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Pike on the Fly - Fishing New Waters

 

A friend and I have been on a quest the last few years to land Master Angler-qualifying pike in Manitoba on our flyrods. That means a pike of 41" or longer, certainly doable in many of that province’s remote, northern lodges where fish grow large and angling pressure is minimal. We’ve been fishing drive-to waters, however, and have, admittedly, failed to meet the mark. We catch our share of fish, just nothing that has approached the MA standard. So this year we decided to take the plunge and charter an aircraft in early June. Mind you, we weren’t heading to one of the far-flung traditional trophy hotspots - those were simply beyond the budget we’ve set for our annual adventure.

We found plenty of small pike, but the large hens eluded us.

We found plenty of small pike, but the large hens eluded us.

The lake we selected is actually a natural widening of the Gammon River in eastern Manitoba, near the Ontario border. Managed by the fine folks at Wallace Lake Lodge and Outposts , the Gammon River Outpost is only a short, 20-minute air hop from their main lodge on Wallace Lake, east of the town of Bissett. The setting was perfect for our needs, a lake (we’ll call it a lake, anyway) with a healthy population of pike and walleye, a simple one-room cabin with a generator that ensures lights and a hot shower, and a 14-foot Lund powered by a 10-horse Yamaha. What more would we need? Bounded by waterfalls at each end, the lake is about 6 km long, and no more than 1.5 km across at the widest point. But what it may lack in sheer size, it more than makes up for in shoreline, with numerous twists, turns and bays. The challenge? Finding pike, large pike, in the two-and-a-half days we had.

Breaking, Down the Water We began by exploring the lake to identify potential fish-holding water. The small falls at the inlet formed a natural barrier to upstream fish movement, so it was pretty safe to assume there’d be fish stacked up below it. The falls at the outlet end dropped a good 10 metres, again creating a barrier over which it was unlikely large pike would pass.

We checked out each of the half dozen or so large bays, identifying which supported beds of emergent vegetation that would be attractive to spawning pike, which were shallow enough to warm up early (again attracting spawning pike), and which had newly erupting submergent vegetation (cabbage) that would provide cover for post-spawn pike laying in ambush for potential prey.

Bays with a combination of emergent and submergent vegetation proved to hold the largest pike.

Bays with a combination of emergent and submergent vegetation proved to hold the largest pike.

Natural constrictions in the lake were another point of interest for us. In these narrowed channels the current speeds up, attracting bait fish and, subsequently, predatory fish. Our plan was to fish each of the high-value locations in our search for mature, hen pike.

Considering Fish Behaviour The ice had been off the lake for a few weeks by the time we arrived, so we knew they’d completed their spawn. Immediately post-spawn, large pike are seeking to feed heavily. We also knew that, as the water was still relatively cold, mature pike wouldn’t have dropped down into deeper, cooler water as they would once the water column heated up. Our expectations were that even the largest pike would still be found in water less than 10 feet deep. As a result, we decided to concentrate our efforts in relatively shallow waters that had the potential to attract and hold schools of baitfish, as near to pike spawning habitat as possible.

Evaluate a lake’s potential based on habitat type and fish behaviour.

Evaluate a lake’s potential based on habitat type and fish behaviour.

It’s Fishing Time We began at the inlet falls, if for no other reason than it was the best water close to the cabin. We anchored our boat some 50 metres below the falls and began fan-casting large streamers. We picked up a few small pike, but nothing significant, so we began moving in, 10 metres at a time. Eventually we were tight against the little fall, casting parallel to it. It was here we caught the largest pike, but they were in the mid-30-inch range, not what we were looking for.

From there we headed to the bays, fishing each one in order. Those without significant emergent vegetation and minimal or no submergent growth produced the fewest and the smallest fish. The more emergent vegetation, and the more cabbage, the greater the number and the larger the size of fish we caught, but still we didn’t hook up with anything resembling what we were seeking.

The little falls on the lake’s inlet created a natural barrier against which fish would stack up.

The little falls on the lake’s inlet created a natural barrier against which fish would stack up.

This pattern continued over two days, as we continued our search for large fish. We’d change up our fly patterns and switch between floating and sinking lines as the conditions, depths and our mood dictated. We’d always pick up a few pike and the odd walleye, but a mature hen still eluded us. On our very last afternoon we decided to go back to the one bay we’d found with the most cabbage and a shoreline dense with bulrush, perfect spike spawning cover. The bay averaged four to five deep, and the prevailing wind that afternoon allowed us to drift as we cast, so we were able to cover most of the water without having to fire up the motor. I tied on a black mouse pattern that I strip in short jerks across the surface.

For sheer excitement it’s tough to beat the moment when a big pike engulfs your fly.

For sheer excitement it’s tough to beat the moment when a big pike engulfs your fly.

