There are many species of fish here in Michigan that are sought after by thousands of anglers every year. All species of salmon, both large and small mouth bass, bluegills and perch to name a few. One fish that is often forgotten about is the Northern Pike. Many Anglers enjoy catching pike but the truth is very few anglers seek out pike. However, there is no reason why we anglers should target pike all year. Pike are abundant in all parts of the state, they a lot of fun to catch because they put up such a great fight, and they taste great in the frying pan.
Fishing guide Ernie Miller believes more anglers should target pike because in many of the lakes around Michigan that pike live in they quickly can decimate the populations of other fish species. “In a lot of the lakes I fish there is probably too many pike. Let’s face it there is never a shortage of pike in this state. Even when I am not fishing for pike if I catch one or two I will bring them home and fry them up” Miller said. “A lot of the time I bring them home just because more of them need to be taken out of many lakes.
Miller believes pike present the perfect fishing opportunity for the entire family. “Pike will almost always bite a good lure presentation so if a family wants lots of fishing action all they need to do is target pike. Fishing pike doesn’t take a lot of expertise and kids will have a lot of fun doing it” Miller said.
Make your own Bucktails to catch more musky and pike...and save money!
Years ago before fishing boats got extremely popular it wasn’t uncommon to see anglers crowded onto piers throughout Michigan simply fishing for whatever bites. If you don’t have a boat pike are one of those fish that often hang around piers and channels between the great lakes and inland lakes that can regularly be caught just by sitting on a bucket and tossing a lure into the water. “There are several piers along the western side of the state and the east side that offer great pike fishing and angler doesn’t need a fancy boat to catch them. Large pike can be caught right from the pier” Miller said. Chances are you live within a fews hours drive of a pier that borders a great lake that offers great pike fishing.
Pike are one of the biggest fish in Michigan and often the dominant predator in many lakes. “I think one reason anglers should focus on catching pike is because you can really catch some monster pike that are worthy of putting on the wall” Miller said. “There are very few fish that are as aggressive as pike and very few fish that can fill a freezer as quick as a few large pike. The population is healthy and many lakes see no fishing pressure for pike. I think Pike are one of the most overlooked species in the great lakes.” If you live in Michigan you probably don’t have to look far to find good pike fishing but below are a few of Miller’s favorite lakes to catch pike.
Saginaw Bay is one of Miller’s favorite lakes to fish because he is a walleye guide but he say’s walleye aren’t the only fish in the bay. “When most anglers think of Saginaw Bay they think about walleye and perch fishing but the truth is Saginaw Bay has a very healthy pike population” Miller explained. “Because the bay also has a very healthy bait fish population the pike have plenty of food and I often catch some really big pike in the bay. I often catch 6-8 pound fish and in some cases some even larger than that. No one fishes for pike on the bay so they have a chance of getting really big.The large pike put up a fight and can take a while to get to the boat which always provides a lot of entertainment.”
Early in the spring Miller will often target new weed growth and established weed beds. “Pike are often looking for an easy meal and the bait fish are always hiding in the weed beds so I will target the weeds,” Miller said. When fishing near the weed beds Miller will often use stick baits but spoons work well as well. “I like using just a standard Dare Devil spoon and marking the best weed beds on a GPS or graph and casting into them” Miller said. “I will also use a red eye spoon. Both the Dare Devil and the Red Eye are great spoons that don’t get used that much as other spoons because they aren’t marketed as much but they work great on pike.”
When targeting pike Miller says the best action can be found in water between 8-15 feet of water. “In 15 feet of water or less is where many of the larger weed beds are and the pike tend to hang in that water depth when they are looking for smaller fish such as perch to feed on,” Miller said. “One of my favorite places on the bay for finding pike is the weed beds between Linwood and the mouth of the Saginaw River. For fishing information, contact Frank’s Great Outdoors at (989) 697-5341. For lodging information, contact the Bay City Convention and Visitors Bureau at (989) 893-1222 or visit www.tourbaycitymi.org.
