The Greater Toronto Area is home to many species of sought after gamefish. Within the Lake Ontario waterfront portion of Canada's most populated region, trout and salmon reign supreme among elite anglers - thanks in no small part to the influx of over one million of these salmonids that are stocked annually by MNR. Rivers from the Ganaraska in the east to the Credit and Bronte in the west offer these anglers remarkable fishing opportunities. Further north well outside of the GTA ... rivers such as the Nottawasaga, Saugeen and Syndenham also produce. This spring has been no exception ... especially with delayed rainbow runs that provided remarkable fishing opportunities even on the regular trout opener (last Saturday in April) for fishing enthusiasts.
Ah ... but what about all the waterbodies in-between like the lakes that don't have those adipose finned fish ... what big, hard fighting fish can us everyday anglers fish for now that the trout opener is behind us?
Well just like throughout most of northern Ontario, the southern parts of our vast province hold some remarkable pike waters. Lakes such as Canal, Balsam, Simcoe, Couchiching, Sparrow, St John, Gloucester, Island and Bellwood are just some examples of where great pike fishing is available within easy reach of GTA anglers. In fact, they are all within a couple of hours of Toronto Outdoors Store.* Even more exciting is that the traditional opener ... the 2nd Saturday in May, marks the start of the spring pike season- one of the most exciting times of the whole year to chase these toothy waterwolves and the store not only has the bait and tackle to hook you up, but the expertise and latest scoop to offer you invaluable one-on-one advice when you visit the store.
Our 2nd Saturday in May Opener for many anglers marks the first time in six months that their boats have hit the water or their lines have been cast. SPRING IS HERE! So let's go pike fishing and here are some tips that will help you catch more of these top gamefish this spring.
Where to Go? Consider the spawn!
Northern Pike are one of the hardest-fighting fish that roam all of these waters. Whether it's the largest of these lakes (Simcoe) or the smallest (Island in Orangeville) these lakes all have something in common. Once the ice leaves the main lake, mature pike head for shallow back bays that have channels, rivers or even just ditches for them to swim up and spawn. By early May they are usually finished and although they may not have eaten much while busy reproducing - they sure are hungry by the time they get back to the lake or river mouth come opening day and on into the rest of the open water season.
Once pike leave their spawning haunts, they take up temporary residence at adjacent 'open-lake' areas. This is a transition period - one when they don't really eat - to one where they feed voraciously to compensate for energy reserves depleted during the rigorous spawn. This special shallow water bite can last for week's on-end depending on how rapidly the spring progresses. In 2014, the prolonged winter and ... to date, slow cold spring, seems to have delayed this process ... meaning that most pike should still be quite shallow on the opener and likely for several weeks thereafter.
Anglers should look for those shallow back bays with channels ... and pay special attention to those bays on northern shores facing south that have dark muck bottoms that can absorb the suns heat. These warm quicker and can out-produce other sites during late springs 10 to 1. Additionally- if you can locate any potential pike forage ... such as large minnows, perch, sunfish or suckers ... then consider that area as a potential primo spring pike territory.
Toronto Outdoors Store is located at 11B Gordon Mackey Rd in North York. When you exit Black Creek at Jane St, turn left. Go north on Jane, pass the KFC and when you get to the car wash, turn left again. We will be on your left hand side before you get to Leons. Anglers can easily stop in to pick up fresh bait or the hottest lure on their way fishing ... bright and early as store hours cater to the keen angler. Mondays are the only day they open 'late' - at 8 am. But Tuesday-Thursday its a 6am opener and Friday-Sunday its 5am. Once you're done, you can conveniently jump on the 400 as soon as you make a right from Gordon Mackay Rd.
Wil's buddy Bob Kendal when they fished a pike tournament in Cooks Bay; Lake Simcoe
When to Go? Consider the Weather!
Spring pike are like a lot of patrons to the Toronto Outdoor Store! Both pike and people are happy an incredibly long, cold winter is behind us and spring is here but when a cold front returns it reminds us of winter and we become downright miserable. We both begin to sulk - slow to move and downright ornery. Cold, wet, windy spring weather typically results in tough pike fishing especially if warmer weather preceded it. Warm, stable weather patterns on the other hand can force these water wolves into a feeding frenzy. Even if we just get two or three days of nice warm weather following days of cool and miserable weather - it can do the trick. And, you don't really need sunny blue skies with that warm weather either. Some of my best spring pike days have been during a light, warm drizzle! All things considered however, I still contend that the best time to go fishing ... is any time you can make the time!
What to Look For? Consider the Weeds!
Although cooler than normal water temps because of less sunny warm bright days this spring will undoubtedly slow new weedgrowth production - still look for that crisp newly emerging aquatic plant growth. Many plants that pike love - especially cabbage are just starting to develop in the spring and can be pike magnets. New green weeds provide oxygen for a host of microorganisms that attract forage fish, which in turn solicit interest from hungry northerns. Brown/dead weeds from last year on the other hand can still be around but they consume oxygen.
With that in mind- if I'm in an area with lots of brown leftover weeds from last year ... I skedaddle outta there in a hurry. Finding an area that has a mixture of weed types - like green coontail, native hydrilla and cabbage is a real bonus for the spring pike hunter.
As mentioned, pike search out warmer water and so too should anglers seeking them. We can't always assume those northern shores are the warmest though - so having a water temperature reading is key. Most high quality sonar units like the Lowrance HD unit I use have temperature displays that constantly monitor surface temp. My eyes are fixed on that display continually as I anticipate even a couple of degrees of warmer water during my travels.
