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Good News Ice-Out Pike

Christian Zimmer says that early spring is when many of the biggest pike are caught in Northern Ontario • Credit: Gord Pyzer
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Good News Ice-Out Pike

Find out why the biggest pike are caught this time of year

Why ice out is when some of the biggest pike are caught in Northern Ontario.

Good news, folks, it is only a matter of days before we will be launching our boats and getting out on the water for another exhilarating fishing season in Northern Ontario. I have to confess, too, that several days ago I pulled the tarp off the 16-foot Alumacraft V-hull I use to fish the many small and medium-size lakes scattered across Sunset Country. And my rods and reels are all rigged up and ready to go.

So, it is fair to say that I am chomping at the bit.

And the first fish of the season to come into the boat will be the northern pike. Hopefully, several of the gargantuan toothy critters that spawn in the spring earlier than all of the other popular sport species.

It is the stuff of dreams that avid fishing friend, Christian Zimmer and I were recently discussing. Christian is completing his degree at Trent University where he is studying northern pike behaviour, and I asked him what gems of wisdom he might share with anglers hoping to make contact with the fish in the days ahead.

"Studies have shown that the pike spawning season can be extremely protracted," Zimmer says, "lasting for as long as eight weeks. This is especially true in Northern Ontario as different bays, depending on their orientation, may have pike in the pre-spawn, spawn or post-spawn stages.

angler fishing norhthern pike

Northern pike spawn in the spring in bays that are typically one-foot to five feet deep with mud bottoms surrounded by bulrushes. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

"Ice out, however, is generally when some of the biggest pike are caught. The large females are concentrated in the spawning bays, whereas in the summer, the fish will disperse to the main lake where they are not as easily targeted by most anglers."

According to Zimmer, pike begin laying their eggs when the water temperature reaches a still chilly 40 F, which means that in many cases they are spawning in open bays while ice still covers much of the main lake.

"As soon as the ice allows me to get out on the water," says Zimmer, "I am fishing the necked-down entrances to the spawning bays. This allows me to catch pike that are staging to spawn, spawning and in some cases, finished spawning.

Mark Stiffel landed this magnificent early spring Kesagami Lake pike by first spotting and then carefully stalking it. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

"Spawning bays are typically one-foot to five-feet deep, with mud bottoms surrounded by bulrushes. Key locations within the bays that you should always fish are feeder creeks and streams, rock outcroppings and beaver lodges. Pike will surprise you in terms of how far up these creeks they will travel and how far they will tuck themselves into the back of a bay."

Because the fish will often stage in extremely shallow water, hugging the shoreline, Zimmer says it is important to make long casts as close to the bank as possible.

And he says the early bird doesn't always get the worm.

"Sometimes bays that didn’t hold any pike in the morning can see movements of fish into them as the day progresses and the water temperatures warm," Zimmer notes. "As the temperature rises throughout the day, the pike activity will also go up.

An avid big toothy critter angler in his own right, Zimmer says anglers need to pay close attention to the fishes' attitudes in order to determine what lures to tie onto the ends of their lines.

"I have fished one bay where you couldn’t keep the pike from biting your lure," Zimmer notes, "whereas in the next bay over, I couldn’t buy a bite. Sometimes, in a single bay, you can have a mix of attitudes because pike have such a protracted spawning season."

Determine the fish’s attitude accurately, however, and you will be in for the action for a lifetime.

Gord Pyzer landed his biggest pike ever, fishing early in the season on Northeastern Ontario’s famous Kesagami Lake. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

"This is what draws thousands of anglers to resorts and lodges across Northern Ontario in the spring," says Zimmer. "Pre-spawn pike will feed heavily leading into the spawn, and post-spawn pike are looking to recover energy from the ordeal. So they're extremely opportunistic feeders.

"Spawning and early post-spawn fish represent a unique and at the same time, frustrating challenge," Zimmer chuckles, "but in my opinion, they are also the most rewarding to catch. This is usually when anglers have the best chance of encountering the biggest pike of their lives, as this is when the females are most concentrated. But the fish aren't focused on feeding, and to the dismay of thousands of anglers, they will not open their mouths when you bounce a spoon off of their heads. Does this mean they are impossible to catch? No, but it does mean you have to shift gears and become a hunter."

Be sure to catch Part Two of Gord Pyzer's exclusive interview with northern pike specialist Christian Zimmer next week, when they talk about early season pike fishing tactics.

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