By John Tertuliani
Ohio has a pike population that is scattered about the state. The population in rivers is stable but not what one would call abundant – more like common to pockets of river here and there. They prefer calmer pools over scour holes that have brisk flow. Capable of migrating, they tend to go only as far as needed. They swim upstream to take advantage of higher flow, usually to spawn in the late winter or early spring, and sometimes they follow schools of prey upstream. They may move downstream to avoid the undesirable effects of drought.
Adults feed on fish for the most part, but as with any successful predator, abundant prey items are always on the menu. Crayfish, a valuable source of protein, is an important prey item when out in mass to breed in the spring and fall. Frogs are another seasonal source of protein in some rivers. Pike will eat what is available and worth the effort of capture.
A river is the result of surface water draining through the watershed. The rock and soil control how and where the water will go. The amount of water and the velocity it is moving carve the channel in a continuing cycle, meaning each river is unique and the pike respond to changes in the stream. Changes in pike behavior reflect changes in the weather for the short term and seasonally for long term.
The average river is a continuous series of riffles, runs, and pools. Not in that order, nor is a river ideally set up for fishing. Ideally you want long runs of deep water, smooth water with gentle flow. Runs are important because there is flow, gentle or not, keeping the water fresh and the bottom clean. A stagnant pool with muck on the bottom is no place for pike.
The trouble with storybook runs is they are hard to find on the average river bordered by land open to the public. Canoes, kayaks, and small boats are a few ways around this.
The tailwater below a dam is another possibility. The tailwater is a two-edged sword as deep water may be associated with a release.
Deep water is good, but not a raging torrent that a pike has to struggle to be in for any length of time without wasting more energy than it receives from capturing prey there. The confluence or mouth of a tributary to a larger stream is an ideal place to check for pike, when the conditions are favorable for the pike to be there. It is good for the water to be up slightly from recent rains, but not high enough to still be muddy from suspended sediment. Some degree of turbidity is generally okay, but creamed coffee is not, unless you are using live bait.
When looking for a place to cast, look for the outside bend, if you come upon a bend in the river. The outside bend, like the mouth of a tributary, is deeper than the surrounding area. I like to cover these locations thoroughly with fan casting; it is an ideal way to catch other river species like smallmouth bass.
Of particular interest to the pike is cover in the deep water. Fallen trees and root wads of living trees where water has washed out the soil under them are ideal places to cast when found in deep water. Boulders and gravel bars are other places to check. Depending on the weather and time of day, the pike could be in or near the cover.
If you find water deeper than the other sections of river, but no obvious cover such as a deadfall, cast parallel to the bank. Water along the bank can offer security to a fish in the form of exposed roots, undercut banks, rock, or woody debris that may not be visible on the surface.
As far as tackle, a jerkbait or similar plug is a good choice for clear water. Another choice is a swimbait, which you can rig with a jighead or a swimbait hook. A swimbait can be fished weighted or unweighted. I prefer to use a treble hook tied to a heavier monofilament leader with swimbaits. I know it is asking for a snag, but I get better hookups with the lighter tackle I use.
For turbid or dirty water, spinnerbaits are something to consider – the noise and the flash help. In-line spinners can be used, but snags can be more of a problem. In-line spinners are good for the deepest water, but for the average water you may come across, a spinnerbait may prove more versatile. Traditional spoons are another option, but like in-line spinners, may need a fast retrieve to use.
Fishing slower rather than faster is preferred. You can always speed a retrieve up, but slowing down often gets the strike. This is why jerkbaits shine, and you cannot fish them too slow. Swimbaits can be fished slowly as well.
The rod, reel, and line should reflect the lures used. Rod length can be an issue when trying to cast from tight locations over the brush and under the overhanging limbs, a 6½-foot rod should be long enough. A long-handled net is a good idea. You often need to pull the fish up a steep bank. If the bank is steep, you are in the right place.