Yes, my pike box is full of the same large jerkbaits, big thumper spoons and wild looking spinnerbaits as yours probably is. And yes, hitting a big pike casting one of these classic lures is a rush when it happens. (If nothing else, it sure helps in justifying the money spent on them or the two hundred pound tackle bag they live in.) But bigger fish are in and out of shallower casting depths faster than most fishermen realize, and one of the best lures to catch them on a consistent basis is also the cheapest: the jig! It has no equal when it comes to staying in a pike’s wheelhouse after the spawn, and the fish eat them no matter where they are or what mood they’re in. They’re as universal as lures get.
The size of the pike’s home range in Ontario is pretty amazing when you stop and think about it. From downtown to mining towns, and all points in between, these fish live in a huge variety of water-types. Jigs work in early summer everywhere. Deep, cold lakes, lakes that bloom with algae in farm country, tea-coloured lakes, all over the Shield and in all the rivers. ‘Umbrella’ type thinking can be dangerous to a fisherman: trying to gather pods of information and then jam them into your localized conditions where they might not fit can lead you off track. But jigs, June and big pike are as close to the silver bullet as it gets. You will be able to catch bigger fish and more of them if you learn to fish jigs.
When pike start to roam and eat normally in early summer, they’ve got a lot of feeding options, and there are two ways you can approach this fact. The popular answer is to try and do it all, and to do it all big, loud and fast for fish that obviously have food on the brain and lots of it to choose from. After all, it’s been a long winter for fishermen, too. Whipping around your new spoon or jerkbait can be awfully tempting, and this can certainly put you onto big fish when things all fall into place. The other approach, and the one that I’ve found more reliable, is to accept the fact that pike have a lot of feed at their disposal on classic spots but they still might not need to work that hard to eat. Forage might be perch, walleyes or suckers in one lake, or it could be trout and herring in another. The best fish will be close to the best food. For well-fed fish hanging around forage, the jig fits in a lot of ways.
You can’t skim a magazine article about pike fishing at this time of year that doesn’t talk water temperature, and this is because it really dictates where big pike can and will live. Pike really are more like lake trout than they are muskies in this regard. So the water’s warming up and the forage is blooming in depths pike like to live. You can work a spoon, spinnerbait or sinking plug like a Rattle Trap at these levels but not as consistently as you can a leadhead jig.
Are they the most efficient way to cover water? Probably not. But if you measure efficiency by quality fish landed as a result of quality time spent at the right depth, jigs take on a new look. On the right tackle and with good boat control, you can actually cover a lot of water jigging, with your lure in the strike zone the entire time. Deep trolling is the only thing that comes close (jigs are also great trolling lures). Because of their huge habitat and geographic home range, making generalizations about the best pike depths is impossible. But whether you’re in eight feet of water on Lake Of The Woods or in twenty eight feet an hour outside Toronto, you can pick a jig and work it. It’s all the same. You can fish them vertically over smaller pieces of structure right under the boat or move along deeper contours and edges back trolling or using any combination of the wind, your electric motor or a drift sock.
In water where there are good numbers of walleyes, finding big pike in June usually means finding them first. River mouths or places with current where walleyes travel or linger around long after spawning are worth checking. Any bars, shoals or budding weed edges in these areas are usually the prime locations. Soft bottom flats and bays with patchy weed, wood, perch and bug larvae can be amazing when it’s been really hot and the hatches are ready to explode. They seem less productive after late springs or when cold, miserable weather has slowed the food chain down. You’ve probably heard that the biggest pike take over the best spots on the best structures, or something to that effect. It’s absolutely the truth. In these situations, I simply rig up for walleye! You could have life a lot rougher than putting up with these fish sucking back jigs while you wait for one of those railroad ties to come a long. Same classic ‘thunk’ on the jig, except you set the hook and that split second feels like an hour. Then it’s just dead, heavy pressure. The most efficient and sporting set-up I’ve found in these situations day in and day out is a medium action spinning outfit with ten pound monofilament or no-stretch line and twister tails from three to five inches long. I’ve used light, Sevenstrand wire rig to the jighead with no hardware for years, but have started experimenting with fluorocarbon from 23 to 33 pound test and like it, so far.
You might be fishing from an anchored position and fan-casting, drifting or slowly creeping along with an electric motor keeping your jig right under the transducer cone. Whenever walleyes move into an area, expect pike to be either right behind them or waiting on the prime features. I’ve caught some of my biggest fish in June right when the bugs are getting bad in the evening, or within the first two hours of daylight. Pay attention to the condition of any walleyes you jig up. Freshly mauled ones are common when you’re in the right areas. Jig weights on these spots are totally case-specific, carry them from 1/8 to 1 ounce. Ballheads are the best for fishing vertically, jigs with the line-tie closer to the nose and at more of an angle work better for dragging or casting. Wedge, stand-up, bullet or the flattened, ‘swimming’ style all work. Jigs are dirt cheap. You’re going to lose a lot, so buy a lot. In the walleye lakes, orange, chartreuse, yellow and white are all good. Scented twisters or tipping with live or dead bait can all make a difference some trips. This program has really worked well for me in the tea-stained Shield lakes and rivers, where most guys are after walleyes first and the pike are an afterthought or even a nuisance. Current is often a factor. Pike love eddies and also use a variety of current breaking features either along the bottom or extending out from shore. Keep this in mind when you’re picking your jig weights and fishing line.
