Yesterday we discussed fly fishing for Bass. Today we wanted to look at the Northern Pike. Pike have gone from a species that many considered a nuisance to a popular game fish throughout North America and Europe. Pike are a fairly adaptable fish allowing them to thrive in a range locations. This is why they can receive a little bit of a bad reputation in some areas (they can out compete other species) but this ability to live in a variety of waterbodies also has led to them becoming a popular target with a fly rod to those who maybe don’t have a blue ribbon trout stream nearby.
If you want to go and try for Pike on the fly, you will want to leave your trout equipment behind. To be honest with you it would be more appropriate to bring your saltwater gear if you have some. Pike eat large flies, and casting these large flies requires a bigger rod. Something in the 7-10 weight range is ideal. I typically go with a 9 or 10 weight for Pike as I am a believer that the larger the fly, the larger the fish it attracts. These flies get heavy when wet and can be like casting a wet sock, especially if it is windy.
Speaking of flies, Pike aren’t overly picky, the main things to consider are profile and action of the fly. Like I said, Pike flies are large, I am typically fishing flies in the 6-12 inch range. The most effective flies are baitfish imitations although you can get fish on surface poppers depending on the location and time of year. Pike will eat anything from perch and panfish to trout and even small ducks and birds. If I am fishing a reservoir where the food source is mostly trout I will use different colored materials than a reservoir where they are eating something like perch. I am a big fan of incorporating bucktail into my flies as it offers great movement with a large profile while not absorbing water. Keep that in mind as you tie your Pike flies. Don’t use materials that get heavy when wet as that will make casting the fly even more difficult. Depending on the time of year I am targeting Pike, I may put a bullet weight in front of the fly to give it a jigging action during a slow retrieve.
Attached to the fly, I use a wire leader and connect the fly with a jam knot. I have heard some arguments that the wire can negatively effect the action of the fly causing people to fish thick mono. I do see their side of the argument but I have had large Pike bite right through 30lbs mono. I also believe that with a loop knot connecting the fly and a good retrieve (which we will touch on in a moment) the fly can still get plenty of action.
For fly line, I like to use something with a pretty aggressive taper to help turn the large fly over. I mostly use an intermediate line. If you are luckily enough to fish in parts of Canada or Alaska where Pike voraciously attack surface flies you will want a floating line. The majority of the Pike fishing I do is when lakes ice off or before they ice over for winter causing me to use an intermediate line. This keeps the fly in the zone throughout the retrieve. I am a big fan of a slow retrieve with a pause between strips. I find the majority of the eats I get to happen during the pause. That is another reason I like to fish with a small bullet weight on the leader above my fly. It gives the fly a jigging action during the pause in your retrieve. I often find most of my eats happen when the Pike just appear beneath the fly before rolling on it. I tribute this to the location of the fish’s eyes on their head. Pike are built to see things above them. That is why I rarely use a full sink line. I believe the intermediate fly line keeps the fly in the zone throughout the slow retrieve, even if the Pike is sitting deeper, it can see the large fly and roll on it. Some fisheries can get warm water during the middle of summer causing the Pike to head deep where you may need a full sink line. This however is my least favorite time to fish for Pike (I feel it can be a little boring) and there are other angling opportunities so I rarely target deep water Pike in the summer.
If you happen to live near a waterbody that has Northern Pike, I encourage you to try fishing for them. They are very similar to the Barracuda at Andros South. You go to the Bahamas to catch Bonefish but the ‘Cuda are a great secondary target that you have to cast to at least a couple times during your trip. Just be careful removing that hook!
Other Target Species: