Last week the guys and I (Pat McSharry and Ben Brettingen) found ourselves on Lake of the Woods in search of a hot pike bite that we plan to feature as one of our non-current open water TV shows to air late winter 2015 when everyone is burned out on ice fishing and desperately in need of an open water fix!
With this first shoot in the bag I think it safe to say we’re off to a solid start!
Before I get too deep into the actual report I thought some might be interested in how we came to choose pike on Lake of the Woods as a target species. I’ve never fished for pike in the summer on Lake of the Woods. Neither had Pat McSharry. Ben Brettingen had spent some time chasing pike up in the NW Angle but never down on the main lake.
What sent us up there in search of a pike show was, quite simply, the awesome late winter pike bite we experienced this past March. The average size of the fish caught was simply amazing and we thought it would be very interesting to try and connect the dots between a late ice bite that had the fish staging out on main lake structure and a post-spawn bite that should have the fish setting up in shallow bays.
Here’s the link to that ice show if you missed it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJ_avJnfMEE The first pike on the ice went 43.5″ long and based on girth measurements would have weighed in around 25 lbs. That kind of monster gator is worth a return trip!
On our drive up we speculated that the fish would definitely be done spawning and would likely have dropped back out of the spawning rivers and ditches into the lake. We couldn’t find any accurate water temp info so our first order of business was to check in on the water temps and use that info to help guide our first moves.
We planned to stay in Warroad on this trip and focus our search on the western side of the lake so getting that temp info was as easy as launching the boat in the Warroad River at the public access and turning on our graphs. 68 degrees was the tally which lead us to speculate would be much, much too warm to have the spawning females up in the rivers or ditches on the south and west side of the lake we considered part of our search area. That said, we did take the time to check it out for ourselves by fishing some of the likely spawning rivers and ditches just to make sure we weren’t overlooking something right at the start of our search.
It didn’t take long to eliminate the small tributaries with the only fish present being small hammer handle sized pike. While they were very eager to play ball we didn’t make the 6 hour drive to catch two-footers. Clearly the females had dropped back leaving nothing but the smaller males in their place. Of course our time spent in the rivers wasn’t a complete waste as we picked up on a definite preference for larger lures that would turn out to be a key piece of the puzzle. More on that later…
Our next move was to begin picking apart shallow bays in our search area looking for the big pike we felt would likely be on a good feed in an attempt to pack on some pounds following the rigors of the spawn. If course finding the fish always seem to be the primary challenge we all face as anglers regardless of the species being fished or time of year.
Shoreline reeds or reeds in shallow portions of the bays again produced a lot of small pike but nothing of size. Our next clue to putting together a workable pattern was again related to water temp. Reeds in the back bays in shallow water were showing temps approaching 70 degrees which we knew would be much too high for mature pike to tolerate. We needed to find cooler temps!
So we abandoned shoreline or weeds in shallow bays and focused our efforts on isolated reed patches near deeper water. BINGO! While harder to find due to the fact that most of the best reed patches barely stuck above the water, if at all, once we found one of these isolated reed patches in deeper, cooler water it was GAME ON! Temps in 6′ of water ranged from 58 – 62 degrees and the big pike were holding in these small spots in big numbers.
Our first day was spent scouting locations which meant Ben Brettingen, IDO’s #1 camera man, got to fish. He did NOT waste the opportunity as you’ll see in these photos. Ben immediately opted for a #6 Super Bou spinner while Pat and I fished smaller baits like 4″ jeerkbaits that had been good for us in the past on pike under similar conditions. While immature pike would eat up those jerkbaits with glee the larger pike all but ignored them while Ben got the ball rolling with a couple giants that woofed the Super Bou spinners like candy!
Once all three of us started throwing #6 Super Bou spinners and #8 Super Bou spinnerbaits the net stayed wet for the rest of the day with big fish coming to the boat for all of us consistently.
For anyone looking to get in on some great pike fishing Lake of the Woods is the place to be right now with large numbers of big fish hanging in relatively shallow water. Find the deeper reed patches. Keep an eye on water temps and fish trophy pike sized baits and you’re going to be a happy angler!
That fish that has ahold of Ben is a monster !!
We had some fish that were clearly early season “thin” from being fresh off the spawn and then Ben catches that thing! That fish wasn’t holding spawn it just had been really busy packing on some pounds – anything that would fit in her mouth was clearly on the menu!
Great read! Some buddies and I recently experienced much of the same on Lake Superior around Thunder Bay, those green spinner seeking missiles are a blast! Larger X-raps, swimbaits, and spinners were key for us.
Hey James ?
How heavy a rod are you throwing those baits with ?
Will my bass rods work ?
(just thought it out.. i could look them up for weight size)
I read your report last night and it got me fired up to re-visit some big pike Joel and I found last summer in July on Superior. That report is here >>>
July 2, 2013 Lakers and Pike
Thanks for sharing! Joel’s out of town right now but as soon as he gets back I’ll be bugging him about going back up to give it another shot. Catching those big pike in such clear, shallow water is an amazing amount of fun.
I was throwing a 7′ Mag Heavy Loomis casting rod and it was just heavy enough for the lures being fished but the handle was too short for me to EVER want to fish that rod with larger baits again. Ben and Pat were fishing with their muskie rods and in my opinion those were too heavy. A heavy action bass rod is right in the money assuming you have a rod with a good casting handle that you can brace under your forearm to take off some of the load from the lures being fished.
