"POPPING" FOR PIKE
by Daniel Kiazyk
It goes without saying that Canada's northern pike are next to no other fish in numbers and voraciousness. Throughout the open water season one technique seems to have relative success day in day out; "popping for pike". The term came to me as I watched a frustrated friend ask just recently, "how'd you get another one? What the !*.# are you doing?" My initial explanation was not necessarily coherent for as I was trying to exhibit the action, another pike picked up my offering and the fight was on.
Perhaps a step back in time is necessary to help clarify and contextualize what had come as an accident and not some pre-meditated pattern to slay pike. Over the years, we have seen a number of different techniques work on pike. A trolled spoon, a larger crank casted in opportune locations, spinners of all sorts casted and retrieved at different rates all produced good pike. Different times of year seemed to call for different sizes of baits. Spring generally called for smaller baits and as the year progressed, baits increased in size (until the fall where we "chuck" the big plastic baits). In some cases we had even switched the look/action of our baits from quicker more active spoons and spinners to more erratic moving baits like "Sluggos". This change in tackle seemed to be necessary where pike had become accustomed to seeing all the regular baits (not knowing it, they also had a significant action that pike really seemed to like).
But, having said all the latter, there were also those times when we would be working on some walleye for lunch with our jigs and plastic tails only to be surprised by some toothy leviathon. Come to think of it, many big pike were caught in this manner over the years. Yet another piece of the puzzle was presenting itself to us: jigs dressed with some type of plastic and worked with a jigging motion had the ability to draw large pike.
Given the latter experience and the clues for what seemed to attract larger pike, we thought we would have to try "the jigging motion" or "popping" action on large jigs in areas (and at times) where large pike would frequent. Our hypothesis had to be tested in different places through different seasons.
Early in the year, pike would set up in bays which would face south or they would face into a creek/smaller inflowing river (which would warm sooner than the larger lake they habitated). As a control measure (testing our idea) we would also use spoons, cranks and where legal, dead bait. The results were surprising. Jigs – smaller than we thought – when "popped" were almost as effective as dead bait, but they were decidedly better than cranks or spoons.
As the season progressed larger pike disappeared from these shallower waters to set up at break lines, points, humps near the largest deepest basin. Dead bait didn't lose its appeal, but all of a sudden our pike's preference for popped jigs dressed with plastic came to a fore. Not surprisingly cranks capable of diving down to 25' also became effective. The other remarkable change with the jigs being used at this time of the year was the size we were starting to use; Bigger pike seem to prefer larger baits (as opposed to spring where they showed a preference for "smaller" baits). This pattern of going deeper with popped jigs/sluggos worked with scary efficiency --- to the point where a larger pike population could be damaged if too many unscrupulous anglers where to use this method!
Finally with the onset of fall, pike seemed to reappear in shallower water and were also predisposed to chowing down on bigger baits --- this we knew from previous ideas about what pike like to bite in the fall. Cranks and "popped" jigs were almost as effective as one another. Structure or proximity to structure and shallower water were locations that were worked with the latter baits. Popped baits--- including large crank baits when "popped" were very effective. The only strange thing about fall and popping was that small baits also seemed to work quite well (why I'm not sure but if the pike like it who were we to argue…..give ‘em what they want!)
The popping action used throughout the seasons varied from season to season, location to location. However to generalize, pike seem to like lots of activity followed by inactivity. Large hops off the bottom with the jig coming to rest on the bottom or just off the bottom was in many instances a desired action. The angler would pick up the slack of the bait if the bait wass being retrieved vertically and would continue to pop a jig off the bottom if the presentation was more vertical in nature
In shallow water, the angler would cast out and with the rod held at 10 o'clock, "pop" the jig moving the rod to 12 o'clock then the slack is pulled up after a short delay. The popping action described here can be applied to spoons (weedless or not). The only disadvantage is that spoons equipped with trebles are easier to snag. Switching over to a single hook or weedless hook can cut down on the number of snags but hook up can be tricky.
I'm sure we haven't finished with this pattern as we have yet to test it in a variety of waters where pike swim. I'm not even sure that pike are attracted to a popping motion with greater frequency than other species (a recent trip saw three monster tulibee boated (amongst many pike) using this method with a suspending rapala --- maybe they thought they were pike!)
Give it a try – popping can produce amazing results.