New science shows how to find big pike in late summer and early fall. Here’s what you need to know


We’ve been fielding plenty of questions lately, from readers who are preparing for upcoming pike tournaments, as well as from anglers who are getting ready to fly into remote lodges for some late summer/early fall pike action.


This question from Jared, typifies the inquiries:

Every year my dad, brother and friends travel to Ontario to fish for walleye and pike. We get great walleye fishing but have yet to figure out the pike bite. We fish the first 10 days in September. We are fishing out of 16-foot aluminum boats without trolling motors, as it is a fly in camp. Any insight would be greatly appreciated. We have already started packing for this years trip and I can’t wait to get back out there.

What we find intriguing is that so many anglers equate pike—especially the big trophy-size fish—with dense, shallow shoreline weed growth. Truth of the matter is that is the very last spot we ever look for them at this time of the year. For certain, we’ll fish those warm, shallow, weedy locations in the spring, when the big toothy critters are spawning, but the rest of the year we’re out casting much deeper structure and cover options, where the water is considerably cooler.


We were discussing this the other day as we were reviewing a brilliant study by researchers from three Canadian universities called: How Offshore Prey Densities Facilitate Similar Life History and Behavioural Patterns in Two Distinct Aquatic Apex Predators, Northern Pike and Lake Trout.  What we found so fascinating is that most anglers rarely, if ever, equate northern pike behaviour with that of lake trout. But the two species share similar life histories, and the common bond is the presence of highly nutritious deep water forage.

“Cisco had a significant influence on the life history and spatial location of northern pike across a large portion of the Canadian Boreal Shield,” the scientists concluded. “These patterns closely resembled those of lake trout, which are well documented to rely on ciscoes when present, suggesting that northern pike can behave as generalists and extend their foraging effort to offshore prey fish when available. These results demonstrate that northern pike reliance on offshore prey may be more common than previously acknowledged. Although there have been accounts of northern pike foraging on offshore prey fishes, our study is the first to demonstrate the influence of offshore prey fish on northern pike life history across a broad portion of their natural distribution. Furthermore, our work demonstrates some similarities in the importance of large offshore prey (cisco) on apex predator life histories and is consistent with patterns observed in other aquatic apex predators, suggesting that the results presented here may be a persistent pattern for freshwater apex predatory species.”


What we found particularly insightful was the caloric density comparison between ciscoes (1,799–2,304 cal/g), yellow perch (~1,000–1,300 cal/g) and white suckers (857– 884 cal/g). The deep water prey provides 1.5 to 2.7 times more energy. And the foraging cost is much lower, so the big pike grow more efficiency.

“Our results on life history patterns suggest that the degree of generalist foraging is dependent on the body size and/or life stage of prey or predator,” the researchers explained.  “Juvenile northern pike spend most of their time in nearshore environments, thereby limiting their habitat overlap with ciscoes and smaller northern pike are gape limited—this means their mouths are too small—from foraging upon larger prey. Based on our results, northern pike may be more reliant on near-shore species like yellow perch during their early growth and development: as they grow, they may exhibit an ontogenetic shift to feeding upon ciscoes in lakes where they are available.”

What the fisheries folks also referenced is the fact that when deep water forage is absent in the lake you’re fishing, or much reduced in numbers, northern pike are forced to prey on the much less nutritious species like yellow perch, bluegills and small minnows. And when that happens, they grow less grand. “When offshore prey are absent or are found in low abundance (a more common condition in smaller, shallower lakes),” the researchers said, “faster life history strategies (faster early growth, earlier maturity, smaller maximum size, and greater total mortality rates) may be under selection to maximize reproductive output.”

What this means from a late summer/early fall pike perspective is that we need to spend more quality time fishing around deeper 18- to 28-foot main lake structures with big ciscoe imitating baits like the half gold / half silver Nu-Wrinkle Williams Whitefish spoon, as well as six and seven inch swimbaits pinned to 3/4- and 1-ounce jig heads and big paddletails like the Water Wolf Shadzilla.

Above all else, however, we need to think of pike in the lake summer and early fall calendar period like lake trout. Then, we’ll be away to the races.