The Pike Of Summer

By Ted Peck - July 1, 2008
"Esox lucius" is known by many names beyond its official Latin designation. Water wolf. Gator. Snake…and several other more colorful descriptions not suitable for this newspaper. For many, northern pike are the black sheep of gamefish. Muskie hunters revile them. Bass anglers curse their tendency to eat $6 crankbaits and swim away. Panfishermen don't even want to bring them in the boat. If you can manage to land one without losing a lure northerns often initiate one of two different ploys to let you know it ain't over 'til its over.

One favorite trick is to roll and flop violently in the landing net, snarling the mesh in a Gordian knot which can take considerable time to untangle. If you can manage to scoop this toothy critter and dump it free of the net on the boat carpet the pike will often lay there motionless with a docile sneer until touched by the human hand…then proceed with a routine no break dancer could accomplish, spewing pungent pike slime all over the boat. Although pike are not capable of higher reasoning powers some swear these piscatory acrobatics are an intentional ploy to impale the angler with any remaining free hooks and get down to serious grappling-mano a pike-o.

Saavy pike anglers employ tools like the Boca grip or Fish-On gripper which enables relatively safe handling outside of the boat for either a quick release or rapid incarceration into the boat's livewell. Either option is a good one. Pike are serious predators, playing a positive role in balancing the watery world in which they live. Pike are also outstanding table fare. Some-including this writer-believe they are better eating than walleye. Pike meat is slightly sweeter and juicier than walleye. Once you fillet the "y" bones out of a pike the only difference between the two is that pike have a superior taste.

Because they provide thrilling combat and are profound on a plate, targeting this member of the Esox clan is a great way to spend a summer day. Pike are designed for fast attack. They have binocular vision which provides an exceptional advantage for homing in on targets directly in front of that toothy maw. Slow-mo video reveals how this fish actually coils its long, lean body into an "S" shape like a snake when attacking with a powerful tail working in conjunction with anal and caudal fins to provide a lightning fast assault on their would-be prey.

Pike learn early in life the value of prowling or hovering in locations where their attack skills can have optimum impact. This is why points-both over hard bottom and in vegetation like weedbeds-are good places to make a cast. These fish also like to hover under weeds facing a small opening in the vegetation attacking anything which closely resembles food that comes into their strike zone.

Some anglers have observed that pike in lake environments tend to behave like two different species with fish less than 30 inches living in the shallows and larger specimens probing deeper, cooler waters. Pike are considered a "cool water" species. Given the choice they will seek water temperatures at or below 70 degrees, provided other habitat parameters like oxygen requirements are met. If you're chasing pike at mid-day in a highly stratified lake choosing a bait which runs at a depth where the epliminion and thermocline layers meet, typically 10-15 feet, is a good way to put your lure in front of larger pike specimens.

Large pike living in riverine environments can orient comfortably in much shallower water. Points in weeds are still a favorite location. Especially those points where current tends to bring food past within striking distance.

Deadfalls and rocky barriers like wingdams also offer favorable conditions to pin prey. In either case a spinnerbait or bucktail is probably your best weapon. Although pike will usually garwoofle just about anything which looks like food that comes within striking distance, lures with orange, purple, yellow and red hues tend to trigger more strikes.

My personal favorite is a #5 Mepps Giant Killer bucktail with an orange blade, purple squirrel hair tail and two-inch yellow plastic fliptail impaled on one of the hooks fished behind a nine-inch flexible steel leader with ball bearing swivels and a cross-loc snap. This bait doesn't even come out of the tackle box until the Fish-On gripper is placed where it is readily accessible. Northern pike are a fish with many names, most of which have positive connotations if you can keep the toothy, slimy things out of your boat.

Author Ted Peck
Ted Peck
Cap'n Ted Peck has over 30 yrs. guiding experience, specializing in multi-species fishing on Pool 9-10 of the Mississippi from Genoa, Wi. to Prairie du Chien. Cap'n Ted is a pro staffer for Lund, Northland Tackle, MinnKota, Bill Lewis Lures, Evinrude, Uncle Josh, HT Enterprises and Custom Jigs & Spins. When not guiding Cap'n Ted communicates the outdoors experience via newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and through seminars. This work has taken him all over the midwest, Canada and beyond... but he always returns to the upper Mississippi which he considers the most diverse fishery in North America. Click here for more info on Ted's guide service. Cap'n Ted's new book Mississippi Musings with the Old Guide is a personal account of his long career as a professional fishing guide on Old Man River.