Wouldn’t you know it, on my third cast the mouse disappeared in a frothy boil, and the fight was on! The weight on my line told me I was into a large pike, so I remained patient, letting the fish take line whenever it wanted. With big pike you must be careful as you bring them close because they’ll invariably erupt violently when they see the boat. If you’ve got them on too tight a line, they’ll bust you off or pull the hook out when they go. Eventually I hoisted the big hen into the boat for the careful measuring. It stretched the tape to 39.5 inches, shy of the magic mark by a tad, but nonetheless a dandy pike.

This mature hen taped 39.5 inches, falling just short of Manitoba’s Master Angler standards.

This mature hen taped 39.5 inches, falling just short of Manitoba’s Master Angler standards.

In that same bay, just 15 minutes later, I had another big pike engulf my mouse. I’ll never know how big she was because the hook came out after about 10 seconds on my line. That was the bad news; the good news was that we were into them! We’d found the right location by systematically evaluating the habitat, and discovered a presentation they’d respond to through trial and error.

Sometimes the fish gods aren’t kind, however, because just when we had it all figured out, the wind picked up, the skies darkened and the rain began to fall. We had no option but to turn and head for home, wishing, as all anglers do, for just one more cast.



Previous Fishing Articles
(1) Pass the Salt
(2) Hopper Time - Fly-fishing’s Second Season
(3) Pike on the Fly - Fishing New Waters
(4) Fall brings the big walleye out
(5) Hoppertunity Time
(6) Becoming a Better Dry Fly Angler
(7) Make Your Own Fishing Adventure
(8) Early Season Fly Fishing
(9) Walleye Logic
(10) Fly Fishing in the Desert
(11) Grammy’s Fish
(12) Top 10 Trout Lures
(13) All I Want for Christmas – Neil Waugh's Yule Tide Fishing Gifts Wish List
(14) Muskies - The Ultimate Predator
(15) What to expect when fishing the West Coast
(16) Tips & Tricks for Fall Fly Fishing
(17) There’s No Place Like Home
(18) A Golden Opportunity
(19) The Observational Trout Fisherman
(20) Un-matching the Hatch
(21) Alberta Super Bugs
(22) Glass is Back
(23) The Bull Trout of the Athabasca
(24) Speed Kills
(25) Entering the Twilight Zone
(26) Old Man River
(27) The Pink Salmon of the Squamish River
(28) Small stream BT fishing
(29) Fly fishing beyond Trout: getting started
(30) In The Walleye Zone
(31) Zoo Trout
(32) Fly Selection for Beginners
(33) Fly Fisher's Christmas
(34) New Waters
(35) Big Bad Burbot
(36) Looking Back
(37) Out of Africa
(38) Finding Success on Crowded Trout Streams
(39) Mountain Peaks, Fast Streams, Fall Colours And Rocky Mountain Whitefish
(40) The Browns of Autumn
(41) Fly-Fishing Pike Through The Seasons
(42) Walleye Town
(43) River Fun - One Bite At A Time
(44) Fly Fishing Larger Rivers
(45) Going With The Flow
(46) Becoming A Better Fly Fisherman
(47) Swinging The Fences
(48) A View From The Aerie
(49) Dixieland Delight
(50) Atlantic Salmon - The Fish of 1000 Casts
(51) Do It Yourself Pink Salmon
(52) Montana's Cool Missouri
(53) Pretty Is As Pretty Does
(54) Toothy Critters
(55) Hard Water Lakers at Cold Lake
(56) Top Ten Flies
(57) Northern Exposure
(58) Home Water Lessons
(59) Chicken Of The Sea
(60) Sealing the Deal – How to Ensure You Land More Fish
(61) Deep In The Heart Of Texas
(62) Keep It Up!
(63) River Fishing for Fall Walleye
(64) After the Flood - A look at Southern Alberta rivers and streams one year after the flood
(65) Reindeer Lake - A Diversity of Opportunity
(66) Hawg Holes
(67) Saltwater Salmon
(68) Early Season Dry Fly Fishing
(69) Down a Lazy River - A Fly-rodding Adventure on the Lower North Saskatchewan
(70) The Fly Fishing Season Ahead
(71) IN SEARCH OF SPECKLED FOOTBALLS
(72) FISHING CANADA'S PRAIRIE CITIES
(73) Bright Fish from the Land of Silver
(74) Canada's "Other" Salmon
(75) Fall Walleye
(76) Wet Flies
(77) Versatility the Key to Success
(78) Grayling of the Boreal
