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Prodigious Pike Aplenty

Christian Zimmer says that early spring is when many of the biggest pike are caught in Northern Ontario
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Prodigious Pike Aplenty

Discover what the ideal presentation is for northern pike

Northern Pike researcher and angling specialist Christian Zimmer talks about some of the ideal presentations needed to catch Ontario Trophy Northern Pike.

In last week's blog, I interviewed northern pike researcher and angling specialist Christian Zimmer about early season fish behaviour, and where anglers should look for pike when the ice finally leaves the lakes and rivers across Northern Ontario.

This week, let's hear what Zimmer has to say about some of the ideal presentations that anglers need to stuff into their northern pike quivers.

"As I mentioned last week," says Zimmer, "it is important to determine the specific phase of the spawn (pre-spawn, spawn, or post-spawn) that the fish are in, and then match your presentation accordingly.

"I always start the day casting small spoons, like a 1/3-ounce Little Cleo or Johnson Silver Minnow, tipped with a plastic grub. A steady retrieve will catch fish, but if you impart small accelerations and then pause the lure, you will trigger many more strikes.

"I begin at the mouth of a bay where the water is deeper, say five to eight feet deep, and then work my way back into the shallow ends. When I am casting the spoons, I am always gauging the activity level of the fish. If I see that they are willing to chase the lures, then I'll enjoy some of the most phenomenal pike fishing of the season.  You can watch pike after pike pursues your lure like torpedoes. This is pre-spawn and post-spawn Northern Ontario pike fishing at its best."

Zimmer is also quick to point out that when you time it right and hit the northern pike jackpot, you can enjoy non-stop action all day long.

"You can definitely catch trophy pike this way, too," says Zimmer, "but typically during the pre-spawn and post-spawn stages you are catching aggressive males that are either gearing up to spawn or are lingering in the spawning bays in the hope that more opportunities to spawn are going to arise."

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

If he notices that the pike is not reacting to his lures, or he sees big fish shying away, Zimmer says they are telling him it is time to slow down and start hunting. 

"These fish are likely in the actual spawning phase," he says. "And it is your best chance at catching the biggest pike of your life.

"Before I reach the mouth of a bay, I will shut off my main motor and begin casting while I use the electric or even a paddle to slowly work my way into the bay. Being stealthy is extremely important as these fish are often sitting in shallow water and thus, very skittish. I compare fishing for spawning pike in shallow bays to be analogous to fly fishing for bonefish in saltwater.

"This bonefish-style of spot-and-stalk is the main tactic I use for pre-spawn and spawning pike. It is more akin to hunting than it is to fishing because you have to spot the fish first and then stalk it, as opposed to casting blindly." 

Zimmer relies on polarized sunglasses to see the fish, noting that giant pike often appears as dark shadows or logs lying on the bottom. A streak of muddy water is a sure sign, too, that you've spooked a big fish, so Zimmer takes every precaution possible to minimize dropping anything on the bottom of the boat or making a sudden movement. 

"A big pike may not spook initially if you drift over it," Zimmer says, "but the closer you place the boat to the fish the less likely you are to have them strike your lure. 

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 warms

"When conditions allow it, I like to keep the boat at least 10-yards away from a fish that I've spotted. Then I make long casts, bringing my lure to within a foot or two of the fish. There are only a few select lures that I will use for this inactive pike, and they all share the same characteristic of hanging in front of the fishes’ faces."

If you're wondering what the first lure is that Zimmer reaches for when he targets spawning pike, it is a 6- to 9-inch soft-plastic Sluggo rigged weedless on an 8/0 offset hook. He says there are two reasons this style of lure is so effective.

"It is almost neutrally buoyant," says Zimmer, "so it hangs in front of their face for a long time. And it is easy to work because you don’t need to impart much action. I also use a light titanium leader to ensure that it doesn't weigh down the bait. Anglers need to remember that spawning fish do not want to eat. Even more to the point, they do not want to move far or fast to hit your lure. This means that you have to slow down and pique their interest."

Zimmer does this by casting his Sluggo past the fish, imparting twitches and pauses as he brings it closer, all the while trying to gauge the big pike's temperament. 

We’re not saying that fishing for pike in Northern Ontario is child’s play, but as Liam Whetter will tell you, it is not that difficult either

"If the fish turns towards your bait," says Zimmer, his voice becoming more animated, "it is game on. Sometimes when you pause the Sluggo, the fish will put its nose on it, flare its gills and suck it in.  If it doesn't, however, twitch the bait away from it and try to make it chase."

If the cat-and-mouse game doesn't work as planned and a giant pike turns away, Zimmer says don’t be disheartened. Keep track of the direction the fish swims away and get ready to cast to it again.

"I have spent up to 45 minutes chasing a particularly big fish before I finally coaxed it to strike," says Zimmer. "You just have to remain determined, and focused on the tactic, because it will pay off for you. Oh, yes, cloudy and windy conditions can make this style of cat-and-mouse fishing tough, so take advantage of every calm, bluebird day in Northern Ontario this spring."  

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