Monday, August 31, 2009
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.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Day 4 of our trip found us headed to the east, to Pine Channel, Roubillard Bay, and the surrounding bays. This is the water closest to the lodge that we usually fish. Pine Channel is usually one of the largest expanses of cabbage in the lake. Usually, of course, is not this year. We found some weed growth, but it was scattered over a large area, and though there were fish there, they were not as concentrated as we had hoped for. We got a few fish, but nothing of note. (In my past 2 trips to Blackmur's, I've taken a 42-1/2" and a 45" pike here, and seen a couple of huge fish that missed baits). We actually started the morning in a small bay called Jackfish Bay, where Billy and Jim caught a lot of fish, while Andy and I got a few. Shorelunch of pike was outstanding, as usual.
Andy's 43 from Crouse Bay
My 37" from Wednesday
The afternoon we fished a number of smaller bays, most being known more for their success in the spring rather than summer. Crouse Bay ended up being the area of choice for the day. It is a small, narrow bay that is an offshoot of a larger bay. The bay itself is maybe 100 yards long and 40 yards wide - not a big piece of real estate. But - it did have some weeds, and that meant pike! Andy caught fire in this bay, taking a 38" and a 43-1/2" pike on jerkbaits - Rapala SW X-raps. I got a 37" earlier in the day, while Billy and Jim both got 38's. Every fish I caught on this day came on a #6 Vibrax spinner with a white tail. Our daily combo bet went to Andy and I, and we were all tied up with one day to go. And the plan was to fly out to Richards Lake again for our last day of pike fishing on our favorite water.
Our last day fishing Athabasca and we opted for the fly-out to Richards - again. Actually, I'd fish Richards anytime I get the chance - I just love the lake and the pike there. Everyone in our group had caught decent quantities of fish on the trip, and everyone had taken a number of trophy fish (over 40"). Except, of course, for me. My numbers were as good as anyone, but I just couldn't put the hooks into any good fish. The monster from the first afternoon was still haunting me, too. But anytime you go to Richards, you have to like your odds to overcome any slump you may be in.
As before, we were the only 2 boats on the lake. The first expansive weedbed we stopped at (the one that had been so good to Andy and I two years earlier) held some fish, but it wasn't giving them up easily. We opted to try one of the other beds. Jim got on a bite unlike any I have seen before. EVERY time we would look over to the other boat, he had a fish on, or was releasing one, or posing for pictures. He must have landed 40 pike that day, and caught the biggest one taken by any of us on this trip - 47" - a truly magnificent pike in ANY waters! He also had a 42" and a 40". Every big he caught fell to the same lure - a Jointed X-Rap #13 in Hot Steel color. He would make long casts, start a straight, slow retrieve and, when the lure would get hung in the cabbage, he'd pop it out. Almost all of the fish took the bait as it was busting out of the cabbage.
Jim's 47" trophy from Richards Lake
Andy got a 43" in the morning, while Billy and I had 38"ers. We got down to the last hour and a half before we had to meet Cliff at eh landing area. We went back to the 1st spot we tried that day. I looked at Andy and said "Time to go big or go home". I put a Dominatrix bucktail (a knock off of a double bladed Cowgirl musky bucktail) (these double bucktails are 11" long, and weigh 3-1/2 oz.) on my bucktail rod and stated casting. Got a small pike right away. Missed another decent fish - at least there were fish in the area that were interested! It was pretty windy with a good chop on the water. I got a nip at the bait and looked down to see a GOOD fish - finally. I watched him inhale the bait about 20 feet from the boat.
Andy's 43 from Richards Lake
It seems like there's always some kind of a story with a big fish that I catch, and this is no exception. The fish hit and came toward the boat. Like they do many times, when pike see the boat they make a run away from the boat, or they dive. this one dove. Only one problem - he dove under and BACK, toward the motor. Which, by the way, was running to try to keep the boat under control in the wind. Even with the big bucktail rod, the best I could do was slow him down, but he went behind the outboard, and the line wrapped around the prop.
