Skinny Water Porky Pike by walleye pro John Kolinski.

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Skinny water, porky pike

By JOHN KOLINSKI

Northern pike have a knack for getting an anglerís attention.
Sometimes, they stop your heart by rising unexpectedly from the depths for an
audacious attack. Sometimes, they test your heart by looking you right in the eye before sliding back into the shadows.
Sometimes, they break your heart when their sheer size and strength make them
too much to handle on rod and reel.
These tempestuous torpedos can get your attention through the ice, too,
especially late in the season when they congregate in shallow sloughs and
backwaters off main river channels to gorge themselves before the spawn.
Most of our Midwestern river systems harbor strong populations of pike with
more trophy potential than a lot of anglers realize. Those paddle-sized
predators haunt the deeper recesses of the main channels and backwaters
year-round, but only a few are caught.
John Kolinski with a huge norethern pike
Late February and early March draws them into areas where they are
accessible, abundant, and cooperative.
Pike typically spawn when the water temperature begins to climb past the
40-degree mark. They are random spawners that scatter their eggs over
decaying aquatic vegetation in shallow water with little or no current.
More importantly, these pike move into those shallow sloughs and backwater
ponds (two to five feet deep) before the ice breaks up, and they feed heavily
as they prepare for the spawning ritual. Theyíre easy to catch, if not always
easy to land.
If your timing is right, the action can be steady for some of the biggest
pike in the system.
The males tend to move into these areas first. If youíre catching them, rest
assured the bigger females arenít far behind.
One thing to remember when pursuing these fish is that conditions are seldom
the same from year to year, or even from day to day, in a river system.
Changes in water levels affect the areas these pike will haunt. Last yearís
hot slough may not be the place to fish this year. Access from the main
channel is a key characteristic. While pike and the fish they like to eat
(suckers, chubs, shiners, etc.) donít need much water depth to get into these
sloughs, they donít want to risk being trapped.
The good news is that it usually doesnít take long to determine whether a
slough or backwater is holding pike. These areas are typically small enough
to be sampled quickly, and the fish are usually aggressive enough to let you
know if theyíre present.
The quality of the ice is another important consideration. What was safe one
day may not be so safe a day or two later if the river suddenly rises or
falls.
Tip-ups are the most effective tools for catching these giants. Spread as
many as you can around an area depending on the regulations in your state.
Make sure to place them at least 30-40 feet apart. It will help you cover the
area thoroughly, but it will also help avoid the problems that can occur when
a 15-pound pike realizes itís hooked.
High-quality, heavyweight line and wire leaders are a must. Without the
benefit of a fishing rod to help wear down the fish, your line needs to be
strong enough to allow you to do battle hand-to-hand with the confidence to
try and turn a big fish when necessary. And when you are fishing in shallow
water, most of the fight will be carried out just beneath the ice, which
means your line will be subject to all kinds of abuse from sharp and jagged
edges.
A combination that has worked well for me starts with a backing of 50-pound
test Berkley Fish wont let go Fireline followed by 20 feet of 30-pound test Berkley Trilene
XL, which offers the stretch (and the margin for error) needed to handle big,
ornery and unpredictable pike. Leaders should be at least nine inches in
length and no less than 30-pound test.
Dead chubs, suckers and smelt are my top choices for bait. Chubs and suckers
are natural to most of our river systems. Smelt arenít quite as common, but
Iíve found that pike like them just the same no matter where they live.
One advantage of dead bait is that it wonít bury itself in the vegetation and
it makes an easy target for pike still slowed by the chill of icy water.
Think big, too. Small bait seems to catch small fish while an 8-inch offering
(or even larger where available) puts the real trophies on the ice.
One thing I try to avoid is allowing the fish to swallow the bait. Deep
hooksets are dangerous to a pikeís health, and itís especially important to
release as many of the big females as possible. Seldom are they more
susceptible to anglers than during this brief late-ice period when they are
congregated and looking for an easy meal. You may even choose to keep the
location of your best sloughs to yourself because a handful of hungry anglers
can do some serious damage to the overall resource in a matter of days.
Unless you are fishing for a wall-hanger, the 5- or 6-pound males offer
better eating, anyway, and one or two of those will go a long way on the
dinner table.
Quick-strike rigs with extremely sharp hooks will help prevent deep hooksets.
I set mine up with two hooks -- a No. 4 VMC Barbarian treble at the end of the wire
leader with a 5/0 VMC cone cut hook about four to five inches up the
leader. Bury the treble just behind the gill plate with the other hook near
the dorsal fin. This should keep your bait in a somewhat horizontal posture,
which makes it more natural-looking and appealing to the pike.
When the flag on a tip-up is tripped, donít wait long to set the hook. Iíd
rather miss a fish than kill one unnecessarily by allowing it to swallow the
bait. The quick-strike rig gives you an excellent chance for a hookset
anytime a pike has your bait in its mouth.
In general, Iíve found that by the time I get to a tip-up thatís been
tripped, itís usually time to set the hook. Pick up the line and retrieve any
slack, gradually tightening it. When you feel any weight or resistence, a
firm yank should hook you up, especially if you use razor-sharp, premium
hooks like those manufactured by VMC. If you let the fish go any longer than
30 seconds or so, you take the risk of it swallowing the bait.
Wrestling big pike through a hole in the ice is a challenge. It pays to drill
holes in the 12-inch range or larger and wear a waterproof gripper glove to
help handle the fish. Even at that, get ready for some breathtaking action.
Pike do have a way of getting an anglerís attention.




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