Monday, March 31, 2008

Casting Techniques for Northern Pike

trophy Red Lake northern pike
In my opinion, casting for northern pike is the best way to catch these tremendous gamefish at Bow Narrows Camp on Red Lake, Ontario.

The usual system is to position the boat a cast-length away from the shoreline and to pitch a spoon, spinner, jig or crankbait as close as possible to the bank. Look for structures along the bank and place your lure as close as possible to these. The structures could be rocks, weeds, trees that have fallen in the water or which are just overhanging the lake.

Make sure you aren't using too large a lure (See Lighten Up for Northern Pike) and make it run several feet below the surface on the retrieve. That's because the biggest fish are often laying in 5-10 feet of water and are watching for bait to come swimming out from shore. If you zip your lure just below the surface, it is out-of-reach and quickly past these predators. You want your lure to imitate a fish that is stupidly swimming right into the danger zone.

The best system is to simply reel at a speed that creates the most action from the lure. Reel too fast and, in the case of spoons, the lure just spins. Reel too slowly and the lure comes in like a banana peel. But reel at the correct speed and the lure ducks and dives as you bring it back to the boat.

The way you position your rod also plays a significant role in how your lure runs. If your rod tip is high, the lure runs shallow. If your rod tip is near the water, the lure runs deeper. So keep the rod tip up when the lure is right next to the shore and lower it as you retrieve the lure toward the boat.

When looking for structures to cast to, be alert for weed tips growing away from the shoreline, even on the open-water side of the boat.

These signal a sandbar or other shallow water that is surrounded by deeper water and more often than not these are the real hotspots, for pike and walleyes too. Be careful not to let your boat float right over these places as you can spook the fish away.

Although you can keep positioning your boat with the outboard, I like to let the wind move the boat silently along. When the wind has moved the boat out of position I start up the outboard and move the boat out and start another drift.

Except when fishing with dead bait (See Deadly Bait System for Northern Pike), it is usually a bad idea to anchor. You need to constantly be moving around and drifting does this nicely for you. Also when you connect to a big northern pike, especially in warm summer waters when these powerful fish can make your reel's drag sing, they will be wrapped around the anchor rope and will have broken your line before you can even think about pulling the anchor up.

Northern pike, of course, like weeds and this presents a problem when fishing for them. Except in the rarest of circumstances, a pike will not strike your lure if there is the tiniest bit of weed on its hooks! Yet many times the place the pike are laying is right in the middle of a patch of weeds!

The best idea is to stand up in the boat so that you can see better and to place your lure in holes in the weedbed. Or just cast as close to the weeds as possible without hooking them.

You can also use weedless lures. The best of these is the Johnson Silver minnow in 1/2 ounce and 3/4 ounce sizes. If you position the weed guard so that it is 1/8-to-1/4 inch above this lure's single hook, it will come right through the thickest weeds and not catch one of them.

But the Silver Minnow alone won't catch many fish. It needs an added attractant on the hook.

I like to use 3-4-inch plastic twister tails that are hooked just once on the hook (not skewered on like you would with a jig). If the lure doesn't wiggle correctly, reposition the twister tail on the hook. You can also use pork rind. Just trim it so there is only 3-4 inches behind the spoon or the pike will hit the rind and miss the hook.

Spinner baits come through the weeds quite well as do their miniature cousin, the Beetle Spin.

The 1/4 ounce Beetle Spin, a favorite with bass and even panfish fishermen, will catch the daylights out of northern pike!

Jigs also come through weeds fairly cleanly, especially if you refrain from "setting the hook" on the weeds. When the jig encounters a weed, just pull lightly until the jig comes free. About half the time the jig will come through cleanly. This little-known technique of pulling a jig rigged with a twister tail through weeds will also catch a lot of walleyes.

One of our guests who has been coming to camp for a long time passes along this pike fishing technique with a jig. Joe says he casts then "give the jig a jerk, let it fall, wind the line while it is falling, jerk again and repeat. I've caught as many as 100 pike a day doing this, including a 42-incher."

In flat water, you can cast surface baits such as buzz baits, poppers and stick baits. This is a lot of fun because the pike will often become airborne when striking. Many times the best system is to let the floating bait sit motionless on the surface for a period of time, then just twitch it. This can be more productive than making the bait move continuously across the surface.

