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In The Outdoors: Simple Tactics for Quality Northern

There are a lot of anglers that look at northern with disdain. They often refer to these fish with terms of endearment such as “slimers” or “snakes.” I have to admit, there have been times when small northern have pestered me to the point I feel the same. However, a good sized northern is quite a remarkable fish and very sporting to catch.

(Photo: Jerry Carlson) Unlike pesky hammer handles, quality northern are very enjoyable to catch.

Most of the anglers I know that are really into pike fishing travel  far into Canada to remote trophy northern lakes. There is no question that these locations have the quantity and quality of fish that is hard to beat. But that doesn’t mean it is impossible to find some respectable fish on a more local level.

There are some simple tactics that I have used to successfully target larger northern. Granted, these fish aren’t going to always be super lunkers, but they can be impressive fish.

Northern love sucker minnows. That is a fact that cannot be ignored. I have had many of these toothy critters fall to a sucker minnow presentation.

One of the easiest sucker minnow presentations to work with is the standard slip bobber rig. Dangling a sucker minnow on a piece of quality structure can provide anglers with an entertaining day. Remember, large minnows attract large fish.

Although slip bobber rigs are simple and productive, my favorite sucker minnow presentation is trolling. Over the years I have discovered the deep weed line is a real magnet for northern activity and a likely place to find action.

My tactic is simple. I tie my own leaders with 20 to 30 pound test mono. The hook I use is a large Gum Drop floater with plenty of orange in the pattern. Northern see orange and red colors very well.

I fish this combo like a live bait rig for walleye. I hook the sucker through the lips and work it along the weed line. The bigger the sucker, the better chance a person has of getting a big fish. However, small fish will still hit this minnow and can create some missed strikes. Once a hit is detected, give the northern a little time to chew before setting the hook.

I have also caught many quality northern on bottom bouncer rigs. I have had success using large bladed spinners that feature a long shanked hook with a plastic PowerBait grub on the hook. I then tip this rig with a minnow or leech.

I troll this rig quite fast just below the weed line or through an area walleye are using. Northern often consume small walleye for food. This spinner combo will also attract plenty of walleye action as well as northern.

Occasionally, I find a large floating Rapala trolled behind a bottom bouncer can be effective. There have been a number of times that the biggest fish of a fishing event have come from this rig. Like the spinner, large walleye are not afraid of this large bait. I fish this set-up at a pretty good clip.

As a general rule, hot weather and warm water associated with late summer is not a good time for catching big northern. Evidence suggests these fish get stressed when the water temperature rises. Big lakes that do not heat up as much are good places to target when the water is too warm on smaller lakes. Most quality muskie lakes are also good northern fisheries.

Location is one other interesting fact to note. For some reason, large northern seem to come from the same areas year after year. Once a big fish hangout is discovered, there is a good chance others will be in the vicinity. Like other big fish, northern are picky about their location.

Northern are a scrappy fish that can provide lots of entertainment for anglers. They can also be a real pest when anglers are inundated with large quantities of small fish.

However, with a little effort, it is possible to find some bigger fish that will put up a memorable fight. After all, it is the pull on the end of the line that keeps us looking for quality gators.

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