I switched to a reel with 65# Sufix 832 and 80# leaders once we started running into the big fish on the spinners and spinnerbaits. Prior to the switch I was fishing a 20Lb main line and a 30 lb flouro leader with smaller spinners and jerkbaits. The larger pike were buried deep into the dead reeds in ambush mode so my initial set up was much too light. When you hooked up you needed to get those big fish out of the veggies pronto or they would wrap you up in the stalks of the reeds and you’d lose the fish 50% of the time.
The top colors in the spinners and spinnerbaits were white and firetiger. White was good most of the day while the Firetiger really got hot when the clouds rolled in and skies got dark.
Between the two lures, if I could only choose one, I’d opt for the Super Bou spinnerbait over the spinner in this situation. There’s nothing wrong with the spinner but because the spinner has a treble hook and the spinnerbait has a pair of single hooks the spinnerbait came through the tangles of dead reeds with minimal snagging. And the biggest pike always seemed to be found WAY in the back of those reed patches.
Fight wise you’re going to get a better fight out of them with a bass rod, but I’m going to have to disagree with James on this one. I don’t know how much a heavy bass and light muskie rod would overlap but I fished an 8′ heavy mojo muskie and it was just about right. Where I really saw the benefits of a heavier rod was the ability to wrench fish out of the thick reeds. I know Pat fished an 8’6″ Heavy and he had to work to get a few fish out.
It may be that I am just more accustomed to fishing those rods, but I preferred them. In saying that, heavy bass rods would amp up the fight a little bit compared to the whoopin’ sticks.
In saying that you could handle those Blue Fox Spinner Baits
Great Info Master Ben !!!
BTW I’m green with envy. The pike on Conesus Lake where I fish aren’t that big. However (28 to 40) inchers are available. When the water is ~ (48 to 62) degrees F they are in shallow and quite assessable as you mentioned. When the water warms up to (62 to 65) degrees F, I’ve always stopped fishing because I couldn’t get them via casting anymore.
The lake has large pods of alewives an open water food source that doesn’t necessary relate to structure. So for the 1st time I tried to trolling for pike. Initially I trolled at (12 to 17)’ with Husky Jerks and all I caught was hammer handles. Presently I’m using Rapala’s Tail Dancers and Magnums which dive down nicely. So as I went out and trolled a bit deeper (20 to 35)’, boom I started getting some nicer fish. Not as big as the ones in your photos “I only ever seen those on Canada fly-ins” but nice fish say (28 to 32) inches, with a 37 incher.
It’s very different trolling for pike in the open water with little structure. I’m just experimenting with this technique but it seems to be somewhat successful. The deeper water is likely cooler and has lots of feed. Didn’t know if you’ve run into this phenomena. It’s a bit like the conditions in your article except the pike you’re catching are still relating to structure. I but this question on the forum for Pike- Muskies and another fisherman had encountered open water deeper pike.
This really make me anxious for my next Canada fly-in next fall!!!
Giants!! Will be heading up to Ontario this Saturday for a week and will be trying some of those tactics laid out in your report, hoping to beat my PB of 42″.
I would agree with Ben on this one too
It’s always better to go a little on the heavier side
I’d probably use a St. Croix LT Muskie Long Ranger, or a LT Down Sizer
Something capable of handling a large fish, but not to stiff as to make it difficult to cast a smaller bait
Those are some nice Gators
I left wanting something in the middle. I just can’t bring myself to throw a #6 Super Bou spinner weighing 3/4 oz. on a rod rated for baits up to 6 oz.
I did check out the “down sizer” that Joe mentioned and that sounds like it is exactly the type of rod (LTMU73MHF) I’m talking about and one that I’d like to try the next time we take a whack at these pike in this type of situation. But as always, there’s no wrong way to catch a fish. If the heavy muskie rods work for you, they work for you.
Funny you bring this up Jim, before we were even off the water we had already planned a return trip in the fall to try and track down these same fish out in open water. By late summer we’re confident that these big pike will be keying in on suspended schools of tullibees found out in the main lake. We can’t help but think we’ll be able to put some big fish in the boat… assuming we’re able to relocate them that is.
We’ll definitely start out looking for them trolling so we can cover water and narrow down our search area. Lures like the X-Rap Jointed, X-Rap Magnum, Deep Tail Dancers, etc., should all work behind boards and allow us to chew up some water quickly.
Ben certainly does have a way with the big girls!
Ben says he would like to be referred to as “Big Fish Ben” from here on out. Or “BFB” for short.
Good thing the IDO hats are adjustable or his might be starting to get mighty tight!
I’ll be the first to say BFB let’s his fish do the talking… meaning there’s been no change in hat size. I’d hate for someone to think I was implying otherwise.
That said I still plan to start calling him BFB.
Hold on now! I get back from Canada today and I see this nonsense about a big fish Ben?? I think that might be a concoction of Mr. Holst! As I like to say, a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while!
That first Fish of Bens looks like it had a bone to pick with the IDO TV crew from when we were there in late March and was back for round two, great fish Guys – QB
James, Excellent breakdown on your scouting time Very easy to visualize the hunt!
General consensus is my reaction too…..”HOLY BUCKETS!”. It’s been too long since I’ve been in a boat, and reports like that make me want to get after it!
I’m definitely late to this party, but those are some nice pike!
I have to admit though, something looks off about that first picture…
Compare it to the 2nd ‘in-story’ picture, where you can see the motor/transom. Or just compare it to the pictures of a Skeeter MX2025 from here:
I think you guys are using a boat similar to that. But the header picture looks like you are in a boat that’s about 12 feet wide, look how much room there is between the motor and the side of the boat! Something is fishy there….
Still some beautiful pike though, I really hope there wasn’t some choppy editing to make them look even bigger…loss of integrity points.