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Hunting Hardwater Wolves
By Chip Leer
They lurk beneath the surface of a frozen lake. Cruising a well-defined
weedline with reckless abandon, seeking out prey, exploding like a freight
This is Esox Lucious, a fish with a hefty appetite and bad attitude.
Northern pike are the kings of the underwater domain, posing a challenge
to anyone or anything that dares to enter it. This is their world.
Those of us who invade it can only hope to be prepared. Big pike
seem to welcome the opportunity of going toe-to-toe with even seasoned
ice anglers. There are several keys to consistently pulling big hardwater
pike. While finding a spot with small pike is relatively easy, big
pike follow a different drummer. They are a unique animal, possessing
a mean streak, shoulders, and brute strength matched by few others.
It's those 15 and 20-pounders we covet, and they live in very specific
quarters.Selecting the right body of water is job one. The right
combination of lake characteristics usually guarantees numbers of big northern
pike, not just the occasional giant. Fertility is key. Fisheries
rich with weed growth and the right forage base are rookeries for big pike.
A healthy population of ciscoes, perch, tullibee, whitefish, shiners, and
even trout provide the proper base for growing chunky northern pike.
Thick beds of cabbage, coontail, or milfoil provide ideal ambush points
for these scrappy critters. Even during the winter months, when most
greenery lies down, big pike still relate to weeded zones. It's their natural
setting, a comfort zone of sorts. Outlets are another piece of the puzzle.
If big females don't have a place to propagate in the spring and spawn,
you won't find a stable population of trophy-caliber pike.
The consummate big pike lake often carries all the aforementioned qualities.
Skip one, and you might be wasting your time. These bodies of water
usually come with a well-deserved reputation for producing numbers of big
northern pike. Isolate these lakes and you've won half the battle.With
the right type of fishery in your back pocket, it's time to go to work…
Finding the right weeds is paramount. During the winter months,
look for shallow weeds, ones sprouting in less than 15 feet but still adjacent
to deepwater. Offshore depths often harbor schools of suspended tullibee,
whitefish or other high calorie forage. Pike will sneak out of their
shallow, vegetated surroundings for a quick meal, and then return to their
vegetated safe haven. Defined weedlines along breaks are ideal, so are
weed covered flats and sunken islands that sit higher than surrounding
waters. Be careful not to stray too far off the edges, because pike
like the security of cover and tend to stay close to home.Take time to
find the outside weededge and don’t overlook the inside edge either, especially
if pike seemingly disappear during the day. Pockets inside the main
weed flat can also be lethal. If depth varies across the flat, work the
deeper holes. One or two foot depth variations on a shallow weed
flat can make a huge difference. Weedy bays also tend to hold big pike,
but don't waste your time in those slop-covered bays that you shot ducks
over during the fall. Rather, look for bays sporting established
milfoil or cabbage beds in at least 5 to 8-feet of water. Tracking down
huge pike requires speed and efficiency, so approach these areas with a
"got to hit them now" attitude. And travel well-equipped. Uncovering
weededges and pockets can be done quickly with the aid of a handheld sonar
PolarVision, which shoots directly through the ice.
Once you find these areas, drill a few holes, and with an underwater
camera, look for the richest greens and tallest weededges. Aqua Vu's
new Smart-Vu underwater viewing system makes this process much easier by
using compass characters to tell you what direction the camera is facing.
Pike are aggressive by nature so it shouldn't take long to determine if
big fish are present. Don't waste a lot of time in one area – start
hunting. ON ICE TOUR searches often involve several people, but even with
a small group, we blast tons of holes. The drilling process is sped
up dramatically with StrikeMaster’s new Lazer Mag Ultra. Spread the
holes out; fish as many lines as you can mind, and the law affords.
The best presentational approach strikes with a one, two punch. Fire
both barrels – a setline and a heavy jigging rod and reel combination.
The Finicky Fish Factory – an enclosed, heated, jigging unit – is ideal
for setline purposes. Strategically place the black boxes throughout
the targeted range. Rig each with a large sucker minnow or dead smelt.
Don't be shy about minnow size either; bigger is usually better. With the
Finicky's in place, it's time to get nasty with a jigging stick.
A stout baitcast style rod with a full-featured reel is of the utmost importance.
Consider Berkley's 36-inch Lightning Rod with an Abu Garcia Ambassadeur
model 4600C3 spooled with 20-lb test Fireline.
We're just guests in their world, and unwanted guests at that.
But even fish with an attitude can be tamed. And don't be a
bucket-sitter with the jigging rod. Jump from hole to hole. Give it a little
effort; your work will be rewarded.
Lure choice? Mix it up and have everyone fish different baits.
Put one guy on a bucktail jig; another with a spoon with rattles; someone
else using a winged swimming jig. I'll start with Northland's Airplane
while Tommy works a System's Flyer. Dress your pike jigs with three
to five inch sucker minnows. When the fish show preference, switch
the rest of the group to that lure until the action slows, and then mix
it up again. ON ICE TOUR pros frequently use three to five slow, large,
and dramatic lift and fall sequences. This allows the gliding jig
to descend in a semi-circle, often producing explosive strikes. Pause for
a few a few seconds and do it again. Hold on tight, though, because
pike can embarrass you.An ice rod absorbing the fight with no other anglers
in sight… Others have no idea what they're missing. Should
we tell them? I don't think so. Some of the greatest thrills
in life, such as battling monster northern pike through the ice, can't
be explained, instead, need to be experienced. Editor’s note: ON ICE TOUR
– cofounded by Chip Leer and Tommy Skarlis – is an intensive effort aimed
at expanding the sport of ice fishing through instructional articles, seminars,
in-store and ice fishing contest appearances, and one on one exchanges
with the public. Learn more about ON ICE TOUR and the greatest of
winter sports at www.onicetour.com
Special thanks to On Ice Tours Sponsors
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