The same thing can happen when using a crankbait. Instead of just reeling the crankbait straight to the boat, vary the retrieve by suddenly stopping the retrieve and giving the bait a twitch. Let it rest momentarily, then start retrieving again.

Northern pike are just everywhere in Red Lake and sometimes the best place to catch them is in what looks like the most unlikely spot, a sheer rock wall, especially if wind is blowing straight into it. When casting these places, a lot of anglers use a jig or a spinner bait and cast right to the rock face, then let the lure freefall down while watching their line. When the line stops going out they set the hook as the lure has been picked up by a northern.

I like casting because it is fun just to test your skill in placing the lure in just the right spot.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Casting for Walleyes with Crankbaits

Walleye crankbait Rattlin Rap
If you want to have a lot of fun fishing for walleyes on Red Lake, Ontario, this summer, try casting with lipless crankbaits.

My favorite is the 2 3/4-inch Rattlin Rap in the very color pattern shown above.

Cotton Cordell makes the Suspending Super Spot. Excalibur makes the Spit'N Image. Frenzy makes the Frenzy Rattl'r. There are many other makes and models. Most have rattles inside but some do not. The thing they all have in common is that they do not have a plastic lip and this seems to make a difference when casting for walleyes. It's a different story when trolling. Lipped crankbaits work just fine in that case.

I would suggest using a 6-inch ultrathin 12-pound wire leader when casting lipless crankbaits because you're also going to catch a lot of beefy pike on these lures.

My favorite place to use the Rattlin Rap is around the edges of the big bays where there are shorelines with boulders, rocky points, islands and the entrances to small bays that are on the sides of the big water. It also pulls walleyes out of weed patches and don't be surprised when they bite right in the middle of the day when using this lure.

I cast the lure out, let it sink to the bottom (if there are no weeds) and bring it back with a slow to medium retrieve while keeping my rod tip low. This makes the lure run deeper.

Just about every fish caught in these areas are lunkers.

Give it a try during your trip this summer.

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Bow Narrows Camp
Red Lake, Ont.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Lots to do besides just fishing

sea kayaking at Bow Narrows Camp on Red Lake, Ontario
"I would like to bring the wife and kids, what else is there to do besides go fishing?"


You are welcome to use our canoes and sea kayaks to explore the lake, its shoreline and islands. Just make sure you wear your life vest.

You can also carry a canoe to another lake, to fish and explore.

There are beaches around the lake that make good swimming spots. So does our main dock with its swim ladder right at the lodge.

There aren't many places in the world that are better to see and photograph wildlife.

Moose, loons and bald eagles are very common along with every aquatic mammal: beaver, mink, otter, etc.

There are trails to other lakes and old gold mines that you can hike.
You are welcome to go with Dan on the camp boat to Red Lake during the mid-week supply trip. Besides shopping in Red Lake, there is a fantastic museum to visit. Red Lake is famous as having been the site of the world's third-largest gold rush in 1926. That was more than two decades before there was a road to this area. Prospectors came by dogsled in winter and boat and canoe in the summer. Gold mining and prospecting are active to this very day.
We frequently have sing-along nights at the lodge and everyone is invited.

At night, you might see Northern Lights and you'll always see the incredible night sky which is especially vivid here since there is no light pollution. Looking up at the Milky Way makes you feel like you are flying through space, which of course, we actually are.
If you come on the American Plan your wife (and you) will love the meals and fellowship that takes place in the dining room.

Finally, there is just the peace and quiet of being in the boat, suntanning on the dock or sitting on your cabin's screened porch, listening to the beautiful calls of the loons.

It's the perfect place to paint or sculpt or read or just get back in touch with your family, friends and most of all, yourself.

It's amazing how good it feels to just catch some rays, feel the breeze, smell the pines and really, I mean really, unwind.

