Early Season Northern Pike
Big early season northern pike are on the minds of most anglers as the icy grip of winter slowly releases itself and resigns to longer days, warmer temperatures and the inevitable arrival of spring, then summer. Winters in Canada are punishing for all creatures including our fish so the onset of spring is a welcomed event! Over the winter, Pike tend to slow their metabolism, eat only when needed and generally maintain. When spring starts to poke around, a few interesting things happen.
Early spring, in Ontario, pike fishing is not permitted as the pike are in full spawning mode, you’ll often see big females flanked by smaller males in shallower warmer bays. Take note of this if you’re out scouting.
Once the spawn is over and the regulations allow anglers to target pike, the fishing can more often than not, be fantastic. So where do you begin during the spring to locate and target big early season northern pike?
If you can find live vegetation, you’ll probably find pike. Most likely, vegetation will start to grow in the shallower parts of the lake or river. Light penetration is greatest in shallow water and therefore the water will warm up faster than the main or deeper parts of the lake. A couple of things will happen here. As the vegetation begins to grow, it starts to gas off oxygen, which will attract baitfish. This in turn will attract pike. The vegetation also provides shelter for many species so pike will hang around looking for an opportunity for an easy meal.
When searching for early season northern pike, don’t every pass by a creek, inflow, outflow area of the lake. Often inflows are ideal spawning areas as the well-oxygenated water promotes early vegetation growth and will attract food fish for big pike. Walleye, suckers, shiners and other kinds of baitfish to name a few.
Mid spring, pike will congregate to shallower warmer bays in search of food and warm water. Both will kick start the fish from the doldrums of winter. However pike can also be found hanging around areas of structure. Think old bulrushes, stumps, beaver lodges. Many of these structures will be near deeper water. Pike will come up to the emerging structure, and slip back into the deeper water when needed. This is a wonderful opportunity to sight fish big pike.
Remember pike are cool water fish. They will hang around these haunts until the water starts to get warmer. As the temperatures rise, the fish will move to maintain that cool water feelin’ 18-20 degrees is their happy zone.
Early angling season might find northern pike quite lethargic in cold water, however as the water warms up, the fish loosen up and are more willing to chase baits. I like to start super slow in the spring and let the fish tell me what they want. I generally begin with large soft plastic baits such as large swim baits; tubes and soft minnow pattern lures. Fish these over the holes in emerging weed beds pausing over the opening. Sub surface glide baits are a good option as well because you can vary your retrieve dramatically. Pike will be feeding on forage fish which may be walleye, perch, whitefish, trout and even other smaller pike, so in choosing a crank bait, keep profile in mind and try to match sizes of baitfish you may be seeing. And finally, you can’t go wrong with slow rolling a spinner bait or and inline spinner. The vibration these lures throw of is intoxicating to pike. Think S…L…O…W. Fish your baits super slow and increase your speed as the water warms up.