GARRISON - The whereabouts of northern pike is somewhat predictable at this time of year. Pike are known to move into shallow water, sometimes even doing so under the ice. When the ice begins to melt away from the shoreline of state lakes, it is a perfect time for northern pike anglers to head to the shoreline to fulfill their dreams of hooking into a trophy fish.
Popular fishing spots for pike when shorelines begin to open up include the many bays of sprawling Lake Sakakawea. If there's a stream or significant runoff entering the back of the bay, so much the better. Pike are often drawn to moving water.
A common tactic used by fishermen to entice early season pike is the use of frozen smelt. The method of rigging depends on the fishermen, often a simple hook and weight to settle the smelt near the bottom is all that is needed. There are other favorite set-ups too. Old and reliable bobber fishing can also be effective and adds some visual excitement to a pike strike.
A section of shoreline was open at Steinke Bay on the east end of Lake Sakakawea last weekend, allowing shore fishermen to pursue northern pike. The ice remaining on the main section of the bay was beginning to break up.
Smiling was no problem for Eli Stewart, Minot, when asked to hold up a northern pike he caught a few minutes earlier in DeTrobriand Bay. The pike was caught on a smelt tossed out from shore.
Joe Frietig, Bismarck, is shown with a northern pike caught in Steinke Bay on April 19. Despite strong winds, bank anglers were eager to try for northern pike at several Lake Sakakawea locations.
The key is to find shallow water that is warmer than elsewhere in the lake. The pike are looking for it too. Strikes often occur in just a few feet of water and the pike can be big - 20 pounds-plus big. Many of the pike caught at this time of year are large females.
At Lake Sakakawea State Park, John Tunge, manager, recently reported that a few early shore anglers were landing "a fair amount of those fish between 8 and 15 pounds."
"Wolf Creek, Hazen Bay, Beaver Creek Bay; that's typically where you find those big fish," remarked Tunge.
In North Dakota fishermen are allowed to have two lines in the water at one time. For shore fishermen, that often means using one bait rig while casting lures with a second fishing line. When a break is needed from casting, a second bait rig can be flipped into the water and the angler can sit back and wait for the action to develop. At the right time, in the right location, it may not take very long in the spring.
Northern pike are drawn into shallows early each spring for the purpose of spawning. Wherever the egg-laden females are found, the males will not be far behind. It can make for excellent fishing or just an opportunity to get back to open water fishing after a long winter.
"It's not the greatest weather but it's always awesome to be out here," said Eli Stewart, Minot, during a recent shorefishing excursion to Lake Sakakawea.
Stewart caught a very nice pike too. It weighed an estimated 8 pounds.
"It was a good fight. Fun!" said Stewart.
Stewart's pike was caught on a smelt rigged with double treble hooks and enough weight to keep the bait on the bottom. He was fishing close to shore in only a few feet of water. Later in the day his father, Pete Stewart of Minot, hooked and landed a bigger pike. It made for a pretty good day at the shoreline.
At Steinke Bay on the east end of Lake Sakakawea, fishermen found several feet of open water between the shoreline and a rapidly deteriorating ice pack covering the main lake on April 19. The wind was gusting close to 30 mph but the temperature was pushing into the mid-50s. It made for a reasonably pleasant day.
"We just needed to get out and catch a fish before the ice gets off and we can, hopefully, get the boats out," said Darren Brostrom, Bismarck. "We're hoping for some big ones."
Brostrom was part of a fishing party that was enjoying a day at the lake, knowing that summer weather can't be too far away. A young girl and her mother were playing near the shoreline. A 7-month-old golden retriever was playfully enjoying her initiation to cold water.
Joe Frietig, Bismarck, was in the group. He held up a northern pike that was the group's first catch of the day.
"I'm hoping to catch something big," laughed Frietig. "It would be nice if it was a little bit warmer and a little less wind."
Conditions were overcast for most of the day, the only exception being a few minutes of sunshine occasionally peering through clouds that dominated the sky. Anglers were hoping for more minutes of sunshine that might trigger additional pike to cruise shorelines where they would be easier to catch. Nevertheless, despite the cloud cover and wind, the pike that were caught made for a nice outing.
Good shore fishing should last for several weeks. During the pre-spawn and post-spawn, pike are likely to be found quite close to their spawning areas, making early spring a time when pike come to the fishermen. It is an ideal time for dedicated shoreline anglers looking to hook into a nice pike. Eventually, as the water warms, the pike will disperse to other habitats.