But remember, once procreation begins, feeding ebbs, so play your hand accordingly. Bulrushes are good, as are cattails and rice paddies.
First, they provide the egg-laying environment that attracts pike from far. In the spring, I've seen huge pike travel streams that could be stepped across. Second, said bays host sufficient rations, namely panfish. Information from area bait shops and resorts can also be instructive.
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Swampy fields of standing vegetation that seem suited for dabbling ducks rank high, as do shallow, weeded bays and tributaries leading to said places. Pike fancy the flexibility of resting in warming current-free water and snatching innocent prey at the current break. But even then, rivers continue to produce. If the water is sufficiently clear, Skarlis likes to sight-fish backwater pike. Leer also explores shallow bays, but he knows pike won't dawdle there forever.
Once he sights some, Skarlis pitches big soft jerkbaits in front of them. Major rivers invariably feature extensive backwaters that bloat during the spring thaw, creating all sorts of feeding and breeding habitat. Even the conspicuous see of water through a bog and cattails constitutes an inlet because, again, the warmth and richness spur a chain reaction of foraging.
Pick big ones, something in the thousands of acres, because they simply hold more and bigger fish. Super-shallow ones - those not dipping past, say, 4 to 6 feet - provide supreme breeding habitat, but a short-lived bite, as choking weeds invade and water temperatures escalate into uncomfortable zones. They harbor more pike, and fish linger there longer, not being forced out by early-summer heat and subsequent lack of oxygen and forage. Overall, multi-dimensional bays are preferred to slough-like coves.
Griz gets duly jazzed if his magic window of depth appears in a known spawning bay. A lot of times we'll fish walleyes in the morning and evening, and switch to pike in the middle of the day. That warm afternoon sun really riles 'em up.
Skarlis fishes a 6- or 8-inch Lindy Tiger Tube. And their sheer size and wealth of structure also factor into why rivers nurture such large pike. Visit them again at first ice with tip-ups and a bucket of suckers. Springtime is pike time and that's a good place to begin. Together, they enter sacred breeding grounds to propagate.
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Casting is effective, so is trolling where legal and snags aren't prevalent. He varies the speed of the retrieve and incorporates slides, pauses and twitches. A mention of inlets gets me thinking about the relationship between pike and tributaries. Oversized plastics yield a large but slow-moving target, making them ideal for sight-oriented feeders like pike. Bluegills and crappies also invade shallow soft-bottomed bays, but to their dismay, hostile pike are there to greet them.
Surely, variations exist but it's a pretty reliable range, and pike will use it for several weeks. Not all bays are created equal either.
That same spreheet of data should also reveal information about the pike population. These are excellent for pre-spawn fishing, and during cool and high-water springs when weeds remain manageable through May and into June.
Effectively, the vast majority of spring pike fishing occurs on lakes, but not just any old body of water will do. Hyper shallows also rejuvenate in the fall, after heavy greenery collapses and temperatures become comfortable once more. The breeding process occurs in backwaters off the main channel, as well as upstream on feeder creeks into sundry backwaters and sloughs. In a lake setting, areas with current rate above all others.
At some point he converts into a main-lake guy, looking for pike close to but not within shallow bays.
He sneakily motors around wooded and vegetated stretches, peering for cruisers. The erratic gliding action of squishy baitfish-looking soft jerkbaits maddens even neutral and non-aggressive pike. The warmed and fertile water establishes groundwork for an entire food chain that concludes with top-line predators, like pike.
Enough about rivers. Call it the crappie connection. Food runs and spawning runs often share common terrain. Skarlis experiments with both live and dead bait, running live suckers about halfway down, because pike will rise great distances to hit a struggling minnow. Decades of fishing and thousands of pike later, Griz has the spring pike binge narrowed down to 6, 7 and 8 feet of water. He's content with a limit of 2- and 3-pounders, so long as there's a sharp knife back at camp for Y-boning.
For the rest of us who don't have an uninterrupted pike season, spring piking comes later with statewide openers. In lake-like bays, pike spawn in the shallows, recuperate and then gradually move to the bays' deeper areas, notably weedlines. Rarely do they talk pike, but when cornered - and if nobody else is listening - they fall off the wagon into a bender of pike data.
No creek is too small or bottom too silted. This notion is further realized in the spring because current invites pike to feed and spawn. Dick "Griz" Gryzwinski, a renowned walleye expert, also sidetracks occasionally and hunts big pike. The submarine backs of to inch gals occasionally break the surface. The typical pike angler is best associated with pickling, slime and that horrid sun-baked stench that never leaves a boat's upholstery. Backwaters are best attacked with artificials. Well, that sort of depends on your geographic placement, because in areas with continuous seasons, open-water pike fishing commences the day the ice goes out.
Check Department of Natural Resources data and search for lakes containing baitfish like ciscoes, smelt, suckers, whitefish and even jumbo perch. Rigged weightless, oversized soft-plastic tubes also taunt and tease pike.
They offer opulent forage bases, which generally include nutrient-packed suckers, shad, sheepshead and sometimes whitefish. At which point, Leer simply runs outside the bay and begins picking apart features on the big-lake side. Greater river systems are undoubtedly some of North America's finest pike rookeries. Spring piking on lakes - like spring piking on rivers - is about warm and shallow spaces with an abundance of eats. Professional Walleye Trail angler and self-proclaimed river rat Tommy Skarlis has a surreptitious affinity for pike, especially spring 'gators.
I look for ones featuring good depth, 10 feet or more, and abundant features like humps, points, weedlines and inlets.
But during and right after spawn, the fishing's tough. Dead bait is better fixed close to the bottom, where dead creatures often settle naturally. This pre-spawn period is coveted.
Many are lakes unto themselves, sporting deep flats and offshore bars. Muscled but undersized males travel with swollen females. How early? If you're a 'gator hunter, you'll want to add these experts' tips and tricks to your arsenal. I nod and take notes, feeling somewhat guilty for enabling them, but continue gathering anyway.
Really big fish are exposed, cruising ankle- and knee-deep shallows.
Soon afterward, usually in late March and April, those fish move shallower to feed and later reproduce. Visually, mature pike appear as darkened logs that mystically glide through the shallows. Lately, it seems that the best pike information rains down from "closet" pike aficionados, guys who mask their backdoor pike addiction with more socially acceptable species like bass, walleyes and, yes, muskies.
Spring thaw and accompanying rains nourish creeks and rivers, and eventually it all ends up in our lakes.
In the spring, Skarlis likes to camp at the entrance of a likely backwater and drag a float and minnow around - not anchoring, but slow-trolling. His favorite backwaters also feature new weed growth submerged and stumps, particularly timbered points. Creeks known for their sucker runs are doubly attractive. Pay particular attention to creel surveys angler catchesbecause net samples aren't always fair indicators of average pike size - big pike often elude traps and meshing. There's also a smattering of anglers who take pride in catching and releasing mammoth pike, but they're a secretive and mysterious lot.
Shallow bays are tailor-made. And like Skarlis he begins the season on rivers, usually major river systems. On rivers and reservoirs where pike season is continuous, Skarlis scans for pre-spawn fish off steep rock breaks and below dams. Remember this: Where there are crappies, so will there be pike - spring, summer, winter and fall. Skarlis stays with his backwater theme, concentrating on connector areas to the main channel.