How to find big end-of-season walleye, smallies, muskies and pike
Have you ever noticed how some anglers talk about muskies and pike in the same breath, as though the closely related esocids always behave the same way? Well, they do and they don’t, and understanding the ways that pike differ in the late fall is critical to locating them.
For starters, the same 10°C water temperature that is the threshold for muskies to begin their fall wanderlust appears to turn on a different switch when it comes to pike. Instead of pulling out of weedy back bays and coves to roam throughout the lake—or head to open-water structures, as muskies do—pike group up around the closest main-lake deep points and reefs. If there’s an island point, rock ridge or boulder saddle that plunges into deep water within spitting distance of where the pike spent the summer, you can bet they’ll migrate to it in late fall.
Northerns use these confined, open-water rock features to maraud schools of ciscoes, whitefish, yellow perch, emerald shiners and lake shiners, just as walleye, bass and muskies do, but with a very interesting twist. While gloriously warm and sunny late-fall days typically offer spectacular fishing for the other species, pike go on the feed when there’s cloud cover, wind and even rain. As a matter of fact, I associate no other freshwater fish more with the whitewater foam of breakers crashing into structure on a cloudy, late-fall day.
Another giveaway that you’ve found a prime late-fall structure is when you catch multiple big fish off it, often on back-to-back casts. It would be rare, in fact, to catch only one big pike—there are always more. You’re likely to also nab a giant muskie at the same haunt, although it will almost never be one of the first fish. Instead, you’re bound to land several eight-, 10-, 12- or even 20-pound pike before you eventually hook a muskie.
Finally, always put a waypoint on your best late-fall pike locations. Such spots will be consistently good and reliable for as long as big northerns frequent the lake. So, just because the clock is ticking down on the open-water season, this is no time to give up. As Kawhi Leonard would tell you, it’s never too late to take your best shot.
BONUS TIP: EDGE-LOVING PIKE
Whether you’re trolling or casting for pike, don’t waste time covering the extensive tops of deep structure. Instead, only target the rims—that’s where prodigious pike (and mammoth muskies) set up during late fall. When trolling, I like to keep my boat out over deep water, then turn toward the rock reef or underwater point so that my baits crash and bang into the rim. Then I weave my way back out before turning in again. Trolling like that, I can snake my way along the entire perimeter, keeping my lures in the high-percentage zone throughout the day.