Hamlin Lake in Ludington is another lake that holds a healthy population of Pike. However, there is one problem when fishing for pike on Hamlin Lake. “Musky get planted in Hamlin Lake and jeuvinile musky and pike can look very much alike,” Miller said. “Anglers need to pay special attention to what they are catching when fishing in Hamlin Lake.”
Besides worrying about catching musky Hamlin Lake is a great fishery for pike fishing. Upper Hamlin Lake in particular holds a lot of pike.
During the post spawning period of early spring Miller will often fish the narrows of the lake all the way down to the dam. “During early spring I will often troll the narrows and try and find suspended fish that are roaming around looking for food. When I am trolling I will often fish the top 10-15 feet of the water column,” Miller said “But more times then not I prefer fishing the upper lake when I am targeting pike.”
“I typically fish upper Hamlin Lake on the upstream side of the straights. In this area of the lake it has a much more soft bottom then the rest of the lake and the water isn’t as deep as most of the lake so there is a lot of weed growth in this area of the lake which the pike often congregate in,” Miller said. “when fishing in the late spring or early summer Miller has good luck with buzz baits that are typically used for bass fishing. “ I like using 1/2 ounce white buzz baits with a silver blade,” Miller said. “One of my favorite tactics is to cast the bait over the top of the weeds and reel the line it at a quick pace. Because pike are so aggressive they will often chase just about anything and grab it if they think it is trying to get away.” Miller will also cast the bait along the bottom where the weed growth starts. “A lot of times pike will hide out in the weeds along the bottom and grab bait fish as they swim by. I often catch pike casting into the weeds along the bottom.” For more information contact the Ludington Visitors Bureau at (231)-845-0324 or visit www.ludingtoncvb.com
LAKE MICHIGAN PIERS
Along the west coast of Michigan there are several lakes and rivers that feed lake Michigan. Many pike in the spring of the year leave the rivers and inland lakes and head for Lake Michigan. Many of the lakes and rivers that eventually drain into Lake Michigan have pier heads and break walls that attract the pike. bait fish often congregate near the pier heads in large schools which often attract the pike. Miller believes fishing pike near many of the pier heads on the western side of the state is one of the best ways to catch lots of pike and also the most overlooked. “Holland, Grand Haven, Muskegon, Ludington and Manistee all offer great pier fishing for pike but many people overlook these opportunities. I have fished pike from a boat and from the piers and you can catch lots of pike both ways in the early spring,” Miller explained.
According to Miller it is all about timing. There is a lot of pike in and around the piers throughout the spring but if you were going to pick the best time to fish the piers it would be in the early spring when the pike are done spawning in the rivers. “After the pike are done spawning they are really hungry and they can be found in large numbers near many of the pier heads. Not only are there lots of fish but you can hook into some really nice size fish,” Noted Miller. Many of the piers have large rocks and boulders along the bottom in and around the pier heads. The structure is what attracts the bait fish which in turn is where you find the most pike.
When fishing from a boat Miller will often troll and run lead core with #13 Rapala’s or #12 or #14 husky jerks. “A wide variety of colors will work on pike from Tennesee shad to Fire Tiger. “For guys who don’t like messing with lead core you have other options. You can also use deep divers, or reef runners. I prefer fire tiger, gold and orange or blue and silver with an orange belly as far as colors go.” Miller said. Miller says you can catch more fish trolling then fishing from the pier heads. “You can cover a lot of water and find the fish quicker when fishing from a boat.” Because pike are aggressive Miller will often troll a lot faster then he will when he is fishing for other species such as walleye. “I will go up to 2 1/2 miles an hour which allows me to cover lots of water.”
