Barbs and Backlashes

Some ice-out options by whitetips
March 16, 2010, 6:12 pm
Filed under: Fishing | Tags: ,

I just opened up the freezer and discovered that I still have a bunch of smelt left-over from ice-fishing.  Now what do I do with them?  I suppose I could fry ’em up; I have been to a smelt fry once and they were not bad, but the smelt were not the frozen ones from the grocery store.  I suppose I could save ’em until next ice season, but I am betting they will be freezer-burnt and worthless by then.

Might as well take ’em fishing!

If you live in parts of Nebraska where you have some pike fishing opportunities, you might have been catching them through the ice just a couple of weeks ago.  Now you can catch them in open water!  Northern pike are called “northern” pike for a reason–they very much are cool-water fish.  In fact their native range is “circum-polar” and it is believed that northern Nebraska was probably the farthest south northern pike were native.  Since they are cool-water fish, and big pike especially prefer and need cool-water, they can be quite active and catchable even in the cold waters of early spring.  Northern pike spawn as soon as the ice is gone and will even begin spawning under the ice if we have a late thaw.  Northern pike will be moving towards if not actively engaged in spawning in Nebraska waters right now.

Where to find ’em?  Pike spawn in shallow water and prefer to broadcast their eggs over flooded vegetation or aquatic vegetation.  Look for them in the back ends of bays, in or near emergent vegetation like cattails or bulrushes or in or near flooded grass.  On sunny days you may be able to spot the pike in shallow water.  I will always tell you that fish actively engaged in the act of spawning have other things on their mind and can be difficult to catch, but pike that still have not spawned may be in the same area and may be very catchable.  After they spawn, pike often stay close to their spawning areas or frequent similar habitats because those are the areas most likely to have prey for pike to eat in early spring.  THINK WARM.  No, I do not mean day-dreaming about bright sunny skies, sandy beaches and bikinis; I mean think of warm water and where you might find it.  Those are the areas where you will be most likely to find some pike that are interested in eating.  Again look for protected bays and coves, perhaps feeder streams if they are present, and banks or shallows that are exposed to the warm afternoon sun.  With some polarized glasses you may actually be able to spot pike in those areas on a sunny afternoon and you might be able to get those fish to bite.

I know everyone believes a red & white Daredevle is the quintessential pike lure; I cannot recall the last pike I caught on a spoon.  Yes, spoons will catch pike, no doubt about it, but in the cold water of early spring you may not be able to fish a spoon slow enough to get pike to respond.  For that reason I love neutrally-buoyant crankbaits (e.g. Husky Jerk, X-Rap, Smithwick Rogue); those baits have the vibration that will turn a pike’s crank, they are very good imitations of baitfish, and if needed you can crank them down and then fish them darned slow, even pausing them without having them float back to the surface or sink to the bottom.  A spinnerbait that can be slow-rolled is another good early spring option especially if you need a more weedless bait.  Throw in some jigs and plastic trailers for fish that are not in a chasing mood, and if you have a 9-weight fly rod and some bunny-strip streamers those will work for inactive pike as well.

With Nebraska’s early spring weather, you better believe there will be days where the pike are “off” and ain’t gonna bite anything artificial.  That is where that old bag of smelt is useful.  Pike actually feed on dead baits quite a bit during the winter and early spring; they are big bad predators, but they are not above scavenging an easy meal.  On those “off-days” the pike may not be active and may not be in shallow water.  But, you may be able to intercept some fish that are cruising in deeper water nearby.  Look for “funnels” or structures that might intercept the movement of pike into and out of those prime shallow habitats–a point at the mouth of a bay, a necked-down area in front of a feeder stream, a channel that swings close to one side of a bay, deep water in front of a south-facing bank.  Those are the kinds of spots where you can still-fish some smelt and scratch some pike, maybe even some BIG pike on a cold, nasty early spring day when nothing else will bite.  The smelt can be still-fished on the bottom with a slip-sinker rig or you can try using a float (i.e. bobber) to suspend the bait a few feet off the bottom.  Find a likely spot, toss a couple of baits out, put the rods in the rod-holders and see what happens.

Of course you must use leaders to prevent break-offs; I mentioned several good options in a previous blog post,  Quick-strike rigs are a must in my opinion, so you can catch a big pike, take some photos and release that fish.  You do NOT want to let the fish run with the bait until they swallow the bait and end up with a hook in vital organs.  Here is some excellent information on quick-strike rigging, .  If you need some ideas of waters to target, I would suggest you start here, .

If you do not have any pike nearby, the smelt will work for ice-out channel cats too!  We all know that channel cats like to scavenge dead stuff and when the ice finally melts there is usually an abundance of dead baitfish for channel cats to eat.  In many waters those dead baitfish will be gizzard shad and if you can pick up a bunch of them they will work great as that is exactly what the channels are eating anyway.  If you cannot find any dead shad to pick up, you might be able to buy a jar of shad sides at the local bait shop, or go to the freezer and get out that old bag of smelt!  The cats will not know the difference if it smells like an easy meal, smells like a dead fish, they will eat it.  Again think warm for ice-out channel cats and look for them to be feeding along shorelines where the wind is blowing in and piling up those dead baitfish.  On a warm spring afternoon with a good breeze you might find those channel cats feeding in relatively shallow water near shore–do not assume that they are all out there as far as you can cast.

4 Comments so far
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Thanks Daryl! I was JUST thinking about the wire leader material about which you had previously written, but was unable to find it. I’ve got it now, and have saved the URL’s you provided.

Open water soon!!! 🙂

Comment by Bob Cody "ydoc"

I just remembered, I mentioned some other leader options in this post: .

Daryl B.

Comment by whitetips

Thanks for the info. Daryl,Don’t forget to tell the folks about using smelt for channel cats.One of my early summer baits of choice.

Comment by Mel Wade

I mentioned it in the last paragraph!

Daryl B.

Comment by whitetips

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