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Springtime in Alberta - Can Thrill You to the Bone

 

Just when you think it’s over, it ain’t over.
And as they say about Alberta weather, if you don’t like it wait 5 minutes - because it’s likely to get worse.
In springtime the pernicious prairie/mountain/boreal climate becomes even more contentious. And like Alberta’s iconic country star Ian Tyson sings in his classic Just Like Springtime in Alberta about "warm sunny days and endless skies of blue." "Then without warning, another winter storm comes raging through." When you are Wildrose Country angler - after being cooped up in an ice-fishing tent or dredging nymphs for reluctant trout in icy Chinook country rivers - the recalcitrant weather can be even more problematic.

Prime post-spawn pike water.

Prime post-spawn pike water.

It’s a short sweet season and we can’t wait for it to finally get started.
But the remains of winter still chills the stillwaters, run-off and snowmelt swells the Eastern Slopes rivers and bug life can be sparse and sporadic. If it’s spring time, it seems nobody has told the fish. With the possible exception of Alberta pike. Because when it comes to post-spawn pike springtime in Alberta can "thrill" you to the bone.

It was one of those warm sunny days and the blue skies seemed endless when my fishing partner Emmerson and I cruised across a popular Edmonton-area lake putting the cottage clutter behind us for the wild sanctuary of the south shore. Here three bull-rush bays stretched out before us and red-winged blackbirds battled among the pencil reeds for the prime nesting sites. Beyond the standing vegetation when the Lowrance sonar showed two-or-so metres of water, Emmerson cut the Yamaha and set the anchor. A fresh green blush of bursting aspen buds washed over the lakeside woods and the sounds, scents and serenity of spring immediately overwhelmed us.

Already a fine day on the water even if we didn’t find fish. I tugged my 8-weight flyrod from the rod rack, pulled a good pile of intermediate-sink line off the reel and launched a chartreuse and white Lefty’s Deceiver toward the shoreline foliage.  Let the fly to settle then began bring it back in an erratic strip-strip-pause retrieve - simulating a stressed bait fish. I was hardly into my second set of strips before the lure stopped in a violent bump. I raised the rod, set the hook and the fight was on. It wasn’t the biggest pike that reluctantly slipped into the net. But the cool lake water clearly had the little predator punching well above its weight.

 

This post-spawn beauty fell to a black and purple streamer.

This post-spawn beauty fell to a black and purple streamer.

So it continued for the rest of the afternoon and by the time we weighed anchor and headed for the launch we had boated and released something in excess of 50 fish - with a few in the trophy zone - topping the metre-or-more mark. In Alberta the post-spawn is mostly dictated by government regulation when many years ago after a disturbing crash in fish populations Alberta Environment and Parks fisheries managers wisely implemented a six-week angling closure during the crucial spring spawning season for the province’s warm-water stillwater species.

The angling-free window changes depending on the prairie/parkland and northern boreal zone so be sure to check the regs. But wherever in the province the pike water is located, by the time the closure comes off the toothy critters are hungry, eager and waiting after the rigors on the spawning beds. Because once the perpetuation of the species has been secured it time to pack on the groceries.
Here how to make the most of your post spawn-pike fishing success.

When


Post-spawn pike angling is clearly a late spring early/summer fishery.
After the lakes warm up, the apex predators become far less voracious and seek cooler conditions lower down in the water column. Making them more difficult to locate and even harder to tempt by mid-summer. But post-spawn pike thrive in what would be considered skinny water under July/August conditions. Where the water has been warmed by the power of the sun’s increasing radiance. Contrary to popular belief, warm sunny afternoons where wind is only a rumour are ideal pike days. The mellow water encourages bug action which drawns in the sticklebacks and shiners. The predators are quick to follow. So buckle up.

Lefty’s Deceiver pike flies.

Lefty’s Deceiver pike flies.

Where
 

Unlike walleye, where submerged rock piles, drop-offs and other lake-bed variations called "structure" can be the key to success, so-called "pike water" is a different kettle of fish, so to speak. Key on shallows and weedy bays. Anchor beyond the cordon of reeds and cattails in two to four metres of water. But be conscious of the submerged vegetation. Nothing ruins a fine day of pike angling than spending unproductive hours removing pond weed from your flies and lures.

