Jigging Softbaits for Fall Pike

Fall is a great time to toss oversized lures for pike, and there are loads of options. In this article, we’re going to focus on jigging moderate-sized softbaits, rather than humongous soft plastic baits typically associated with catching muskies.

In early fall, pike often penetrate healthy, green weed beds, relating to pockets, holes, clumps—whatever distinctive features occur. By mid- to late fall, however, with shallower weeds on flats typically dying, the action shifts to still-healthy deep weed lines—particularly where their outer edges meet deep water. Points, turns and irregularities along the deep weed edge in these areas attract and hold some real gators. Thus, you have opportunities to swim lures above weed tops, let them fall down into the weeds and rip them up and out, or flutter them down deep weed edges.

Jigging softbaits in the broader 5- to 9-inch range, and more typically the 6- to 8-inch sizes, not only provide large baits suitable for triggering pike, but baits of reasonable size to also catch bass and walleyes. Thus, jigging is typically considered multi-species angling, whereas tossing gigantic muskie baits is more associated with catching muskies or very large pike.

One personal favorite I’ve used for years is the Bait Rigs ESOX Cobra Jig—either 3/4- or 1-ounce, even up to 1 1/2-ounce—dressed with a soft plastic bait. It is a triangular-shaped head with the hook eye at the nose, allowing you slither the jig through most weed conditions. It is designed for swimming, planing and, when paused, fluttering on the descent. A heavy-duty 5/0 hook will hold any pike you encounter.

In the early days, Bait Rigs sold kits with 8-inch Reaper tails. Nowadays, they offer pre-rigged grub and shad tail versions, or you can add any soft plastic of your own preference. You can purchase ESOX jigheads plain, or with wire leaders attached. They even offer some handy hints on how to make weed guards using rubber bands, and “over rigging” soft plastic with a kink or bend to accentuate the action.

Because the heads come with an-open hook design, I prefer to use them to briefly hang on deep weed growth, snap the jig free with a wrist snap of the rod, and then let it flutter down the deep outer edge. In sparser conditions, you can let the jig fall down between stalks, shake your rod tip and maybe come back clean most of the time. But if the weeds get too heavy, it’s best to wrangle up a weed guard of some sort to prevent the frustration of constantly uprooting weed growth.

Also an option are mid-sized to large swimming grubs rigged on jig heads with heavy 5/0 to 8/0 hooks, such as VMC’s 3/4-ounce SBJ Swimbait Jig. A large paddle tail grub like a 6.8-inch Kei Tech Swing Impact Fat falls nicely into the multi-species category, with enough size to trigger strikes from large predators like pike and muskies. Because these heads have the hook eye atop the jig, rather than at the nose, they are much better suited to horizontal retrieves above the weeds or between sparse stalks, rather than penetrating down into weeds, where weed fragments will gather around the line tie at the hook.

      Another favorite is the Storm Swim Shad, which comes in various sizes up to a whopping 9 inches, with the jighead molded into the body. I like the 6-inch version with a 7/8-ounce internal head when casting for pike.

Once again, the hook eye is atop the bait, so it will pick up weeds if allowed to penetrate too far down into the growth. But for horizontal retrieves above weed tops, fluttering down deep edges, and in summer, deep jigging at the 40-foot level for big pike near the thermocline, this lure is a real winner.

 

Dave Csanda has enjoyed 40 years in the fishing communications industry at In-Fisherman, Angling Edge and now, as editor of MidWest Outdoors. He is an inductee of both the Minnesota and National Fresh Water Fishing Halls of Fame.