(79) Teaching Kids To Fly Fish
(80) Size Matters
(81) Fly Fishing Small Streams
(82) Chasing Winter Whites One Lake At A Time
(83) Manitoba's Fishing Jewel
(84) The Twelve Gifts Of Christmas
(85) The Point Of It All
(86) Fishing With Friends-Big Weather Seizing The Day
(87) Fall Fly Fishing
(88) Personal Pontoon Boats 101
(89) Big River, Big Fish
(90) Bottom Bonanza
(91) Fishing Small Flies
(92) So Many Choices, So Little Time
(93) Four Seasons of the Bow
(94) Favourite Lakes - Some Like it Hot
(95) GEARING UP FOR SMALL STREAM TROUT
(96) Trout Hunting - New Zealand-style
(97) Don’t Leave Home Without Them –
10 Lures That Should Be In Everyone’s Tackle Box
(98) Edge Walleye
(99) FLY FISHING STRATEGIES FOR HIGH WATER
(100) Smallmouth Bass – An Oft Overlooked Challenge
(101) Four Corners – Four Waters
(102) Chasing Pothole Trout
(103) Springtime Stoneflies
(104) The Torrents of Spring
(105) Drift Boat Fly Fishing
(106) Bust Them With Bait
(107) Cure the Winter Blues with a Good Book
(108) Hot Strategies for the Cold Months
(109) Cutthroat: The Angler's Trout
(110) Terrestrials
(111) Fly In For Fishing Fun
(112) Rocky Mountain High
(113) Reading the clues
(114) Where the Trout Are: The art of locating feeding trout
in rivers and streams.
(115) K.I.S.S. and Tell Fly-fishin
(116) Fly Fishing 101
(117) To Catch a Big Halibut, or Ling Cod
(118) The Bountiful Bones of Ascension Bay
(119) Grayling in the Eye of the Beholder
(120) Fly Fishing for South Fork Clearwater Steelhead
(121) Manitoba's Red River - North America's Catfish Capital
(122) Eliminating the Spook Factor
(123) Trust Your Electronics
(124) The Most Important Hatch of the Year
(125) Early Season Nymph Fishing for Trout
(126) Finding Success for Ice Trout
(127) Walleye can be Humbling
(128) The Secret to Landing the Big One Finally Revealed
(129) Winter Flyfishing
(130) North Saskatchewan River - An Underutilized Fishing Gem
(131) Hot Fall Pike Action
(132) Tips and Tricks to Save the Summer Slow Down
(133) Reading Trout Stream Waters
(134) Frequently Asked Questions
(135) Streamer Fishing for Larger Trout
(136) The Lure of Big Walleye at Last Ice
(137) Deep Water Perch
(138) Post Spawn Brookies
(139) A Fisher's Life
(140) The River's Last Stand
(141) The Big Ones Come out at Night
(142) Coho on the Coast
(143) Chasing and Catching Halibut
(144) Summer in the Mountains
(145) Peak Walleye Season
(146) Slow and Steady Wins the Race
(147) Last Ice Rainbows
(148) The Burbot Event
(149) Tackle Matching
(150) Ice Fishing Strategy #2 - Going Light
(151) Ice Fishing Strategy #1 - Location
(152) The Lure of Brook Trout
(153) The Shallow Water Hunt is On
(154) Hot Backswimmer Action Happening Right Now
(155) Fishing Among Giants-Pursuing Lake Sturgeon on the Prairies
(156) Adventure at Davin Lake Lodge, Northern Saskatchewan
(157) The Vesatile Plug
(158) Bead Head Flies, Plugs and Shot and other Spring Favorites for Pothole Trout
(159) Planning your Upcoming Angling Adventures
(160) Good Fishing at Last Ice
(161) Maximize the Odds - Use Multiple Presentations
(162) Daily Fish Migrations
(163) Fish Migrations - Following the Spawn
(164) Lake Whitefish - An Ice Fishing All Star
(165) Pick Your Favorite Brook Trout Lake...and Go Fishing
(166) A Look Ahead to Great Trout Fishing
(167) Wrestling White Sturgeon on the Fraser
(168) The Fun in Ultra Light
(169) Flyfishing and Leadcore Lines
(170) Embrace the Spirit of Adventure
(171) Never Stop Learning
(172) Ice Fishing is Getting Hot
(173) Jigging through the Ice
(174) An Ice Fishing Unsung Hero – The Setline
(175) Rainbows on Ice
(176) The Season of Ice Begins
(177) Red Hot Fall Pike Action
(178) Hitting it Right with Water Boatman
(179) Facts On Cats
(180) West Coast Adventure
(181) June Walleye Frenzy
(182) Aerated Lakes are Big Trout Factories
(183) "First Fish of the Year - Pothole Rainbows and Browns"
(184) "Northern Exposure"
(185) Sometimes There is More to Fishing Than Catching Fish
(186) Early Season Pike On The Fly
(187) Man Overboard