Post-spawn Alberta pike fishing comes into its own on waters where the water wolf is the lone apex predator. Whenever pike have to share the bait fish bounty with walleye, both their size and numbers quickly diminish. This is particular prevalent in waters where massive numbers of walleye fry have been stocked in recent years to hopefully revive collapsed populations. With the introduction of several million potential competitors, it takes many years to restore the natural balance.

Tackle
 

While classic pike angling - with a standard spincaster rod, crankbaits and spoons of which the Len Thompson series is the gold standard - is an effective way to succeed at post-spawn pike angling my weapon of choice is a fly rod. I’m clearly not alone. Numerous high-end fly-in northern lodges market shallow water, early season pike angling. Because while a few walleye will suffice for the lodge’s traditional shore lunch, it’s the super-sized pike fishing on a long rod that turns a routine experience into the trip-of-a-lifetime adventure.  But not any fly rod. A 5-weight fly rod may suffice in playing and netting most pike encountered on Alberta’s accessible pike lakes - where the standard harvest limit tends to keep most fish under the 63 cm. minimum.

The problem comes with attempting to cast the large, heavy flies associated with pike angling. An 8-weight loaded with an intermediate sink-rate line has the necessary backbone to turn-over these bulky, air-resistance flies and pump out the long casts associated with stillwater streamer fishing. Although pike can sometimes be tempted to take surface flies with a floating line and Dahlberg Diver-style flies or frog-simulating poppers, the most effective strike zone is within a few centimetres of the bottom. A fly with some weight either attached or built in is a way to get the lure down to the pay zone quicker. If you are tying your own weight components called fish skulls are a favorite of mine. Not only do they come with attachable eyes which predator pike key on, the weight imparts a seductive jigging motion to the streamer.

My go-to colours are from the palate of the above-mentioned Lacombe, Alberta lure-making legend Len Thompson - chartreuse and white, red and white, green and brown and of course red and yellow - the iconic Five o’ Diamonds colours. Also purple and black - believed to be a baby burbot imitation - has also proven to effective for early season pike. Whatever the fly colour selection, one essential piece of terminal tackle is a short length of shock tippet.

Most leading leader manufacturers offer a version of toothy critter braided-wire leader that can be easily tied to a tapered leader with a standard surgeon’s knot. A pair of needle-nosed pliers with a wire cutter is also an indispensable accessory for changing flies and removing hooks from a pike’s jaw - while avoiding its rows of razor-sharp teeth. Pinching the barbs on your streamer flies allows for rapid released and minimum damage to the fish.

Trip-of-a-lifetime pike from Great Slave Lake, NWT

Trip-of-a-lifetime pike from Great Slave Lake, NWT

How
 

The way to succeed at post-spawn pike angling is to set up in promising pike water, And begin casting in a 360 degree pattern around the boat using strip-and-pause retrieve to induce strikes after the fly has settled into the strike zone. If the strikes don’t come varying the speed of the retrieve may activate the fish. Dangling and teasing the fly for a moment by the boat at the end of a retrieve is an effective technique to induce a strike from a reluctant follower. Having a big fish blow up almost in your face can be downright nerve-wracking. But a lot of fun.

Post spawn pike are aggressive feeders

Post spawn pike are aggressive feeders

After a while and no strikes are forthcoming, then move on. Also be aware of rising pike and the phenomenon seasoned anglers call "nervous water", indicating subsurface predator is disturbing a baitfish school known as a "bait ball", as another sign that fish are present. Casting from a slowly moving float tube or pontoon boat is also a proven way of angling for post-spawn pike with a fly rod. The strikes are savage and the fights a no-holds-barred wrestling match. Like Ol’ Ian says, "Springtime in Alberta, thrills me to the bone."

 



