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for Pike in Spring
By Tim Allard
Jigs catch just about anything that swims, but excel with
certain fish - northern pike being one of them. Jigs are an
excellent bait to work along bottom when pike are shallow in spring.
Here's where to find spring pike and how to fool them with jigs at
the start of the season.
Northern pike are considered a cool-water fish. Their mating ritual
takes place immediately following ice out sometime between April and
early May depending on latitude; the optimal temperature range for
spawning is between 40 to 52 degrees Fahrenheit. Spring flooding and
high water levels contribute to pike spawning habitat. Typical zones
include marshes, swollen creeks, back bays, sheltered shorelines,
and flooded land. Pike prefer soft bottoms for spawning, such as
sand or silt, mixed with new, emerging vegetation or plant debris,
Knowing the location and timing of northern pike spawning will help
you catch them come season opener. Fish will linger in the shallows
in close proximity to these mating locales for a few weeks. Basking
in the sun and drawn to shallow, warming waters. Here, pike
replenish their strength after the rigours of spawning while also
taking advantage of various food items found in the skinny water.
Bay and Flats - Top Early Season Spots
The first few weeks of pike season, I concentrate my
casting efforts on shallow water regions. Protected bays off of
rivers and lakes are one of my top spots. The best bays will be near
spawning areas. Bays in front of a marsh or a feeder creek are
classic early-season producers. Pike will recuperate in the bay
after spawning in the flooded shallows. Northerns may also hold on
sand areas near shore or the bay's entrance points. If the bay has a
deep hole pike will often station in it during foul, cold weather
and at night. Shallow flats, between six and 12 feet deep will also
hold northerns. Again, these areas are best when close to spawning
Small jigs work well this time of year. Pike don't
discriminate little baits. I regularly catch incidental northerns
when targeting other species, like walleye, using jigs. Spring is
the time of year when three- to four-inch grubs, shads, and
soft-plastic jerkbaits on a 1/4-ounce jig head catch plenty of
spring-time pike. Bucktail jigs with the same characteristics are
just as deadly.
Be sure smaller-sized jig heads have a strong hook. Thin wire hooks
could bend under too much pressure when battling large pike. Also, a
drop of high-strength glue applied to the jig collar before
completely treading on the body holds plastics in place, preventing
them from sliding down the hook shank.
When pike are sluggish during early, cool mornings a
drag-pause retrieve along soft-bottom areas works well. Sand and mud
don't hold many snags so maintaining bottom contact isn't an issue.
Dragging the bait also kicks up a silt trail, which often attracts
pike. Pike eat anything appearing vulnerable. They feed on frogs
burrowed in the mud, so dragging baits along soft bottom bays,
flats, and shorelines is an excellent spring tactic.
In spring you can sight-fish pike in calm conditions. Toss
jigs past the fish. Then work it into the strike zone. Hoping the
jig might trigger a reaction strike, while in other situations
pauses and jiggles are better for sluggish fish.
Always look for structure and cover. Sunken logs, small dips in the
bottom, weed edges, and boulders all offer ambushing advantages.
Cast jigs to these zones even if you don't see pike near them. Last
year during an early season outing in ripple-water conditions a
friend of mine tossed his bait to what he thought was a log. Well
the log had teeth and an appetite; it ended up being a decent pike
worthy of a few photos.
Deeper Water Holds Fish Too
Don't neglect slightly deeper water near spawning sites.
Good zones are entrances to weedy bays and their bordering points. I
concentrate on areas up to about 15 feet around spawning sites. Cast
jigs into the shallows and work them along bottom. Also count-down
jigs, and then swim or hop them through the water column for
cruising, active fish.
Best Spring Jig Fishing Outfits
To cast light jigs at the start of the season, use either a
medium-heavy spinning or baitcast rod as you're rarely fishing near
heavy weeds or wood cover. Going with a ultra-fast or fast action
rod ensures you can toss these jigs a considerable distance while
maintaining accuracy for sight fishing scenarios. Be sure though the
blank has plenty of backbone to muscle big pike. On my spring
outfits I use 30- to 40-pound test teamed with 9- to 12-inch,
multi-strand wire leaders. Fluorocarbon leaders in the 60-pound
range are also effective in clear water scenarios, but check
regularly for nicks that will weaken the leader material.
Spring is an exciting time to angle pike. So try some different jig
options this season to score plenty of fish at the start of the
Sidebar: Hooking Followers
Pike often follow baits. The best scenario is spotting a
fish a distance from the boat. If it looks aggressive, try speeding
up the retrieve or adding some snaps. This imitates escape-moves and
sometimes triggers bites. If the fish appears lazy, slow the
retrieve slightly. If working the bait along bottom, leave it still
and work in short drags and pauses. If you spot a following pike
close to the boat while your jig is travelling upwards, letting out
line so the jig falls is your best option.
Sidebar: The Throw-Back Bait
When using other lures for pike, such as topwaters,
bucktail spinners, or jerkbaits, have a jig tied on another rod as a
throw-back bait. Pitching a jig and letting it sink where you last
spotted a following pike works well. If you're not sure where the
fish went, fan cast the area using a yo-yo swimming retrieve or work
the bait along bottom. Pike that followed but were uninterested in
striking a fast-moving, horizontal presentations can often be fooled
into biting a jig.