Ontario Northern Pike FishingPike Fishing Tips and Lodges
Slip One By Those Early-Season Walleyes And Pike
If you own a medium-action spinning rod, a selection of sliding floats and have access to a good supply of natural bait, there’s a presentation you’ll want to spend some time with this spring: float fishing. Pike and walleyes are both suckers for this system, and what it lacks in fanfare, it more than makes up for in production under a variety of conditions. You can almost always trick a few fish with a float.
Just like jig fishing, soaking bait under a float really shines when you’re working with a small area. This could mean a current break, the inlet to a bay, or any specific piece of structure or cover. But with any combination of the wind, current and good boat control, you can work a float over a surprisingly wide area if you need to.
In still water, get your back to the wind, and let the float bob and dip all the way down through key spots. Breezy, warm days early in the season are prime windows for slowly slipping afloat and live or dead baitfish into areas that pike are using. The key is that fish have a lot of time to pick up on the presence of your bait. Suspending minnowbaits, spoons or spinnerbaits often don’t spend long enough in a pike’s zone of awareness. Floats lead your presentation in slowly and keep it there longer than any other technique will. Slip-bobbers with extended shafts below the water and a streamlined shape slow your approach to a crawl. Many of my favorites also have a lead collar on the lower shaft. For a quicker pass, go to larger, higher buoyancy floats with more surface area and bulk. They ride higher and add action to baits below. A great option with a frozen smelt or herring.
When walleyes are shallow, as they often are for periods in spring, floats can simply be the best option you have. In many lakes and rivers, fish re-group and forage in water less than twelve feet deep, and are drawn to specific features. These can be rock piles, sand bars, slack-water pools, even beaver houses, blowdowns and brush piles. Dunking these areas with a minnow, leech or crawler-baited jig can be the only way to reach fish you’d otherwise spook. At other times, a simple split shot and #6 or #8 single hook is all you’ll need. Use the wind and anchor, feeding the package down, or silently slip along from spot to spot with an electric motor and flip out your float.
Become accustomed to the performance differences from one style of float to the next. Like any other tool in your tackle box, they all have a time and place. Foam floats are often more buoyant for their size than similar balsa versions. Shape plays a big part in the action they transmit to the bait below, their drift speed and how easily a fish can submerge them. Hunkering down a low-profile float with a lot of weight will keep it in areas longer. Lighter and rounder models with little-added weight below the water will have your bait skipping along and dancing with the wave action. Experiment.
For soaking areas with floats, super lines really shine. Firstly, they float. Mono quickly sinks and usually weaves its way into anything that might be hiding on the bottom. Having your line and float uniformly ride along the surface really helps for control before and after a fish has been hooked.
Setting the distance between your bait and the bottom is a matter of adjusting your in-line bobber stopper. They come in neoprene rubber and Dacron models most commonly. Others are made of fine pieces if plastic that weaves onto your line. In a pinch, I’ve used rubber filaments from a spinnerbait skirt to stop my float, too. Superlines can be hard on rubber stoppers. Moisten them with saliva just as you would a knot before sliding them up or down your line.
A selection of bright dressed and undressed jigs from 1/32 to 1/8oz and a handful of fine, sharp salmon-egg style single hooks from #8 to #4 are a good starting point when rigging up for walleyes. I’ve also had good success with a simple chartreuse plastic bead threaded on ahead of a red, #6 Gamakatsu Egg Hook and three-inch shiner or ribbon leech. Thill and Black Bird make sensitive, highly visible floats that are great tools for walleyes.
Rigging for pike always starts with a wire leader and single or treble hook matched to the size of your bait. Wire quick-strikes go well with dead baits. High buoyancy foam floats add extra action to the bait, which can make a difference some days. Concave, ‘popper’ style floats can be a great tool for adding surface disturbance to your presentation. It’s very common to have a pike swirl on your float like a topwater plug, and then grab the bait below a few seconds later. Dead baits, in particular. In spring, the majority of the baitfish I select are under eight inches in length. Five to seven inches is what I go with most often. Allow the fish to run the float, tighten up your line, and let her have it!
Long spinning rods with good backbone and a soft tip are crucial to keeping your bait on the hook when casting it out, and they really help take up the slack line when closing in on your opponent. No-stretch lines allow you to keep a much more direct connection with pike that has peeled away with your float, and they help drive the hook home. Most good spinning reels today have long-cast spools, and they allow line to leave freely, with very low memory.
Whether for pike or walleyes, slowly comb through some of your best areas with a slip float and bait this spring. They work well in water as deep as forty feet, but when fish are shallow and you’ve got them located, the technique really comes into its own. Slip floating isn’t a technique that works under all conditions, but it sure comes close. In the early season, especially. Scanning the surface only to find your bobber has vanished matches the excitement of any other technique you can use.
By JP Bushey