Switchin’ to Glide
Extend your spring pike season into early summer by borrowing these baits from the muskie playbook
A large, dark shadow appeared in the crystal-clear water behind my glide bait, getting closer and closer as the lure walked seductively from side to side. With every snap of my wrist, the Phantom Softail changed direction, and the looming shadow moved with it. Then I cranked up the speed as the lure drew closer to the boat, changing its slow, wide, methodical action to a tight, erratic scramble. It was just too much for the big northern pike to resist. Fish on!
Caught on a Canadian Shield lake near Magnetawan, Ontario, that 43-inch fish ended up being my biggest pike of the season. And I landed it at the end of June, a time when most other anglers have already traded in their spring pike gear. For the fortunate few of us who stick it out, however, there’s still plenty of action to be had. With a few minor adjustments to your spring pike program and the addition of the often overlooked but productive glide bait, the early-summer period from the beginning of June to the middle July is a great time to catch numbers of northerns, as well as trophy fish.
Glide baits are by no means new to the sportfishing scene. Muskie hunters and saltwater anglers have been using them for decades, but only recently have they started to gain popularity with pike anglers, and for good reason. Their side-to-side action is absolutely deadly for triggering big northerns to bite—if you know when, where and how to fish them.
Very similar to walk-the-dog topwaters, glide baits have no lip, so it’s up to the angler to impart the action. That’s achieved by snapping the bait on a slack line—each time it gets close to the end of its glide, you snap the bait again, causing it to glide in the opposite direction. The bait can be worked quickly and erratically to cover water and trigger active fish, or you can fish it slowly when the pike are deep or lazy.
Glide baits come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but I’ve found that 4½- to eight-inch offerings work best for pike. Some of my favourites include Phantom Lures’ Softail (above in fish’s mouth), along with (below, clockwise from top left) Shimano’s Waxwing, Esox Research Company’s Hell Hound and Rapala’s X-Rap SubWalk.
When fishing glide baits, I use a 7½- or eight-foot, medium-heavy, fast-action rod paired with a 300 series baitcasting reel. This set-up comfortably handles the bigger glides, and the longer, soft-tipped rod helps with hook-ups and fighting the fish. I’ve gotten away with spinning gear for smaller gliders, but I don’t find it ideal for most situations.
Although some anglers might consider it a bit of overkill for pike, I fish my glide bait set-ups using 80-pound braid with a hand-tied 80-pound fluorocarbon leader. The fluorocarbon makes for a stealthier presentation, and because it’s neutrally buoyant, it doesn’t weigh down the nose of the bait the way a steel leader would.
Time and place
Gliders can be fished all season long for northerns, but they really start to shine in the early summer once the water reaches 24°C. By then, the fish will have vacated the shallows for cooler water, seeking their next meals along the edges of main-lake structures. Depending on the lake you fish, the type of structure holding these early-summer predators will vary.
I fish quite a few lakes in central Ontario for northerns, and I find it remarkable how selective the fish can be. On some lakes, I can only catch pike on the edges of weedbeds, while on others, I can’t catch them on anything but rock. Then there are lakes where the pike gravitate toward submerged wood. I believe it all comes down to forage.
Pike that are primarily feeding on perch will hunt the edges of cabbage beds, I’ve found, and not hang out around rocky points or wood too much. Northerns that are feeding on pelagic baitfish, meanwhile, seem to enjoy rocky points and humps. And those feeding on suckers are generally found around sunken wood.
The key thing to remember when searching out these pieces of structure is they need to be adjacent to deep water. Stay away from big shallow bays and anything that isn’t within a cast’s length of water that’s at least 25 feet deep. It can take a bit of time to figure out the types of structure that are holding fish on your lake, but once you do, that pattern will generally stick for the duration of the season.
When approaching structure, avoid getting too close so you don’t spook the fish. More likely than not, the pike won’t be sitting on top of the structure, but rather off the deep edge waiting for the silhouettes of baitfish to appear above them. Moving in too quickly will also hinder your ability to make a natural representation of a baitfish leaving the structure. With this in mind, I stop the boat a fair distance from where I plan to fish, then cruise the rest of the way in with my electric trolling motor.
Before I start to pick away at the structure, I make several casts to deep water, working my glide bait 40 to 50 feet out from the structure. Why? Quite a few times in the early summer, I’ve caught big northerns hanging out away from the structure in what most anglers would consider dead water.
Once you’ve made a couple of casts off to the side of the break, concentrate on the structure and work it thoroughly. Make casts on top of the structure, then work the glide bait out over the edge. It’s important to wear polarized glasses so you can see your bait and any fish that might be following it.
As most pike anglers know, big northerns have a tendency to follow lures to the boat, but unlike their muskie cousins, they tend not to bite when you make a figure eight beside the boat. So, when a follow happens, you have two options: either let the glide bait pause and hope the pike inhales it, or ramp up the speed and try to trick the fish into thinking your bait has spotted it and is trying to escape. Whichever tactic you choose, start it well before the bait gets too close to the boat—and get ready for a savage strike.
Bracebridge, Ontario’s Leavon Peleikis is an avid multi-species angler.
Whenever you’re fishing for northern pike, always be sure to have the proper tools on hand so that you can quickly remove the hooks and safely release the fish. I carry jaw spreaders (above), long-handled pliers, bolt cutters (in case I have to cut the hooks) and a net that’s big enough to keep the fish in the water while I’m unhooking it.