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Pro tips: essential gear and tactics for big winter pike

Andrew Klassen

Big finish

An ice-fishing tournament vet shares his podium-worthy tips

As co-organizer of the Falcon Lake Winter Fish-Off, which attracts as many as 2,600 anglers, guide Andrew Klassen has seen his fair share of winning tactics during the 11-year history of Manitoba’s biggest ice-fishing tournament. Falcon’s bass, burbot, perch, walleye and whitefish can be weighed in, but it’s typically a northern pike that claims the live-release event’s $10,000 top prize for heaviest fish. No wonder Klassen has good advice on how to ice trophy pike—anywhere in Canada.

Tip-ups

If you’re serious about winning a tournament and not just catching a fish, Klassen says, bring a tip-up. Every year, most of the tournament’s heaviest 10 pike are caught on a tip-up over a big, frozen dead bait, usually a smelt or tullibee. “That’s what gets the attention of the bigger pike,” he says. “It’s subtle, and you’re using natural bait, so you really can’t go wrong.”

Jigging

“With a jigging presentation, a lot of guys will use a rattle spoon or a lipless crankbait tipped with some kind of minnow,” says Klassen, noting the Salmo Chubby Darter is a popular lure among contestants. Since the tournament takes place in Whiteshell Provincial Park, live bait is not permitted. As a result, many anglers go with the local favourite—a frozen salted minnow.

Electronics

Every year, more and more competitors are using flashers and underwater cameras to catch fish, Klassen says. Flashers have become very popular because they allow anglers to figure out exactly what structure lies beneath the tournament’s pre-drilled holes. And that includes little details such as weedlines, which can change from year to year. “The site shifts a little bit from year to year, as do the holes, so the anglers are able to really dial in exactly where they want to be,” says Klassen. “They know exactly where they’ve been seeing fish and at what depth, and they can put their bait there. It takes all the guesswork out of it.”

Strategy

Many of the anglers who have won the tournament over the years did so by picking an area and sticking with their game plan, says Klassen. “They go in there thinking, ‘This is where I want to be, and I’m going to wait it out, and if it happens, it happens,’” On the flipside, he says, “a lot of guys will hole hop and pick up a kicker fish that will land them somewhere in the top 50—but they’re not taking home $10,000.”

Learn more about the Falcon Lake winter fish-off at www.winterfishoff.com.

Bob Sexton

Bob Sexton

Growing up in Gander, Newfoundland, and Peterborough, Ontario, Outdoor Canada's managing editor Bob Sexton jumped at every chance to wet a line and head afield. After spending half of the 1990s working as a tour guide in Latin America, he completed a Bachelor of Journalism from Ryerson University in 2001 and was hired on as Outdoor Canada's assistant editor. Since joining the magazine, he has won two Outdoor Writers of Canada awards, in 2008 and 2011, and contributed to numerous National Magazine Award winning or nominated stories. Sexton is the past president of the Canadian Society of Magazine Editors.

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