Outdoor Journal: Trophy pike lurk in the fall

In case you haven’t noticed, the leaves have already begun to change colors, and our evenings and mo

In case you haven’t noticed, the leaves have already begun to change colors, and our evenings and mornings are a bit cooler. Fall is actually only eight days away.

Hunters have already been afield for squirrels and Canada geese, and anglers should be devoting more time to their favorite sport because now that the Labor Day holiday is over, things on and in the water are changing. First of all, the boat traffic is dramatically decreasing, and when you combine that with a cooling of water temperatures, the fish are going to be more active.

One of the most active is northern pike. Pike begin to frequent the shallows to eat, and this migration will increase up until ice forms on the surface.

The fall bite is a fun time to be on the water because it offers an excellent opportunity to hook up with a real trophy. There are many ways to fish for northern pike, and although I favor live bait, there are those who swear by, and catch, northerns on artificial lures. So let’s look at some of the techniques used for both, so you can judge what to do.


Several years ago in late September, after a morning Canada goose hunt, I headed to Saratoga Lake to try and hook up with a big northern. When I pulled into the boat launch, I saw an elderly gentleman with a bent rod and walked over to see what he was fighting. It turned out to be a pike that he measured at 29 inches. It was a nice healthy fish, and he put it in his cooler where I saw a similar pike. I complimented him on his catch and he said he had caught and released several others earlier, one of which measured over 30 inches. Another nearby shore angler commented that he was the only one catching fish there that morning, and all of them were using the same bait.

Curious, I walked with him back to his car and asked him why he was the only one catching fish. He laughed and pulled out a bottle of Dr. Juice, which I thought was only used on artificial lures. There was a small amount left in the bottle which he gave me and said, “Try it, you’ll see”

In all honesty, I didn’t try it until the last hour I was on the water and “fishless.” I’m not going to say it’s the reason I caught the 28-inch pike and then a twin to it in that last hour, but I did catch fish. And yes, I do use it when fishing for pike with live bait and it continues to work.


There are two ways I rig a live minnow, one is with a bobber and the other with a sinker. Both of these require an 18- to 24-inch steel leader I attach to no less than 20-pound monofilament or braided line. My bobber choice is a seven-inch Lindy Little Joe Pole slip bobber which allows regulating the depth of your bait and is less resistant to fish when it’s pulled under water. After sliding the bobber on to the line, I attach a No. 2 treble hook to the end of the leader. Insert one of the barbs just behind the dorsal fin of the minnow and leave the other two barbs exposed. Using a treble hook rather than a single hook will definitely add to more hooked pike.

In deeper water, I use a rig sim­ilar to a drop-shot rig. On the end of the line, I attach a half- to three-quarter-ounce bell sinker, about three feet above, an 18-inch snap swivel steel leader with a treble hook and the live bait. When you cast this out, let it sink to the bottom, then tighten the line. This allows the minnow to swim freely.

Both these methods require watching. If you’re a napper, which I am when bait fishing, you might want to invest in a bait-walker reel which allows setting a light drag, just enough to keep the bait from pulling the line out, and when the pike grabs it and heads off, the line begins to go out, setting off an aud­ible alarm. Depending upon where I’m fishing and the structure, I’ll use both these methods throughout the day.


Now for those who don’t have the desire or patience to watch a bobber and/or wait for a pike to grab live bait fished near the bottom, there’s another very effective way to hook up with fall pike — trolling. My two favorite trolling lures for pike are crankbaits and spoons, however, this fall, I also want to try a large swimbait. One of the most popular crankbaits is the deep-diving X-Rap Magnum Rapala. This bait will dive up to 30 feet and has very life-like features. They say it can be trolled up to 13 knots (14.95 mph), but a good trolling speed for pike is three to four mph. My color choices are firetiger, shad and purple.

The spoon choice is one that has been around for years. It’s the red-and-white Daredevele, which has been a pike-killer since the early 1900s. Although I haven’t tried it, I’m told the yellow five-of-diam­onds model also attracts teeth.

Here’s a trick I just learned from a Canadian muskie angler. Take an old Rapala and remove all of the treble hooks. Then attach the nose ring on the Rapala to your steel leader. Next, attach another steel leader to the tail ring, and to the other end of the steel leader attach a Five-Diamonds Daredevele. This combination presents a very flashy and active-looking bait when trolled behind the boat.


Northern pike are predators that like to ambush their prey and will hide waiting for their next meal. The most popular place for their hideout is weeds/vegetation. Therefore, you should fish the edges of surface weed lines and put your bait offerings just off the top of the sub-surface weeds. Another holding area for them, especially in rivers, is where there’s current or moving water that meets deeper water. There are several of these incoming creeks on both the Moh­awk and upper Hudson Rivers. Generally, early morning and late afternoon on into the evening will find them roaming the shallows.


I suggest an abbreviated run-and-gun method for live-bait anglers. Pick a spot, anchor and fish for 1 1⁄2 to two hours. If by then there’s no action, move on. Depending upon the type of structure being fished, the move doesn’t necessarily have to be far. For example, if you’re fishing in Manning’s Cove on Saratoga Lake along the outside weed line, you only have to move a few hundred yards. And be sure when fishing these areas, to use two rods, one with a bobber with the live bait three to four feet beneath it, fished close to the weedline, the other using the drop-shot method above. When the bite comes, it should tell you where the fish are.

There is one other method I suggest, a technique I’ve used that can produce some nice pike when it works — flipping live bait. Using a 71⁄2-f oot heavy-action, flipping stick and a reel filled with 40-pound line, I tie on the steel leader and a large hook with the biggest live bait I can get. Then I move into the weeds and gently flip the shiner in the openings. When the bite happens, you have to let the fish take it for a few seconds like you do fishing with a bobber, then set the hook hard and reel it in fast with the rod tip held high. This method can also be used to fish submerged bushes and trees. When the bite comes, it’s definitely a fun fight.


Northern pike are a powerful fish that, when hooked, can take you into the some nasty cover so I highly recommend using heavy equipment. Both baitcasting and spinning equipment will work, but the rods should be at least 6 1⁄2-foot heavy-action. The reels should also be heavy duty, spooled with no less than 20-pound-test monofilament or braided line. I like braided because it doesn’t stretch and provides a more solid hookset.


We have a lot of nearby pike- producing lakes and several rivers that could reward fishers with a trophy catch this fall. They include the Mohawk and upper Hudson rivers, Saratoga Lake, Lake Lonely, Lake George, Ballston Lake and Cossayuna Lake, but there is one nearby body of water that’s been producing trophy pike in every season — whether soft or hard water — the Great Sacandaga Lake. Those who follow my Fish Tales reports know this lake is consistently producing high-30s and even 40-plus-inch northerns. Last May, Randy Gardinier of Amsterdam hooked and landed a 43-inch, 19 pound-plus trophy pike using a Daredevele.

Good luck, and don’t forget Fish Tales.

Categories: -Sports

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