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Bow Narrows Camp
Red Lake, Ont.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The jig -- world's most versatile lure

jigging for walleyesNo other lure has the ability to be fished in so many ways as the leadhead jig also simply called "the jig" since many of these are made of more environmentally friendly materials than lead these days.
This lure will catch every species of fish in Red Lake, Ontario, and perhaps, the world.
It is inexpensive and effective and its simplicity allows its user to add his or her individual touch.
Walleye anglers love it because by its very nature it allows you to stay in contact with the bottom and that is exactly where the walleyes are.
When walleye fishing with jigs you want to tie your line directly to the jig. Steel leaders "spook" walleyes except in really weedy conditions where you can do fine using an ultrathin 5-6-inch 12-pound leader such as those sold by South Bend and RedWolf. This leader prevents most "bite-offs" by northern pike with their mouths of diamond-shaped teeth. Walleyes, of course, have sharp teeth too but they're like ice-picks, not razors like pike and they cannot cut your line.
For walleyes the 1/8 and the 1/4-ounce jigs are perfect. Use the smaller jig in very calm and shallow conditions, the heavier one in wind and water 8 feet or deeper.
Most people skewer a single-tail plastic twister tail on the jigs. The tail allows you to easily vary the color to the conditions and gives the jig a lot of attention-notice as it flutters and wiggles. The 1/8-ounce jig works well with a 2-2.5 inch tail and the 1/4-ouncer works best with a 3-3.5-inch tail. These tails come in infinite colors and some with metal flakes and hologram designs. For walleyes some of the favorite colors are: white, yellow, orange, black, blue and green.
Most walleye anglers also put a leech or a piece of worm on the jig hook as well. You can also use a minnow.
In weedy conditions, you can do very well without live bait. It would seem the walleyes just can't see the jig clearly in these areas. They detect the movement of it and attack where out in the open their incredible eyes seem to determine the jig is not really something to eat at all, unless there is actually something to eat on the hook.
There are two main ways to fish with the jig. The first is to cast out, let the jig sink to the bottom and slowly "hop" the jig back to the boat by alternately moving your rod at right angles to the line to move the jig, moving the rod back to create slack while simultaneously reeling up the slack, then repeating. There is a knack to this. You want to move the jig with the rod, not the reel. This prevents you from becoming snagged. In other words, you want to abruptly lift the jig where it is resting on the bottom rather than dragging it across the bottom. The speed with which you do this is determined by watching the slack in your line. It works like this: 1. You swing your rod at right angles to the direction of the line (sideways) a couple of feet 2. You move your rod back toward the jig allowing it to fall to the bottom at the same time reeling up the slack 3. As soon as you notice your line is not moving backward because the jig has hit bottom you move your rod forward again.
It's important to keep your rod at right angles to the line direction because this allows you to feel the fish on the jig the instant you start to sweep your rod forward on the jig. Fish invariably don't strike the jig but rather just pick it up as it is falling. When you sweep forward the sensation is that there is just some extra weight to the line. That's your opportunity to set the hook.
When fishing without bait walleyes will pick up and drop the jig in about half a second. You need to be lightning fast on the hook set or they're gone. They hold on longer when using bait.
You can do the same rhythmic rising and falling of the jig by letting the wind move your boat rather than your reeling in the line. In this instance you move your rod making the jig rise, move the rod back letting it fall and the boat's drift tightens the line again ready for you to start the process all over.
You can also jig straight up and down in what is known as vertical jigging.
A downside to jigging is it can twist your line. Each time you let the jig fall to the bottom it does a loop which eventually causes your line to develop twists up at the rod. To prevent this tie a small swivel a foot or two ahead of your jig.
When walleyes are not aggressive such as when a major cold front has just passed, you might find the best way to fish with the jig is just to let it rest on the bottom. Watch your slack line to signal when a fish has picked up the jig and its live bait.
Northern pike also love jigs. The same 1/4-ounce jig used for walleyes will catch pike but they seem to prefer a slightly longer twister tail 3.5-4 inches. Pike will also hit double-tailed twisters and shad bodies (they look like plastic fish).
When pike fishing the jig is generally just reeled back to the boat, not jigged across the bottom.
Because the jig will sink so fast it allows you to do things like cast it up into shallow water, quickly reeling to prevent it from dragging bottom but then slowing down the retrieve as it moves away from the shore and allowing the jig to "dive'' down near the bottom as the water gets deeper. And that's right where the largest pike live.
It's important to use a steel leader when pike fishing. A 6-inch 30-pound leader is sufficient. I prefer the black ones but silver works as well. There is no need to use the above-mentioned swivel when using a leader.
Pike will also hit the heavier 3/8-ounce jig with a 4-4.5-inch tail. Long-shanked jigs are especially good. You can find these in the saltwater section of places like Cabelas and Bass Pro. Pike like really gaudy colors such as pink as well as red, orange and white. And sometimes, they like plain old black.
A real advantage in using jigs for northern pike is that the jigs have only one hook to get out of their mouths.
An angler with a jig might catch three pike while another angler is extracting one crankbait with its multiple trebles out of a pike.
A very unusual way to fish a jig is a technique I like to use for whitefish, lake trout and tulibee.
It is used in very deep water in relatively calm conditions. I cast the jig as far out as possible and then turn the crank on my reel and hold my rod at right angles to the line and just let the jig fall on a tight line. It falls in an arc and will be picked up by suspended fish on the way down. The trick here is in detecting the bite with so much line out. Your line must be tight to feel the fish and this means you also need to take into account the boat's motion. You don't want the boat's drift to create slack in the line and you don't want the boat to be pulling your line either or your jig won't fall. So you always cast at right angles to the wind (and boat) direction.
When the jig finally hits the bottom I just reel it slowly back in. The usual fish pattern in deep water is this: tulibee hit it on the way down, whitefish hit it on the bottom and lake trout hit it on the way to the boat.
There is no need to use any bait when fishing in deep water and in fact, it is illegal to do so for lake trout on Red Lake. Fishing regulations for lake trout stipulate that only lures with single barbless hooks can be used and without live or dead bait. So just use the twister tail or shad body and use your pliers to pinch down the barb on your hook.
If you need any help trying these techniques, just ask when you're at camp. We're here to help.
Good fishing!
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Bow Narrows Camp
Red Lake, Ont.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Make life vests part of your fishing equipment