Weeds can be hot in June when the weather and water has been right and they’ve had a chance to begin growing and acting as nurseries for small fish and insects. Don’t forget that good stands of weeds never die in some spots, and stay full and thick all winter under the ice. Deep to mid-depth patches of cabbage or coontail over soft or firm bottom are like factories year-round. In the new weeds that grow shallower, focus on the deeper edges. Even though they may be sparser, they’ll still produce, pike will skirt them as they roam. In shallower spots, inside turns or areas where weeds meet large rocks or incoming/exiting current are also very key. Remember that big pike take the best spots. Some of my best spots are ones where I can visually see the gap in the rocks plugged with weed, pitch an easy cast in and yet still have my sonar reading twenty or even thirty feet deep.
Bucktail jigs are great in weeds, and pike love them. Make shorter casts, and wait for the bow in your line to fall flat before you move your rod. Reel down to the jig and explode it upwards or slightly to the side. Let it settle, watching your line, and pause again. Continue this all the way back to the boat. Just because pike are using weeds for feeding sessions doesn’t mean they’re burried directly in them. Pike are a classic edge-traveller, and they’re just as likely to be on the doorstep of prime weed spots as inside, laying on the sofa. If there are weeds up in the pike lakes I’m fishing in June, you could leave me alone all weekend with a 3/8 ounce white or chartreuse bucktail jig and I’d be set. Flipping jigs like you’d use for largemouths are another excellent bait. Northland makes a really ingenious jig called the Jungle Jig that has loud, free-swinging rattles on short pieces of Dacron line strung within the skirt material. They don’t interfere with plastic or natural trailers threaded onto the hook shank, and they’re really loud. The line-tie is recessed and it has a good hook. I like heavier jigs even on weed spots as shallow as twelve or fifteen feet, so that the lure explodes and lands sharply and stays deep all the way back to the boat. Ask a tournament bass fishermen how many big pike he’s been bitten off by or landed on weed edges in early season events, on a jig ‘n pig. Later into summer and fall, I use bucktails and flippin jigs on the rock spots down past twenty five feet. I throw most of my hair jigs on medium heavy spinning gear with 50 to 65 pound braided line, and use the same weights on regular flipping rods for baits like the Jungle Jig.
In deep, all-season weeds on the oligotrophic lakes, you’re already one step ahead if you’ve located spots that have deep weed year after year. Weeds can be scarce on this type of water, and big, healthy patches are natural magnets. Depending on how deep they are (I have weeds in 22 to 25 feet on some lakes) and the size of the bed, you might drift and jig semi-vertically or cast and retrieve. Wind is usually the deciding factor no matter what the spot’s make-up is. In deep or windy conditions, Lunker City’s wedge head in ½ to 1 ounce with a five-inch shad body or Reaper tail is probably my favorite. I carry this combo in my boat for muskies and pike all year. Berkley’s Inshore Series Power Grubs or Kalin’s Mogombo are two excellent trailers also. White is my favorite colour, but there’s no reason why other colours wouldn’t work also. Smelts, suckers, trout and herring are all light-coloured in this type of water and white is all I use because it works for me and I have confidence in it. I’m always amazed at how these big fish won’t chase even the slowest spoon or crankbait but will eat the jig.
Rock-soft bottom transition areas on the deep, clear lakes are great early in the summer, and all year. Some of these spots can be very large, and drifting a heavy, soft plastic jig on and off the break is a trophy technique. Wherever and whenever you mark an irregularity along the deep transitions, re-work the area either by hooking back around immediately, or tossing a buoy and running back after the run is done. Pike will suspend in these situations too, and the thermocline doesn’t have to be set for them to hunt higher in the water. Experiment whenever your sonar is showing you activity well off the bottom by jumping that jig several feet, reeling up several feet, snapping it again, and then bombing it back down. Transition areas in the twenty to forty foot range can have schooling whitefish, walleyes and suckers feeding along them in early summer, with new crops of bug larvae emerging as the water gradually climbs the ladder towards summer peak. The prime food is there, and pike just seem to like a dopey jig that’s easy to overtake without much effort. Remember on the more sterile, oligotrophic pike lakes, re-visiting the cherry spots again and again is what it takes. They’re fewer and further between than on more fertile lakes, and big fish will show up on them almost out of necessity. They take on heightened importance.
Even heavy jigs in current on the walleye lakes or on deeper structure on the trout lakes fish surprisingly trouble-free. They let you stay close to vertical, and you’ll walk over snags better than you would using a light jig with lots of line out and a lower angle. On braided line, you’ll feel them bang down on the bottom after every lift or after you’ve casted them out. Pike feel this with their lateral lines, too. In wood or weeds, pay extra attention to jig weight, it’s amazing how the right jig will stay on your line rather than being broken off. Having a good selection, and making the small adjustments can be what makes or breaks a trip.
Where current, cover and wind allows, you can stay around big pike with a jig and still comb through a lot of water. On the spot-on-the-spot, no lure beats a jig for precision, learning what type of bottom is under your boat and for winning over a fat, sulking sow. Jerkbaits, spoons and other lures all have their days, but it just seems like the jig bite never dries up. When the big pike are long gone from shallow water, you can catch ’em on jigs wherever they’re hanging out. You can play it fast and aggressive if you need to, or slow it down and blow other lures presentations out of the water. Pike have a special affinity for jigs, as do all fish at one time or another. It’s a quality technique that can start your summer off with a bang.
“Jigging Early Summer Pike”
By…. J.P. Bushey.