While many anglers throughout the Midwest are focusing on walleyes, bass, and crappies throughout the months of May and June, a few crazy pike anglers are cashing in on a big pike bonanza! We all know that probably the best time to catch a big old heavy pike is just beneath the ice as they prepare to spawn in the early stages of human spring. However, in many areas of the Midwest, the pike season is closed to protect these bruisers until the middle of May. The narrow mid-May into mid-June window is a perfect time frame to grab some bruiser pike before they slip into the icy depths for the remainder of the summer!
Big pike are a cold water fish. The biggest of the pike seek out water temps of around 55º, much like a salmon. Warm water puts the kibosh on big pike activity, hence why anglers have to take advantage of the cool waters that are still lingering throughout May and the first half of June. Little pike (2-8 lb.) don’t care as much about warm water (70º+), but the big dudes (10-20 lb.+) do. Surface water temps of 65º or less will keep the big gators in the shallows all day. Once those surface temps reach near 70º they tend to vacate to deeper coolers waters rapidly. Until that happens, they can easily be found and caught in the shallower cold water (5-15 ft.).
I look for developed/developing weed beds found on expansive shoreline flats in that 6-12 ft. range that collide with deep water (50 ft.+) via a nice deep weed line. Better yet, a weed flat like this near where the fish may have spawned earlier in the Spring (creeks/sloughs/shallow weedy bays connected to the lake—things like that). They need the deep water nearby to go to when the water does reach an uncomfortable range for the fish. Large openings in the weed beds, fingers of weeds that jut out into the water column to create a “weed point”, and the edge of the main weed bed itself are all areas the pike will use as ambush areas to feed. Thicker or thinner portions of the weed bed can also be an attention getter.
Once I locate the basic weed bed or weed flat I’m going to fish, I utilize the side imaging feature on my Humminbird Helix 12 to literally map out the exact edge or shape of the weed bed to try to pinpoint these ambush areas. I am also “Drawing” the general shape of the weed bed with the GPS boat trail. If conditions are right and the settings are dialed in, you can actually see a large pike sitting next to the weed edge waiting to be caught! Now that the “map of attack” has been created, time to get out the ammo.
Big tandem or triple bladed spinner baits are a great option for these conditions and my go to presentation when dealing with any large weedy flat environment. They have a big bait/big food profile, awesome flash and flicker for visual stimulation, and obviously a ton of vibration to help the fish find the bait even faster. Not to mention, spinner baits can be trolled (I feel that trolling at a high speed using the prop wash as an attractor can be better than casting/retrieving) at any speed to control lure depth, bottom, mid-column, or surface, depending on the height and thickness of the weeds. Spinnerbaits are basically weedless. Another advantage of trolling at higher speeds (1.8-2.8 mph) is that much more water is being covered increasing your odds of finding that one or two big pike hidden in acres of weeds. Tip: Add a large stinger hook and a bright colored Berkley Gulp twister tail for added size and flavor!
Some of the best producing large spinner baits are a Leena Lures tri-willow blade or a Northland Tackle Reed-Runner (3/4-1 oz.). I tend to use silver/black/grey combos to imitate the crappies these pike are eating in these weed beds or a black/green/white combo to imitate the bass or small pike they are eating as well. Be prepared by pairing these presentations with a 7’-8’ two handed heavy or med/heavy casting/trolling rod like a Berkley Lightning rod loaded with a level wind reel like a ABU Garcia 6500 wrapped with 20-36 lb. line to help haul these brutes out of the cover. With 2-3 people in the boat, stagger the distances each lure is behind the boat. Have at least one bait in or near the prop wash while the other baits are somewhere in the range of 10-20 yards behind the boat.
Troll along the edge of the weed bed first (using the trail you created earlier), then focus on the internal weed edges you found earlier as well. And finally, troll a random zig-zag pattern while varying the boat/lure speed (using a grid pattern for reference) so that not one inch of the weed bed is left uncovered. Mark spots where strikes occurred whether the fish was caught or not and note the boat speed that triggered the fish. These fish are somewhat territorial and if revisited later (like musky fishing) can be caught. Most importantly, take a quick picture and gently release these big gals for future generations to enjoy!
Lotsa Fish! Lotsa Fun! Minnesota Fishing Guide Service
Capt. Josh Hagemeister – 320-291-0708 • 218-732-9919