There are two camps which both speak quite passionately about pike, the lovers and the haters. The latter see these toothy, slimy and bony predators as a nuisance, lure thieves whom often prey on preferred quarries such as walleye, bass or trout. Across parts of northern Ontario, frequently clenched by their eyeballs, with disgust pike are sometimes tossed about on the land or ice to merely rot. An exciting sport unappreciated due to a bad reputation, in a room of anglers you can likely find one or two folks who utterly despise pike.
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Never have been one of those fisherman. In fact, a lover of all fish really, I have found over the years that pike have quite endearing qualities, many of which should hold them to a higher esteem. Consider their potential for great size and the fact they are an excellent all season fish to be angled in many different ways. Their flesh is succulent, delicious and quite healthy. As a sport they are fast, aggressive, explosive and unpredictable, a pike on the line will go several rounds into a fight even after their initial and violent strike. Thinking about it, their bad rep probably lies solely on the truth that they are just much more badass and likely to beat up on anglers.
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One definite I have come to understand is that a northern pike is a pike. From the Northwest Territories south to Ontario they are what they are. Some places have greater numbers, some grow intensely large beasts, and everywhere in every Province and Territory there will be waters holding the best of both. So if you’re a lover like me, where at home in Ontario would such a place be? Where could anyone go to experience great northern pike fishing, catching many and having the potential to hook a super tanker..?
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NIPIGON!!!
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Several times a season over nearly a decade now, the truck and boat have been loaded up for the long haul to Lake Nipigon in northwestern Ontario. Some years back I would take fly-ins to excellent Ontario pike waters such as Kesagami and the Attawapiskat, and in more recent times have sampled bigger Canadian lakes like Athabasca and Great Slave. But, with that pike fishing comes a greater if not unattainable price tag and, no guarantee the pike will be any larger or more plentiful than what I have come to learn is found on Nipigon.
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An awesomely vast, scenic and sparsely populated wilderness surrounds Ontario’s 5th largest lake. To equal Nipigon’s size and remoteness, add the waters of Lake Of The Woods together with Lac Seul but then divide the shoreline populations, cottages, outfitters, tourism and fishing pressure by the hundredths. At eighty miles north to south by fifty east to west, there is a lifetime of exploring to be done. The region is best known to anglers for one very long standing world record brook trout. These speckles aside, Nipigon is also a trophy lake trout fishery and excellent walleye opportunities are found as well. The overlooked and nearly forgotten northern pike again plays second fiddle to all else but, in no way should this be the case.
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Waters with trout grow big pike. Brookies and sometimes lake trout to feed upon, pike swimming in Nipigon also have whitefish, walleye, sucker, ciscoes, perch, smelt and I suppose even ling as meal choices. For anglers this means that anything goes. Lure patterns and sizes mimicking any of these bait fish could potentially ring their dinner bell. Finding those productive seasonal offerings keeps the pike fishing interesting.
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After ice out, post spawn and either warming along the shorelines or searching out bait fish, pike fishing can get explosive. Surface lure action in back bays with shallow running baits and even topwaters is the golden rule. Earliest in the season, because everywhere in the lake can still be quite cold, the fish will at times be quite lethargic and seemingly uninterested. Precise casts and slowing down your presentations can be important to enticing those fish. Later into spring, as the surface waters and shallows warm, many days it’s anything goes with savage, prowling pike actively on the feed. Sunny springtime on Nipigon I have often been able to stand upon the casting deck and sight fish solely for visible, big pike. The ability to do this limits any need to wrestle with runts which might disturb your playing grounds. This style of fishing simply becomes a hunt for the trophy, and it is May through June when the season is best.
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By early July most pike are changing things up. Some roam away in search of brookies and whitefish that have long beaten them to the punch and vacated the shallows. Along rocky, main and island shorelines, pike in pursuit of trout and other food sources often seek out the warmest stretches with any prime real estate. Busy points and emergent weedbeds to be used as cover, are just two examples of perfect spots pike use for ambushing traveling prey. Although, some pike I have found they remain behind, continuing to inhabit the back bay pencil and sprouting cabbage beds. Walleye, whitefish and surely many varieties of minnows still frequent these soft bottom weeded areas to feed themselves. (especially at dusk) So, for good reason those opportunistic pike not having wandered too far off, can lazily wait for the scheduled food trains to keep arriving to them. Being that pike are everywhere, a plethora of tactics can be used and of course, day to day weather and wind conditions can throw new challenges your way.
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In my experience, come August and into September the really skinny shallow back bay action dies and the pike are almost always found on cabbage weed beds. Three to twelve foot depths where any green bage grows, on Nipigon it’s a given that one or dozens of pike will be held up in there. A few other areas to consider are, anywhere one might think brook trout are beginning to stage for spawn, any rocky feeding spots and routes for trout and whitefish and, other big structures often affected by wind. Mornings and evenings pike love to make an appearance on those rocky shoals or points close to home base cabbage, while on some afternoons during gusty days I have also found pike loaded on the lee-side drop-offs of similar areas. Be armed with big offerings for big fish this time of year and consider having different weedless options for plunking into all depths of any vegetation.
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By September the weedbeds have generally begun to wither and die. Pike once stationed in the oxygen rich greenery give up with the decay and swim off to other haunts. Some seasons if you’re lucky you will catch them on the fringes of the deepest remaining live bage, but otherwise they tend to move onward and outward to deeper structures found a little more offshore. Main lake and island saddles and points, lurking low and outside brook and lake trout spawning shoals too, the pike are out there, feeding and fattening up before the cold winter ahead. Think where their food is traveling or situated and odds are you’ll find a pattern that intercepts pike.
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Most all lure and tactical advice to give means little I find. Nipigon is a beast of a lake and so much of it is rarely fished; especially for pike. The winds blow and the seasons change, it’s never quite the same. A trip in the same week yet only a year apart, half the time the fishing still requires some trial and error to first crack any code. I remember 2009 using these lucky spinners with the other anglers in our boat. Those lures accounted for nearly all the pike caught on several different cabbage bed spots. The next year, those cabbage beds had hardly grown at all and the fish weren’t there. A third season, and although the weeds were lush again, those spinner couldn’t buy a fish and it was a jig that instead did all the damage. Most anglers have had this happen to them at some point so it’s best repeated that, nothing in fishing is a given and the best laid plan is to be prepared for anything.
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Big, wild and certainly intimidating water is Lake Nipigon, and in its depths are fish equally as impressive and humbling. In Ontario there are some great pike fisheries to be found but I would care to bet that nowhere is there likely less pressured fish so accessible to all, and in such an abundance and magnificent size. Giants are waiting to be discovered, so in future if you’re a pike lover and not a hater, think about Nipigon.
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Bunk.
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