How To Catch Them: Consider their Activity Level!
As a general guideline when pike are active in the spring they can be caught with hard baits worked with erratic movements that simulate injured or dying baitfish. For me, nothing beats throwing Rapala X Raps or Husky Jerks for these hungry northerns as they roam shallow waters on the prowl for an easy meal. The biggest mistake however that I see anglers make in the spring ... is that they work the bait just like they would in summer. During those warm water periods, snapping that bait back to the boat vigorously is not only warranted- but often required to trigger a strike. During the spring however pulling that suspending jerkbait down and then letting it slowly rise or hang in a neutral semi-buoyant position is the ticket.
Another very effective lure that is far more popular in the north than in the southern part of Ontario ... is the lowly in-line spinner. I learned this lesson the hard way when I first began to fish many of the popular pike tournaments in the north. Here local sticks would never consider anything less than a couple of rods rigged with their favorite in line spinner. This is where I first learned how productive Blue Fox Spinners really are up there and I soon discovered firsthand just how productive they can be down here in certain situations. Today ... many southern tournament pros are secretly covering up their Blue Fox spinners - hoping other competitors don't catch on that this simple 'northern lure' is their ticket to success down here as well.
Now, when pike are not active ... they need to be coaxed into striking and this means your presentations should slow down. For artificials think soft baits - whether you opt for the reel thing and use a live minnow, chub or sucker - or elect instead to toss a soft plastic Storm Pro Paddle Tail or their Wild Eye Pro Curly Tail bait. Both of these artificials come with a unique jig head that maximizes the real-life action of the baits that pike can find irresistible. The five inch Trigger X Minnows are especially productive in clear, shallow water when pike are finicky as they can perfectly imitate a dying minnow.
Of course there are still traditionalists who swear by live bait for spring northerns and it's no surprise many good anglers have so much confidence in using the 'real thing'. Unfortunately, finding 'the right' real thing can be almost as challenging as finding those larger toothy northerns we are hunting down. Well - fret no longer my angling friends ... because thanks to the Toronto Outdoor Store there is now a steady supply of pike minnows in the 4-6, 6-8 and 8-10 inch size categories available.
Regardless of the pike's activity level or what you are casting to catch them, many southern Ontario lakes have the added challenge of coping with ultra clear water conditions thanks to zebra mussels. Clear water makes sight oriented predators like pike very weary of poor presentations. Fishing with your line too close to the boat can spook them; using a big wire leader can make them turn away and throwing your shadow overtop the spot you are casting to sends them scurrying away like big teething babies.
To adjust to these challenges ... make ultra-long casts or if you prefer to troll keep your baits well back from the boat. Instead of the wire leaders that may be fine in 'off-colored' waterbodies - use fluorocarbon leaders. I prefer 30 lb Suffix Wind-On Leaders which are invisible underwater yet strong and tough enough to keep most pike from cutting through.
Wil with a typical Lake Simcoe pike caught on one of his favorite pike lures - The Rapala X Rap
Why Fish Spring Northerns? Consider the Fun Factor!
Yah ... spring pike fishing here in southern Ontario is just plain downright fun! After a long winter of staring down an ice hole it's a welcome relief to be able to get the boat out again and begin casting. Pike action isn't always fast and furious but when they do strike - there is no mistaking it. Their strength and power is remarkable - not just when you're battling them on the end of your line, but also when you get them near the boat! Be ready - for that last minute burst of energy; many big pike are lost at this very moment! Use a good sized landing net such as the Frabil crankbait net (that won't tangle your lures) and have long nosed pliers or hook extractors handy as well as jaw spreaders to make hook removal easy on you and the fish.
Pike have a limit of six with a Sport Licence and two with a Conservation Licence throughout southern Ontario. Although I release the vast majority I catch throughout the year, pike caught from fresh, clean and still-cold waters in springtime can be exceptionally fine eating if properly prepared. They do have a series of Y bones - that need to be removed, but the white flesh is firm and flaky and some actually prefer it to walleye. Of course those extra large pike are so much more fun to catch than they are good to eat- so releasing those can be an important personal contribution to sustain the future of our great pike fisheries.
Who Fishes Spring Northerns? Consider Yourself Invited!
The lakes mentioned within easy driving distance of Toronto Outdoor Store have some great spring pike fishing. Monster northerns in the 25-30 pound class may be few and far between but these lakes do have good populations of 4-10 pound fish and in some, a good shot at one over 15 pounds. Anyone who appreciates a strong fighting fish will enjoy fishing pike ... so consider this your invitation to visit the Toronto Outdoor Store, pick up some great pike tackle or bait and give pike a try this spring!
Wil Wegman is a multi-award winning outdoor writer and tournament angler from southern Ontario. He first began fishing pike tournaments shortly after he became hooked on bass tournaments ... and that was back in 1986! His fishing articles have been published in magazines like Outdoor Canada, Ontario Out of Doors, Real Fishing, Just Fishing, Bassmaster and BASS TIMES. He is the Hooked on Fishing columnist for Lake Simcoe Living Magazine and freelances for many other newspaper and media publications. He's the former editor of BassMan Magazine and volunteered as Conservation Director for the Ontario BASS Nation from 1995-2010. In 2013 he was Angler of the Year for his Aurora Bassmasters Club. Wil can be reached thru his Focus on Fishing site at www.wilwegman.com.