Previous Fishing Articles
(1) A Southern Escape
(2) Springtime in Alberta - Can Thrill You to the Bone
(3) Sunny Day Rainbows
(4) New "Fishing" Year Resolutions
(5) Five Fine Places to Find Trout
(6) Catfishing Revisited
(7) Discover Squamish, an Outdoor Playground
(8) Falling for Cutthroat
(9) New Water and Old Friends
(10) My McLeod
(11) Temperature and Trout
(12) On the Road Again
(13) Tips That Will Make You a More Successful Fly-Fisherman
(14) 5 Ways to Catch Your Trout
(15) The Difference Maker - Reading Trout Stream Waters
(16) Rollin’ on the River
(17) Windy Day Pike
(18) Cures for Cabin Fever
(19) Snowbirding with a Fishing Rod
(20) Alberta’s Spring Creek Browns - Blessings and Curses
(21) A day on our foothill streams
(22) Fly Fishing Crowded Waters
(23) Fly Leaders
(24) In the Zone
(25) Learners Permit
(26) Flies of Summer
(27) Selecting the Right Boat
(28) The Italian Job
(29) Making a difference
(30) Pass the Salt
(31) Hopper Time - Fly-fishing’s Second Season
(32) Pike on the Fly - Fishing New Waters
(33) Fall brings the big walleye out
(34) Hoppertunity Time
(35) Becoming a Better Dry Fly Angler
(36) Make Your Own Fishing Adventure
(37) Early Season Fly Fishing
(38) Walleye Logic
(39) Fly Fishing in the Desert
(40) Grammy’s Fish
(41) Top 10 Trout Lures
(42) All I Want for Christmas – Neil Waugh's Yule Tide Fishing Gifts Wish List
(43) Muskies - The Ultimate Predator
(44) What to expect when fishing the West Coast
(45) Tips & Tricks for Fall Fly Fishing
(46) There’s No Place Like Home
(47) A Golden Opportunity
(48) The Observational Trout Fisherman
(49) Un-matching the Hatch
(50) Alberta Super Bugs
(51) Glass is Back
(52) The Bull Trout of the Athabasca
(53) Speed Kills
(54) Entering the Twilight Zone
(55) Old Man River
(56) The Pink Salmon of the Squamish River
(57) Small stream BT fishing
(58) Fly fishing beyond Trout: getting started
(59) In The Walleye Zone
(60) Zoo Trout
(61) Fly Selection for Beginners
(62) Fly Fisher's Christmas
(63) New Waters
(64) Big Bad Burbot
(65) Looking Back
(66) Out of Africa
(67) Finding Success on Crowded Trout Streams
(68) Mountain Peaks, Fast Streams, Fall Colours And Rocky Mountain Whitefish
(69) The Browns of Autumn
(70) Fly-Fishing Pike Through The Seasons
(71) Walleye Town
(72) River Fun - One Bite At A Time
(73) Fly Fishing Larger Rivers
(74) Going With The Flow
(75) Becoming A Better Fly Fisherman
(76) Swinging The Fences
(77) A View From The Aerie
(78) Dixieland Delight
(79) Atlantic Salmon - The Fish of 1000 Casts
(80) Do It Yourself Pink Salmon
(81) Montana's Cool Missouri
(82) Pretty Is As Pretty Does
(83) Toothy Critters
(84) Hard Water Lakers at Cold Lake
(85) Top Ten Flies
(86) Northern Exposure
(87) Home Water Lessons
(88) Chicken Of The Sea
(89) Sealing the Deal – How to Ensure You Land More Fish
(90) Deep In The Heart Of Texas
(91) Keep It Up!
(92) River Fishing for Fall Walleye
(93) After the Flood - A look at Southern Alberta rivers and streams one year after the 2013 flood
(94) Reindeer Lake - A Diversity of Opportunity
(95) Hawg Holes
(96) Saltwater Salmon
(97) Early Season Dry Fly Fishing
(98) Down a Lazy River - A Fly-rodding Adventure on the Lower North Saskatchewan
(99) The Fly Fishing Season Ahead
(100) IN SEARCH OF SPECKLED FOOTBALLS
(101) FISHING CANADA'S PRAIRIE CITIES
(102) Bright Fish from the Land of Silver
(103) Canada's "Other" Salmon
(104) Fall Walleye
(105) Wet Flies
(106) Versatility the Key to Success
(107) Grayling of the Boreal
(108) Teaching Kids To Fly Fish
(109) Size Matters
(110) Fly Fishing Small Streams
(111) Chasing Winter Whites One Lake At A Time
(112) Manitoba's Fishing Jewel
(113) The Twelve Gifts Of Christmas
(114) The Point Of It All
(115) Fishing With Friends-Big Weather Seizing The Day
(116) Fall Fly Fishing
