You all know I love to fish for northern pike, especially at Athabasca Lake in Saskatchewan. I've gotten a number of comments (both publicly and privately) re: the lures we use on these trips, so I thought I'd do a little introspective on the lures, types of lures, when and why we use them, and the gear needed to use them effectively.
I'll go through them categorically.
Along with spoons, spinners (and the spinners with dressed tails, known as bucktails) are the most commonly used lures for pike. The reasons are twofold: they are easy to use, and they catch fish. Since pike are big, top-of-the-foodchain predators, you should really use spinnres made for them. I carry a few #4 blades (not really sure why - I 've never used them. I guess I just want to be prepared for the tough bite when I need to downsize to catch fish) all the way up to tandem #10 Colorado blades on 3 and 4 oz. tandem bucktails. The beauty of bucktails is that they are easy to use - you simply cast them out as far as your rod will throw them and retrieve them back to you. Certainly, you can twitch the rod tip to give the blade some additional flash. Many times, hits come on the straight retrieve alone. Or, when retrieving through cabbage, the fish hit when you POP the lure off a cabbage stalk. You don't really need specialized rods for this type of fishing - a MH spinning rod works fine.
Single bladed pike bucktails
The blade choice on bucktails dictates the depth the lure runs on retrieve. You can see the differences on the picture of the single blade bucktails. The Mepps Musky Maribou blade is very round, and creates a wide, thumping profile that rides high in the water and can be bulged just under the water surface if you retrieve it a little faster. The other extreme is the blade on the Mepps Giant Killer - a long, heavy Willow leaf blade that spins tightly to the body of the spuinner and runs deep in the water column. It is perfect for deep weed lines. It is also a little tougher to retrieve than the smaller bucktails. The double bucktails are a chore to cast and retrieve all day. The smallest of them, and easiest of the double bucktails to retrieve , is the Mepps Musky Maribou. This is a bucktail that should be in every box of every pike fisherman. It can be used with standard sized tackle and still gives the large look and feel of the bigger baits. The bigger Musky style bucktails need to be thrown on Bucktail gear - I use a custom made 7'3" Diamondback blank rated for 1-4 oz. baits, and pair that with a Team Daiwa Luna reel and 65# braid. These big rods have long butt sections that allow you to tuck them under your arm while retrieving and don't wear you aout as quickly. But eventually, these big baits will beat you down (At least they do me! That may well be a testimony to my lack of physical fitness)
Double bladed and tandem hook Pike bucktails
More commonly associated with bass fishing than pike fishing, spinnerbaits are terrific pike baits. Think about it - why do bass fishermen like spinnerbaits so much? 1) They are virtually weedless, by design. 2) Their single hook design (double if using a trailer) gives solid hookups 3) They can be used with any tackle. Well - pike LOVE weeds, good hookups are essential, and you don't need special tackle to use them. Sounds like perfect pike baits to me - and they are! The smallest size I would use for pike is a standard 1/2 oz. bait. I prefer larger ones, though. 3/4 oz. is my favorite, and I believe the best pike spinnerbait for all applications is the 3/4 oz. Reed Runner from Northland. These baits are the right size and profile, have great hooks, and just plain work. I happen to use a fair amount of BIG spinnerbaits designed for pike/musky. My favorite is the M&G from Lindy. These are a handful - you'll need to use heavy gear for them, similar to the Bucktail gear I use.
Spinnerbaits for pike. Noted how mauled the Reed Runner skirts are - courtesy of some hungry pike!
Spinnerbaits have the potential to be difficult to store, but I find them very easy. Use a Plano wrap and fill the laminated bags with your spinnerbaits. You can take 2-3 dozen baits in one of these wraps easily and store them in a side pocket of a tackle bag.
Spinner Wrap with assorted spinnerbaits
Probably the most commonly used pike lure is the spoon. The ubiquitous red-and-white Dardevle or a 5 of Diamonds are used by thousands of pike anglers every year, and they catch thousands of pike. For some reason, I am not a confirmed spoon guy. I use them, and they catch fish, but they're never my go-to baits. I don't really know why. I did find a terrific use for them on my last trip: when you are beat up from throwing huge tandem bucktails and jerkbaits, and you tie on a 1 oz. spoon, it feels like you have Nothing on the end of your line! It is a great way to recuperate from the beating the big lures give while still fishing!
Even though I am not a devout spoon guy, a lot of people are . One of the hot baits on our trip (by the other guests) was a Len Thompson in black/ white. And all the followers of The Fisherbabe blog know that Lizzie wouldn't be caught dead north of the border without her Hammer spoons! She sent me 2 for my trip, and they DO work. Many trips up north have been made carrying only a box full of spoons. And many trophies have fallen to them. No tackle box is appropriately packed for pike without some spoons.
Pike spoon assortment - all are 3/4 oz. or bigger.
Swimbaits seem to have taken over the world of lures. 30 years ago you had Mr. Twisters and Sassy Shad; now there are hundreds, if not thousands of choices to make when choosing a soft swimbait [I refer to the plastic ones as soft swimbaits. The hard bodied swimbaits are found in the following category] These paddle or curly tailed baits are fish imitators, and are simple to use. Retrieves can vary from cast and retrieve to allowing the bait to fall deeper and retrieving with a yo-yo type retrieve. You can fish all throughout the water column with these baits. They are typically single hook baits, and I believe single hooks give better hookups. They are easy to rip through weeds. So - is there any downside to these baits?
A selection of soft swimbaits that work on pike
There can be. Because they are plastic, they don't have the durability of hard baits. They are usualy surprisingly durable, but at times the bite-offs of the tails can be a pain in the ass. Another part of the equation that can be frustrating is trying to find jigs / jigheads / hooks that are good matches for these big pieces of plastic. To balance out a 6" Lunker City Salt Shaker, for instance, you need to use a 3/4 oz - 1-1/4 oz. dressed jig or jighead. The best that I've found are Owner jigheads in 1 oz., and 1/2 - 1-1/2 oz. J-Mac dressed jigs. the problem with most jigs or jigheads is that the hook shanks are not long enough. The 8/0 hooks on the J-Macs are great, and the Owner hooks are long enough, too. The Lunker City Salt Shaker is my plastic of choice. I've caught up to 15 pike on one plastic tail (I've also had the first fish nip off the tail!) They're affordable and durable. The Storm Wildeye series of swimbaits is another great producer - on our recent trip, on of the more successful anglers in camp was throwing a Wildeye Pike almost exclusively. (Yes - pike eat their young). I was experimenting with a new (to me) line of plastics on this trip - Optimum Double Diamonds. They have a terrific action in the water - the body rolls from side to side while the tail has an exagerrated wag. They sport a big belly, or midsection, too. But that middle makes finding the right hook a task. Mustad JUST introduced a weighted 11/0 swimbait hook, and it does the job with the 8" Optimums. The smaller ones worked well with a 7/0 Gamakatsu weighted swimbait hook.
Big bait, big hook - hopefuly - big pike!
Bottom line - if you want to use soft swimbaits for pike, you'll catch fish, but be sure to take along plenty of replacement bodies. Because they are often fished slowly, you need a rod with some backbone to drive home th ehook when you get bit. A heavy action FW rod is about right for the big baits.
In my next installment, I'll detail HARD SWIMBAITS, RATTLETRAPS, GLIDE baits, and JERKBAITS.