However, when the pike are right next to the piers in the early spring casting from the pier does work. “If anglers are fishing from the piers they will need to be good at really casting it out a long ways from the pier. I would suggest casting and reeling in as fast as you can and cast off a lot of different points along the pier until you find the pike” Miller explained. “Because you might not always be right on top of the pike when you cast from shore I think guys should use a bait that has some type of rattle built into it that will attract the fish from a long distance. Anglers can even buy aftermarket rattles that will work with a variety of stick baits if their favorite lure doesn’t have a rattle built in.” Miller says another option for pier anglers is to use a large heavy spoon and fish along the bottom where much of the structure is located. A heavy one or two ounce spoon is easy to cast and the bottom is to follow so you can stay in one area with your presentation consistently. “When using spoons a one or two ounce spoon is probably best. I like a bright silver Hopkins spoon that has lots of flutter so it attracts fish.”
Of all the piers along the west side of the state Miller enjoys fishing the Muskegon Lake piers best. “What is significant about Muskegon is you have two inner pier heads and two outer pier heads so there is a lot of structure to attract fish,” Miller said. “There is a lot of diverse structure and current so the area holds a lot of fish. The original channel walls along the bottom are made out of wood. Plus you have the newer channel walls that were built above that which is made out of rock. All that different structure holds the bait fish in the area which keeps the pike in the area after they spawn in the rivers.” Over the years much of the original wood structure has given away and there are holes in and around the bottom structure and of course all kinds of fish use those holes for protection. “I will often troll near the bottom which is about 40 feet of water. I will also troll about 15 feet down near where the wooden structure ends and the new rock structure begins. Both structures hold a lot of fish.
One spot near the channel that Miller enjoys fishing is out in front of the coast guard station. “Because of the channel wall being where it is there is currents going all different directions at the mouth of the pier because the walls influence the water current. Water is coming and going and swirling around. This has created a sand trap. which often catches debri. Bait fish often congregate over the sand trap. Trolling over the sand trap often produces a few pike.”
For those anglers who prefer using a fly rod, or anglers who have never tried fly fishing but want to get into the sport Miller suggest fly fishing for pike on the Sable River which is one of the rivers that feed Hamlin Lake in Ludington. “Most anglers fish the sable river for trout and a lot of guys use fly rods. Anglers who want to try something different should consider using streamers and trying to catch a few pike” Miller suggested. The Sable River is one of the rivers that pike spawn in and throughout the spring and summer months the river is full of pike. Many of them are smaller pike but on a lightweight fly rod they will feel like you are hooking into a shark compared to hooking a trout. Once they are hooked they will give any fly fisherman a run for their money,” For more information contact Shoreline Service Bait and Tackle at (231) 759-7254.
Much of the Sable River is littered with downed trees and logs and in many cases the water is only a few feet deep in many sections above Hamlin Lake. When fly fishing for pike Miller suggests targeting the logs in the shallows the same way you would for trout. “Those smaller juvinile pike will often hide out near log jams and in holes near logs just like a trout. To entice them to bite simply tie on a streamer and toss it along side the logs,” Miller said. There are several advantages to fishing for pike in the river verses trout for the novice fly fisherman. For starters pike aren’t nearly as picky about fly presentation as trout are so even if you are just getting started and don’t have casting a fly rod perfected you will still outsmart a pike. Secondly many stretches of the river are small so fancy casting isn’t really neccesary. “When trying to catch pike next to a log or near a hole you don’t need to be able to be able to cast a long ways,” Miller said. “In many cases you simply need to be able cast just good enough to flip a streamer into a certain location and be able to bring it back by stripping line.” For more information contact the Ludington Visitors Bureau at (231)-845-0324 or visit www.ludingtoncvb.com
In other parts of the country a Northern Pike is considered a trophy fish. In many places they are few and far between. Here in the Great Lakes region just about every lake and river system has an over abundace of pike. In many lakes there isn’t even a size limit or a or a catch limit which tells you many lakes have to many pike roaming the waters. This spring instead of fishing for bluegills are bass go after Pike. There meat is tasty, there are plenty of them and they are easy to catch.
BY TRACY BREEN