Spearing the Northern Pike
If anyone would ever ask me what one of my favorite types of fishing would be, they would certainly be surprised. Right there, next to jigging on the Detroit, or power trolling on Lake Erie, I would loudly declare my love for spearing big, nasty pike. There are many things that appeal about this sport. It is relaxing to the point of boredom, and when the poor person in the shanty least expects it, Hell itself erupt a mere 2-4 feet below in front of your very eyes!
Pike and musky spearing seasons begin on January 1 in the State of Michigan. Pike spearing has been a favorite of many throughout the years. Some of the first methods for harvesting fish involved the use of spears. It's been with us for ages. It is very important to learn how to spear and what the sport is really all about before venturing forth. Here are a few things to think about if you're interested in trying this sport and a few tips to help you be more successful at it when you do.
Pike remain active throughout the ice season. They have a mighty appetite and will actively feed every 2 or 3 days. This of course is dependent on the forage the lake has to offer. Perch and bluegill are a main fare wherever pike live but they will often eat anything that swims in front of them. Old timers will often make arrangements with bait shops to reserve the largest suckers available. A big, lively profile will often get a second look from a hungry cruising northern. Hook the bait directly behind the dorsal fin, being careful not to pierce the spinal cord. It is sometimes necessary to weight the line to keep the sucker down. Top areas to fish are flats adjacent to deeper water especially if there are old weedlines nearby. I like to display my bait a little over halfway to the bottom in 6-8 feet of water. This helps hide movement from above but still provides a decent shot at the water wolf.
Pike will often hit live bait one of two ways. They will glide in slowly often making a wide turn to try to herd the bait towards deeper water, then chasing the bait down, or they will fly in like a heat-seeking rocket to demolish and kill the bait on impact. Watching pike do this always amazes me. They are feeding machines. Most times they will kill the bait and let it sink almost to the bottom before picking it up again. Usually, if a pike does this under a spearing shack, it's in deep trouble. Most anglers that spear try to protect the chub at all cost as pike on the feedbag can empty the minnow bucket quickly. I have had undersize pike jump out of the hole after my last chub.
The trick to effective spearing is of course stealth, and the angle in which the spear is thrown. Shacks need to be completely black with no light streaming through cracks that allow fish to detect movement. Vibration is also a no-no. Many veterans use carpeting to help quiet things. The angle is very important. Throwing the spear strait down gives the angler the best shot at connecting. Never throw it out toward a fish lurking under the shelf ice as it most likely will only spook it. The pike has a great view at you from that angle. It is important that the spear be released at the neck of pike as they very seldom will back out of the predicament, but can certainly shoot forward quickly and cause a miss. The most important aspect of the actual spearing motion is when the pike gets into range, the tips of the spear are slowly dipped into the water. If stealth and caution is used, the spear will be in position for a great thrust. There is no reason to pussy foot with the throw, let it rip! I always tie a rope on the spear and tie it off so it will not allow the spear to hit the bottom, thus clouding the water with sediment. This is just a personal choice as some will say they would rather take the fish to the bottom. If the spear is sharp, an assertive throw will do its job. Pike often will make an attempt to swim off with the spear so the fight isn't over till it's lying on the ice.
Here are a few tips to help put more gators on the ice. I always bring a jigging rod with a rattletrap on it. It is unbelievable how loud a rattletrap is under the ice and it will often bring a pike from hundreds of feet away to investigate. Drop it down and rip it a few times then set it in the corner. The chub or other live bait usually will warn you that something isn't good down there. The chub has no other option than to try to swim frantically to get away. It usually gets very active and that's the angler's clue to ready the spear. Decoys often will work when live bait won't and the different colors will allow the angler to match the forage in the lake.
A big consideration when spearing is following state regulations. This is not a catch and release sport. It is important to know the fish that is about to be harvested is of legal length and species. Fish always look bigger in the water than they actually are, so I put a 24" mark on the floor and make sure the fish clears it by several inches on both sides before I take it. If it's questionable, I'll usually drop my jigging pole down and drive it crazy experimenting with new jigging techniques or just playing keep away. It is also important to know your specific lake's regulations on spearing. Many don't allow it especially if there is Tiger Muskies present.
If you decide to place a spearing shanty on your local lake, it is also important to tend and maintain it. Don't put it out and unchecked for several weeks. Many times a thaw will cause the warm wood to sink several inches in the ice only to refreeze causing many problems. I usually leave mine unlocked as kids will usually break into it if they think something was left in it. I have a trap door in the hole in which I do keep locked so no one will fall in. Portables are great for folks that don't have the ability to tend a shack but are usually not as concealing as an old dark wood shanty.
Spearing for Northern Pike is a great way to relax. There is no better place to have a sincere conversation with your child then spending a few hours in the spearing shack. You may even find it a sanctuary from the stress of the world as I do. If you see my shack out on the lake, stop by and I'll invite you in for a cup of coffee or bowl of chili.