PIKE ON LIVEBAIT

Recently I was fortunate enough to accompany my wife on a business trip to Toronto. One of the items on my bucket list had always been to catch a pike so on a day when I was not required to carry luggage I arranged a fishing charter with Taro Murata of Fish City Tours to try and catch one.

Taro and I corresponded before the charter so we both new in advanced what I was expecting. My aim was to catch and release a pike on a lure but if this did not work out then our standby option was to use live bait. Taro made sure that he had both options well covered.

pike-david-miller

We agreed to meet at a wharf near where I was staying in central Toronto and when I arrived at the nominated time Taro was already there with the motor idling. It was the first time I’d ever been on a purpose built Glastron bass boat and it was fascinating. Everything was laid out to optimise fishing space and there was a large foredeck which doubled as the primary casting platform. Taro had installed several fish finders so that he could see what was under the boat, irrespective of where he was stationed, and the boat was also fitted with an electric Minn Kota motor and Talon anchoring system (http://www.minnkotamotors.com/shallow-water-anchors/talon/). The schematic below shows how it works but in essence this anchoring system involves driving a spike vertically into the bottom hydraulically to hold the boat in position in water less than 3 metres deep. I’d never seen the like before and was intrigued. Taro even had an underwater camera which could be deployed, if necessary. To say that the boat was “equipped to fish” would be an understatement.

minnkota-talon

Unfortunately the day was overcast, cold and miserable. Leaden skies coupled with a bone chilling northerly wind which was true to its polar origins. Every now and again the concrete grey clouds would separate and allow warm fingers of sunlight to push through but these periods of respite were few and far between. We cherished every one. The first saving grace was that the forecast rain squalls stayed away. The second saving grace was that I had prepared for this bringing all of my Sitka layers, warm windproof pants as well as gloves and balaclava.

After donning life jackets and running through the obligatory safety briefing we headed off to find shelter and target some spots where Taro knew he was likely to encounter pike. The plan of action was to slowly move along the shore working the edges of drop offs and looking for any pike that were up on the flats hunting prey. If I was impressed with the boat layout when Taro entered the lockers to rig the equipment and open his tackle boxes my jaw dropped to the deck. All the rods and reels were top end G.Loomis, St Croix and Shimano and well maintained. Lengths ranged from 7’ to 10’ and each was rigged for a different task so Taro could move seamlessly between techniques when required.

We started using sinking and suspending crank baits and Taro showed me how to work the lures from side to side while keeping it stationery so that they looked just like a fish hovering in one spot, along with a host of other retrieves that I’d never seen before. The water clarity was fairly average, with about a metre of visibility at best, so you were effectively fishing blind in the deeper sections. As it was early Spring and the water was still cold Taro focused on slower retrieve speeds as the fish were still lethargic and reluctant to chase prey that was moving too fast. We didn’t have any follows for the first 45 minutes and during this time Taro was regularly chasing his set ups to discover what was likely to work under these conditions. He never stopped thinking about what he was going to do next. It was great to watch a skilled professional in action.

We eventually made our way around to a deeper area near a derelict wharf. I dropped a cast close to the pilings and retrieved the lure methodically. As the lure neared the boat I was temporarily distracted and thought that I saw a subsurface swirl near the lure out of the corner of my eye. I mentioned this to Taro and we both thought it may have been a pike. He commented that generally in these conditions pike don’t attack twice but repeat the cast and see what happens. I did as instructed and again the lure was followed. The pike attacked just on the range of our visibility and we both saw the massive flash of a golden flank as it turned away. I felt no resistance so it must have aborted at the last minute. I kept on trying for another five minutes but it never returned. So close yet so far.

pike-near-surface

Taro skirted the bay for another couple of hours and we cast a huge variety of lures, from soft bodies to blades and back to different crank baits, at all of the likely lies and structure but to no avail.

By now the sun was higher and peaking through the slits in the cloud blanket more regularly so we opted to head back to the shallows where we started and fish with live baits suspended under a float. Taro deployed the longer 10’ rods and attached spinning reels spooled with 6 lb. nylon. To this he attached a short shock trace of 20 lb. hard nylon and positioned a chubber float above it so that the bait had enough slack to almost reach the bottom. As we neared our target spot we saw the shadow of a large pike holding dead still like an underwater branch but it ghosted away before we were able to deploy our live bait.

Over the next few hours we managed to hook and land six pike between 2.5 and 3.5 kilograms on live baits. They all took the bait slowly and moved quite a distance before pulling the float under the water. Strong fight initially but they quickly yielded under the relentless pressure. I marvelled at the beauty of every one before releasing it. Stunning series of dot patterns along their flanks which alternated between dark green, gold and olive, occasionally interspersed with thin stripes of vivid vermillon. But the highlight of the day was fish number seven.

We’d moved around between three spots over three or four hours before returning to the original spot where we’d seen the large pike. Taro lobbed out a pair of live baits and we chatted idly while the floats bobbed gently amongst the lapping wavelets. All of a sudden my float disappeared. None of the preamble of the other fish just a massive hit. I picked up the rod and set the hook. Within the blink of an eye the rod was bent double and line was disappearing steadily against the reel clutch. This was obviously a much better pike that new where it wanted to go. I applied hard side strain and eventually managed to turn its head towards us whereby it took off again on another withering run which took it under the boat. I had to jam the rod tip under the water to prevent the line getting tangled around the outboard which raised Taro’s blood pressure by a few dozen psi. Crisis averted. He knew it was a big pike and it was going to be tough to land it on 6 lb. line without a wire trace. Neither of us wanted to lose it but we couldn’t afford to let it take control. Eventually after another surging run the pike started to tire and we finally saw colour. One more surge and it was boat side where Taro scooped it out expertly with his large landing net. It was a quality fish 38” long and weighing a nudge over 13 lb. Taro said that he only landed one or two fish that large per season and that it would almost be classified as a trophy in this fishery. I’d have to say that it was one of the most visually stunning fish that I’ve ever handled. Primeval head with an almost human stare and a truly remarkable coloration. It was lovingly released once we’d taken its picture for posterity.

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We fished on for another half an hour but it was a bit anti-climatic. The temperature was starting to cool and it was getting dark as rain clouds gathered. Well satisfied we opted to pull the pin and head home. What a fantastic day out. Great company and stunning fish, all safely released. What more could you ask for?

When I returned to NZ and showed the images to Mike Ladle he instantly noticed that the Canadian pike coloration was different to the fish he encounters in the UK and has seen elsewhere in Europe. He noted that “the ‘English’ pike tend to have oblique rows of pale spots merging into stripes dorsally. Your fish doesn’t have that. It is the biggest but I’m sure it is not a size related phenomenon. Interesting don’t you think? I wonder why?”. Mike is fascinated at the differences and is investigating further.

mike-ladle-with-pike

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