When you tell people that you are a flyfisher most automatically assume that you pursue only trout, and for the most part they are right. More and more anglers these days are discovering the fun that can be had with other fish species. Salt-water flyfishing has boomed over the last several years and flyfishing for warm water species, including pike, continues to grow in popularity. Northern Pike have turned out to be one of the most popular warm water species due to their aggressive nature and the fact that the fishing is very visible. This is particularly true in the spring, when most of the action takes place on or near the surface. Pike also fight surprisingly well on a fly rod. While they don’t run and jump like trout they do have the muscle power to deliver a good fight.
Pike are nicknamed the “Water Wolf” for good reason. They are very aggressive and the bigger the meal the better as far as they are concerned. Pike spawn early in the spring when ice-out allows them access to weed beds and other vegetation in shallow water areas such as bays, inlets and outlets. They will remain in these areas as long as sufficient food is present and the water temperature doesn’t become too warm. In Alberta, where I do most of my flyrodding for pike, spawning pike are protected with seasonal closures. Lakes in the southern part of the province open on the 8th of May and in the north it’s the 17th of May. The pike will still be found in the shallows on “opening day” and anglers shouldn’t be concerned that they have missed the ice-out feeding frenzy. Bays, coves, inlets and outlets with good southern exposure, usually the north shore of lakes, will warm first and provide the best early fishing.
The best approach with the fly rod is to cast your fly in, around or along weed beds and other cover where pike like to lay in wait for their prey. I prefer to cast parallel to weed beds and retrieve along them, as close as possible without getting hung up in the weeds. Unlike the delicate presentations desired for trout fishing, with pike you want to let them know dinner is served. Casts that land with a splash and move plenty of water on the retrieve are the ticket to success. Be prepared for the strike to come at anytime, from the second the fly hits the water right up until your fly is beside your boat, float tube or waders!
Flies for pike need not be complicated, but should be substantial in size. You’ll want flies tied on strong 1/0, 2/0 or even 3/0 hooks. Colour doesn’t seem to be all that important. I stick with combinations that are generally good for all pike lures like red & white, chartreuse & black, black & red and black & yellow. The Dahlberg Diver is my favorite pike dry fly. Tied with lots of deer hair it floats like a cork but the nose is trimmed in such a fashion that the fly dives when stripped, moving a lot of water and making a lot of noise, the pike’s dinner bell. Sub-surface patterns can be as complicated as realistic baitfish imitations or as simple as the good old woolly bugger in a variety of colours.
Equipment for pike fishing need not be expensive. I use an 8wt. rod but this is more for the power to cast the large, wind resistant flies, than for battling the pike. Since the majority of the fishing is done in fairly shallow water a floating line is usually all that is necessary, although if I was travelling any distance to fish I would certainly take a slow sinking or sink-tip line along. Last season I tried out one of the clear intermediate lines, it performed very well, especially in rough water conditions. They sink very slowly and get your line just under the surface. This gives you better control over your fly on the retrieve, as the waves don’t affect it as much.
Leaders are probably the most critical element of the equipment set-up. Climax markets a pike leader that is 8ft. in length with a 12” wire shock tippet and is 40lb. test. You pass the leader through the eye of the hook and attach it back to itself with the crimps provided. They are very strong and work well. I use both the Climax and also use Superfly’s wire tippet material knotted on to a 7’ 0X leader. This material is 17lb. test and is composed of 7 strands of wire braided together and coated with nylon. The beauty of this material is that it knots just like regular monofilament and is quite resistant to kinking. I simply attach a one foot piece onto my leader with a double surgeon’s knot and attach my fly with an improved clinch knot.
Our pike stocks are a very valuable resource and any angler is going out to fish for them should be aware of the proper way to handle them to ensure a successful release. Land your fish quickly and keep it in the water as much as possible during the release. Avoid squeezing the fish and never put your fingers in the gills or eyes of a pike. As with all fish remove the hook as quickly as possible and if the fish is hooked deeply, cut the leader as close to the hook as possible. Cradle the fish until it is revived enough to forcefully swim away from you. Landing cradles as opposed to landing nets make quick and easy work of catching and releasing pike.
Flyrodding for pike can be an exciting and interesting diversion to the usual trout fishing, especially in spring when many rivers and streams are high and dirty due to run-off. Give it a try this year, you’ll be glad you did.
Pike on the Fly - Barry Reynolds
How to handle and release Northern Pike (free brochure) Alberta Conservation Society 1-877-969-9091