The most important tip: keep it simple. Almost everyone brings far more tackle and gear than they need.
While you don’t need to bring a single rod, reel or lure, we realize that planning and packing for a fishing trip is a big part of the excitement and the experience. We will not deny our customers that aspect of a northern adventure.
First, A Little About Our Fish
Northern pike are found throughout Canada and the northern parts of the United States. With light spots over a dark background and a brilliant green to olive-green dorsal area, the northern pike is a striking fish. A voracious predator, pike are well known to attack almost anything alive, including small muskrats, ducklings, loon chicks, mice and about anything in the lake that isn’t big enough to eat them. A rule of thumb with pike is that they will kill and eat anything up to two-thirds their own size. Typical below the surface pike prey would be leeches, burbot, lake cisco, whitefish, lake trout and yes, smaller pike.
The lake trout really isn’t a trout at all. Technically it’s a char, like the arctic char, Dolly Varden or brook trout. Whatever you call it, the laker is a remarkable fish, probably the hardest fighting and strongest of all freshwater fish, including some tough customers like the peacock bass, the tiger fish or the golden dorado. Hooked in shallow water on standard pike gear, the lake trout has incredible stamina. They just don’t quit.
When casting or trolling for lakers, a fast-moving lure is usually the best bet. You cannot reel fast enough to get your lure away from a lake trout that wants it. Lake trout in the far north develop beautiful markings when they approach the September spawning period. The fin edges of males turn a bright white and both males and females change color dramatically. The basic silver-sided trout of summer add bright red/orange fish and usually get a darker brown/gold appearance with bright spots. The trout at Scott and other high latitude lakes do not spawn every year. Only about a third of the females spawn every year with a typical female spawning only every two to four years. That’s why in the shallow spawning reefs in September large numbers of smaller males will be swarming the rocks looking for fewer number of females. On Scott most of the spawning (this has been observed) occurs in the second week of September on rocky reefs with a depth of only one to three feet. It’s a wild time to fish for lakers. Actually, anytime is a great time to catch these magnificent fish. While we don’t have world record potential lake trout, we have caught lake trout approaching 50 pounds.
For many Scott guests a trip to the north is not complete without a flyout to catch some arctic grayling – a true icon of the far north. Grayling are delicate, beautiful fish well suited to ultra-light spinning tackle or light (4-or 5- weight) fly rods. The grayling flyouts from Scott are all rivers or the short connections between lakes. In these shallow areas there are few if any lake trout or pike, so grayling can survive and thrive.
Spinning and Casting Rods/Reels
If you are bringing your own rods and reels make sure they are heavy enough to handle big fish. We have had a lot of guests bring their soft-tipped walleye rods which just can’t set the hook on the hard mouths of our pike. We also want a heavy enough rod to bring in the fish in a relatively short period of time to prevent literally fighting a fish to death. Typically, these will be medium to heavy rods in six-and-a-half-foot length. The St. Croix Premier series is the rod of choice at Scott, a S66MHF2 to be exact, a Medium-Heavy Fast Action model. But don’t buy one: we have them. The Premier bait-casting rods are also excellent if you want to use casting reels. Again, we have them. Most importantly you need a stiff enough rod to handle strong test lines. We use 30# synthetic lines (Power Pro usually) on our spinning and casting reels and 60# for the trolling reels. We love Shimano reels and have a wide variety of them. Again, for spinning and casting rigs make sure the reel can handle at least up to 30# line. For leaders, we like to suggest that you just buy them at the lodge. We’re not trying to run up your bills. We just have learned not to trust many brands, most without the cross-locked snaps. We have custom made leaders that hold up to the savage hits of northern pike. If you do bring leaders, they should be “muskie” leaders.
What to use at the end of that line? Fishing lures can be compared to the fashion industry. There is always something new, but not necessarily better. For pike, the Mepps #5 with or without a bucktail has been catching big pike for decades as has the Johnson Silver Minnow. A very popular spinner at Scott is the Blue Fox Vibrax #5 or #6 in gold. Another great spinner is the Buchertail 500 series in gold/red or black/orange. Even the old school red and white Daredevils will still entice a hungry pike. But not all the pike are always hungry. If you run into those, you need to get more subtle.
