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Outdoor Journal: Four places to try for elusive northerns

Outdoor Journal: Four places to try for elusive northerns

Most of the lakes and rivers are getting back to normal after all the rain, but I still haven’t rece

Most of the lakes and rivers are getting back to normal after all the rain, but I still haven’t received a lot of information or reports on “good” pike fishing since mid-May.

I’ve spoken with many of the bait and tackle shops in the area, and they say they’re still selling pike baits, both live and artificial, but sizable catches are few and far between. In my bass fishing trips to Saratoga Lake, the Great Sacandaga Lake and the Hudson and Mohawk rivers, I’ve hooked up with a few, but nothing has come on board over 24 inches.

I lost one double-digit toothy critter that was all of three feet several weeks ago. It grabbed my six-inch Slingapede, ran by my boat and then closed his mouth on my 12-pound-test monofilament and disappeared into the weeds in Manning’s Cove.

I recently received several e-mail and blog requests about where to go and what to use for pike within a reasonable distance of our area. If I was going to plan a pike fishing weekend within a few hours of the Capital District, there are four bodies of water that would be on my list: the Great Sacandaga Lake, Schroon Lake, Lake Champlain and Round Lake.

GREAT SACANDAGA LAKE

How could I not recommend the Great Sacandaga Lake, where in 1940 Peter Debuc landed the North American-record northern pike that weighed in at 46 pounds, two ounces. Actually, the only big pike catches I’ve heard about in the past month all came from this lake.

Dave Allen of Dave’s Bait and Tackle in Mayfield reported a few 32-inchers and one 37-inch northern — all caught by walleye anglers pulling spinner and harness rigs down in 28 feet of water. I guess that’s where they hide during the day. He did say the pike appear to be following the bait fish up onto the shoals in the evening, and I think if you can get out and on the water early enough, that you may catch them there.

Once the sun comes up, you’ll have to go deep off the shoal drops, preferably with big live bait. It’s really a waiting game and very hit and miss. But if you have the equipment to deep-troll, try that, also. Some recently caught fish have been taken just off the shoals out from the Northampton Campgrounds.

Ron Kolodziej, retired Great Sacandaga Lake fishing guide and my turkey hunting partner, recommends big baits rather than artificial lures. He says heavy boating traffic on the lake from mid-morning on also puts them deep. Concentrate on bays, creek mouths and flooded areas right now, but get out there early for the best results. These areas would include Mayfield Bay, and water around Beacon Island, Woods Hollow and Shady bays around Broadalbin, and trolling around Sand and Scout islands. There’s an area called Stump City in the Northampton area and Ben­edict Bay (where Dubuc’s record pike supposedly came from), so that’s def­initely worth a few casts.

SCHROON LAKE

Lake trout, salmon and smallmouth bass are usually the most sought-after freshwater species in Schroon Lake, but within its depths is a very healthy population of good northern pike that are often overlooked. Although they can be found almost anywhere in the lake, the major concentrations are in the extreme northern and southern ends of the lake.

If you launch in the village, it’s a short ride to Lockwood Bay, an ideal starting point, says Schroon Lake resident and guide Alan

DeCesare. This end of the river has the proper depth and weed/grass cover that attract baitfish, and pike follow. This is where the Schroon River enters the lake. Move off of this inlet into 8-10 feet of water and start fishing.

Moving south, work the waters between Keppler’s Point just off Fowler Avenue, to Clark’s Island and along the East Shore Road south of Adirondack. I’ve always had good luck on this east side, where I’ve found scattered weed patches that held both largemouths and northern pike. At this time of the year, I’d use a one-ounce bell sinker with a steel-leadered 3/0 bait hook about 12 inches above the sinker, baited with a large shiner hooked just beneath the dorsal fin, keeping it right on the bottom. Fish at water depths between 10-15 feet and try to drift slowly dragging the sinker and bait along the bottom. If you cannot drift slowly, anchor, fish for about 30 minutes or so, then move down a hundred yards.

The extreme south in Horicon is another excellent place to find northern pike. Around the outlet of the Schroon River, there’s a series of good grass/weed beds that attract pike. However, at this time of year, they’re usually deep. Don’t forget to fish the areas around the boat launch.

The best methods for catching northerns right now on Schroon are casting with diving stickbait lures and three-eighths- or half-ounce spinnerbaits tipped with three- to four-inch white twister tails. Be sure to use eight- to 12-inch wire leaders unless you like donating those $8 baits to the toothy critters. De­Cesare recommends whatever lure is used should have plenty of gold color. Once the sun is up, he uses live bait, but he finds trolling much more productive. His No. 1 trolling lure is a 7G gold Rapala.

LAKE CHAMPLAIN

How do you find pike on a lake 108 miles long, covering 490 square miles and having shores in New York, Vermont and Quebec? Well, to keep it simple and close, let’s make the first stop at the

Ticonderoga boat launch, at the east end of NY Route 74, right next to the ferry landing. Head south out of the launch less than a mile to Mt. Independence and the mouth of East Creek on the Vermont side of the lake. On Jan. 1, 2004, New York and Vermont agreed anyone holding a New York or Vermont fishing license may take fish from any portion of Lake Champlain.

Fish the weedy small bay area leading into the creek and work into the creek. This is a great place to toss those big, flashy spinner baits or to sit off the weed edges and watch a big bobber with a big minnow swim around the edges of the milfoil and lily pads. If you are a Mepps fan, try their big Mepps No. 4 Spinner Gold / Red & White spinner. It has rewarded me with several nice northerns. It is very easy to spend the whole day there.

The next area I would recommend is about 16 miles north of Ticonderoga in Bulwagga Bay. The easiest way to get there is to launch at the town of Moriah at Bulwagga Bay Campsite Beach. This bay is like a little lake, about two miles long and a mile across at its widest point. Weeds and rocks fill this bay, making it the ideal place for a number of game fish, especially northern pike. Early-morning tactics should include using spinner baits, Mepps and big Rapalas around the shallower weeds in the south end of the bay and the shorelines. As the morning progresses, head to the riprap along the railroad tracks on the west side of the bay. Drop your live bait down in 10 feet of water or deep troll with deep-diving Rapala stick baits in silver or gold colors.

The east side of the bay should also be worked thoroughly with the same techniques or lures/bait. Take your time. Don’t overlook underwater weeds or the occasional sunken tree. Pike and bass hang in these areas.

Before leaving, and only if the main lake is not rough, head out of Bulwagga Bay across the lake to Crane Point, where there is a long, rocky ledge extending way out into the lake and holding various species of big game fish, of which pike is one. This is a good.

ROUND LAKE

With only 321 acres of water, Round Lake in Saratoga County continues to surprise me every year with the size and quality of pike it gives up. Its only drawback is that the boat launch is a small dirt area with very limited parking facilities. Most fishing boats can be launched there, but it may require getting your feet wet at times.

Once on the lake, it’s very easy to fish. Start either at the north or south end, and spend the day working the weed lines that circle almost the entire lake. All the baits and lures and techniques we have talked about also work on Round Lake. However, if your boat has a LCD depth/fishfinder, try to find the large sunken weed bed out in the middle of the lake, then drop the biggest live bait you can find down there, and you could be one of those who pull out a double-digit weight pike.

There’s one other surprise you might get when fishing this lake — a tiger musky.

Good luck pike fishing, and don’t forget to send me your fish tales at [email protected]

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