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Angling regulations affect fall fishing

Fall is the perfect time to catch a big northern pike. This one landed and released by Joaquin Delgado came from Big Mantrap Lake, a local body of water with a 24"-36" release slot, which has boosted northern pike numbers and size. (Jason Durham / For the Enterprise)

As the leaves change color and the crisp, fall air refreshes the atmosphere, northern pike become increasingly active.

Now is definitely the time to get out on the water if your goal is a true, northern Minnesota trophy pike.

Northern pike become increasingly active in the fall, but not necessarily due to the same factors that influence other fish to feed.

Bass, for instance, become increasingly gregarious when the water temperatures fall as they bulk-up for winter. Since largemouth aren't as active throughout the winter months, smallmouth even less, the two species become less discriminating about their meals in the fall as they pack on the pounds. The reserves are used throughout the winter, although both largemouth and smallmouth are sometimes encountered by anglers through the ice.*

Pike, however, don't necessarily eat more in the fall to create a stored energy supply for winter, but primarily become more active due to pike-conducive water temperatures.

You see, northern pike are cold water relative fish. When the lake water warms throughout summer, many of the larger northerns head out to deep water.

Contrary to popular belief, most don't sit with their bellies to the bottom in super-deep water, waiting a meal to pass. Instead, they often suspend in the cool, highly oxygenated water of the center, horizontal band in the water column called the thermocline.

As the lake begins to experience "turnover", which is the gradual mixing of water temperatures from surface to bottom, big northern pike once again roam, and subsequently feed, in larger territories.

Their propensity to eat larger meals than usual also increases, so if you want to catch a trophy-status northern pike, use a bait of magnum proportion.

Though artificial lures like spoons, bucktails and crankbaits will tempt big pike, sucker minnows are an all natural alternative.

New state regulations which went into effect on Aug. 9 now allow the use of sucker minnows over twelve inches. The regulation reads: White suckers that are over 12 inches and have been legally purchased from a licensed commercial vendor may be transported alive. The person transporting these fish must have the sales receipt on their person. The sales receipt must show the date and time of purchase.

Yet even with the best bait tied on, tracking down a northern of monstrous proportion isn't as simple as catching sunfish off the dock. You still have to find the fish to catch them.

However, with the Department of Natural Resources' implementation of experimental regulations for northern pike on bodies of water that have the potential to produce large northerns, the future of big pike fishing looks quite promising.

Eight lakes in the area currently have experimental regulations for northern pike, which include 5th, 6th, 8th, 9th and 10th Crow Wing lakes (40" minimum,) Lake George, Mantrap and Blueberry lakes (24"-36" release slot.)

n Smallmouth bass are legal to catch in the fall and winter (until Feb. 27, 2011 when the season closes,) but the fish must be immediately released. The catch and kill season is over.