ShareThis Page

Hungry northern pike active in fall rivers

| Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

With the weather as hot as it's been the past few days, you might want to consider climbing down out of your treestand and picking up your fishing rod.

There's some real action to be had wrestling with big, aggressive fish.

No, we're not talking about steelhead, the fish that gets everyone's attention in fall, and deservedly so. Northern pike are the game.

Though few people seem to realize it, or at least take advantage of it, October is prime time for tussling with voracious northerns, especially when it comes to one kind of waterway.

You can catch them now on lakes at a pretty good clip. According to catch rate data from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission collected over decades, lake anglers catch more pike per hour in October than in any other month save February.

But the fishing is at its best right now on rivers and streams.

Fishermen pull more pike from flowing waters in October than at any other time of year, with catch rates at about three times their summer levels, according to the commission.

Cooler weather and cooler water temperatures have a lot to do with that, said Bob Lorantas, warmwater unit leader for the commission. Fish sluggish over summer suddenly become feisty again, he said.

That's no surprise to veteran river rats.

“When I first moved up here, the old timers used to tell me to expect the pike to move shallow and get active after the first frost in September,” added Red Childress, owner of Allegheny Guide Service in Warren. “I've found a lot of truth in that old adage. When the water temperatures start to cool, the pike just come alive.”

Pike are a native fish to this area, so any you catch are the result of wild, naturally reproducing stock. The Allegheny River, primarily from Armstrong County upstream all the way to Warren, has a reputation as a tremendous pike fishery. French Creek in Crawford County is another really good place to fish, as is Mahoning Creek in Armstrong County. The Yough River holds them, as does Tionesta Creek.

In all cases, catching them means targeting certain habitats with the river.

Shallow water that holds lots of minnows and small baitfish is a good place to start, said veteran musky and pike fisherman Howard Wagner of Fombell.

“We find them a lot in spots where there's a sandbar on the upstream side of a feeder stream,” Wagner said. “If that sand flat is right next to deeper water, that's perfect because they'll come in there chasing minnows when the fall or winter sun hits the water.”

Focus on spots with structure, too, Childress said. Baitfish like dace, suckers, chubs, shad and even small carp congregate around big boulders, timber, grass, and anything else that breaks current, he said. That structure also makes perfect cover for lurking pike.

“Pike don't go cruising around looking for their food. They're more apt to tuck themselves back in somewhere and lie in wait and ambush their prey as it goes by,” Childress said.

“That doesn't mean you'll find them in every piece of structure. But you can narrow things down over time by process of elimination until you find the spots where they're hiding.”

Live bait — especially slender-shaped chubs and suckers, caught locally from the river you'll be fishing — is a favorite fall pike bait for some.

If you prefer lures, Wagner suggests using 5- to 6-inch musky plugs. If he's using some of his local favorites, Wiley Lures and Leo Lures made in Western Pennsylvania, he goes with natural colors, like ones that resemble suckers or carp. If he's using Rapala shad raps or Rebel crankbaits, he goes with foil or chrome patterns. Childress fishes 7- to 8-inch plastic swimbaits like Curly Sues and 4- to 6-inch spoons like Dardevles and Red Eye Wigglers.

Whatever you use, consider adding some scent, he added.

“Pike seem to be much more responsive to smell than some other fish, like muskies, so sometimes we spray garlic on our swimbaits,” Childress said.

In all cases, be prepared for a first-class battle.

“That cold water is just what they like, so they fight hard,” Wagner said.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.