This would be the appropriate place to talk about the gear I use, and why. The line on this particular reel was 80# Power Pro braided line. The leader was a 12", 75# Terminator Titanium leader. Why such heavy gear? I like Power Pro for its inherent toughness, but I dislike one of the properties of ALL superbraids - their thin diameter. I've found that anything under 40# test has a tendency to "eat into" the spooled line when a lot of pressure is put on it, whether from a series of big fish, or by using big jerkbaits and working them with slack-line jerks. the line gets hung up inside the outer bands of line on the spool, and consequently hangs up on the cast and decreases your casting distance (at best) or starts a hopeless backlash (at worst). So - I use a line with the DIAMETER that I like - anything over 30# test is certainly sufficient to play and land any pike. I like the diameter of 80#, so that's what I use. With regard to the leaders, I like the larger size of the Crosslok on the 75# leader, so that's the one I use.
My 42" pike from Richards Lake
All this info actually has a point - the line wrapped around the motor, and the pike got drawn in toward the prop. The boat had been put in neutral, so the fish wasn't hurt. But he was stuck. We got the fish into the net - thank God for long handled nets - and I cut the line. The slick braid came through the motor effortlessly, and I had my pike. 42", with an hour to spare! I am completely convinced that the heavier than normal gear is what saved that fish for me. I believe lighter (30#) braid would have been nicked and would have broken. the same for cheaper, lighter leaders. Bottom line - I got lucky.
Final tally on our little bet - Jim and Billy - 86". Andy and I - 85". Billy got a 39" pike in the last 15 minutes to better his previous best for the day by an inch - the winning difference!
The baits we used that caught the most fish on the trip were: Rapala Jointed X-Rap 13 in Hot Steel, Burt jerkbait - Orange/ black spots, Rapala SW X-Rap, Vibrax #6 w/ white tail. I DID use the lure sent to me by Lizzie over at Fisherbabe - the "Hammers" she loves to use. Cabelas Canadian Casting spoons, 7/8 oz. orange and brass. You can see from the picture that it was hit hard - a bunch of the paint was torn off. But I didn't get any BIG fish on it. Unlike Lizzy's group. If you pay atention to th epicture, you'll see some fabric wrapped around the hook. My guide - Laurent - liked the spoon, too, but wanted it to have a little bit of trailer action. He cut a strip off his shirt and tied it onto the treble base. I caught a few fish with it afterwards (it DID look good in the water!), and I'll keep that one "as-is" as a memento. The Hammer was the only spoon I caught any fish on during the week.
A selection of good lures from the trip
I always try to take along a few new baits to try. The best of these on this trip was an Optimum Double Diamond swimbait, seen above. The one in the picture above is the SMALLER of the 2 sizes I used . The bigger, and better one was almost 8" long. The action is tremendous and the profile big enough to entice the biggest pike. You need a substantial hook for these big baits - I used an 11/0 weighted Mustad swimbait hook, and it is barely big enough for the bait. The only downfall is significant one when pike fishing - the base of the tail is very thin, allowing the "wag" of the tail to be extreme, and gives the bait its great action. But - little pike (or big ones) short strike it and remove the tail very easily.
All in all - another memorable trip to Blackmur's Athabasca Lodge. We're already planning our return trip.
Monday, August 17, 2009
On the way to Poplar Point
Our third day - Tuesday - came clear and calm. The decision was made for us to go "west of Fond Du Lac" to try for lakers in the morning, and, based on the success or failure of the morning attempts, go for more lakers in the PM, or pike. Fond Du Lac is the village where all the native Deni guides live. They commute (by boat) daily to work as guides for Blackmur's. The area where we fish for lakers is known as Poplar Point, and is the end of the eastern arm of the lake, where the lake opens up into a freshwater ocean. When the waters are flat, as they were this morning, it is a 1 hour and 30 minute run, wide open, to reach Poplar Point. When the water is rough, it can be a very unpleasant 2 hour run - most of the time, trips to that end are postponed in bad weather. As you can imagine, the guides - with years of experience under their belts - are expert boat handlers.
This is the only element of the trip at Blackmur's that I find a little frustrating -when you fish the far away areas, your amount of actual fishing time is reduced due to the extending running times. When you factor in the run each way, and the shore lunch, you may only have 4-1/2 hours of actual fishing time left.
