Early autumn can be prime season for chasing trophy northern pike. Cooler water temperatures have these fish actively working the shallows, girding up for the approaching freeze. They are also notoriously flighty. “When pike feel that first cool nip in the water, they know it’s time to eat,” says Dave Maynard, pro angler and host ofFishing Across America. “But they’re also sensitive and spooky, so long casts and realistic bait presentations are critical.” Here’s how to catch them:

1. The Tackle Use a relatively long, 7-foot 11-inch or 8-foot swimbait rod with a medium to fast action and a fairly flexible tip section. The longer rod allows you to wake baits from a distance by holding the tip high and helps you add distance to your cast. Match that with a reliable low-profile baitcasting reel, like the Calais from Shimano.

2. The Rig Large pike can get line-shy. You need a wire leader, but try to minimize the gaudiness of the transition from line to leader. Use 12- to 15-pound mono, and attach the leader with an Albright knot instead of a swivel to maintain the action of the lure.

3. The Bait You want a bait that sinks slowly to work different depths. Swimbaits can be particularly deadly in the fall. Don’t be afraid to go large, 7 inches or longer. Match colors to the predominant forage for pike.

4. The Target Fall pike are in ambush mode and not typically cruising, so key on edges with relatively long casts: points near shallow bays, weedlines, and dropoffs. Let your bait sink well into the water column (about 3 feet), and then use slow, twitchy retrieves. Also look for transitions where clean water meets dirty water, and probe the clean edges.

Sebile USA’s Magic Swimmer

This swimbait is a pike slayer, not only because of its lifelike action but also because of its versatility. It sinks (horizontally) at a rate of a foot per second, so you can cover the whole water column, or you can wake it on the surface. The best pike colors are perch and rainbow trout.