Depending on where you live, you might already be feeling a slight nip in the air, a sure harbinger that autumn is just around the corner. I know that’s certainly true where I live in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, and I hear much the same from my friends in northern states like Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.
While that might seem like a bummer to many anglers (after all, summer is our prime season), I tend to think that some of the best fishing happens in the fall. At least that’s true for one of my favorite fish species—the northern pike.
Much has been written about fishing for pike in the “Ice-Out” season in late spring, when large northerns move into clear shallow waters, and anglers can sight-fish to them with a variety of lures and flies. But I’ve come to appreciate the more complex aspects of fishing for pike in the fall, when they are holding in the weeds, on the drop-offs, and staging to hunt in the shallows.
Here are a few tricks to remember when fishing for northern pike in the fall:
First, you want to focus your attention on three things as you fish a given lake: Look for weedy areas (“cabbage”); look for drop-offs where shallow bays meet deeper water; and lastly, target areas with structure, like submerged rocks and downed timber, especially in areas where you will also find wind-blown currents.
Next, you want to consider the depth at which you present your lure or fly. I’ve found that on windy or stormy days, the pike will hold a bit deeper (so, for example, a heavy spoon or deeper-diving crankbait might work best). On clear, calm days, they are closer to the surface. An ideal pike day is one with a slight breeze, cloudy (not stormy) skies, and a little light ripple or chop on the water. On very bright, calm days, you want to really focus on those weeds and drop-offs, and again, fish a bit deeper.
Lastly, you want to mix up the rate at which you retrieve your lure or fly. Sometimes, the pike like a very quick, erratic motion of the lure or fly… on others, slow and deliberate works best. Change things up until you find what’s working, then stick with it.
As for colors… in the fall, oranges, yellows, and dark greens (like the leaves around the lake) work well, but don’t neglect to try a purple or red bait/fly now and then.
Believe me, once you see a northern pike crush your lure or fly with a predatory attack, you’ll be a believer, whatever the season.
Kirk Deeter is an editor-at-large with Field & Stream magazine, and the editor-in-chief of Angling Trade. He is the co-author of four books, most recently the Little Red Book of Fly Fishing