So you’ve already rigged up your boat and you’re watching your calendar, counting down the days until walleye season. You might be thinking; “I wish there was someplace I could fish this weekend.” Well there is, if you want to.
Big Pike don’t wait around for warm water to spawn. In fact, they’re the first fish into shallow water as the ice melt occurs. They move into shallow, backwater bays and swim upstream into small feeder creeks to spawn while main lake areas are still frozen.
For most Minnesotan’s, knowing that doesn’t necessarily mean much because the statewide season for pike fishing is closed while the fish are spawning.
But on certain border water lakes, fishing for Northern Pike is an option, even during the spring spawning runs.
While there are other places to go during the spring spawning runs, Lake of the Woods really is the first place you should think about. The giant lake offers fish plenty of room to grow and because of that, provides anglers with some of the best opportunities to catch a trophy. It is not uncommon for anglers to catch fish over 40 inches; there’s always a chance that your next fish will be your best one ever.
The window of opportunity is short, lasting anywhere from 1 to 2 weeks depending on how the weather breaks. If you ask Deanna Panovich at Zippel Bay Resort, she’d say “3 days after the ice goes out of the bay is when the real bonanza begins.”
I’ve missed the run on Zippel Bay before; arriving after the lion’s share of big pike had already spawned and moved back out into the lake. Even then, the main lake still had ice cover, albeit slushy and disintegrated. That’s why Zippel Bay Resort hosts their annual “Ice-Out Trophy Pike Tournament” comes early, usually 3 weeks before the walleye season opens.
“Last year we hit the bite just right for our annual Trophy Pike Tournament; Nick Panovich said. “We always try to schedule it for the last weekend of April and when the ice goes out on time, there are lots of big fish caught during the event.
This year, the ice was barely off the bay by Friday (April 25, 2019) so we decided to postpone Big Pike Weekend until May 4th, 2019. This is our usual backup plan; when the ice isn’t gone in time, the 1st weekend in May is always the default.”
“Today, there’s still ice moving around on the big lake, so our timing shouldn’t be too bad for this weekend. There were anglers fishing the bay over the past few days and there were some big fish caught yesterday;” Panovich added.
Arming yourself for battle with one of the big pike isn’t complicated. For me, large, dead sucker minnows suspended below a Thill Big Fish Slider is one of the mainstay presentations.
I rig mine by sliding on the bobber stop, then the large float, then sliding on a ½ egg sinker onto my line. Finally, I tie on a #8 barrel swivel to hold the float and sinker in place. For a leader, I like using 30 pound fluorocarbon. For preventing bite offs, steel is the best, but I like the clarity of the fluorocarbon and it’s easy to tie on my 4/0 hook using a snell knot. Besides, I honestly believe that most large pike don’t escape by biting off the line, at least not the same way that little ones do.
The water in areas you’ll be fishing is usually shallow, the bottom soft and muddy. You’ll want to set the floats accordingly. Just a foot or two below the surface is typical.
Alternative presentations could be any lure that allows you to retrieve slowly, without constantly dredging the soft bottom. Spinnerbaits with large blades can be “slow-rolled” and big swimbaits like YUM’s Money Minnow provide great action at slow retrieve speeds too.
Because of re-scheduling the tournament, there were a couple of groups who were forced to cancel reservations. There loss could be your gain because now there are a couple of cabins available for the typically sold-out event.
If you’ve been wishing for something to do, this could be a great weekend to head up and test your luck in the search for Mr. Big!
For more information about Ice-Out Pike on Lake of the Woods, contact Nick and Deanna Panovich at Zippel Bay Resort — 800-222-2537