From spoons to spinners to swimbaits, everything you'll ever need to tackle mammoth northerns

No aspect of fishing has changed more over the past two decades than our understanding of pike. Indeed, if we had written about equipping ourselves for big northerns just 20 years ago, our ultimate tacklebox would have been small, the offerings skimpy and the techniques few. But as our knowledge of pike behaviour has expanded, so too has the range of tackle needed to catch these toothy critters—as the following roundup of the top lures and tactics reveals.

Crankbaits

When to fish 'em

From midsummer until freeze-up, hard and soft crankbaits excel in open water, on deep flats and around main-lake rocky structures. The lipless versions are superb around reed- and weedlines.

Where and how

You can both troll and cast these lures, but don't do either aimlessly. Concentrate on key transitions, edges, drop-offs, breaklines and specific bottom contours. The CS25 Suspending Super Spot and Lucky Craft LVR models are awesome vibrating, lipless casting lures. When you pause them for even a millisecond, a following pike only has the option of opening its mouth and eating it. These lures may look a tad small, but they fish big because you can retrieve them quickly and they won't roll over.

Pyzer's picks

Rapala Super Shad Rap, Lucky Craft LVR D-15, Cotton Cordell CS25 Suspending Super Spot, Storm Kickin' Minnow (9-inch).

Minnowbaits/jerkbaits

When to fish 'em

Cast hard jerkbaits (Husky Jerk, X-Rap, Long A, Original Floater, Slender Pointer) when the water is cold, typically early in the spring and late fall in southern Canada, and all year long farther north. Or speed troll these lures in the summer when the pike have retreated to cooler, deeper water. Soft jerkbaits rigged Texas-style, meanwhile, are deadly when vegetation is moderately sparse with plenty of open pockets. My favourite time to fish soft jerks, though, is in the late fall wherever I find thinning cabbage weeds in deep water adjacent to main-lake rock structures.

Where and how

Hard jerkbaits are at their best in and around rock structure. In cold water, retrieve the lure as close to structure or cover as possible. Wind the bait down, jerk it three or four times and pause. The colder the water, the longer you should wait. Nick the tops of weeds, scrape rocks and tick logs and stumps. Pike usually strike when the lure suspends, rises slowly or starts the next series of jerks. You can also throw a hard jerk when there's a few feet of water over the tops of deep weeds. When the northerns go deep in midsummer, troll hard jerkbaits around rocky main-lake points and over the tops of mid-lake humps. Contour trolling a big F18 Original Floater behind a three-way rig is a deadly hot-weather pattern.

Rig soft plastics (Houdini Shad, Berkley Saltwater Jerk Shad, YUM Dinger) weedless on a stout 5/0 to 7/0 offset hook without any additional weight and let them flutter toward bottom. Then hop, pop, twitch and pause the lure continually to imitate a dying baitfish. Along weed edges, swim the lure through the grass, deflecting it off any stalks you feel. When you're fishing the corridor between deep weeds and the surface, let the lure fall to tick the top of the weeds, then pop it back to the surface.

Pyzer's picks

F18 Rapala Original Floater, Rapala X-Rap 14, #14 Rapala Husky Jerk, Lucky Craft Pointer 128, Lucky Craft Slender Pointer 127, YUM Houdini Shad (9-inch), Berkley Saltwater Jerk Shad (5-inch), YUM Dinger (7-inch), Bomber Magnum Long A.

Topwaters

When to fish 'em

Be careful if you have a bad heart. There's nothing more exciting than watching a huge pike crush a topwater lure. During the summer months, the best times are early in the morning, late in the afternoon and when it's overcast.

Where and how

Deep weed edges, woody shorelines and rocky main-lake structures are perfect locations for topwaters. Instead of throwing a big, noisy buzzbait over a weedbed, position your boat parallel to the weed edge so you can keep your lure running over the prime pike zone. Do the same thing when you're fishing among fallen trees and logs. Remember, pike are ambush predators that hide along the fringes of cover rather than burying themselves deep inside it.

The biggest and loudest buzzbaits (in white, chartreuse, yellow and orange) will attract the most attention. When the fish are aggressive, add a stinger hook and a five-inch-long soft-plastic worm or grub, or a pork chunk to seal the deal. But here's the key: don't react to the explosion when a pike strikes. Keep your rod tip pointed up during the retrieve and keep reeling rather than dropping the tip to set the hook. When the fish are in a funk, however, scurry a Bull Ribbit or Hawg Frawg in the same locations. The lighter bait forces you to slow down your retrieve, but the frog will still kick up its heels. Only pause the frog when you swim it over an opening in the weeds.

