By Steve Meyer, for the Redoubt Reporter
Slowly poling the flat-bottom duck boat through the cold morning fog of an Alaska summer dawn, we moved into position just off the edge of a shallow-water reed bed. The stillness of the morning was one of those eerie silences that are all too rare in our modern world. So much so that we sat back and just listened to the birds chirping, talking to each other as they always do at dawn; as if they are having their morning coffee and discussing the day’s events.
But after a few moments we got back to the task at hand, catching one of those hated Kenai Peninsula pike which, were they only illegal aliens, would be left alone.
Moving ever so slowly to remain quiet and not bang the side of the boat, we readied our fishing rods and prepared to drop our topwater plugs (that float on the surface) — mine a white mouse, my fishing partner’s a dark green frog — into the reed bed.
We timed our casts to hit the water at the same time. As my mouse barely hit the water an explosion of spraying water came up and I set the hook, hard. Pike have hard mouths that require a hard hook set, unlike many other fish species on the Kenai. This is only one of the reasons we use braided Berkley Fire Line, a super braid that has virtually no stretch and practically allows one to set a hook in a concrete block.
Sharp hooks are of course always desirable when fishing, but with pike they are a must. My fishing partner, much to her dismay, had no action from her frog hitting the water. And so it goes when trying to catch the relatively rare pike in the peninsula lakes.
Despite all of the press to the contrary, there are very few pike in peninsula waters. Stormy Lake, which has been the focus of an eradication plan, provides pike fishing at its most difficult.
Unlike other places where pike received their reputation for being extremely easy to catch due to their viscous feeding nature and their large numbers, pike in Stormy are few and far between and they are very wary. The pike there seem to have plenty of forage. If you doubt that go out to Stormy Lake early in the morning in late spring and early summer and watch the char feeding on the hatch. The water is literally covered in dimples on the surface as the char feed.
My childhood memories of pike fishing in Minnesota bear no resemblance to pike fishing here. There, it was simply a matter of trolling a black-and-white or red-and-white daredevil to catch pike. It was never a matter of if, only a matter of how big the pike that you caught.
Small- and medium-size pike, which make up most of the population here, will be in the shallows of reed beds feeding on insects, leeches and smolt. Large pike are not interested in these food sources. They prefer bigger fish, such as char or rainbow trout.
Like lake trout, it is common to catch pike with fish large enough to consider keeping for a meal if you caught them on rod and reel. Large pike will eat their smaller brothers, cousins or whatever else they can get their nonselective mouths around.
Were it legal here, live bait in the form of large frogs or large chub minnows would be excellent bait for big pike. Because large pike are after bigger meals, they hang in water off the reed beds, where larger fish are moving about. Trolling big lures, like large daredevils, big Mepps spinners with bucktails, or big Rapala diving plugs can be effective.
One of the most effective ways to catch pike is to use an electric trolling motor and keep your lure near the backwash of the prop. This seems to attract them, and they will strike very close to the boat. Engines that make a lot of noise don’t seem to be nearly as effective.
Troll at slow speeds and really work the water being targeted. Start in close to the reed line — a reed bed is nearly always going to be adjacent to where pike are — and move out progressively, trolling deeper as you go.
No question, the pike feed is the strongest very early in the morning. In Alaska this means being on the water well before the sun actually comes up. Evenings are a distant second best, and the later, the better.
If trolling doesn’t pan out there is always casting into the reed beds with topwater plugs. Mature pike lie in wait for their meals. They are opportunists that have figured out through eons of evolution that they really don’t have to work hard scouring their waters for food. It comes to them. They are able to see up to 50 feet in the water and their design enables them to accelerate to their prey rapidly.
One need find a spot where casting can be done from concealment, out of the line of sight where a pike may be lying in wait. Use the sun to your advantage. If possible, have it at your back, since pike are not any different than us in that they cannot see well into the sun.
The disturbance you cause on the water will get their attention. Be ready, since they strike quick and hard. This method of casting from concealment works well if you can actually cast from shore. Oftentimes in Alaska there is simply too much brush to do a decent job of this. If you are the patient type and are willing to wade out and stand perfectly still for a while as the water settles down, this, too, will work. Make sure and lather up with bug dope, since it is a mortal certainty that bugs will be swarming.
Unlike the large pike, small- and medium-size pike cruise the shallows looking for food, which makes spending a fair amount of time working a given spot worthwhile. This is also a great place to use your fly rod, but be aware — pike have a mouth full of very sharp teeth that slice through even the toughest of line like it was butter. Steel leaders are the order of the day for any type of pike fishing, or extremely heavy, 60-plus-pound monofilament.
Rods and reels are easy — anything that is used for lake trout, silver and red salmon will work just fine. I prefer baitcasters, but that is purely personal. Spinning gear works well too. The superlines nowadays are the only thing I will use, but if you don’t mind the line stretch, monofilament and fluorocarbon will work. Test should be in the 12- to 20-pound range.
A net and a good set of needle needle-nose pliers or one of those hook removal tools is a must. Getting any part of your fingers in a pike’s mouth guarantees being cut.
When you land one, you can hit it with a club or stick a knife through the brain, but don’t expect the pike to stop thrashing for some time. These marvelous evolutions are among the most tenacious nature has to offer. They can survive out of water for 12 hours and live through things that will kill virtually every other fish out there.
This is just one reason it is easy to haul them from one place in the state to another and have them survive. Much as I love, respect and admire pike, I do not condone the bucket biology that has put them in the predicament they are in. They are among the greatest game fish we have and they deserve to be where they can live their life without being constantly harassed, poisoned and all the other things that we keep doing — and inevitably failing at — to make them go away.
Steve Meyer has been a central peninsula resident since 1971 and is an avid hunter, fisherman and trapper. He can be reached at email@example.com.