The reservoirs on the Missouri river offer many fishermen a true shot at pike approaching the 20 pound mark, yet somehow, this fact is neglected for those of us who fish the dams below Omaha. Most anglers think that their only shot at a fish this big is in the far off waters of the north in Canada or other big waters. The reason behind this thinking is that most fishermen don?t employ tactics that have been proven effective during the season when most big pike are extremely active; the Cold Water period right after ice out.
Usually, when the water reaches the 38-42 degree mark, it signals a more active period for pike, and walleye fisherman find them moving into the same areas they are fishing for the larger walleye. These fish range in size from 6-20 lbs and are very receptive to quicker presentations. By quicker, I am talking active S trolling with a bowmount motor such as a MinnKota Autopilot, or stopping to concentrate on specific spots by pinpoint casting. The basic techniques to take these bruisers are simple and so is the tackle. A medium length medium action rod, coupled with either a spinning or bait casting reel that can hold monofilament from 8lb to 12 lb test line of your preference. Attached to this is a spoon ranging anywhere from 3/8 oz to 1 ½ oz. Wire leaders this time of year are optional. The pike fight hard, but I have yet to experience a bite off. The wire leaders seem to effect the success rate a bit, but if you are after a 20, then don?t risk it. My favorite spoons are Daredevils in classic red and white, hammered copper or brass spoons and polished metallic spoons such as the Australian made Flashback, made entirely of stainless steel and painted lead weight inserts. The Flashbacks are really effective when you want to get a bigger spoon down towards the bottom without sacrificing trolling speed or letting out too much line. On occasion, you?ll find that fluorescent colors such as chartreuse are more effective than any of the other patterns but don?t be judgmental. More often than not, the pike will let you know about a size they prefer as well as a specific color. Be patient and let the fish tell you what they want.
Location is always the key to any presentation. The plateau reservoirs on the Missouri river offer an angler many coves and bays that pike move up into. These areas often are sheltered from the wind and are a few degrees warmer than the main river and the fish here can be really aggressive. (See diagram one) Occasionally, you?ll find a bay or cove that possesses fallen timber and/or logjams. Add features such as this to the coves and their overall shallower depth and mixed bottom compositions make them prime spots to check first for large pike. Other spots to consider are the upriver third, or shallowest section of a reservoir. Typically, these areas are known for their water clarity, sand, and well defined channels. Inside and outside bends are areas to target, especially if you can find a little slack water. This slack water is usually a few degrees warmer than that in the main channel and you?ll find large schools of pike often move into areas like this to feed throughout the day on small baitfish as well as smaller walleye. (See diagram two) These same spots are even more productive when they fall in conjunction with the sheer faces of chalk bluffs. Wind and wave action roils the shore and produces the distinct cloudy effect that the Missouri River reservoirs are notorious for. This chalk cloud makes the fish a lot less wary and easier to catch. Even though pike are cold water fish, don?t expect to find them in areas much shallower than 6 feet. Key depths usually range from 8 to 12. If you find the fish conspicuously absent, then try the 14 foot range. Anything deeper than this is going to demand a more vertical approach as the pike will prefer a live bait approach. Usually a heavier jig and minnow combination or a classic spinner rig and bottom bouncer approach. Anything from 3/8 oz to 1 oz can be used. As for jig dressing, its not a bad idea to use curly tailed grubs in hot or fluorescent hues for a better visual as well as bulkier presentation.
Crank baits are often underutilized for big pike this time of year but if you find some active fish scattered throughout a wide area, then it wouldn?t hurt to check out their productivity against a spoon. Classic cranks like #11 Rapala?s, Storm Thundersticks, Tomics and other thin to mid size cranks are viable alternatives. Troll them in the same ?S? patterns you would with the spoons, covering minute structure breaklines on or around the relatively firm bottoms associated with river bends. They don?t necessarily have to be ticking the bottom to catch the pike, but should be fished within 3-4 feet of the bottom. Depending on the diving characteristics of the crankbait, you may have to ?fine tune? your trolling speed and line length to accommodate this by adding splitshot a foot or so above the line. Keep adding shot until it reaches the depth you want. The shot may negate a little of the cranks action, but that rarely makes much of a difference this time of year as either too much speed or not enough. Sounds crazy, but its something that has been proven to us over the last few years. Color doesn?t seem to be an issue with cranks so much as with spoons. Fish with natural colors such as silver/black or gold and black. Firetiger patterns are also another good option so much as it is fished on a bait larger than a #7 or #9 Rapala. As always, there is another option. Slip floats in eddies, bays and slow current areas. Use larger minnows or chubs to match the size of the available forage this time of year. A 2-4 inch chub beneath a slip float is something few pike will pass up. Hook the chub through the lips and add a stinger hook, usually a treble, near the tail and let the chub swim. For added measure, clip a little of the tail fin off. Enough to hinder its swimming ability, not stopping it entirely. I prefer to use ESB floats for a lot of situations and this is definitely one that the ESB outperforms all other slipfloats. You won?t miss any fish due to line catching in tiny grooves that form as line passes through the slip section in cheaper slipfloats. Brass and ceramic sections in the ESB slipfloat provide a lifetime of service and are something more fisherman need to consider, and ESB makes them in a wide range of sizes.
You?ll be surprised at day to day differences in productive trolling speeds for pike. One day they?ll prefer a fast clip and the next demand a slow crawl. A good basic rule of thumb is that if its sunny with a little wind, speed it up. If it?s cloudy, or windy, slow it down. Wave action alone will dictate that as it cuts down the light penetration and makes it harder for pike to see your presentation. Thus the large baits and color selections described here. Another thing to consider is starting your trolling out slow and working your way up in speed. We do it incrementally and usually find that most of the time, the pike prefer between .5 and .8 mph with most spoons and only slightly lower with crankbaits. Don?t miss out on some of the most exciting and productive fishing of the year and remember to practice selective harvest.
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