Many pike anglers miss the best big-fish locations: isolated rock piles, underwater points and shallow boulder-strewn shoals. They also think they can only use topwater lures when conditions are calm. Actually, a slight chop is better than a slick surface for walking a big Zara Spook, Skitter Walk or Live Sammy. And a fast retrieve produces explosive strikes. When the fish are less belligerent, or when the water is dirty, dingy or stained, a prop bait such as the Boy Howdy, Splash-Tail or Skitter Prop sputtering on the surface will cause a pike to become unglued. Prop baits are also deadly when pike are resting beside isolated forms of cover, such as a giant deadhead poking

out of the water.

Pyzer's picks

Cotton Cordell Boy Howdy, Rapala Skitter Prop, Lucky Craft Splash-Tail, Mister Twister Top Prop, Stanley Bull Ribbit, Heddon Zara Spook, Rapala Skitter Walk, Lucky Craft Live Sammy, Mister Twister Hawg Frawg, Booyah Buzz.

Spinnerbaits

When to fish 'em

Spinnerbaits produce well from late spring until mid-autumn, when the pike have set up along reed- and weedlines, and shorelines littered with fallen trees and submerged wood.

Where and how

A slightly larger than normal (3/4- to one-ounce) bass-style, willowleaf spinnerbait tipped with a soft-plastic grub or worm is a marvellous tool when retrieved quickly just under the surface. Don't hop, pop or manipulate it in any way; just keep it moving.

When the biggest toothies turn off and won't come to the surface, dredge them up with a heavy 1 1/2- to 2 1/2-ounce Dick Pearson Grinder. Let it flutter down, then slowly crank it back to the boat, keeping it within a foot of bottom at all times. It works best in thick grass, but it can also be awesome on main-lake rocky structures.

Pyzer's picks

Booyah Blade Spinnerbait, Terminator Titanium Spinnerbait, Stanley Spinner, Dick Pearson Grinder.

Swimbaits

When to fish 'em

Swimbaits work best from early summer through to late fall around hard rock structures. They're also amazingly productive along reed- and weedlines.

Where and how

Swimbaits may be the easiest lures to fish because there's no wrong way to present them. By varying the speed of your retrieve, you can fish them shallow, deep or anywhere in between. Rig a Saltwater Swim Shad or Monster Mino Spadetail on a 3/4- to one-ounce, rubber-skirted, bass-style jig head with the hook exiting the back of the lure and it will catch fish. Even better, run the hook out the middle of one side of the swimbait. The WildEye Swim Shad, on the other hand, is pre-rigged with a leadhead already moulded inside.

Whichever swimbait you use, cast it out, keep your rod tip pointed up and reel in line at a moderately quick speed, pausing briefly every five to 10 seconds. Usually, you'll feel the pike hit when the lure hesitates and falls-unless you're using a Suspending WildEye Swim Shad. When you retrieve this unique casting lure, it wobbles like a regular swimbait, but when you stop reeling, it suspends and slowly floats to the surface. It's a superb choice for stop-and-go presentations and any time you need to work a lure up and over a piece of structure or cover.

Pyzer's picks

Storm WildEye Swim Shad, Old Bayside Monster Mino Spade­tail, Suspending WildEye Swim Shad (7-inch), Berkley PowerBait Saltwater Swim Shad.

Spoons

When to fish 'em

In midsummer, weedless spoons such as the Silver Minnow excel in and around cover. Traditional spoons produce best from early summer until late fall in main-lake areas, especially around rocky structures.

Where and how

The Silver Minnow is amazingly weedless for such a heavy spoon. It's also strikingly versatile from a speed point of view. When pike are aggressive, retrieve it quickly through the weed tops. Pause when you reach an opening and let the lure flutter down briefly. When the fish are neutral or negative, however, swim it through the weeds at a more modest speed, keeping it about halfway between bottom and the surface.

Troll the bigger, heavier, traditional spoons in big lakes and reservoirs noted for giant gators. Each spoon style has a different action, so experiment constantly to determine what the pike want. The Red & White colour pattern is a classic, as is the Yellow & Red, but I typically favour pure silver and gold finishes for their unmatched flash and baitfish-imitating qualities. The new Williams Sal-T Series, which incorporates a two-colour hackle, is awesome pike medicine.

Pyzer's picks

Williams Sal-T Series, Williams Wabler, Johnson Silver Minnow, Len Thompson Yellow & Red, Len Thompson Red & White, Williams Whitefish.

Quick-strike rigs

When to fish 'em

From ice-out in early spring until early summer, the quick-strike rig may be the best trophy pike technique of all time. Target large, weedy bays wherever you find structural transitions, such as shallow to deep water, hard to soft bottom, or rocks to weeds.

