Last week, I participated in my ninth annual spring fishing trip involving my brothers, my dad, and a cast of close friends. Every year we try to time the trip for optimum conditions to target northern pike on the fly. Go too early, and the bite is sluggish. Too late and all the big females have moved to deeper water, leaving a bunch of smaller male, or “jack” pike to contend with. Time it just right, and the big females will be waiting in the shallows, voraciously eating anything that comes in their path.
Last week, we timed it right. When not contending with blistering winds, we found an abundance of healthy pike willing to attack our flies.
If you’re interested in fly fishing for pike, you first need to consult a much higher authority than me. And by that I mean reading Mastering Pike on the Fly, by Barry Reynolds. But here’s how we do it:
–Rods. Most guys on the trip use 8 or 9-weight rods. Occasionally someone will try a 5 or 6-weight, but often the pike will run to a spot in deeper water and dig in on the bottom, and those rods don’t have enough lifting power to move them.
–Line. Some prefer floating line, but most guys use intermediate or full sink. I use full sink, even in shallow water, because I like to strip my fly close to the bottom. I usually use flies with a weed guard to keep from snagging. Even with the sinking line, where we fish the water is clear enough so that most of the time you can see the pike ambush your fly. It’s an awesome visual.
–Shock tippet is mandatory. I hate using wire because it usually kinks beyond use after one fish, and is a real pain in the ass. I like using the more pliable Cortland Toothy Critter far better. You can actually tie knots with it. But at times the pike seem to shun the wire leader. On this trip, the water was almost too clear, and I had several frustrating follows to the boat, watching the pike sidle up behind the fly only to turn at the last moment. I clipped off the Toothy Critter and tied on a section of 40-pound flouro, and the pike started biting with impunity. Did I lose a few fish because of it? Yes, I watched helplessly as more than one pike bit through the 40-pound test as if it were gossamer. But the strikes were few and far between with wire this time, so pick your poison.
–Flies. The most famous pike fly of all time is the Dahlberg Diver, but I’ve never had success with it on these trips. Overwhelmingly, the main staple of the pike diet where we fish is the yellow perch. So we try to match the hatch, so to speak, and fish with large streamers and baitfish patterns that contain perch colors. The Puglisi perch fly is a favorite. So, too, is the eat me fly, a universal saltwater pattern created by the Florida guide Scott Hamilton. Black streamers work, too, as do white rabbit strip flies.
–We target them in the shallows along shoals, points, or the mouths of small tributaries. Usually, in the early spring, the water is still frigid and the fish respond best to a slow, erratic strip. Then watch as a menacing beast of a fish sizes up your fly, then accelerates to ambush it. Does it get much better than that?