Here, in Michigan, like most states, pike just don’t get the respect they deserve. Maybe it is the belief that pike are eating the “more desirable” perch and walleyes. Maybe it the heavy layer of slime that will coat your net and hands in short order after handling one of these fish. Or the number of smaller pike, often called “hammer handles,” that seem to proliferate in certain locations. Then again, it could be their habit of biting through monofilament like a hot knife through butter when a fish grabs high. Too bad for those folks.
Northern pike, and particularly big northern pike, are truly worthy adversaries in the fishing world. Violent head shakes, swift thrusts of power that will bring your drag into the extreme level and will break a rod easily if that drag isn’t perfect, a fair chance at some tail-walking. And then those teeth to mind when you bring that fish on board.
If you look hard enough, and often enough, you will find another group of anglers, albeit a much smaller group. It is also a group that tends to be rather solitary in the pursuit of this fish. You won’t find them grouped up over one certain piece of water. More often than not they will be fishing alone, or maybe with just one other angler on board. And, like the most silent lipped trout angler, they will certainly not be giving up any particular location for you to try.
I have to admit, hammer handle pike are a nuisance– kind of like a room full of five-year-old children on a sugar buzz. Then again, those little pike could just grow up to be big pike if given a chance. Chastising these is no different than getting all upset over trout that are small or undersized bass.
As for getting cut off, just learn to deal with it. Use heavier mono leaders, say in the 50-pound range or steel leaders and your cutoffs go way down in frequency. Their slime? Get over it. It is their protection from a number of pests.
With the amount of good to superior pike waters available in this neck of the woods, if you are not a piker, maybe you ought to try becoming one. Dr. Teeth is a most worthy opponent.
As June starts winding down into full-blown summer northern pike retreat out of the shallows and head for deeper water. These fish can’t stand warm water and look for depths for some relief. In the dog days look for pike to be anywhere from 10 to 20 feet of water.
Specifically look for fish in these depths where there is a good deal of weed growth. While pike do favor some weeds more than others, they will seek out any that provide then both shade and camouflage. Besides staying a bit cooler, they are hiding in these weeds to ambush their prey.
If you look at a pike you’ll see that a pike’s eyes cannot look down, they are engineered to look straight out ahead and up. Knowing that, you’ll be wise to get baits that work the top 50 percent of the water column. Why? Because a good number of fish won’t even see your bait if you work it any deeper. And, a pike will launch himself like a cruise missile straight up to get after a likely looking piece of food.
The weed beds are important as it gives pike a place to wait in for food to come swimming by. Like a tiger in the jungles they ambush their prey. While not known for sustained long and speedy runs, pike have a sprinters metabolism– they get the afterburners lit in an instant to catch their dinner inside that tooth-filled mouth.
Those teeth are uniquely fit for a predator. Thin and needle sharp, they are also angled back towards the throat. That way, when a pike latches on to a fish and the soon to be eaten fish tries to get away it simply impales itself deeper into the pike’s teeth. The teeth are also finely serrated, making quick work of your line, or your fingers if they get too close.
Big spinnerbaits in either all white or hot orange, and Magnum Shad Raps in fire-tiger or perch finish are good baits to start with. Pike seem to like hot colors, or at least get aggravated by them to the point of striking out in anger. Big, as in magnum-sized stickbaits are another good option with suspending baits generally working better than the floating or sinking variety.
The best place to work these are right on the edges of the weedbeds and into the small cuts and openings when the weedbeds are expansive.
Fly rodders should begin with an 8-wt fly rod and matching reel. A short leader is all that is needed, and like in casting lures, you’ll want a beefy mono tippet or a steel leader at the terminal end. Big gaudy streamers seem to be the summer ticket to success.
Now, it takes truly special waters for pike to grow consistently large. Yes, some smaller bodies of water will have a few of the bruiser variety, but day in and day out, big pike need big water.
Southern Lower Peninsula
Lake Muskegon; www.visitmuskegon.org
Lake Macatawa; www.holland.org
Lake St. Clair; www.visitdetroit.com
Northern Lower Peninsula
Manistee Lake; www.mansitee-cvb.com
Houghton Lake; www.visithoughtonlake.com
Thunder Bay; www.alpenacvb.com
Portage/Torch Lake; www.keweenaw.info
Les Cheneaux Islands; www.lescheneaux.net
Green Bay; www.cityofmenominee.org
Written by Dan Donarski, a noted professional outdoor and travel journalist, July 2010.