Catching Big Pike During the Late Winter – Trophy Northern Pike Fishing

February 7, 2009 by  

By Karl Kleman

You can take ‘em at other times, but Power Stick Karl Kleman likes; Late Winter for Monster Pike.

One person’s complaint is another person’s call to action. Very early in his ice-fishing days, Power Stick Karl Kleman picked up on a familiar refrain coming from late winter panfish anglers.

“When the sunfish move up into the shallow bays,” Kleman says, “the guys who are chasing the sunfish constantly complain about being cut off by pike.”

To Kleman, the question becomes ‘where’s the beef?’ To a guy who loves to fish big northerns, the complaining is beautiful music. He has been known to follow the complaining to fish, in fact.

“The sunfish are up in those shallow bays because there’s a renewal of life in there,” Kleman says. “There’s more oxygen than there was (at midwinter), and the food supply is becoming active again. The big pike are up in there cruising around, too, following the sunfish and other fish. Plus, the northerns are getting ready to spawn, too (pike often spawn while there is still ice on the lake).

“The pike and the sunfish are active, and I sometimes follow the sunfish guys (anglers), and hang off to the edges of them and fish with bigger baits.”

There’s much more to Kleman’s late-ice trophy pike pattern, as you might expect, than simply following other people to potential spots. Over the years, he has refined his operation, come to notice important details that make some spots more consistent producers of big fish than others.

His approach has worked well on small ponds, varying size lakes, river backwaters, and very large systems. It’ll work for you, too.

Locating Bigger Pike

Because Kleman has this late-ice operation so well wired, he works it every winter, planning trips to known big-pike hangouts and hitting waters close to his central Minnesota home when he can’t travel.

“The first step you have to take, no matter where you live,” says Kleman, “is to find out about lakes that have big pike. This always sounds like a nothing piece of advice, but it’s not. It’s an important first step. You can’t catch big fish if they aren’t there.

“It might take years to get tips about lakes that have big pike in them. Pay attention, ask questions. Check out the wall of pictures at the bait shop. Ask around at sports shows. Call biologists and ask them; they can be the best source of information on something like this, because it’s part of their job to inform the public about the resources.

“When you get the name of a good lake, get the best map you can of it. Find the shallow bays. The big, shallow, weedy bays, anywhere from maybe 5 feet to 15 feet of water. It all depends on the lake. Some lakes hardly have any deep water, and some lakes don’t have much shallow water.

“I really like to find weeds in the bays. Weeds bring in baitfish and panfish late in the winter. When you get out to the lake, pinpoint the spots where guys are fishing panfish. In Canada, on some lakes you don’t have much for sunfish, so you might find ciscoes, tulibees and perch are what the big pike are chasing.”

Beyond these basics, Kleman looks for features in the bay that might have a better chance of holding the biggest pike.

“If you pick out a good bay, you can assume there are at least some pike in there,” he says. “Drill a bunch of holes, and look for little oddities in the bay. For example, I like to find a spot where it’s maybe a couple feet deeper than the surrounding water. Those little depth changes can be important. You want to stay within the bay, but find one of those little pockets of slightly deeper water.

 “I’m also looking for openings in the weeds. I don’t want to be in the thickest, nastiest weeds. I want the fish to be able to see my bait. The fish needs to be able to pick up that little flicker of the spoon or whatever you’re using. As long as the fish can see the bait, you can draw them over to you. They’re cruisers at that time of year, looking for something to eat.”

One foolproof form of locational detective work is to find out where the known pike spawning bays are. This is often common knowledge among local anglers and bait shop workers, so if you snoop around in a friendly manner, you can often get this critical piece of information before you hit the ice.

“And again,” says Kleman, “ask the local fisheries biologists. They all know this information, too, because they check the spawn.”

The hot spots aren’t always the spawning bays, though. “You might get there a week early (for the spawning bay) or something,” Kleman says. “Some of my best spots on the lakes I fish all the time are not the actual spawning bays, but they’re usually very close to them.”

What else does Kleman look for in a possibly productive location?

“I’ve done well on shallow rocky points,” he said, “with cabbage weeds on them, that are connected to the spawning areas. And another factor to look for is cattails, which indicate shallow, mucky areas, and a lot of vegetation. I always look for incoming creeks, too, because they (pike) always run creeks in the spring. Current coming in from the creeks can be a real magnet for them at that time of year.”

(Note: if you fish anywhere in the vicinity of incoming creeks or any other current areas, be especially careful at any stage of the ice season. This is especially true at late ice, when the conditions can appear safe when they’re not. Use common sense, and never fish alone.)

