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An angler’s past experiences have a way of shaping their game plan in the boat each day. Many of my big pike encounters have occurred in the window between the last gasps of spring weather and the first hot, sustained blasts of full-on summer. These catches have influenced when and where I fish for pike.
Calendar-wise, this trophy-pike window usually falls in early-to-late June, right around Ontario’s muskie opener. Fish that reach and exceed the 40-inch mark were at one time the definition of “a happy accident,” but as time has passed, actively targeting these fish has become a reliable and productive endeavour.
Many of Ontario’s top pike destinations are very much a work in progress at this time of year, especially in terms of water temperature, aquatic weeds, and the most readily available foods. Things are in motion and changing daily in a pike’s world. Big opportunities lie in this period of change.
Without exception, the best pike activity is centred on sustained periods of warm, stable weather. Gradually warming water helps attract forage and allows weeds to gain traction and sprout. Cold, dark, and blustery weather takes a lot of steam out of the aquatic food chain this time of year.
June of 2019 was a classic example of this. Near-record levels of rainfall, much cooler than average temperatures, and a lot of heavy wind kept good pike from creeping into prime structures and occupying them for any length of time. Even though pike are a classic cold-water species, this transitional time of year is negatively impacted by poor weather. Pike are much more receptive to cold water temperatures after summer has arrived, and will not only actively seek it out, but will follow much of their food into cooler temperature and depth ranges.
Positive, stable weather gets fish in transitional-type water, that’s neither deep nor shallow, active.
Long out of the shallow bays they spawned in, pike love setting up on classic points, shoals, and other structures where favourable water temperatures draw perch, bullheads, small walleye, and even bass. Budding weed growth supercharges the spot’s value for both prey and predators. Structures in six- to 12-foot depths are perfect. Though very often near deep water, pike occupy shallower zones on structures, as they come to life first.
Many of the best pike I catch this time of year are while casting traditional early-season muskie lures. Small to mid-sized bucktails and spinnerbaits, stop-and-go soft plastics, and jerkbaits are hammered by big pike.
Surface baits can be magic as water temperatures begin their steady climb through the mid 60˚F to the low 70˚F level. With fish being positioned on fairly predictable, prime areas of structure, smart, efficient casting can be outstanding. It’s tough to beat the thrill of a big pike blasting a lure on a cast.
Spinnerbaits: Increasingly, pike anglers are using specialized spinnerbaits and soft plastics during this season. Ontario-based Lubowski Lures has developed highly durable and weedless spinnerbaits expressly for pike fishing. Large, single hooks ensure fish are handled and released safely, and the hooks slip and slide through rocks, weeds, and wood without fouling. Having lures tough enough to handle multiple fish makes a huge difference.
Big swimbaits: Weed growth is still low and sparse at this time of year. There’s open water over the weed tops and lots of clear lanes and gaps. Six- to nine-inch soft swimbaits fish slower, and ride lower, and pike will crack them. Baits like Water Wolf’s Shadzillas can be slow rolled, burned through the water, and even pull-paused. Like spinnerbaits, all that’s usually needed is a cast and steady retrieve.
Tubes: With their gliding, wandering action and lifelike profile, tubes are also a terrific option. Laid on bottom and popped out of holes in cover or down rocky slopes, tubes have earned a spot in many pike and muskie anglers’ lineups. Running into that dreaded, foul weather almost always calls for the deeper, easier-to-hit action of a tube, and Red October’s downsized Ninja Tube is ideal for this application. Essentially, nothing more than a jig, pike respond to tubes all season and this time of seasonal transition is no different.
While you’re waiting for summer to hit, give pike a go and you’ll likely meet up with some quality fish that are in transition.
Originally published in Ontario OUT of DOORS’ 2020 Fishing Annual.