Mike Quinn had a big week. For one thing, his beloved New Jersey Devils won the Stanley Cup. More important, however, was the trophy pike Mike caught on Favourable Lake in northern Ontario.
Trophy pike, for that matter trophies of any species, are rare. Because of the life cycle of pike, however, really big pike are only in shallow water, less than 10 feet, for a brief time. They spawn, either under the ice or shortly after the ice breaks, linger in the shallows for a short period and then spend the rest of the summer in deep water. Once the big northerns go deep, they are rarely caught.
Mike and I were on trophies because we fished an overlooked transitional pattern. We fished where the lunkers go between the spawn and the deep water period.
White suckers, a principal prey for pike, enter incoming streams to spawn. From the perspective of trophy pike, the mouths of such streams become a source of easy meals. Twice, once coming and once leaving, the suckers have to run a gauntlet of foraging pike. Further, white suckers are rich in fat the post-spawn pike need. In the week Mike and I fished together, we fished South Trout, North Trout, Favourable and Setting Net Lakes. (Go to www.waynotrthlodge.com or 908-979-9554) In each, the pattern held. Go to an incoming stream and the big pike were there. From the time I was a kid fishing for pike in northern Michigan to adult trips across the North America range of pike, the sucker spawn has always been a reliable pattern for post-spawn pike.
White suckers usually enter the creeks where they spawn under low light conditions, often at night. Consequently, each day a new batch of suckers appears off the streams, waiting for their turn. While they are waiting, cruising pike make short work of some of them.
At one of the creeks we fished, a large sand bar had formed at the mouth of the stream. Pike were roaming along the drop off at the end of the sand bar. Fan casting the entire area, Mike and I caught nearly 20 pike from 10- to 15-pounds.
Jerkbaits were the key at this creek. At the outset, I tied on a large brown-back Suspending Long A. When the sun popped out, I gave Mike a comparable lure with a blue back. Spawning white suckers, especially males, undergo significant color changes. Their backs take on an olive and lavender hue. My biggest pike at this spot came on a green Reef Hawg, another creek we fished had a large bed of pencil reeds along one bank, with pond weeds emerging on the deep side of the reeds. In addition to the spawning suckers, there were lots of 2-pound walleyes in deeper water. Here, I caught a 44-inch pike and Mike and I caught 15 fish greater than 30-inches. Mike stuck with the Long A. The big pike came on a Squirrley Burt. We were at this spot on a bright day, fishing clear water. Periodically, we could see pike zeroing in on our lures. For serious pike anglers, there are not many thrills greater than a big fish coming to a lure with mayhem in its eyes.
Here the pike were located at the edge of and over the pond weeds, a classic pike haunt. In addition to a jerkbait or glider, over the weeds, a spoon, in-line spinner, or tandem blade spinnerbait will take big pike.
Mike’s biggest pike, nearly 40-inches, was taken on a huge Johnson Silver Minnow. We had taken a shore lunch break on a rock outcropping where a substantial river plunged into the lake. In the large pool below the turbulent water, the suckers were stacked up. And so were the pike.
While I urged that Mike and I get in the boat and fish below the pool, Mike said he was sure he could catch the big pike he had just seen. No sooner did I stretch out on the rock for a snooze than Mike hollared, “I’ve got him!” Clearly the spoon fluttered in the current in a most sucker-like fashion. When Mike pulled the fish onto the rock, its belly was rounded with suckers already gobbled up.
The most productive streams were ones where the wind was blowing into the bank where the particular creek entered. On the creek mouths we fished, the contribution of the wind to angling success was to break up the light. Wind and suckers were the common denominators.
Where you live, when do suckers spawn? Mike and I were in northern Ontario. The week of the Stanley Cup finals was the peak of the sucker spawn. When I was a kid in southern Michigan, we caught spawning suckers in late February or early March. Across pike country, the exact date of the sucker spawn varies. As ice leaves the larger lakes should be about right.
Following the sucker spawn, Mike caught the largest pike of his life. Indeed, never having fished for pike before, on our first day, Mike enthused 8 or 10 times, “Wow. This is the biggest pike I ever caught.” Though his biggest pike ever came less and less frequently, Mike’s excitement did not lessen.
For me, this trip did not yield the biggest pike I ever caught. I had an advantage (or disadvantage). I’ve been fishing for pike, always seeking the biggest, since Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio played for the Yankees. Nonetheless, hanging around the creeks with Mike where suckers run in the early spring, I did catch some mighty big fish. If you search for spawning suckers, you’ll find the biggest pike in your favorite lake or reservoir, too.