Once upon a time, there were lots of toothy, spotted creatures swimming around the backwaters and weedy lakes and inlets that make up the Wolf River system. It wasn't long until the eagerly biting fish numbers dwindled and the big Wolf River northern pike became only a fairy tale.
The good news is that the story is changing and northern pike again are becoming a popular target to some anglers and a nemesis to others on the Wolf River system. Restrictions that provide a closed season until the first Saturday in May and a two-fish bag limit with a minimum length of 26 inches have done wonders for the population. Every year we see better action for pike and there have been some very big fish caught on open water and through the ice of late.
Hard-fighting, reel-screaming action is probably the number one reason for getting excited about fishing for northern pike. I love the sight of a pike as it darts out from cover and smashes a spinnerbait thrown over shallow weeds. You get that long, silvery flash as the fish turns sideways from the impact, and you know immediately from the commotion you're in for a fight. I like using 6- to 7-foot medium action casting rods and reels spooled with 12-pound test monofilament line. Some anglers prefer a non-stretch alternative to mono, but with either line a six-inch light wire leader is a must, as are big spinnerbaits. I find that a spinnerbait works well in the cover and that I can offer enough alternatives in color and blade size to coax some fish out of their hiding places. I like baits with large, silver willow leaf blades the best, but I have found that lures with twin Colorado blades, in orange and brass, work too. Dark colors with bright accents, such as a black bait with just a hint of chartreuse, are good combos.
Northern pike are easily found throughout the entire Wolf system. Although I prefer to work the backwaters of the Wolf, the bays and weedy areas of lakes Poygan, Winneconne and Butte des Morts are prime habitat. Plenty of forage surrounded by plenty of cover are the key.
On the lower lakes we get numbers of northern pike while trolling for walleyes in May and June. At times the action is so ferocious we're forced to add light wire leaders due to the number of bite-offs. We also find the pike around the emerging weedbeds and near the deeper shorelines where piers and boat houses provide cover. Partridge Lake's large, weedy flats also hold good numbers of pike. Simply drifting and casting to any clump of weeds can produce fish.
In the river system, the backwaters are the prime areas. Lily pads, weeds, old piers, boat houses and submerged logs can all hold pike. Here, placing a cast precisely is more important than blade color. Drop that bait right along a log or inches from a big weed clump and start cranking. If there's one hiding in that spot, the perfect cast will catch a fish no matter the blade color. Once the bait is in the open, the right flash or thump is needed to draw the fish to the bait. Northern pike seem to come a long way for the bait.
Hooking a big pike is only half the battle. Getting it in the boat, unhooking it and returning it to the water are other matters. Northern pike can be very animated once they're in the net and bringing a thrashing fish in the boat can be a disaster. Make sure to have a net that's large enough if you are targeting northerns, and be prepared to deal with the fish once it's caught.
The single hook of the spinner bait makes unhooking easy compared to baits with treble hooks. Northern pike have plenty of teeth and a jaw spreader is often the only way to keep those powerful jaws open to get a pliers in there and remove the bait. Cutting a deep hook with side cutters is a quick way to painlessly release a fish if the situation warrants.
Handle the fish from the top and grab it between the gill openings on the back if you can. Use a glove if you can and try to leave as much of their generous slime coating as possible. Never grab a northern pike by the eyes or put your hands in the gills of the fish.
Releasing these fish to grow to trophy size is important to reviving this once fantastic fishery for big northern pike. The food and habitat are here to grow northern pike into the
20-pound range so they can once again become the Wolves of the Wolf.