Prodigious Pike in Summer

Learn a summer-time strategy to catch Northern Pike!

Provided By: Gord Pyzer on


One of the most sought after and abundant game fish in Northern Ontario is northern pike.  But summer time pike fishing infuriates many anglers because they have difficulty locating the big fish.  Usually the cause is a failure to appreciate a critical component of the pike's biology.   The fish seek out much cooler water than most anglers appreciate, especially the big toothy critters that most of us like to catch.

Indeed, while we often have no problem tangling with innumerable small and medium size pike in the same lush weedy back bays and coves where the fish spawned earlier in the spring, we rarely catch the big water wolves here when the water warms up to bathtub-like temperatures.

It is because the optimal temperature range for big northern pike is 17° C to 18°  C,  which is significantly cooler than the same range for walleyes (23°  – 24°) and much colder still than the optimal range for muskies (24°  C – 26°  C).  

  • By locating structures and cover in the deeper and cooler parts of the lake last week, Wally Robins and Gord Pyzer were able to catch and release many nice walleyes and northern pike.


"Young pike and sub-adult fish have a much higher thermal requirement," explains renown esocid scientist, Dr. John Casselman, "but the older fish prefer water temperatures between 17°  C and 18°  C." 

What this means is that while many lakes offer ideal temperatures for recruitment in the spring, the same weedy habitat is too warm in the summer.  As a result, the bigger fish pull away from the shallows and move out to main lake structures, cover and basins where the water temperature is not only ideal for growth, but also for egg production.

To highlight this small pike / big pike dichotomy of summer habitats,   Casselman says that when he ages a pike by examining one of its scales under a microscope and counting the rings, he will find that a fish caught in a warm weedy bay is typically three or four years old.  But when he examines a scale from a pike taken from a much deeper, cooler main lake summer area, it is typically at least 10 to 14 years old.

  • A great summer time strategy to catch northern pike like this beauty that Liam Whetter landed in Lake of the Woods, is to troll with deep diving crankbaits.


Even more fascinating, Casselman says that when large pike migrate long distances between shallow spring spawning areas and deeper summer habitats, they are sometimes trapped in shallow warm stretches of water.  When this happens, they cope with the thermal stress by sulking on the bottom, where they cease feeding to such an extent that he sees "thermal checks" on their scales.

So, the take-away message for Northern Ontario pike fanatics is to locate structures and cover in the deeper and cooler parts of the lake.  Which is precisely what I did last week when good friends Wally Robins and Jean-Marc Desrochers paid me a visit and said that they wanted to have fun catching and releasing big toothy critters.

I'd been nabbing nice walleyes in 24- to 28-feet of water on a series of main lake island points and reefs that were immediately adjacent to much deeper and colder water.   As much as 50, 60 and even 70 feet in some cases.  Ditto, the mouths of a couple of main lake bays that offer cabbage weed edges only a few boat lengths away from deep water. 

  •  When Wally Robins focused on water that was slightly shallower than he was catching northern pike last week, he scored big time on beautiful walleyes.


A favorite summer time strategy to catch these fish is to troll deep diving crankbaits like Rapala Tail Dancers and Bagley Deep Diving Minnows behind thin diameter gel spun and lead core lines.  But Wally and Jean-Marc preferred to cast, so I rigged them up with two different outfits.

The first featured a five- or six-inch long Mister Twister Sassy Shad, Bass Magnet, X-Zone or Big Bite swimbait attached to a long shank 1/2-ounce jig head.  I attached a six-inch long gold/silver C90Williams Whitefish spoon to the other rod after I replaced the treble hook with a single siwash on which I had skewered on a five-inch long white Trigger X or Mister Twister grub.   

I knew the Williams Whitefish would be the ticket when we cast it over the tops of the deep lush green cabbage weeds and retrieved it out over the edge where the big toothy critters were lying in ambush.  It is the best big pike summer strategy that works everywhere I have ever taken it.

The jig and swimbait combination, on the other hand, performed its magic on the deeper main lake points and rock piles, with the added bonus of nabbing some gorgeous walleyes.  Indeed, when we retrieved the lures slowly and close to the bottom we would hook walleyes, but when we swam the baits more briskly and higher up in the water column, we would smack the pike. 

  • When Jean-Marc Desrochers focused on water that was slightly shallower than he was catching northern pike last week, he scored big time on beautiful walleyes.


In both cases, however, the key was focusing on main lake structures and cover that was perfectly positioned adjacent to the deeper, cooler basin.  The other essential element was focusing on the edge.  Either the outside edge of weed growth or the perimeter of the hard rock structure where it broke and sloped down toward the bottom of the lake.

Suffice to say that when Wally and Jean-Marc loaded up their vehicle at the end of their vacation and headed home to Ottawa, they drove across Northern Ontario with pike smiles indelibly etched on their faces.  

  • While many lakes offer ideal water temperatures for northern pike recruitment in the spring, the same weedy habitat is too warm in the summer for the bigger toothy critters.


Gord Pyzer - NorthernOntario.Travel
Author bio: Gord Pyzer is well-known in Canadian fishing circles as Doctor Pyzer because of his work for Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources. He's now one of Canada's top fishing communicators and a member of the Canadian Angler Hall of Fame. Gord is a two time winner of Northern Ontario Tourist Outfitters Presidents Cup and is an internationally sought speaker, tournament angler and co-hosts the Real Fishing Radio Show with Bob Izumi.




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