Northern Pike on Surface Lures
By Tim Mead Febuary 12, 2011

Top water pike makes any piker's day.
Top water pike makes any piker's day.

The following article is copyright by Tim Mead and may not be duplicated or reproduced without his expressed written permission.

Most of us love to catch fish on the surface, from those seeking the sip of a brown trout to a dry fly to those hunting largemouth bass in southern swamps.   The smashing strike of northern pike on the surface is among the prime thrills of surface fishing anglers, though surface lures for pike do not get the attention they deserve.

Patterns:   Anywhere pike are in less than 10 or 12-feet of water, they can be caught on surface lures.   Shortly after ice-out, giant pike patrol shallow bays.   A 10 or 20-pound fish eyeing your lure can be chilling.   A few years ago good fishing buddy Harry Leamy and I caught a dozen near-trophy pike on surface lures after we found them in shallow bays.  

Tim Mead with a Phelps Lake pike!
Tim Mead with a Phelps Lake pike!
A light breeze enabled us to drift slowly into the bays, casting ahead.   Harry has since succumbed to leukemia, but we often enjoyed out day at Crossroute Lake in Ontario.

Later in summer, rock piles and shoals adjacent to deep water are good spots to find surface feeding pike.   Incoming water is often cooler than other spots and may attract quality pike.   No pike angler can overlook a cedar log in the water. Though the deep end of the log may be in 15-feet of water, resident pike may be willing to blast anything that passes overhead.

As water cools in the fall, the shallow bays become productive again.   Fall often finds trophy pike holding near rocky shoals to intercept spawning ciscos or whitefish.

Lures:   Any lure that can be maneuvered near the surface can catch marauding pike.   Some lures are more productive, however, for surface feeding pike than others.

Walk-the-dog lures are great for pike.   These lures swing side-to-side as they make their way across the water.  

Tim Mead loves taking pike on a fly too!
Tim Mead loves taking pike on a fly too!
Harry and I caught our pike on full-size Zara Spooks.   While the Chug Bug is designed as a popper, it works great as a walk-the-dog lure.   Fishing on Cub Lake in Ontario’s Quetico Park, I caught a 10-pound and a 15-pound pike in a 20-minute flurry on the Chug Bug.   I suspect the smaller fish saw the lure flying through the water as the strike came as the plug hit the water.   Instant mayhem!

Floating minnow baits are also excellent choices for surface pike action.   Wooden lures, like Bang-O Lures and Rapala, are great because they pop to the surface after being twitched.   Of course, wooden lures take a beating from pike. Plastic minnow baits last longer.   Examples include Rogues and Husky Jerks.   A few years ago Mike Quinn and I were fishing a series of lakes at a camp in northern Ontario.   Pike were holding off small creeks, feeding on spawning white suckers. Poor suckers; they had to pass through the pike on the way to the creek and then again after their business in the creek was over.   Mike and I caught so many pike on Long A’s, twitched along the surface, that our guide moved us to other sites.

A secret among pike anglers is the One Minus.   This is a short, fat lure that rolls side-to-side and is usually associated with largemouth bass.   On my first trip to Phelps Lake in northeastern Saskatchewan, Mark Montsebroten, my guide for the week, asserted I probably did not have a lure I really needed – a One Minus.   In fact, I had half a dozen in assorted colors.

Spoons work well!
Spoons work well!
On a trip with Gary Johnson and several of his buddies to an outpost near Red Lake, Ontario I was the only one with a selection of One Minus;   by the end of the week, I had loaned out my entire collection.

Buzzbaits are also prime surface lures for pike.   On a large lake near the Mead cabin in northern Michigan buzzbaits have been my go-to lure for pike.   A few years ago I told another angler I had caught numerous pike when he and a buddy had been skunked.   Neither of them believed I caught pike on a buzzbait.   Pencil reed beds are good places for a buzzbait.   Pike are in the weeds and a buzzbait can ricochet off the reeds attracting spectacular strikes.

Probably any color works.   Red head and white body has long been a pike angler staple.   Perch are principal pike forage, so perch or chartreuse fire tiger patterns are productive.   Suckers and shiners are also pike forage and these species are suggested by lures with dark uppers and white or cream lowers.   In discolored water, red fire tiger or clown patterns are effective.

Gear:   While some pike anglers choose spinning gear, I prefer bait casters.   I like a 6- or 7-foot rod.   The rod should have a good backbone, suitable for handling a 20-pound fish, but a flexible tip which assists in subtle manipulation of the lure.   Bass Pro Shops used to sell a Pete Maina endorsed rod musky rod that had the perfect action; it is now identified as a big fish rod.

Last spring, while fishing with Pete, he asked what line and leader I was using.   Answer: 50-pound test Invisibraid and a 20-pound fluorocarbon leader.   Since this is a low-stretch combination, there is no need for dramatic hook sets.   Don’t set the hook at the swirl.   Wait until you feel the heft of the fish.

Coda:   Among the most avid pike anglers catching them on the surface is prime sport.   If you haven’t tried it, do.   Check your pacemaker at the door!


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           Last updated on March 4, 2018