Typical day 3 laker
When we planned this trip, there was no plan in the works to do ANY lake trout fishing. Typically, in the first week of August, the lakers are seeking their comfort zone with regard to water temps by hanging in the 100 - 120 foot deep range. You can catch them by pulling a 3-way rig with 6 - 10oz. weights, but I don't care to do that usually. However, this year has been different. The cold water temps that have stifled the weed growth in the bays have had a different effect on the lakers - they never went deep! Cliff mentioned that some people in camp the week before caught lakers trolling lures on unweighted flat lines - that is unheard of for early August. Also, some of the lakers caught had been big ones - around 40". So - we decided to give a morning to the lakers.
The calm waters allowed us to get to the point a little bit earlier than anticipated, and the 2 boats rigged up and started fishing. I flatline trolled a T-55Flatfish while Andy opted for a spoon. We were into fish immediately. I could see that the other boat had fish coming in as well. Bottom line - the 2 boats combined for 20 lake trout in the morning. All about the same size - great eating size. One interesting sidebar: Billy was in the other boat and, in late morning, had still not landed a trout. Jim had 6 or 7. We got a call on the radio, and Billy noted that he was being "Wolfed" [referring, of course, to my last name, and the fact that I couldn't buy a fish for the first 2 days]. In the same breath, he asked to borrow a 3-way weight, as he had lost his on a snag!! The nerve! Of course, we gave him his weights, along with a Williams Whitefish spoon, and he caught 3 lakers in the next 20 minutes.
The beginning of a Fire Fish lunch
10 minutes later - Fire Fish is served!
Lunch was the fresh lakers, cooked as "Fire Fish". The Deni usually do this one per trip, using either pike or lakers. The side is taken off the fish, skin intact, and not de-boned. The pieces of fish are placed directly over the open fire on a grate, skin down, and turned once. The pieces are then cut so there is a section with bones and one without bones and the meat is peeled off the skin. It is so simple it's scary, and the meat is delicious. This shore lunch took place on a classic windswept rock at the mouth of a bay. It is so beautiful out there that words can't do the spot justice. The rock striations are vivid, the moss vibrant green, and you wonder how anything - like the few trees and shrubs - can possibly live there. The pictures don't do the area justice, but they're better than my words.
Misc. Shorelunch pics
The afternoon was spent looking for pike in the bays on the north side of the eastern arm. We had steady, if unspectacular, action. No trophies fell to our lures this afternoon, and the big fish of the day was actually my 36" pike. Every cast in these waters might result in a trophy pike but, on this day, we had to be content with the normal-sized fish and their aggressive strikes.
On a positive note (for me), we won our team bet - 70" to 60", reducing the lead to 2:1
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Andy's 42" pike from Richards Lake
Day 2 of fishing found our group of 4 flying out to Richards Lake. It's sort of an interesting concept to fly out to a different lake when you are on an enormous arm of the 9th largest lake in North America. But, Andy and I have fished Richards before and have both taken our Personal Bests on that trip (Andy's is 46-1/2"; mine is 46") We both consider Richards to be a "small-ish" lake, but everything changes due the perspective you have up north. When we were on the lake this past trip, we figured, based on width and length estimates, that the lake is around 7,500 acres. Plus - the only time it gets anglers is when Cliff flies groups in from his camp. It has extensive weedbeds in the lake - 2 rivers feed into it. It has a terrific population of pike, some of which are very big. It also has whitefish and walleye.
The weather was nice for the short (20 minute) flight on the Otter. We were dropped off, along with our guides, and en route to the weedbeds. The boats at the fly-out lakes are a bit smaller than the ones at camp but more than adequate. We got to our first weedbeds and started in. Billy and Jim started catching fish right away. Andy got one, and I missed one - a perfect start. Then - i went cold. I missed hits. I didn't get any hits. And, all the while, I watched everyone else catch fish. My reel broke - the sideplate of a new Abu Garcia Revo Winch fell off on a cast and fell into the lake. I was so pissed off I couldn't even see! Everyone was on a jerkbait bite. Jim seemed to be hooked up everytime I looked over at their boat. I knew the bait he was throwing, watched his retrieve to see if there was something different than what I was doing, and proceeded to duplicate it , and get next to nothing.
Billy's 44" pike
I don't want this to sound like I'm complaining, but the frustration I was experiencing was unlike anything I've ever felt. I've been in situations where I've been outfished but never really cared, even in tournaments. This, however, was terrible. I was on my favorite numbers / size pike lake in the world, everyone around me was catching fish, and I couldn't buy a hit. When I did get a hit - I'd miss the fish. It was the toughest morning on a great lake in my life. By lunch, I had landed 6 fish, nothing of any size. Andy had a 42-1/2" to take big fish of the morning.
