When it comes to pike fishing in Connecticut, there are several locations to search for these toothy critters. There are a few designated pike waters such as Bantam Lake, Mansfield Hollow Reservoir, Pachaug Pond and Winchester Lake. However, some of the best pike fishing occurs on the rivers of the Nutmeg State. The mighty Housatonic has some great quality northerns. This riverine system has three lakes within it that are separated by dams. Lake Lillinonah (home to the state record pike of 29 pounds even), Lake Zoar and Lake Housatonic all have some big fish lurking within them.
The last place to mention is the Connecticut River, and it has arguably the best pike fishing in the state if not the region. When it comes to both quality and quantity, the river is where it’s at. Fishing the river in the fall is definitely where you want to be because the rivers are less affected by the turnover effect as we slip out of summer and into autumn. So it cools quickly, and fish are more active. Plus river fish are almost always more aggressive than lake fish.
Getting out on the water is half the battle, and while there are plenty of shore access points, being mobile is the key to success especially as these fish are in transition. What is known as “The march of the teeth” or the “Pike parade” is when some of the best fishing occurs. Pike begin to move from their summer hangouts on deep, rocky points or near cold-water runoffs to more favorable areas for a fall time buffet. The main river produces larger fish averages than the estuaries.
When searching for the pike in the fall, look for them to be working bait. You will see fish swirling on the surface and slamming bait. Backwater coves and areas with thick grass tend to hold abundant forage and the pike take notice. Pike often stay motionless in the weeds waiting for bait to move in close. Pond shiners are a popular food source for pike and they load up in coves and near dock systems in the river during the late fall. Finding coves along the river such as Wethersfield or confluences with other rivers like the Farmington and Salmon rivers are key areas to fish. Pike push their way up into smaller rivers that connect to the big water. I like to stock up on pondies and set this bait beneath a float, especially as it gets colder and the bite slows up later in the season.
In the Know
I’ve caught my fair share of pike over the years, but it’s always nice to fish with someone who’s a real pro when it comes to a certain species. So I recently took a trip with longtime pike angler and guide, Jason Punty. Jason has been chasing northern pike for more than two decades here in New England and he understands these fish very well. We chose to fish the Connecticut River because it is a phenomenal fishery with a size average that is unmatched throughout our tiny state. The river holds abundant bait year-round, which helps to make the fish predictable and healthy. It also does not get ice fished in a way that is detrimental to larger pike. Other bodies of water like Bantam Lake get hammered during the winter, and big girls are often harvested as trophies for the wall, sadly.
The Key Gear
Geared up and ready to go, we hit the water. Choosing the right rod and reel is very important if you want to pursue these powerful fish. Something sturdy with good back bone is necessary. I like to use my 7-foot, MH Shimano Clarus rod paired with a Shimano Sahara 2500 and 30-pound Power Pro and 20-pound mono leader. My guide was a little bit more prepared than I was, though. Jason chooses to go with Kistler rods when he is chasing pike. He will typically have two 7-foot, 4-inch MH Helium 3 rods on board, paired with a Lew’s Super Duty Speed Spool and 20-pound Gamma Edge fluorocarbon. These rods were rigged up with an inline spinner and a large musky-style spinnerbait. He also likes to use a Kistler MH Argon rod paired with a Lew’s Speed Spool and 20-pound fluorocarbon as a search bait rod. Steel leaders aren’t a bad idea as they can hold up to those razor sharp teeth. However, heavy mono or fluoro also get the job done but with more transparency, which can absolutely make a difference.
Lure and Bait Options
My go-to bait for this time of year is a Rapala J-11 in the fire tiger color scheme. It’s a great color for the fall time no matter what the bait is. It’s especially good on the river when the water can be murkier than lakes because of rain and strong flows. Another top performer for me is a 3/4- to 1-ounce spinner bait with a 4-inch Keitech swing impact as a trailer. Large profiles and lots of noise are two key factors in enticing northerns to strike. Jason likes to throw 1/2-ounce spinnerbaits with a 3/O trailer hook or a #6 Vibrax inline spinner as a search bait. The Vibrax blades make a ton of noise and do a great job of calling in hungry pike. A 1/2-ounce War Eagle spinner bait was another go-to for him as it is easy to throw and efficient but does drop fish. The Harasser is a musky-style inline spinner that draws big fish at times when smaller baits do not take. Mepp’s Musky killer splits the difference between the other two. It draws a lot of strikes, moves more water than a spinner bait, but is not as heavy to throw as a Harasser.
During the late fall, pike, like many other fish, gorge themselves and fatten up for the winter. They become more aggressive and more easily caught this time of year when water temps cool into the 60s. Their patterns become quite predictable there on out until the weeds die off, and water temps drop off to the 40s.
Pike are notorious for follows and misses, but do not be discouraged. Most of the time if you get a follow but no taker that fish is able to be caught. One important thing that my guide taught me is patience. If I ever missed a fish at the boat, I try the old “figure 8” or just keep working that area in hopes of getting a second chance. Yet Jason said, “If you get a follow then figure out where that fish came up from and move away from that spot.
Fish for 10 to 15 minutes away from it. Then go back and pick up that big inline spinner and make a long cast to that spot. If after a handful of casts he does not take it, repeat the 10-minute break.”
Another reason the river is so good to fish is because of the efforts from the DEEP here in CT through their pike management program. Every year thousands of fingerling are produced in Haddam Meadows marsh. Up to 2,000 of these fingerlings are distributed along the river and are thought to increase the number of adult pike by up to 40 percent. This distribution of fingerlings is made in an effort to replace any fish that may have died off or been harvested.
I grew up fishing the Housatonic and its impoundments so that river is more my stomping grounds. Although, I’ve noticed that the CT River pumps out some giants and it is only a matter of time before a new record is pulled from its waters, in my opinion. October is definitely the best month of the year to be angling for northern pike out on the river. They are hungry, aggressive and very willing to play with you.
If you’d like to spend a day on the Connecticut River targeting northern pike with Captain Jason Punty, give him a call at 860-305-1086 and be sure to tell him that you saw his name listed here!