Friday, March 11, 2011

Fishing strategies for northern pike on Red Lake, Ont.

Good northern pike day
The places and techniques to fish for northern pike on Red Lake, Ontario or any Northern Ontario lake for that matter, vary with the weather conditions each day.

The photo above shows a perfect day for casting artificials along the shoreline and weedbeds. There is a slight chop to the waves that means the sunlight below the surface will be broken up and continuously changing. The light will "dance around" giving the fish a glimpse of their prey, then vanishing, then reappearing.

Northern pike hunt virtually entirely by sight, not with their lateral line sense as do walleye and lake trout. So they are "looking" for something to eat.

Choppy water also creates a situation where there is more for the pike to find. Plankton and other tiny organisms are moved to the windward shore by the waves or are washed away from the bottom out into the open. Minnows swarm in on this bonanza and that is what attracts the larger predators like northern pike. Also, the minnows aren't able to see the pike coming because of the changing light conditions.

So when the water is a bit chaotic from the waves, the best way to attract a strike from a pike is to have a very visible lure, something bright and flashy. Now is not the time for a subtle presentation -- it won't even be found.

There is no particular lure that is better than others in this instance other than it is unnecessary that the lure be identical to a natural prey fish. It just needs to flash and be noticed. I would use a spoon or a spinner here. They are easier to fish with than stick baits like Rapalas because they catch fewer weeds and also have fewer hooks to remove from the mouths of the fish you do catch.

Now lets take the opposite condition; water that is dead calm and the sun is beaming overhead.

In this circumstance the fish have a perfect view of your lure. I always imagine they can read the writing on it: "D-A-R-D-E-V-L-E. What were we taught in fishing school about Dardevles? Never bite one!"

These are the toughest of fishing conditions, not just because it is hard to fool the fish, but also because all the natural prey are hiding as well. So the predators aren't even looking for a meal.

However, they can be tricked with subtle, slow presentations such as a stick bait that pauses and twitches -- a wounded minnow! Or a surface plug that does the same thing -- a popper that looks just like a frog to a fish 10 feet below. The key is to be slow.

Another trick for calm conditions is to use tiny lures, especially spoons and spinners, that are just 1.5-2 inches long. Frankly I'm not sure why this works but maybe it's just that the lure is so small the fish can't distinguish that it is an artificial. You might even need an ultralight rod to pitch these little jobs that probably weight 1/4 oz or less.

A good rule of thumb is to use small and subtle-colored lures in calm conditions, larger and brighter lures in wavy conditions.

A good thing about fishing in calm conditions is that you can see the weeds so clearly and therefore can work your lure deeper without snagging one.

What about rainy days? Fish them pretty much like you would the windy ones.

The pike can't see very well with cloudy skies and even less if there are raindrops on the surface.

I would use bright flashy lures, like an orange or chartreuse spinner or spoon. Silver or white is also good. Gold, on the other hand, is better for sunny days.

Since pike must see their prey, they usually can't be caught well in water that is muddied badly by the wind either. So you don't want to fish shorelines that are being beaten to death by the waves. That's good because it's too hard to fish there anyway.

On extremely windy days you can catch pike just about everywhere; so, concentrate on areas that are protected from the wind and are easier to control your boat.

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