Where and how

Rig your bait on a quick-strike rig and attach a Big N Light-Strike Indicator-or a small balloon if the bait is too heavy-so the lure suspends two to three feet off bottom. Let the bait drift naturally (a very slow drift is far better than a fast one). The key to properly fishing a quick-strike rig is to quickly reel in slack line as soon as the bobber or balloon plunges under the water. But don't set the hook; just keep reeling until you feel the weight of the fish, then gently sweep back the rod tip. That way, you'll catch every fish.

Pyzer's picks

A quick-strike rig (27-pound-test Sevenstrand Uncoated Wire and two #4 or #6 red Gamakatsu treblehooks), a Big N Light-Strike Indicator or balloon and a large live baitfish or, better yet, a dead smelt, mackerel, herring or sucker.

Jigs and soft plastics

When to fish 'em

Coupled with bass-style jigs, these soft-plastics are great in midsummer, when pike head for deeper water and patrol weedlines and the edges of hard rock structures, especially the sections exposed to the wind and waves.

Where and how

Nothing catches a pike's attention quicker at these deeper locations than a large (1/2- to one-ounce) bass-style jig dressed with a big, bulbous, five- to eight-inch-long soft-plastic. The weight of the jig and the size of the dressing depend on the depth of the water and the size of the fish, but big is usually better. When the fish are aggressive, cast out and let the bait fall to bottom, then snap it back briskly using an exaggerated lift-fall-pause retrieve. And here's another secret: using a heavy jig forces you to work quickly. Also, if you spot a big pike on your sonar screen hanging below the boat, quickly lower the jig and pop it up and down.

When the fishing is slow-and especially just before you leave a spot where you've enjoyed great action using one of the other presentations-always retrieve a jig and soft-plastic through the area, three to five feet off bottom without imparting any additional action. This trick is always good for two or three more fish.

Pyzer's picks

Berkley Gulp! Leech, Berkley Gulp! Shaky Shad, bass-style jig, Mister Twister Exude Curly Tail, Berkley PowerBait Power Lizard, Yamamoto Kut-Tail, YUM Ribbontail.

In-line spinners

When to fish 'em

Tie on an in-line spinner when you find pike in and around pencil reeds and lush vegetation, especially weeds growing on underwater points, offshore reefs and saddles tucked between islands.

Where and how

Bulge the surface of the water as you retrieve the lure around, over and down the open lanes of reed- and weedbeds. Experiment with blade sizes, shapes and colours. As a general rule, larger and wider spinner blades create more loft, allowing you to retrieve the lure slowly while still creating the illusion of a fast-moving bait.

While most anglers know that in-line spinners are fabulous around vegetation, few cast them over shallow rock piles, reefs and shoals. But they should. Also, scale down the size of the lure when the weather conditions are poor (bright sun, warm, clear, calm water) and the pike bite slows.

Pyzer's picks

Mepps Musky Marabou, M/G Buck-A-Boo, Blue Fox Vibrax Musky Buck, Mepps Aglia #5, Mepps Aglia Long #4, Mepps Musky Killer.

Accessories

Landing net: Frabill's Power Catch Kwik Kradle net allows you to safely land the most monstrous of fish. Better yet, keep the pike in the humongous net over the side of the boat in the water while you remove the hooks.

Polarized sunglasses: A good pair of polarized sunglasses is essential for spotting weedlines, sunken cover and even giant gators cruising the flats.

Scent: Ultrabite, Dr. Juice and YUM Attractant all work. Fish hold onto good-tasting lures longer, giving you an extra second or two to set the hooks. And oily, scented soft-plastics slide through weeds and reeds like a greased pig at a county fair.

Forceps: These are great for helping to quickly construct new leaders and quick-strike rigs on the spot using Sevenstrand wire.

Long-reach hook remover: This is essential for removing hooks deep inside the toothy cavern of a giant pike's mouth.

Telescopic lure retriever: Snagged again? This will pay for itself after you retrieve a couple of pricey lures.

Seven-inch side cutters: A trophy pike is far too valuable to kill because of deeply imbedded hooks. If you can't get them out, your only option is to snip them off.

Fishing gloves: If you're not wearing them, eventually there will be blood in the boat-and it will likely be yours. There's a reason we lovingly refer to pike as toothy critters.

Double-sided hook sharpeners: The hooks on pike lures take a beating as they smash into weeds, rocks, wood and bony pike maws. Sharpening them regularly will mean more fish.

Replacement trebles: Speaking of hooks, always carry several extra, high-quality Gamakatsu trebles (especially in the bleeding-red colour) in various sizes.

Super-line scissors: These Rapala scissors are indispensable if you fish with braided line. Clippers are fine for monofilament, but they'll only fray super-line.

Jaw spreaders: Pike have a habit of inhaling lures, then clamping down and refusing to let go. A pair of jaw spreaders makes unhooking them much easier.