You don’t hear much about pike any more. Except for ice fishing, when the tip-ups come out, pike have sort of faded into obscurity in most of Michigan. But there is one exception: Upper Peninsula anglers still like pike. And there’s a reason for that—they are fairly plentiful, willing, and, if you know how to deal with the Y bones, pretty darn good table fare.
Ken Lee, a well-known walleye guide on Little Bay de Noc, says he will take a day off walleye fishing any day he can to go pike fishing. I’ve fished for pike with Lee, in early September, on Little Bay a few years back. We clobbered ‘em. Good ones.
“From mid-July through September is when you’re going to have your best fishing.” Lee said. That’s when the weed beds are up and that’s where the pike are concentrated—in the weeds. In the summer months you’ll get more numbers, but you’re going to catch a lot of smaller fish. The big mamas like that cooler water. The big gals come in really well in late summer, early fall—late August and September—when the water cools down.”
The big pike are out in deep water in the summer, Lee said.
“We do get some huge northerns in 40, 50, [and] 60 feet of water when we’re trolling lead-core for walleye,” he said. “We catch them by accident, but I bet if you did want to target them with some big baits, you could get them—they’re out there feeding on smelt and alewives.”
Lee concentrates his efforts on the outside edge of the deepest weed beds when he’s targeting pike, often with spinnerbaits.
“There are plenty of big pike out there,” he said. “We do pretty well.”
I’ve fished pike in Big Bay de Noc, too, primarily in Ogontz Bay, usually in late summer or early fall, in the northwest corner of the bigger bay. Just find weed beds. They’re there.
Another Upper Peninsula fishing guide who is high on pike is Don Scott, who runs Scott’s Superior Inn in Ontonagon. Scott fishes a number of lakes, though he concentrates his efforts on the Portage Lake system off of Lake Superior.
“You get those big pike that come in out of Lake Superior and there’s a lot of cabbage and lots of places to fish,” he said. “I like to fish in cabbage that comes up to about two feet of the surface in eight to 10 feet of water. In the spring, they come into the reeds, but once you start getting cabbage, they move off into it.”
Scott says anglers who are seeking big pike should come up in August.
“If you want big fish, August is the best time because they’re beefing up for the winter,” he said. “If you want big numbers of just average fish, I’d say mid to late-July. On an average day in July, we’ll catch 20 to 25 fish. In August, you may only catch 10 or 15 fish, but you’ll usually get some up in that 30- to 40-inch range.”
That’s the thing about pike: they can get huge. In Michigan’s Master Angler program, it takes a 40-inch fish (around 18 pounds) to qualify as a trophy.
But you don’t have to wait until summer to get them. Pike become legal quarry May 15 in Upper Peninsula waters. They’re protected after March 15 until then. (In inland Lower Peninsula waters, pike season opens the last Saturday in April, but they’re open year-round in Lower Peninsula Great Lakes and connecting waters.)
In spring, when the water’s still cold, pike can often be found in shallow water—no more than a few feet deep. Scott said he uses soft-plastic jerk baits, like Slug-Gos or Flukes, on the weed edges in shallow water because you can fish them a little slower than spinnerbaits. Jerk baits are a good way to go, too.
“Or I might use Silver Minnows with twister tails,” Scott said. “But 99 percent of the time I use spinnerbaits. I’ve never found anything better.”
Another thing about pike: they’re gentlemen fish. You don’t have to get there at the break of dawn to catch them. Often the fishing is best in the middle of the day.
Many of the best pike fisheries are in the Great Lakes or connecting waters—the St. Marys River in Munuscong Bay Lake or anywhere in Potaganassing Bay off Drummond Island—but pike are found in the majority of Upper Peninsula lakes. I had an outstanding day with Scott a number of years ago fishing Victoria Reservoir in Ontonagon County. And I had a pretty fair day on pike in Deer Lake, outside of Ishpeming, a few years back when we caught 18—while we were fishing for walleyes!
There are plenty of other pike places, too. Michigamme Reservoir, Lake Gogebic, and Lake Independence all come to mind. Fact is, there aren’t too many U.P. fishing holes that don’t boast pike.
Because pike are toothy and ferocious, a wire leader should be part of your terminal tackle if you’re fishing with plugs or spoons. But one of the nice things about pike is you don’t have to get all high-tech to get them. Fishing a sucker minnow suspended below a bobber around the weed beds is about as good a way to get them as any.
This article was produced in partnership with Pure Michigan.