Monday, January 16, 2017

What, how and when to use surface baits for pike

Mike Parenzan used Live Target Walking Frog in early spring

Scott Ballantyne used Rapala Skitter Pop in mid-summer
When the wind drops and the water turns to glass it is conventional wisdom that fish don't bite.
Well, I'm here to tell you that advice is just so much tripe. This is the ideal time for a thrilling, action-packed fishing adventure!
Grab some surface lures and take off for northern pike fishing. You better be ready for fish to come sailing right out of the deep, doing flips, swirls and other airborne antics. This is not going to be for anglers with faint hearts. You are going to laugh, scream and sometimes, when the action happens right next to the boat, move toward the center and instinctively keep your fingers away from the water.
Oh, and by the way, be ready to catch some of the largest northern pike you have ever seen. There is something about surface lures that triggers the strike-impulse in big, old, heavy pike.
Before we get started, let us define "surface lures." These are plugs, mostly, that stay on the surface when retrieved. They are not "floating lures" which dive under but if given enough time will eventually float back up.
Surface lures are going to leave a wake as they are retrieved. They are also going to make sounds like popping and splashing. They imitate something either swimming on the surface or in dire distress.
These things could be frogs or mice or wounded fish.
Lots of these lures are made for bass fishing. That's fine. Northern pike don't care what they were made for; they're going to hit them with the same ferocity as made-for-pike-and-musky baits.
But I've got to stop right here for a moment. I have already mentioned a four-letter word that itself triggers some kind of reflex in humans. That word is F-R-O-G. There, I've said it again. Are you visualizing a beautiful painted rubber frog being skipped across lily pads, its upturned hooks sliding right through the weeds without hooking a single one, its cleverly designed twin rubber skirts looking exactly like frog legs kicking behind? Or maybe it actually has plastic or rubber legs, just kicking perfectly as you pull it through the water? Is this what you're thinking about? Of course it is! That is the reflex I was talking about. Well snap out of it!
This is why you've never caught many pike with surface baits before -- because you always fished with rubber frogs. Of all the surface lures that you could use for northern pike, the worst, the least effective, the one that is least likely to catch a fish, is the rubber frog. Of course it has caught a few fish; even a clothespin with a hook attached will get an occasional pike; so the fact you once caught a pike on a rubber frog after a thousand attempts isn't any recommendation.
Open your tackle box right now and fish out your rubber frogs. Pull the hooks out of them and give them to the cat to play with or stick them in the mouths of the mounted fish on the wall. Just make sure you aren't going to be tempted next summer to try them, again, without success, again.
The rubber frog reflex actually has two parts. One is the cute, almost-perfectly imitated frog itself. (News flash! The fish don't see the part you are looking at, the top with the eyes and spots. They just see the plain-featured bottom.) The other problem with the frog is the rest of the mental picture you painted. Remember the lily pads?  
When you put the rubber frog on your line you immediately looked for the nearest group of lily pads or immense weedbed that is clogging up the end of some shallow bay. You are drawn to these spots almost hypnotically. Frogs -weeds. Frogs -weeds. Frogs ...
Pike like weeds, sure, but the weeds don't have to be so thick you could almost walk on them. In fact, as the summer progresses and the weeds grow the heaviest weedbeds in the shallow spots make the water oxygen-depleted. Tiny fish can live there but probably not the ones you are looking for.
The best pike spots anytime except for the first couple weeks of the season are going to be where underwater weeds grow. These can be anywhere there is some soil on the bottom. The deeper the weeds the better. In fact you might not even be able to tell they are there unless you hook them which isn't going to happen with surface lures. So the point is, use your surface lures everywhere, around rocks and reefs, around logs, along sections of shoreline with no visible weeds.
Use them in exactly the same places you would fish with any other lure! Just do it when the water is calm or nearly so, like mornings and evenings and days with little or no wind.
Now, for surface lures that actually work -- no RUBBER frogs!
There are a bunch of lures that go by the generic description of "jerk baits" that are excellent. These are generally torpedo-shaped plugs with no lips to impart wiggling or diving action. The most famous of these is the Zara Spook. It works wonderfully but so do some no-name imitations. However, you generally get what you pay for and the Spook, although a little pricey, is excellent.
My favourite jerk bait has a name that I hesitate to mention. It is the Live Target Walking -- and here I suggest you sit on your hands and turn your back away from the nearest patch of lily pads -- Frog.
I'll repeat it, the Live Target Walking Frog. Holy cow does this thing work!
It is not made of rubber. It doesn't have two upturned hooks and it isn't weedless (aka fishless).
It isn't even shaped much like a frog but rather like a banana. Admittedly it is painted like a frog.
With the Spook or Walking Frog, you cast it out and it floats on the surface. You reel your line up until there is just a little slack and give your rod tip a jerk (hence the jerk bait name). The lure zigs right. You reel up again and with just a little slack left, give the line another jerk. The lure zigs left. Experiment until you get the rhythm correct and the lure is zig-zagging all the way back to the boat. In the case of the Walking Frog, it zig-zags and hops on each jerk.
These lures not only leave a wake on the surface as they are retrieved, they also splash and that seems to be part of the attraction.
They do not need to be painted in frog patterns although those indeed do work. What if you were trying to imitate a dying fish? Silver (shiners, tulibee, whitefish, suckers)? Orange (perch)? Gold (walleye). Blue also works but I'm not sure what it might look like. Black works too and might be the best for silhouette when seen from below.
Another surface lure that works for pike is the popper. Long, skinny poppers might be better than short, fat ones. The Rapala Skitter Pop caught a bunch of pike for one group at camp last summer. They were absolutely sold on it.
With these you jerk your rod tip and it makes the lure "chug" along the surface.
Then there are the lures that make a commotion when retrieved steadily. Many of these have a propeller of some kind involved.  The buzz bait is one such lure. It doesn't float but moves to the surface as it is retrieved, then churns away making both a wake and a lot of sound.
The Jitter Bug is another example of a noisy floating lure. It has a lip that makes the lure thrash back and forth when retrieved.
The key to using surface lures, at least at first, is to pick calm water conditions to try them. Once you have caught some fish this way you will be "hooked." It is so much fun watching pike come flying out of the water that it is difficult to fish any other way.

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joe overman said...

No doubt! The Zara Spook! The last four or five years it has been my most productive lure, not to mention the fun! I'll tell you a story come may!

Dennis Sheble said...

We fish for Pike every evening after supper and afternoons when the Walleyes slow down. Zara Spooks are excellent along with Cisco Kid Toppers. We usually have non stop action. It is thrilling to watch the swirls, swipes and ferocious hits you don't ever see fishing below the surface. A REAL BLAST!'