Autumn can be a time of chaos – rapid changes in weather, the excitement of football games during the weekend, and the revelry of Halloween. In the natural world, the fall season is also a time of chaos. Falling water temperatures, diminishing daylight hours, and seasonal migrations all signify the impending reign of winter.
Fish are cold-blooded creatures and as such, their activity level is often stringently dependant on the temperature of their environment. This biological verity might lead one to the assumption that fish “don’t bite” much in late fall or winter. Anyone who has spent time in a boat angling during the months of October or November can attest, there is a definite change in approach necessary to remain successful in capturing your quarry. It’s not a matter of the fish “not biting”; rather, the feeding windows become shorter albeit more intense.
A species often neglected for the pursuit of other gamefish such as walleyes, salmon, and muskies during the latter parts of the open water season, northern pike are an option worthy of the autumn angler’s attention. Northern Pike are plentiful, aggressive, and capable of reaching lengths into the forty-inch range here in Wisconsin, so an afternoon of ‘gator fishing can be just what the doctor ordered for anglers in need of an adrenalin fix.
Catching brute pike begins first and foremost with location. A species preferring colder water temperatures, northern pike, especially the largest of specimens, move into deeper and subsequently cooler depths during the summer months. Large pike will remain in deeper water due not only to temperature, but also the abundance of prey species such as suckers, perch, and ciscoes relating to the depths. Deep weedlines, the edges of stump flats protruding into deeper water, points extending into main lake basins, and sharp irregular drop-offs are all prime pike positions.
Quality electronics, especially those with down and side imaging capabilities, provide a veritable back door entry into the underwater realm. My Humminbird 998 allows me to scour every nook and cranny of any piece of structure on the body of water I am fishing. It’s the “spot-on-the-spot” you’re looking for - the one subtlety on a structural element that will consistently attract and hold the largest fish. The beauty of taking the time to locate these areas is they often produce trophy fish year after year.
With optimum locations scouted, it’s time to get down to business. Tackle and equipment for targeting fall pike needn’t be any more complex than a couple of Plano 3600 ProLatch StowAway boxes containing terminal tackle, live-bait rigs, jigs, and over-sized plastic trailers. A Frabill Aqua-Life Bait Station full of sucker minnows ranging from 4”-8” completes the equipment necessary to tackle chase these cold water toothy predators.
A heavy duty jig head such as the Esox Research Company Jig-A-Beast is ideal for a variety of autumn pike fishing applications. I typically replace the stock Salt Shaker plastic trailer on the Jig-A-Beast with a Mr. Twister Sassy Shad of either 6” or 9”. The Sassy Shad has a wider profile than the Salt Shaker tail allowing for a slower drop and more erratic glide on the retrieve. While chartreuse pearl or chartreuse flake patterns are my weapon of choice in stained water, the white pearl/blue back and silver flake/black back excel in clear water pike fishing situations.
The beauty of the Jig-A-Beast and Sassy Shad combination is in its versatility. Whether or not it is tipped with a sucker minnow it will produce fish under the toughest of conditions, both when worked vertically over structure and when casted and retrieved as a search bait to cover water. Swimming the jig and plastic combo is done simply through the use of the reel handle itself. Cast the bait out, let it sink to the desired depth, and then reel steadily, imparting pauses to allow the lure to dart and fall. Strikes may be subtle so it is imperative to remember this simple rule – if it feels different, set the hook!
The ice-fishing season draws near and I encourage you to take advantage of the remaining open water opportunities, such as those offered by our resident pike population – you’ll be glad you did!
I’ll see you on the water…
Read more from Joel DeBoer.
Joel DeBoer is owner of Wisconsin Angling Adventures Guide Service. He can be contacted through his website at www.wisconsinangling adventures.com.