Monday, March 31, 2008

Casting Techniques for Northern Pike

trophy Red Lake northern pike
In my opinion, casting for northern pike is the best way to catch these tremendous gamefish at Bow Narrows Camp on Red Lake, Ontario.

The usual system is to position the boat a cast-length away from the shoreline and to pitch a spoon, spinner, jig or crankbait as close as possible to the bank. Look for structures along the bank and place your lure as close as possible to these. The structures could be rocks, weeds, trees that have fallen in the water or which are just overhanging the lake.

Make sure you aren't using too large a lure (See Lighten Up for Northern Pike) and make it run several feet below the surface on the retrieve. That's because the biggest fish are often laying in 5-10 feet of water and are watching for bait to come swimming out from shore. If you zip your lure just below the surface, it is out-of-reach and quickly past these predators. You want your lure to imitate a fish that is stupidly swimming right into the danger zone.

The best system is to simply reel at a speed that creates the most action from the lure. Reel too fast and, in the case of spoons, the lure just spins. Reel too slowly and the lure comes in like a banana peel. But reel at the correct speed and the lure ducks and dives as you bring it back to the boat.

The way you position your rod also plays a significant role in how your lure runs. If your rod tip is high, the lure runs shallow. If your rod tip is near the water, the lure runs deeper. So keep the rod tip up when the lure is right next to the shore and lower it as you retrieve the lure toward the boat.

When looking for structures to cast to, be alert for weed tips growing away from the shoreline, even on the open-water side of the boat.

These signal a sandbar or other shallow water that is surrounded by deeper water and more often than not these are the real hotspots, for pike and walleyes too. Be careful not to let your boat float right over these places as you can spook the fish away.

Although you can keep positioning your boat with the outboard, I like to let the wind move the boat silently along. When the wind has moved the boat out of position I start up the outboard and move the boat out and start another drift.

Except when fishing with dead bait (See Deadly Bait System for Northern Pike), it is usually a bad idea to anchor. You need to constantly be moving around and drifting does this nicely for you. Also when you connect to a big northern pike, especially in warm summer waters when these powerful fish can make your reel's drag sing, they will be wrapped around the anchor rope and will have broken your line before you can even think about pulling the anchor up.

Northern pike, of course, like weeds and this presents a problem when fishing for them. Except in the rarest of circumstances, a pike will not strike your lure if there is the tiniest bit of weed on its hooks! Yet many times the place the pike are laying is right in the middle of a patch of weeds!

The best idea is to stand up in the boat so that you can see better and to place your lure in holes in the weedbed. Or just cast as close to the weeds as possible without hooking them.

You can also use weedless lures. The best of these is the Johnson Silver minnow in 1/2 ounce and 3/4 ounce sizes. If you position the weed guard so that it is 1/8-to-1/4 inch above this lure's single hook, it will come right through the thickest weeds and not catch one of them.

But the Silver Minnow alone won't catch many fish. It needs an added attractant on the hook.

I like to use 3-4-inch plastic twister tails that are hooked just once on the hook (not skewered on like you would with a jig). If the lure doesn't wiggle correctly, reposition the twister tail on the hook. You can also use pork rind. Just trim it so there is only 3-4 inches behind the spoon or the pike will hit the rind and miss the hook.

Spinner baits come through the weeds quite well as do their miniature cousin, the Beetle Spin.

The 1/4 ounce Beetle Spin, a favorite with bass and even panfish fishermen, will catch the daylights out of northern pike!

Jigs also come through weeds fairly cleanly, especially if you refrain from "setting the hook" on the weeds. When the jig encounters a weed, just pull lightly until the jig comes free. About half the time the jig will come through cleanly. This little-known technique of pulling a jig rigged with a twister tail through weeds will also catch a lot of walleyes.

One of our guests who has been coming to camp for a long time passes along this pike fishing technique with a jig. Joe says he casts then "give the jig a jerk, let it fall, wind the line while it is falling, jerk again and repeat. I've caught as many as 100 pike a day doing this, including a 42-incher."

In flat water, you can cast surface baits such as buzz baits, poppers and stick baits. This is a lot of fun because the pike will often become airborne when striking. Many times the best system is to let the floating bait sit motionless on the surface for a period of time, then just twitch it. This can be more productive than making the bait move continuously across the surface.

The same thing can happen when using a crankbait. Instead of just reeling the crankbait straight to the boat, vary the retrieve by suddenly stopping the retrieve and giving the bait a twitch. Let it rest momentarily, then start retrieving again.

Northern pike are just everywhere in Red Lake and sometimes the best place to catch them is in what looks like the most unlikely spot, a sheer rock wall, especially if wind is blowing straight into it. When casting these places, a lot of anglers use a jig or a spinner bait and cast right to the rock face, then let the lure freefall down while watching their line. When the line stops going out they set the hook as the lure has been picked up by a northern.

I like casting because it is fun just to test your skill in placing the lure in just the right spot.

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