Jim's 41" pike
Shore lunch has a way of making a person forget about everything that bothers them, even if it just happened that morning. I may be the first person to write about the therapeutic qualities of a shorelunch of fried pike, potatoes, onions, and beans, but my research shows a 100% success rate of getting people out of their morning funk!!
PM brought more fish - I even got a few. But nothing of size for me. Billy and Jim got a double-header of 44" (Billy - new PB) and 41" (Jimmy - new PB) while I watched and tried not to get bummed about my lack of success. I really DO love it when the people with me catch fish, especially big fish. I just like to catch SOMETHING while I watch them take pictures all day of their trophies!
We ended up catching around 135 pike on our fly-out on Monday. Not a bad day by any means, but a little low on the historical data for Richards. We (not that I had anything to do with it) got 3 over 40" that day. I still love Richards Lake but, on Monday, it didn't like me.
Oh yeah - we had an ongoing bet on this trip. Andy and I would add the lengths of our best 2 pike and Billy and Jim would do the same. Longest total wins for the day. Day 1: me and Andy - 68"; Billy / Jim - 80". We got smoked. Day 2 on Richards - Team Billy / Jim - 85". Team Joe / Andy - 74". Waxed again.
Monday, August 10, 2009
2009 has been, for many of us in the US, an inordinately cool year. A cool -to-cold spring, followed by a cool summer. For the first time ever, Chicago didn't record a day over 88 in the month of July! The weather up north mirrored our Spring - imagine the LONG winters when you are a mere 60 miles from the 60th parallel. The lodge owner - Cliff Blackmur - told me the last ice he saw on Athabasca was July 6th! Many of the lodges up north lost their first 2-3 weeks of what is a very short season. Some never opened at all, and may remain shuttered. Fisherbabe's readers will remember well her trials and tribulations trying to find a place to fish in May in Manitoba. Everything was very late this year.
The float plane, as seen from our cabin
Day 1 was nearly a total washout. It rained - HARD. Andy and I joked that everytime we sat down to try a new spot, the skies would open up, and we would have been drier by jumping in the water. The numbers of fish caught on Day One were low - 15 - 20 per man - but a few good ones were caught. Billy got a 41" to shatter his personal best of 36", while Jim got a 38". Andy and I struggled. But, like all good adventures, there is a terrific story to tell from Day 1, one that will live with me forever.
The view from our boat, on a day when it didn't rain all day
Andy and I were in the extreme back of a long, narrow bay. Really, it was too far to be back for August but, as I said, fish were in weeds at ANY depth, so there were fish in the shallow back waters, with a few good ones in the mix. We came to the last hole of any consequence. I cast a 3/4 oz. spinnerbait and looked down to see the biggest pike I ever seen in my life. It looked more like a musky - light green and very wide, in addition to being very long. We both estimated this fish at 45 - 50". It watched my spinnerbait but didn't commit. We both threw at him, to no avail. The pike sank into the depths, and was gone. The little hole the fish was in is about 30' long. At the tail end of the hole, I hooked a small (24") pike. Immediately, the monster pike T-boned the pike I had hooked. They were only a few yards from the boat! Andy got he net and we got the monster to within 10' of the boat when he spooked and raced toward shore - with my pike still in his jaws! Somehow, I had the presence of mind to back off the drag in case he ran. I slowly tried to get him back to the boat for another shot. After maybe a minute (but seemed like forever), the giant pike was within 15' of the boat and coming slowly. Suddenly, the little pike started thrashing wildly, and my trophy opened up his mouth and slowly swam away.
Now, I know there are people who will question our guestimate of the fishes size. For starters - I don't really care what anyone else thinks. Secondly, my biggest pike ever landed is 46", and Andy's is 46-1/2". This fish was bigger. I firmly believe it was my mythical 50"er. My knees were shaking when this episode played itself out and I had to sit for a bit to compose myself. Looking back on it, it was one of the coolest things that ever happened to me while fishing. People say you always remember the one that got away - I'll ALWAYS remember that fish!
Next post: Day 2 on Richards Lake. Will Fisherbabe's vaunted "Hammers" come through there???
Saturday, August 8, 2009
Now - onto the photo editing!