Northern pike fishing on Lake Darling has been excellent this year and limits of the sporty gamefish are being taken from shorelines and boats with increasing regularity.
For anyone interested in a bundle of fishing fun, now is the time to target pike in the shallow reservoir northwest of Minot.
Pike like to fatten up for winter and can become aggressive feeders once temperatures begin to feel like fall. An increase in the average size of the fish is noticeable, too. The smaller pike that fishermen saw in the spring are bigger now, making for a much more interesting tussle on hook and line.
Kim Fundingsland/MDN - - This northern pike grabbed a crayfish colored crankbait. Crayfish are one of the top forage items in Lake Darling, making crayfish imitations an effective choice in lure colors.
Fishing for pike began slow this year at Lake Darling, primarily due to murky water and record flows. Pike tend to move into the current too. In the case of Lake Darling that meant plenty of fish were likely pushing away from the lower end of the lake and as far north as they could swim.
When water began to recede following massive flooding in the Souris River Basin earlier this year, small northern pike were being found in city streets, basements and almost anywhere the Souris broke from its banks. There were numerous reports of young-of-the-year pike, approximately 5 to 8 inches in length, swimming in road ditches, culverts and into small streams leading into the river valley.
How many young pike were lost downstream is an unknown, but surely a large number of small fish were carried away by record releases through Lake Darling Dam. The counter to that is immense flows from Canadian reservoirs likely pushed new fish down river as well.
Northern pike stocking at Lake Darling
2004 - 50,000 fingerlings
2003 - 60,000 fingerlings
2002 - 50,000 fingerlings
2001 - 103,500 fingerlings
2000 - 75,000 fingerlings
1999 - 172,289 fingerlings
1998 - 87,200 fingerlings
What is known is that high water opens up terrific spawn-ing areas for northern pike and it is likely that a strong year class of pike was produced. Also, based on fisherman success this year, there is no shortage of pike today in Lake Darling. Many are caught by those targeting walleyes or perch, often released back into the reservoir. Catch-and-release is practiced by numerous pike fishermen, too.
Pike can be caught on a wide variety of lures and presentations. Some days it seems anything will do but, like most other species of fish, there are times when a fisherman must work a bit to find the most effective lure, color or action during any particular time on the water. When the right combination is discovered the action can be excellent and several fish an hour is common.
Although pike are known to feed on virtually anything they can reach, they have their preferences. In Lake Darling pike often take the opportunity to eat anything from bullheads to perch to crayfish. There are times when crayfish-colored baits become irresistible to Lake Darling pike. Then again, Lake Darling pike can be caught on swimbaits, spinnerbaits or a myriad of choices of crankbaits. However, many pike fishermen prefer spinnerbaits and swimbaits because that means dealing with a single hook as compared to two or more treble hooks dangerously dangling from most crankbaits. Fewer hooks means easier releases, fewer fouled nets and less danger to a fisherman handling a lively pike.
When fine tuning a pike presentation an angler should also consider leader material, a must when pike fishing. Most leaders readily available are black colored strands of woven wire tipped on one end with a barrel or ball-bearing swivel and on the other end with a snap that is used to attach a lure. Many leaders, even though rated for 20 or 30 pound test, can become bent or damaged after only a few pike strikes.
An alternative, one which has proven very durable and which often increases the catch rate, is a fluorocarbon leader with a 60- to 100-pound test rating. However, fluorocarbon leaders are not commonly found in most stores carrying fishing tackle. Some serious pike fishermen purchase components and choose to make their own fluorocarbon leaders. A good fluorocarbon leader outfitted with a stout snap will easily outlast several purchases of woven wire leaders.
Fishing at the public use area below Lake Darling Dam has reportedly been very good for several weeks running. Earlier this summer fishermen were catching plenty of pike on topwater presentations in flooded areas near the public use area. Now they are fishing the river proper and having very good luck.
There's plenty of other places on the lake to find pike as well, from shore or from a boat. Shorefishing should not be overlooked in the fall. It can be very productive on the lower end of Lake Darling and at the Grano and Greene crossings. This is the time of year when pike on the hunt roam close to shorelines, creating excellent opportunities for anglers.
Lake Darling closes to boat fishing Sept. 30.