Fishing Strategy

Nobody has bought in any more thoroughly than Kleman when it comes to the importance of mobility. He’s a movin’ dude in many ice-fishing situations. But when it comes to big pike––at least after he’s found a good spot––he tends to sit tight longer than normal.

“These fish are cruising the prime areas,” he says. “They know there’s food in there, and they’re looking for it. So ,yes, I tend to stay in one spot longer than I would if I were fishing for a different kind of fish. It’s great to be mobile, and you still have to do that until you find the good spots. But once you find that key area, it’s time to sit down for a while and work it.”

(He had spent almost 45 minutes in one hole without a bite, and was just about to move, when the monster you see pictured with this article hit. It remains his personal best fish, a true trophy of 30 pounds!)

“That’s normal for me with these fish,” Kleman says. “I’ll work a spot for maybe a half hour to 45 minutes, if I think it’s the right spot.”

S-cable a big plus

When you’re jigging in dense weed growth, Kleman says, it’s important to limit the strength of the signal being pumped out by your Vexilar flasher. For FL-8 owners, there is an optional accessory, the S-cable that does that. “When you’re in thick weeds,” Kleman says, “you have to have the S-cable. You can even get in thick laydown cabbage, and you won’t get a good signal showing you the true bottom without the S-cable. Once you put in the cable, though, you do have to turn the gain up a bit, and then you’ll be able to see your lure much easier, and the bottom signal.”

(The new FL-18 has this feature, known as ‘LP’ or Low Power mode, built in.)

Presentation Keys

Because he’s normally working shallow water, Kleman strongly prefers lures that flutter, flash, and take a long time to sink. He often, in fact, fishes spoons that you might normally use for trolling lake trout in the summertime.

Here’s how he works them:

“I like to get the spoon to do big, fluttering movements,” says Kleman. “I kind of pump it. If I get a fish to come in and look but it won’t take it, then I go to almost a pounding presentation, like Dave (Genz) does on panfish. I’m not slowing down the movements; I’m just not moving it as far. I let ‘em look at it like that for a few seconds, and then I get it going again with another big pump-and-flutter move. I want them to think it’s really trying to get away. A lot of times, that’s when they take it.

“I also love Flyers for this, the biggest one. I do the same deal with them, get a big pumping action going, get it circling around, and pull those fish in to me out of the weeds.”

Even the big pike are aggressive by nature, so Kleman figures he gets about 80 percent of the fish that come in for a look to bite. “But you do get that 20 percent of fish that come in, stop, and take a good look at it. You gotta keep it moving when that happens. I might try to not move it quite so far on that kind of fish, maybe just a 4-6 inch snap of the wrist, just to give it a little hop so they can’t get a good look at it.

“Just don’t stop it dead, so they can sit and look at it, see the hooks dangling there and everything. If you keep it moving, most of those fish will hit it.”

Kleman likes to tip his spoons with strips or chunks of smelt he cuts from fish purchased at a seafood retailer. The Flyer works well with a Berkley Power Grub, but make sure you get that tail on straight or the lure won’t work right. And Power Grubs work well on plain or hair jigs, too. Also, don’t forget the Power Tubes.

Big natural lakes and sprawling reservoirs are the classic home of monster pike, but Kleman warns us not to overlook smallish ponds.

“Farm ponds hold some of the biggest pike of all,” he says. “I grew up in the prairie country around Albany, Minnesota, and there were a lot of farm ponds around us. They don’t get a lot of fishing pressure, but there can be some huge fish. Just remember to release them, because we need those fish in there to keep the bass and panfish populations from getting stunted.”

Kleman’s final thought is more like a warning, that big pike chasing is not a numbers game. “The way they hit, so savage, and the fight, is worth all the effort for me,” he says. “You are not going to get a 20-pounder every time. You have to have patience, and put your time in. But by using these methods, and working these areas, you’re going to get bigger pike than you did before, if you were fishing in other areas.”

Article provided by the Ice Team.


2 Comments on "Catching Big Pike During the Late Winter – Trophy Northern Pike Fishing"

  1. kevin on Tue, 9th Nov 2010 7:56 pm 

    hi ive ben ice fishing for about 2 years I am a biginner
    I bought a hand ice drill and a icefishing kit with spoons
    and jigs and I can’t for the life of me figure out how to use a tip up and how to set the depth for how deep I want the bait and to know were i’m at I just want to catch some fish this year I
    tried useing magots last year for jiging with a pole on the banks of the lakes but nothing I was out there almost every week end
    nothing can you help me catch some fish and also how to cook what I catch thanks

  2. CHASE FREDERICK on Mon, 19th Dec 2011 3:16 pm 

    Hi, I’ve been fishing pike for 3 yrs and man i love catching these amazing fish. Im 17 and My biggest is an 18 pounder.

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