Pike attack for many reasons. Being ambush predators, they have a hit-first-ask-questions-later disposition. While this aggressiveness helps them survive, it also makes them vulnerable to techniques intended to trigger reaction strikes, like ripping baits around weeds.
Healthy vegetation is prime habitat for northerns. The premier plants on a system are found near deep water, such as a lake basin or river channel. This gives pike, particularly big ones, the best of both worlds. Lush weeds hold a cornucopia of forage and offer ample ambushing cover. Plus, pike can easily retreat to deep, cool water to rest and digest with a few tail kicks.
On the fringe
Weed edges are high percentage spots. This includes outside weedlines, the top of stalks, openings that cut into growth, the border surrounding clumps, as well as fingers and points extending off the main bed. Pike prowl these boundaries, looking for opportunities to flush out prey beyond the plant’s protective cover.
Tailoring tactics to exploit a pike’s surprise attack behaviour is the secret to success when fishing weeds. This is where weed-ripping methods come into play. Rapidly working a lure through a prime area, like along edges or over top of weeds, will trigger pike to instinctually pounce at the commotion.
The beauty of bucktail
The conundrum is that certain baits are challenging to fish in weeds. Plants can yank plastics to the point that they won’t run true and treble-hook lures aren’t practical for plying thick cover. The solutions are bucktail jigs and spinnerbaits.
The hairs on these lures give the baits a lifelike action, but durability is their main virtue. Even when hung-up in the thickest growth, they can be ripped free — a move that shakes off clinging plants but also triggers reaction strikes. Better still, bucktails have a longer lifespan than plastics after encounters with northerns.
A systematic approach to casting is best for dissecting weed growth with jigs. Use short casts when exploring irregular growth. Long tosses are best reserved for clear water or when working a uniform edge.
Let a jig sink on semi-slack line, maintaining a constant feel to detect a strike on the drop. Doing so also signals when the jig touches weeds, at which point it should be pulled forward.
An alternative to this rip-fall retrieve is swimming a jig over weed tops, through clumps and along edges. In addition to ripping the bait when it contacts plants, frequent snaps and hop-drops are recommended. This irregularity mimics a startled baitfish and is more natural than a straight, unchanging retrieve. A spinnerbait can be used in this manner as a jig alternative.
Trolling with spinnerbaits also follows similar principles. The lure should travel rapidly while staying near the periphery of weed growth. The safety pin form of these baits helps them weave through weeds with minimal hang-ups. Working a rod forward and back manually, trolling in S-turns or varying boat speed are all tactics that will mix up the lure’s trajectory and stimulate hits.
Medium-heavy to heavy powered casting rods are recommended for both casting and trolling tactics. Consider 7’6” a starting point; the leverage and control of a longer blank helps fight pike around thick cover. Spool high-gear ratio reels with 50- to 65-pound-test superline. Leaders are another a must. Both steel and fluorocarbon will work. Use streamlined hardware to prevent weed hang-ups.
Also, adding a four to six inch grub or swimbait as a trailer will increase a lure’s appeal. The plastic boosts vibration and puffs out the bucktail for a bulkier offering. Apply superglue to secure the soft-bait in place.
Give weed-ripping tactics a try the next time you spot lush greenery in pike-occupied waters. The methods are efficient and have a knack for producing bragging-sized northerns.