Winter spearfishermen, who fish out of a dark house and use decoys, know that trophy time for pike is during the colder water period. They take many more trophies than ice fishing hook and line anglers. Big pike feed actively in cold water. The longer a given body of water stays cool, the longer into the season that big pike stay active.
The Canadian North is a perfect example of this theory. Many of the lakes rarely approach or exceed the stress zone and thereby ensure that the pike stay active all year long.
To grow big pike, another words to reach maximum growth potential, not only must there be the right food but proper habitat.
In regard to habitat, we need several types to produce giant pike. First we need shallow water with plenty of cover to serve as spawning and rearing areas. For the pike to make the transition to the next level, we need a deeper environment; the drop off along a weed edge for example. This will still provide cover and a larger source of food.
However, to make those transitions to really big fish, we need underwater humps and a deep open water environment with free roaming species like Cisco's and whitefish. These ingredients can carry the pike to maximum growth levels.
Assuming the lake you are fishing for pike has all the ingredients to produce trophy pike. Then, when is the best time to catch them during the open water season?
Without question, one of the top periods is the pre-spawn. Check local regulations to make sure the season is open in the area you intend to fish, some states have closed seasons during this period.
Bays are the prime location for pre-spawn fish. And bays that warm the quickest get the first action. Bays that face the southern sun warm quickest and draw the first fish. Conversely, those that lay opposite won't turn on until later, thus providing one of natures truest safeguards, the principle of uneven activity. In all but the worst of years this ensures that there will be some sort of recruitment, thus guaranteeing the future of the species.
Pike prefer off-colored, soft-bottomed bays with vegetation, which at this time of year will be carry over. Muck bottoms are better than hard bottoms, and darker is better than clear water. A feeder stream flowing into the bay ads warming and also introduces color to the water. However, muddy water is not good.
Bays with a neck down, thereby separating and protecting them from the cold main lake waters are far superior to the more exposed type.
Periods of steady warming weather will bring the fish towards the backs of the bays and continuously shallower. Cold fronts will bring them more towards the front of the bay; suspended in deeper water.
When the weather is of the steady warming variety, the fish will be at the backs of bays in shallow water. My favorite presentation by a long shot for this situation is the Rapala Husky in the silver color. The clown color and silver gold also excite me as well. I find the Husky is a top-notch performer in shallow snaggy conditions.
I like to work it stop and go, or jerk and rest motion, imitating the wounded minnow approach. The slow approach is the best as the fish's metabolism is not up to speed. You just can't be to slow with this presentation.
If I find I am getting a bunch of follows with no cigars, then I'll switch to spinner baits. Almost any color seems to work, but red is my favorite. Once again, slow is the order of the day.
However, if the weather has been acting up and we've had some frontal conditions then I'll move out towards the mouth of the bay into deeper water and use the Rapala HJ14 Husky Jerk, which is 5 and ½ " long and weighs ½ ounce. The same colors work, but don't get tunnel vision on color. Don't be afraid to experiment, play around; you never know what might turn up.
If I need more depth, then I'll use the Rapala CD 11 Countdown, which falls at a rate of one foot per second, giving me depth and precision at the same time.
For all of the presentations, I'll use the St. Croix Premier PC66M coupled with Shimano Calcutta CT-400 reels and 14 LB green monofilament line. This setup is easy to work for long periods, casts well, and has the backbone to land the biggest of pike.
I know I don't need to remind you cause none of us would neglect to sharpen our hooks, would we. I've learned that lesson the hard way, by loosing some monster fish. Don't let it happen to you.
It won't be long and I'll be at Witch Bay on the Lake of the Woods in early May fishing those big pike. Give it a try, it's a whole new game. Remember to catch, photo, and release; these trophies are old fish and should not be harvested. Good luck!