Why walleye love to eat northern pike, and how to take advantage
Good friend, and manager of Saskatchewan’s Fort Qu’Appelle Fish Culture Station, Jeff Matity is a fish-head just like me. And he always seems to have something to prove.
Indeed, Jeff and his lovely wife Lori spent last week in Kenora, on Lake of the Woods, and we managed one day to share the boat together. It was fun from first cast to last, not only because the weather and water conditions were downright tropical, but also because the walleyes wouldn’t stop banging, biting and devouring our baits.
We didn’t keep an accurate count, but I’d be surprised if, at the end of the day, we didn’t land at least 75 nice walleyes, maybe more, with several in the five to six pound range.
No surprise there, but what will come as a shock is what Jeff was using to tip his 1/4- and 3/8-ounce ReelBait Flasher jigs. It was a thin strip of flesh taken from the belly of a small northern pike that we kept for shorelunch.
Now, if you remember the two-part blog I wrote last year, in which I interviewed Jeff at length about his favourite fish, you know that the vast majority of beliefs that most anglers have about how pike interact with other species are suspect, at best.
Indeed, many anglers will replace their lures after catching a pike, or at the very least wash them carefully, falsely believing that pike odour puts walleye, bass, yellow perch and other game fish on the alert. It is simply not true. In fact, it is the reverse.
“If anglers ever studied the evolutionary arms race between predator and prey,” Matity told me when I interviewed him last summer, “they would see that it is flipped in favour of the prey. The beauty about a small 4-, 5- or 6-inch pike is that it is no different than a ciscoe. It is soft-skinned, high protein and goes down a walleye’s throat easier than a ciscoe. It is a beautiful meal.
“In addition, yellow perch would be at a huge disadvantage if they didn’t take the opportunity to eat as many small pike as they could. Especially, when the small pike are sharing the same weedy habitat.
“It is the way the evolutionary arms race works. I am a perch and I am going to eat pike for my whole life. And do you know what? I am probably going to get eaten by a pike one day. That is just the way it works, man. Those pike don’t live down there for free. Can you imagine a walleye cruising along the edge of a weedbed and seeing this little green thing. It moves in on it, gets a little closer and then, whoops it’s gone. That is how it goes in the fish world.”
So, to prove the point, Jeff carefully sliced a thin strip of belly meat from the small pike we kept for lunch last week and attached it to his Flasher jig. Within seconds of bouncing it up and down, a walleye slammed the offering and Lori did the honours of netting Jeff’s fish.
It was the first of an uncountable number of fish that day that crossed over the gunnels of our boat. So much for walleye being deterred by pike slime and odour.
“It is like I told you last year,” Jeff laughed, remembering our conversation. “The planet would be overrun with pike if it wasn’t for the fact that everything loves to eat them. Walleyes never become conditioned or turned off to the flavour of pike. It is the same with yellow perch and bass. They gobble up pike fingerlings like kids munching on potato chips.”
Understand what the big fish specialist is saying?
Not only does Matity not believe that the odour from a pike deters or scares away walleye, trout, perch or bass, he believes it attracts and triggers them to bite.
It is worth mentioning, too, that the flap of belly meat that he uses to tip his lures is only about as long as your ring finger.
“Again, like I told you last year,” Matity says, “a big walleye, yellow perch, bass or lake trout isn’t intimidated by a finger-size pike that is giving off blood and body fluids and looking injured on the end of your line. Lori and I have had many 50 to 100 fish days when the only thing we have tipped our jigs with was a strip of pike belly.
“In fact, do you know what? It just might be my favourite dressing.”