Tuesday, November 10, 2015

These lures really had northern pike hopping


I'm not sure what Chad Haughenberry used to catch and release his monster northern pike in early June, top, or what Jim Zabloudil, bottom, used in late August but surface baits worked great throughout the season
From Day One last year in May until the final group left camp in September, anyone who tried hard-bodied surface lures for northern pike were astounded at how well they worked.
In fact, I would say there were many times when these plugs more commonly thought of as better suited for bass outperformed more traditional spoons and spinners. And they are a whole lot more thrilling.
At the very least, a pike will swirl or "boil" at the surface lures. But they also frequently come sailing completely out of the water, tail-walk or even do flips. It is a blast.
Walking Frog is example of hard-bodied surface lure
From the start, I should define "hard-bodied" surface lure. I mean just that: lures that are made of hard materials, like wood, hard-plastic or fiberglass. They are meant to either stay on the surface as they are retrieved or to dunk under when given a jerk and then float immediately back up.
Since a lot of these baits are frog imitations, it's important to differentiate them from a common bass bait -- the rubber frog. The rubber frog does not hold a candle to its hard-bodied cousin when it comes to pike.
Rubber frogs not so good
Take the manufacturer Live Target, for example. The Live Target Walking Frog with two treble hooks, works night-and-day better than the Live Target soft or rubber frog. Incidentally, the name Walking Frog comes from the fact that this lure "walks the dog" which means it zigzags as well as hops up out of the water when retrieved. The "walks the dog" action seems to be essential for triggering pike strikes. Rubber frogs or poppers simply move forward with each tug of the line. This doesn't interest pike as much.
The Zara Spook is another walk-the-dog standout. Although the one shown here is in the frog pattern, other colors and patterns that work include those that mimic shiners and perch or even plain black.
Other companies offer similar lures. As long as they "walk the dog" or zigzag on retrieve, they will produce.
Zara Spook in frog pattern. Other colours and patterns work great also
Here's how to fish with these baits. Cast the lure toward any structure, reel up a bit but with still about a foot of slack line out, give your rod tip a small jerk. The bait will move one to two feet about 45 degrees off line. Reel up all but a foot again and repeat. The bait moves 45 degrees in the other direction. You can do this in a continuous manner so that the lure goes left, right, left, right, all the way back to the boat without a pause. Or you can do it several times, take a slight break, and resume.
You only need to move your rod tip 16 inches when you give each jerk and you do not need to change the position of your rod. In other words, you don't need to jerk left to make the lure go left, then jerk right to make the lure go right. You just always jerk the rod in the same direction and the lure does the rest. You can jerk too hard and too light. Just watch the bait. Is it zig zagging a foot or two each time?
So why are fish so interested in this? The action obviously imitates something on the surface that is in distress. It might be a frog, but it could just as easily be a fish.
One of my favourite surface baits is a small, silver lure with Bill Dance's name on it. I'm sure fish think it is a dying shiner minnow.
Baby Suick in frog pattern
Suick, the famous musky plug maker, also makes a smaller floating lure that works wonders on pike. When the angler gives it a pull, it dives under the water with an exaggerated wiggle and then goes back to the surface. We've all seen injured fish, like perch, do the same thing. They try to go down but cannot.
You might think any floating lure, such as floating Rapala, would accomplish the same thing but they are not nearly as successful as the above-mentioned lure. The Suick has a kind of unpredictable movement as compared to the totally predictable wiggle of the floating Rapala.
Suicks come in gigantic sizes for musky, but you don't want those. Try the 4 1/2-inch model. Ditto for the Zara Spook and the Walking Frog. These work great, don't break your arm to cast and provide the action with little more than a flick of the wrist.
They absolutely work the best when the water is calm or nearly so. I'm sure that is when the fish can see the lures' erratic behaviour the best.
A non-floating surface lure -- boy does that sound like an oxymoron -- that will also work with a little chop is the buzz bait. It's not to be confused with the similar-looking spinner bait. Although made of metal, the buzz bait is designed to rise to the surface when retrieved steadily. Its metal spinner chops through the surface, making a buzzing sound. Some buzz baits have a little rudder that the propeller strikes on each revolution, adding to the noise. Others simply make the sound by the propeller chopping the water and air.
Booyah buzz bait
I note that a lot of anglers are misinformed about where to use these surface baits. They seem to think they are only to be fished near weed beds. That probably comes from the fact that so many of them are frog imitations. In reality, they can be used anywhere there might be pike including boulders, rock cliffs, logs, etc.
I think some fishermen also see the lures as a novelty, not a mainstay for northern pike. If they give them a serious try next summer, their attitude may change.
Take my own experience from last summer. During our Family Week when only my family is at camp (the first week of July) I went fishing with my grandson, Raven. We were casting spoons and spinners for pike and doing so-so in the early afternoon when the wind dropped. I switched to a Zara Spook and went back to the same area we had just covered. I literally had a strike or a fish on every cast.
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4 comments:

Joe Overman said...

The first lure I tie on is the Zara in the same pattern you depicted. The last lure I remove is the Zara! Great fun and big fish. My favorite!

Dan B. said...

Joe comes to camp the very first week of the season at a time when most people think the only way to catch pike is with dead bait. Not so!

Joe Overman said...

First day there.
I cast toward a fallen tree...twitch,twitch, twitch...BAM.. miss.Twitch, twitch...BAM, miss. then a hook up...gets off. reel in, cast again. Bam..miss.Bam..miss... Bam hook up, gets off. Third cast after another miss I finally hook up and land a 39 inch Pike. The most excitement, and most fun I have ever had with one fish. On a Zara Spook!

Dennis Sheble said...

We also had fantastic results using top water lures for Pike in early June on Red Lake.
Each evening after supper we headed out using Zara Spooks and Cisco Kid Toppers. The action was fast and furious until dusk each evening. The swills and boils were on almost every cast. What great fun! In fishing Pike on Red Lake for 40 years it is the hottest action I have ever seen. We will be doing this each evening in 2016.
Dennis
Joliet, Illinois