care of business. For the unhooking, you’ll need good needle nosed pliers or possibly a hook cutter, like a Knipex. I rarely use a jaw spreader, but I keep one in the boat, just in case.
There is nothing wrong with wanting a picture of that monster lying there in the Frabill, but care must be taken here too. Have your photographer get into position and focus the shot while the fish is still in the water. When they are ready, it is easy to hoist the fish up, of course while supporting the mid section, turn to the camera and get a couple of quick shots and get that fish back in the drink as soon as possible. This can be done and the fish placed back in the water in a matter of seconds. If a second photo is needed, place the fish back in the net and let it catch its breath. Then repeat as necessary. The whole idea is to minimize the time out of the water.