Mature Smokin' Pike
The Northern Pike is one of the most underrated and finest fresh water fish to target in the world. Number one, they get big – at times really big. Number two, they are at the top of the food chain in many waters. Anytime you fish for a major predator fish at the top of the food chain you encounter hard hits, fast swimming, chasers, bull dog fighting and all the angling fun that goes with them. Or do you? What happens when they become the apex predator in the food chain and they have zero competition for food or habitat? I can tell you from experience trophy Pike get lazy. When a fish gets to the point where it can eat anything and everything in a lake, it quickly realizes that swimming all over chasing food is a waste of time and energy. Why not patiently wait for food to come to you? It’s not like you are a small trout or pan fish and have to work for all of your tiny meals. Negative. If you are a 20+lb Pike you are good to go for whatever swims your way – and these are the Pike I’m after.
As a guide a major part of my business and life these days is chasing trophy Northern Pike. Over the years I have had some great days on the water as well as some tough ones; but every day I try to learn more about these awesome fish. I’ve learned some of their primary habits and most importantly their habits when they become mature trophies (40+ inches). The biggest thing I have found is trophy Pike lose that willingness to chase down food, especially in waters that offer an abundance of it without competition. Anytime you find a body of water loaded with forage fish Pike act this way. They become patient feeders. A lot of serious Pike anglers have fished the classic Canadian Shield waters where Pike compete with Walleye, Bass and Muskie for the same food source. Serious food competition causes these fish to be voracious feeders that will attack whatever they can to secure a meal. Although in waters with more food and less competition, you are now dealing with a totally different fish.
I find trophy Pike in prey rich environments operating in specific zones where they are comfortable (this means certain water temperature, depth, and close to safety, which usually equates to deep water). I’ve also learned these fish are fairly solitary creatures. Sometimes they operate in groups but the groups are always spread out – close to 100 feet apart or more. My experience has also been these fish spook easily. Noise, vibration, and shadows all seem to bother these fish and can make them very hard to target. And, the fact they are commonly spread out on large, shallow flats suspended just off the bottom or suspended in deeper water doesn’t make it any easier. However, I know how to target these fish and put them in the boat.
The way to target trophy Pike in this situation is to troll planer boards. Planer boards accomplish two things: Number one they spread out your lines which helps you cover massive amounts of water. I’m not afraid to put my boards 400 to 500 feet to the side of my boat. By doing this I rake through large areas and pick off solo fish. The second thing planer boards do is let you present your baits without spooking fish. I am so confident that my boat spooks fish that I hardly ever look at my locater on my graph – I monitor the GPS but my locater is not my focus because I know the fish are kicking out from under my boat because of the noise, vibration, and shadow it creates. This is when using planer boards to position your lines away from the boat increases your odds of hooking trophy Pike astronomically. I see a difference in catch ratio between the planer board closest to the boat and the one farthest from the boat – the farther away from the boat, the more likely you are to hook big Pike. Period. Presenting baits properly to undisturbed fish is the single most important strategy to remember when it comes to targeting trophy Pike.
I am willing to bet that no matter where you fish for Pike there are some trophy Northerns available if spend a little bit of time looking for them. I am also willing to bet that this is a system that will produce fish for you. Spend time looking for key feeding areas and start to cover that area like a grid, breaking it down until you find where the mature fish are operating. Keep in mind many of these fish will never show themselves on a sonar unit. Lastly, when you troll boards correctly I recommend having a big net in the boat and a camera ready, because you will want both of them. Have fun and good luck!
About the Author
Nathan Zelinsky fishes over 300 days a year between Professional Walleye Tournaments, guiding through his outfitting business, <a href="http://tightlineoutdoors.com/" title="Tightline Outdoors – The Authority in Western Outdoors" target="_blank">Tightline Outdoors</a>, fishing with sponsors, product testing and scouting. Zelinsky specializes in monster pike, trophy walleye and huge trout on his home waters of Colorado.
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