Dan Baughman with life vest
For about 30 years now I've worn a life vest whenever I'm fishing. Actually, it's the very same vest! It's still in great shape (I test it out swimming each year) but I think it's time for a new one. I think it cost $30.

When we first had kids we made it a rule that they never get into the boat without their life vests. It just seemed natural that Brenda and I would wear them too.

Since then my life vest has become as natural for me to take fishing as my tackle box. My vest has pockets and I always keep my fishing license in one. My fishing line clippers are attached with a tether cord to another pocket. Others hold sunglasses and bug spray.

Straps at the sides allow me to loosen the vest so I can put it over the heaviest of clothes in the fall and let me snug it in the summer when I'm wearing just a T-shirt. It's camo colored so I can wear it when I'm duck hunting in a canoe.

Many times I've gotten out of the boat at camp and gone to work on some task only to find a half hour later that I'm still wearing my life vest. I only mention this to give some idea of how comfortable it is.

Everyone in our family wears a life vest. All of our staff at Bow Narrows Camp wears a life vest.

Not once have I ever heard any of them complain about how uncomfortable they were. On the contrary, the vests often feel great -- a little insulation against the wind.

We provide life vests for all our guests as part of our regular service. Ontario boating regulations require each person to have a proper-fitting life vest or PFD (personal floatation device) when boating. Unfortunately, regulations do not require you to wear them!

A lot of good it does to have a life vest crammed into the bow of the boat when you hit an unseen log with the boat at top speed and get pitched over the side!

I would say about half our guests wear their vests. Some bring their own because they can then ensure they have one with the most comfortable fit. Good idea! They're not heavy, expensive or hard to pack. You can get them with mesh over the shoulders to be especially comfortable in warm weather. You can even get ones which look like a pair of suspenders that inflate if you are immersed in water.

The ones who don't wear them really BELIEVE the vests are uncomfortable, and believing is seeing as the saying should be known. I wonder if these are the same people who believe seatbelts are uncomfortable?

One little-known fact about drowning might help some of these non-vest-wearers to buckle up. Most people who drown in the North don't do so because they became tired after flailing away in the water for a long time. They inhale water the instant they first go overboard and go into a sudden shock.

If they're wearing a life vest, they're just bobbing safely in the water when they get their wits back in a few seconds.

We want you to have a wonderful vacation with us and we truly wish you would wear your life vests!
Bow Narrows Camp
Red Lake, Ont.