Springtime is by far my most favorite time of the year to fish. You get to go outside after being cooped up for months, use a normal sized fishing rod, and catch some of the biggest fish of the year. One species that is popularly targeted in the springtime, particularly on river systems where you can legally target them all year is the Northern Pike. Yeah, I’m a walleye guy by trade, but I love all fish with teeth!
Pike generally spawn right away at first ice out and occasionally even under the melting ice. Just like most other fish, pike feed heavily post spawn. On top of this, they are one of the more active fish in colder water making them a great choice to chase when the water is still below 40 degrees. Generally these fish are found in shallow water (3-6 feet) with sandy or muddy bottoms and a small amount of current. These areas tend to warm up more quickly stimulating plant growth as well as insect emergence. With warmer water, food, and shelter, smaller fish move into the area which brings in the hungry post-spawn pike.
During this time of the year most popular pike tactics will work, however it is important to remember that with the colder water slowing down your retrieves is good practice. One tactic that I recently have been working on is slowly working blade baits with a light jigging motion, then letting them fall to the bottom. Surprisingly, most fish caught with this technique actually pick the lure up off of the bottom. It is important to remember that not all blade baits are created equal, and for this technique the Vibrations Tackle Echotail is the way to go. With the intense vibration at low retrieve speeds and the action of a soft plastic tail as the lure falls to the bottom, they are perfect for this technique.
The equipment I prefer to use for this technique is a little on the heavy side, but you never know when you are going to hook into a fish over 15 pounds!
Here is my setup:
Fenwick HMX Flipping Stick (7’6” Heavy-Casting)
Abu Garcia Revo STX baitcasting reel
50lb Berkley Trilene Professional Braid
The equipment can vary as far as rods and reels are concerned, however you absolutely MUST use braided line! The no stretch quality of it help to feel the bottom and strikes better, as well as provide solid, hard hitting hook sets. Another reason for braid is that the pike have a harder time biting through it. Yes, you can use a leader if you really want to, but I prefer to tie my line to a large crosslock snap to give myself a little spacer between the line and the lure. I have found that leaders, particularly metal leaders cause the Echotail to fall a little differently. If you really want to use a leader give a fluorocarbon leader a shot.
My go-to size for spring fishing Echotails is the 1/2oz model. It isn’t too big, yet has a large enough profile to be more easily seen in turbid water. On the Mississippi River where I use this technique, white, gold nugget, and copperhead are my hottest colors. As far as tails go most any work. I personally haven’t found the tail I use on the Echotail in this situation to make much of a difference. I like the standard Kalen’s Grubs that come standard on the Echotail, as well as Berkley Gulp! Minnows.
Now that we have the equipment sorted out let’s talk about how to use it. As I mentioned before this is a low and slow approach. Simply cast your Echotail out as far as you can and let it sink to the bottom. With a tight line lift the rod tip just fast enough to get the lure to vibrate, retrieving it about 2-3 feet at a time. After the lift, reel up the slack in the line as the lure falls to the bottom. Be sure to let the lure sit on the bottom for about 2-3 seconds. The majority of the time the fish will hit the lure right as it hits the bottom or will pick it up off of the bottom so be sure to give them enough time to do so. As in all types of fishing, it is important to let the fish tell you what they want. If this low and slow style isn’t producing, try speeding up the retrieve or ripping the lure a little harder before letting it hit bottom.
This same technique works great in the hottest weeks of summer for deep water walleye as well. It is somewhat surprising to think that a fish will actually pick up a 1/2oz steel and lead lure off of the bottom, but this technique has been catching fish for the last several years. Now, the secret is out!