(117) Personal Pontoon Boats 101
(118) Big River, Big Fish
(119) Bottom Bonanza
(120) Fishing Small Flies
(121) So Many Choices, So Little Time
(122) Four Seasons of the Bow
(123) Favourite Lakes - Some Like it Hot
(124) GEARING UP FOR SMALL STREAM TROUT
(125) Trout Hunting New Zealand style
(126) Don’t Leave Home Without Them – 10 Lures That Should Be In Everyone’s Tackle Box
(127) Edge Walleye
(128) FLY FISHING STRATEGIES FOR HIGH WATER
(129) Smallmouth Bass – An Oft Overlooked Challenge
(130) Four Corners – Four Waters
(131) Chasing Pothole Trout
(132) Springtime Stoneflies
(133) The Torrents of Spring
(134) Drift Boat Fly Fishing
(135) Bust Them With Bait
(136) Cure the Winter Blues with a Good Book
(137) Hot Strategies for the Cold Months
(138) Cutthroat: The Angler's Trout
(139) Terrestrials
(140) Fly In For Fishing Fun
(141) Rocky Mountain High
(142) Reading the clues
(143) Where the Trout Are The art of locating feeding trout in rivers and streams.
(144) K.I.S.S. and Tell Fly-fishin
(145) Fly Fishing 101
(146) To Catch a Big Halibut, or Ling Cod
(147) The Bountiful Bones of Ascension Bay
(148) Grayling in the Eye of the Beholder
(149) Fly Fishing for South Fork Clearwater Steelhead
(150) Manitoba's Red River - North America's Catfish Capital
(151) Eliminating the Spook Factor
(152) Trust Your Electronics
(153) The Most Important Hatch of the Year
(154) Early Season Nymph Fishing for Trout
(155) Finding Success for Ice Trout
(156) Walleye can be Humbling
(157) The Secret to Landing the Big One Finally Revealed
(158) Winter Flyfishing
(159) North Saskatchewan River - An Underutilized Fishing Gem
(160) Hot Fall Pike Action
(161) Tips and Tricks to Save the Summer Slow Down
(162) Reading Trout Stream Waters
(163) Frequently Asked Questions
(164) Streamer Fishing for Larger Trout
(165) The Lure of Big Walleye at Last Ice
(166) Deep Water Perch
(167) Post Spawn Brookies
(168) A Fisher's Life
(169) The River's Last Stand
(170) The Big Ones Come out at Night
(171) Coho on the Coast
(172) Chasing and Catching Halibut
(173) Summer in the Mountains
(174) Peak Walleye Season
(175) Slow and Steady Wins the Race
(176) Last Ice Rainbows
(177) The Burbot Event
(178) Tackle Matching
(179) Ice Fishing Strategy #2 - Going Light
(180) Ice Fishing Strategy #1 - Location
(181) The Lure of Brook Trout
(182) The Shallow Water Hunt is On
(183) Hot Backswimmer Action Happening Right Now
(184) Fishing Among Giants-Pursuing Lake Sturgeon on the Prairies
(185) Adventure at Davin Lake Lodge, Northern Saskatchewan
(186) The Vesatile Plug
(187) Bead Head Flies, Plugs and Shot and other Spring Favorites for Pothole Trout
(188) Planning your Upcoming Angling Adventures
(189) Good Fishing at Last Ice
(190) Maximize the Odds - Use Multiple Presentations
(191) Daily Fish Migrations
(192) Fish Migrations - Following the Spawn
(193) Lake Whitefish - An Ice Fishing All Star
(194) Pick Your Favorite Brook Trout Lake...and Go Fishing
(195) A Look Ahead to Great Trout Fishing
(196) Wrestling White Sturgeon on the Fraser
(197) The Fun in Ultra Light
(198) Flyfishing and Leadcore Lines
(199) Embrace the Spirit of Adventure
(200) Never Stop Learning
(201) Ice Fishing is Getting Hot
(202) Jigging through the Ice
(203) An Ice Fishing Unsung Hero – The Setline
(204) Rainbows on Ice
(205) The Season of Ice Begins
(206) Red Hot Fall Pike Action
(207) Hitting it Right with Water Boatman
(208) Facts On Cats
(209) West Coast Adventure
(210) June Walleye Frenzy
(211) Aerated Lakes are Big Trout Factories
(212) First Fish of the Year Pothole Rainbows and Browns
(213) Northern Exposure
(214) Sometimes There is More to Fishing Than Catching Fish
(215) Early Season Pike On The Fly
(216) Man Overboard
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