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Quick Strike Pike in Northern Ontario

Sault Ste. Marie native Kraig Coulter with a huge northern pike he caught using a dead sucker attached to a quick strike rig. • Credit: Gord Pyzer

If this past weekend was any indication, hold onto your hats. Big, bold, beautiful northern Ontario trophy pike are moving shallow.

And man, oh, man are they hungry!

As if to complement the spectacular fishing, the weather across Northern Ontario is almost ubiquitously gorgeous, warming up wonderfully, making it a joy to be out on the ice. As a matter of fact, you better splash on plenty of sunscreen, or you'll risk resembling one of the "smokies" my grandson, Liam and I cooked for lunch over our campfire on Saturday.

To tell the truth, however, lunch was a hit-and-miss proposition because the pike kept interrupting our banquet. Seems every time we went to bite down on our savoury "hot dogs", another pike would pop a flag sending us off running to land it.

It is typical of the action you can expect from now until the ice finally honeycombs and leaves the lakes in Northern Ontario. As a matter of fact, the action will continue to get better in the days ahead, reaching a crescendo in about two to three weeks' time.

But why wait?

Being the first fish to spawn in the spring, often laying their eggs while ice still covers much of the lake, northern pike moves shallow at this time of year and feeds heartily, building up their energy supplies. And there is nothing they prefer devouring more than a fresh, dead, foot-long sucker, cisco or even a mackerel that you've bought at the local grocery store or fish market, attached to a quick-strike rig.

Indeed, the biggest pike in Northern Ontario relishes the biggest baits you can often find, so don't be afraid to present them with an outlandish-sized morsel.

Obviously, however, when you are using foot-long dead baits weighing a pound or more, you need beefy gear, like the Arctic Bay Polar style tip-ups made by the folks at H.T Enterprise. I spool mine with a 50-pound test Sufix Performance tip-up line finding it not only strong but tangle-free when I throw it on the ice as I hand-land a big pike. By the way, it is also colour-coded every 5 feet, so you can monitor the depth of the water you're fishing.

The key, however, to fishing dead baits properly under tip-ups, is the quick-strike rig that you attach to the end. And, alas, there is so much confusion about quick-strike rigs that it is time to set the record straight.

Buddy Doug Stange, who is also the Editor in Chief of In-Fisherman Magazine and host of the In-Fisherman Television Show is the best quick-strike pike angler I know. And Doug will be the first to tell you, he learned the tricks of the trade from the finest Dutch, German and British anglers who long ago perfected the amazing technique.

I've also spent countless hours overseas, in England and Scandinavia, with folks like famed English angler Nige Williams, and have learned the fine points of fishing dead baits on quick-strike rigs.

A Secret

Close up of a quick strike rig. Author Gord Pyzer with a huge trophy northern pike caught on the Winnipeg River system in Northwestern Ontario's Sunset Country. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

The first secret is not separating the two hooks -- small Gamakatsu #4 and #6 trebles crimped to a thin titanium wire leader -- more than 2 1/2 to 3 inches apart. For some strange reason, many novice quick-strike riggers think they need to space the hooks 4, 5, even 6 inches apart but it is never the case. Indeed, it is a mistake to space them too far apart, just as it is a mistake to rig your dead bait so that it hangs horizontally in the water.

Rather, as we have learned from the experts, you want your dead bait hanging vertically, straight up and down, under your hole. You do this by lightly sticking one tine from the uppermost treble hook under the skin, along the back of the baitfish, near the tail. One tine from the bottom hook is then attached lightly under the skin near the dorsal fin.

When you fix your dead bait to the hooks in this manner, it will hang vertically under your tip up and the front half of the bait will be "hookless", which is precisely the way you want it to be. This is because a pike will always attack the bait head first, so when it has it fully in its mouth, the hooks will not be positioned deep inside the throat -- where it can mortally wound the fish -- but rather in the area around the lips.

angler ice fishing for northern pike

(Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

It is a critical point and the reason we have successfully released every big pike we've hooked -- without exception -- in more than 35 years of quick-strike rigging.

Something else to keep in mind: they are called "quick strike" rigs for a reason. You set the hook the minute you see a flag fly. You don't wait for the fish to "turn the bait" and you don't linger until you see the spindle on your tip up start moving.

"Hello" -- that is why they're called "quick-strike rigs".

But enough talk -- I reckoned a picture is worth a thousand words, so when Liam and I were enjoying the splendid action on the weekend, I shot the following short video to help show you how easy it is to properly set a quick strike trap, to catch the biggest Northern Ontario pike of your life.

Enjoy the thrill, take a few quick photos for the memories and then carefully release the big giants so they can lay their eggs and you can catch them again next year when you make a return visit to your Northern Ontario pike wonderland.

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