Over the past ten years, plastics have been moving to the top of our guide’s and many angler’s tackle trays. At the very top of the tray at Scott will be the Storm Wildeye Pike in the 4”, 5” and 6” size. It’s been a killer. So has the Savage Hybrid Pike in the 7” size. The Berkley Havoc Grass Pig in 5” size with the deadly 7/0 Trokar screwhook is another winner. Other great plastics include the Svartzonker McRubber 5” Paddle Tail and the Savage 3D Burbot. This list could go on and on but like with rods and reels keep it simple. The fish of the far north rarely require many lure changes. Accurate casting and presentation for sight-casting opportunities (most of our big pike chances) is much more important than the lure.
For our big lake trout, we have narrowed down our choices to around a half-dozen. All our guides have the 4.5” and 5.5” Lucky Strike spoons in their box. It’s our #1. The big Daredevil Husky Sr still brings home some fatties as does the classic Williams Whitefish C90. There are some guides who swear by the T-60 Flatfish, but other guides swear at it. There are also times when jigging is the way to go. A basic 3 or 5-ounce white bucktail jig will do the job or the massive but effective 11- ounce Bondy Bait. It’s hard to go too big. Years ago, we had a body shop make some giant spoons over a foot long. They worked. As with all decisions about tackle just listen to YOUR guide’s advice. All our Scott guides are in their second or third decade of fishing northern waters. Go with their instincts not something you read in a fishing magazine.
For grayling, the ultra-light spin angler doesn’t need many tools. The 1/8th ounce Panther Martin has long been a favorite. (The small Mepps spinners will work but it takes a foot of two of retrieve to get their blades moving—go with the Martins.) Any small rubber jigs in the 1/8th ounce will work well. Things that work well for crappies or stream trout will work for grayling. We have a selection of grayling lures at our shop.
Even more than spin or bait-casting anglers fly anglers tend to obsess about what’s on the end of their line. Fly boxes are always overflowing with flies of every description and color. Well, for pike at Scott Lake it’s quite safe to trim those boxes way down. You might need to adjust the size of your flies to the conditions (mainly water temperature dictated) but the patterns are pretty simple. You will need a bunch of leech patterns in various sizes. Black has always been the number one favorite, but any color, well presented, will trigger a strike. And you need a variety of baitfish patterns: the basic Lefty’s Deceiver in black, red/white or chartreuse will always work as will the Whistler (one of our best-selling flies) and Clouser in the same colors. Bring a few top-water offerings as well. Nothing is more exciting that watching a mouse pattern or gurgler disappear in a violent explosion. Overall, presentation is far more important than style or color. Get your fly well in front of the fish (four to six feet unless it’s moving then make it ten to twenty feet), make it move and hang on. Our fly wall at the lodge will provide all you need at prices far less than most fly shops. For the all-important bite tippet there are many options. Our favorite is the Surflon Mirco Supreme made by American Fishing Wire Company which we sell, but Rio makes a good Pike/Musky wire and Scientific Angler has a great Predator tippet. Don’t play around with even heavy hard mono as a bite tippet. Our experience is that the smaller pike will slice off even the toughest 80 and 100# test mono. Stay with wire. Pike’s teeth are not just numerous; they are serrated.
For lake trout the Whistler seems to be the top fly both spring and fall, but Deceivers work well too. Our fly anglers get quite a few lake trout early and late in our season while they are fishing for pike. In June, lakers are cruising around in shallow water all over the lake. It’s an opportunistic sight fishing game. The key is a long cast and a very fast strip. You can’t strip too fast. Make it as long a cast as possible though since lakers have a pronounced habit of following before hitting. Just don’t stop the strip or the laker will quickly disappear. Late in our season (the last few days of August and early September) lake trout move into shallow water again; this time to spawn. If the water temperature is low enough (around 50 degrees F) our final group or two can have an incredible lake trout experience fishing our many rocky spawning reefs. Any baitfish pattern will work then.
For our grayling fly fishing we have a surefire program. There are only two flies that work for grayling: those that float and those that don’t. It’s an old lodge joke but it indicates that fly patterns are not critical. Just keep your dries rather small (8- 12). Adams, Royal Wulff, Elk Hair Caddis, Humpies, Black Gnat, small hoppers all work well. In a cold front go to nymphs like a Pheasant Tail beadhead, any dark colored stone fly nymph or a standard woolly bugger. Nymphs can be fairly large (6-10). Grayling are active fish found in low “protein” rivers. They look for your fly. This isn’t a match the hatch process or what’s often termed “technical” fishing. This is fun fishing. Just enjoy it.