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Hooks and Antlers: Early season offers best catch of pike

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Northern pike season is now open, and early season offers some of the best fishing of the calendar year. This first-rate angling typically holds up throughout May and into early June on the many area waters that hold pike.

During most of the year, northern pike are scattered throughout a water system, and many of the fish inhabit deep water.

In contrast, spring pike tend to congregate in prime locations adjacent to their spawning grounds where the fish remain readily accessible to anglers.

Prey species are also at their lowest number of the year so pike have fewer feeding options. In addition, early-season pike have longer feeding windows than summertime fish that tend to be active primarily during the early morning and early evening hours.

Wise Harvest

While early season offers good fishing for the angler, a word of caution is needed as pike populations are vulnerable to “overfishing” at this time of the year just as they are during the ice fishing season.

For anglers who want to keep some pike filets for eating, selective harvest is recommended. Selective harvest involves keeping smaller or medium-sized fish for eating and releasing the larger fish.

Location

Locating spring pike means heading to the bays. The best bays generally in early spring are south-facing ones and wind-protected ones while the best bays in later spring are north-facing and wind-blown ones. Anglers should seek cooler bays later, and apply the same principles to portions of large bays.

No matter which bay an angler fishes, though, specific locations in that bay will attract packs of pike. One such gathering spot is a tributary mouth. Another is any shoreline that breaks into deep water as pike tend to lie at the bottom of such breaks. If the bay has a channel, the edges of that channel will certainly hold some pike. Also, points and shoal edges are can’t-miss spots.

Like other times of the year, weed beds, especially the outside edge and openings, are pike magnets. Flats, both large and small, tend to hold northern pike.

The best flats will have scattered weeds, and the most productive spot on any flat will be the edge that drops, even if only a few feet, into deeper water. In fact, any offshore break-line in the bay will attract pike.

Another prime spot in any bay is the deepest hole there, especially around its edges. The mouths of bays, too, will hold pike, and check out any points or weed growth there.

Techniques

Effective techniques include casting artificial lures, suspending live minnows, and trolling minnow plugs or spoons. No matter what technique an angler utilizes, the best advice is to employ a SLOW presentation as pike are not overly aggressive in cold water. Once water temperatures creep into the 60s, though, pike will strike a faster presentation.

Casting artificial lures such as plugs, plastics, spoons, spinners, or jigs is the most popular technique. Minnow plugs and plastic jerk-baits are best worked in a stop-and-go fashion to simulate struggling baitfish.

One disadvantage of hard baits is removing sets of trebles from a pike’s toothy mouth. A key aspect of casting spoons and spinners is to allow them to flutter toward bottom, an action that gets the offering to the fish’s depth and simulates an injured baitfish.

If an angler was limited to a single lure for casting, that lure should be a jig. Jigs allow anglers to cover a lot of water, to fish a variety of depths, to imitate injured baitfish and to make that all-important, slow presentation in the cold-water conditions of spring.

A jig descending along a structural edge is irresistible to pike. Popular jigs include oversized tubes, roundheads tipped with a plastic worm and bucktails. A bucktail jig tipped with a minnow is an unbeatable pike offering. An asset of jigs is the single hook, a feature that allows for easy unhooking, minimal damage to the fish and a nearly 100 percent successful release rate.

Suspending a minnow below a bobber is a time-honored technique that works well in shallow water for both shore and boat anglers. Most bobber fishers use two or three rods as permitted by state regulations. This method is a relaxing way to fish, but for best results, anglers should change their locations periodically.

The live-bait technique involves drifting a live shiner below a split shot or an ear sinker. Advantages of this method include the option of fishing various water depths as well as the ability to cover a lot of water.

Boat control, especially on windy days, and intimate knowledge of structural edges in an area are two keys to success when drifting live minnows.

Like the previous method, trolling, too, allows an angler to cover large expanses of water and to fish a variety of depths. One key is to select a lure that matches the water depth.

The use of planer boards also allows anglers to present lures without having their boat spook fish, especially shallow-water ones.

Outdoors Calendar

May 14: Federated Sportsmen’s Clubs of SLC meet at Canton BOCES at 7 p.m.

May 16-19: Henderson Harbor Spring Classic Fishing Derby for trout, pike, walleye, and pickeral.

May 18: Gary Strader Coyote Seminar at SLVSC at 3 p.m. (393-5318).

May 25: Cape Vincent C of C hosts annual Spring Fishing Derby (654-2481).

May 31: Spring Turkey season closes in NYS.

June 8: Bowhunter Education Course at SLVSC (Pre-register at 393-3775).

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