The slip bobber hung lazily in the slack water, for all purposes relaying the events of the day. The bite was slow, with the odd sucker making an appearance. Sometimes, though, that’s the way it goes when fishing on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River. But this was all about to change and I could feel it. Clouds overhead moved in, a slight wind from the west picked up, and the sun started to get lower in the sky. In concert, these events were all good predictors that a hard and fast bite was coming.
Walleye are plentiful all season long
A couple hours before sunset the bite started, first slow, then the intensity, and frequency of the bite picked up. What started as tentative nibbles gave way to aggressive strikes, the bobber plunging under with authority. The low light and weather change flipped the switch and the bite was on. Every cast was met with a determined fish, ready and willing to crush our worms and minnows. Most were walleye, but even the suckers picked up their enthusiasm and paid us some visits, as did a couple goldeye and a bonus pike.
The bite came on strong as the clouds moved in and evening approached
In those two hours we went from a couple suckers to a dozen or more walleye plus a few cameos from other fish, all from this one small pool. At the height of the bite, with the fishing as good as it had been all day, we packed up the rods and called it a day. We had our fill of great fishing, and we were satisfied.
Slip bobber fishing is a great way to catch a lot of river fish. The basic premise being to suspend the bait just off bottom, or let the bait lightly drag along the bottom and have the fish come to you. It’s an excellent way to pick up a light bite and will catch walleye, as well as, all species of sucker. Catching the other popular fish, namely the pike, goldeye, and mooneye are best targeted differently.
Goldeye, and outstanding river gamefish
For goldeye and mooneye a bobber and fly, like a bead head prince nymph, or a bead head pheasant tail nymph are golden. The trick to catching either fish with regularity is to concentrate your efforts in areas where they are likely to live. Give a goldeye the choice of any spot on the river and 9 times out of 10 he’ll set up shop right on the current seam where fast water meets slow water. There they will rise with fair regularity making them easy targets for the bobber and fly. The fly is best fished high in the water column. Try hanging the fly 12 to 18 inches under the bobber and let the goldeye take care of the rest. It doesn’t matter if the water is 6, 7, or 10 feet deep, the goldeye and mooneye will come to the surface just as sure as the sun will rise and the tide will ebb and flow.
Low light on the river is prime time
Pike, on the other hand, are the river wild cards and while you will occasionally tag one of the toothy critters with one of the methods mentioned earlier they are first and foremost fish eaters first. They like the taste of goldeye, mooneye, and especially sucker. A hint that any of these fish are in distress will immediately put pike in a hunting and feeding mood. The road to success is to hunt them, cover water and imitate a fish. This is one arena where larger lures are not out of the question, and a magnum Rapala, or an equally large jerkbait or spoon will generally get a response. Sometimes a strike so fierce it’ll blow up your rod and promptly bust your line.
A bonus pike.
On one occasion I came up to a pool smack in the middle of downtown Edmonton where I cast a large spoon and immediately hooked up to a very respectable pike. The fish was a healthy 26 inches, but the reason this situation sticks out so vividly in my mind is that, as I was reeling it in, its every move was shadowed by a monster northern nearly twice its length. I was staring at an honest four footer. I’m not sure if the monster was just curious or simply trying to make up its mind whether or not to eat it. I didn’t care. It was huge and my mind was racing.
The big pike decided against the attack and drifted back into the deep green of the pool. I landed my fish, measured for reference, then let it go. "Twenty-six inches...wow!" I said to myself, thinking about how truly large that other pike was. I then put on one of my largest pike lures, a 10 inch Suick, firetiger pattern. Twice over the next two days I had that exact fish follow my hook right to shore before fading back to the depths. It was unnerving, and heartbreaking. Not deterred though, I hatched a plan to use a full size sucker for bait. I arrived back at the river for round 3 armed with my heaviest outfit, fully rigged with a home made version of a sucker harness. The entire harness was made out of steel leader material. I was taking no chances. If I could get the bite I wanted to land that fish. I also had a trout rod with me to catch a sucker at the head of the pool, where I’d dispatch it per the regs, and put it on the heavy duty sucker rig. I felt the plan was good.
I went to the head of the pool lowered a worm and split shot to the bottom and waited. In a couple minutes I felt a light rhythmic tugging. I lifted the rod skyward and hooked a sucker and then the water exploded, scales, spots, fins, teeth; my rod doubled over and the line snapped in the same instant. The spray of water doused me, the shore was drenched. The monster pike apparently wanted the sucker more than I did and made good its attack. The sucker was gone, my line busted, I was drenched and the fish was gone. That was the last I saw of her. A true river monster.
The longnose sucker, fun fish to catch and also pike food should a monster northern be lurking nearby
This is life on the river. I’ve made good on some other big pike opportunities though, including one that scared the goldeye I had just released right up onto the river bank. I haven’t even talked about sturgeon yet, but that’s best left for another time. It truly deserves an entire piece dedicated to the pursuit of our river dinosaur.
But here’s the guarantee. With the river only minutes from over a million people, a host of fish species ready and willing to strike, there is lots of angling action available very close to home. I for one, will be one of those out there, enjoying it to the fullest.