Fly Fishing For Pike
By Allan Shephard AAPGAI
It may surprise you to learn that Pike are the perfect coarse fish for the adventurous fly fisher to target.
Why so? Well as a species they have a lot going for them.
• They are widespread throughout the UK and Ireland and you will almost certainly have some good pike fishing more or less on your doorstep.
• They grow big! Even in relatively small rivers, drains and ponds you may find fish in excess of 20lbs in weight and possibly over 30lbs.
• Pike can be caught outside the main game fish seasons and still feed in very cold water in the depths of winter.
• Fly fishing is a very effective way to catch them. I have out-fished bait and lure fishers on many occasions. Pike often respond well to an unfamiliar presentation, a fly can be fished very slowly and with near neutral buoyancy allowing you to fish your fly diligently at a variety of depths.
• They don't fight like tarpon I'm afraid, but you don't have to cross the Atlantic to catch them either!
• The takes can be savage and will get the adrenalin flowing.
• A certain amount of specialist gear is required but it's not an expensive type of fishing to get kitted out for. Much of the tackle doubles up for bass and Pollock on the coast as well.
After a fair bit of experimentation I have settled on using a 9' 9 weight rod most of the time. An 8 weight rod/line is not powerful/heavy enough to cast large pike flies safely, whereas a 10 weight outfit will outgun most of the smaller fish you will catch and gets heavy to cast after a while.
Reels need to hold whatever flyline you choose plus at least 100m of 30lb backing comfortably. Ideally go for a large-arbour alloy reel with a smooth disc drag but you will find a quality cassette system reel is fine. Having a range of lines of alternative densities is very useful on the spare spools.
To start get floating and clear intermediate fly lines. The floater will be used in shallow water and to keep the fly higher in the water in weedy conditions. An intermediate will allow you to explore the water column more carefully by varying the time you allow the line and fly to sink. Add a fast sinker if needed – particularly useful from a drifting boat to get down quickly.
Use a length of fluorocarbon to connect the end of the flyline to a wire trace, this needs to be around 20-30lbs bs. To start with keep this about 6' long – making it longer will make the large flies harder to cast. To this attach an 18" length of knotable wire (total leader length 7.5' -8'). You can do this either by tying the wire directly to the fluorocarbon or by using a leader ring as a junction. Don't listen to anyone that tells you its OK to tie the fly directly on to the fluorocarbon – you will get bitten off sooner or later!
Safety for you and your pike!
As you know pike have very sharp teeth and require careful handling.
• Never put your fingers into a pike's mouth under any circumstances. Any cut from pikes teeth will bleed endlessly as they have an anti-coagulant agent on their teeth.
• Use a pair of long nosed pliers to unhook pike. As an extra precaution use a glove to protect your hand. By carefully reaching into a pike's gill cover (wearing a glove) under its chin you can gently open the mouth to assist unhooking. Be careful not to damage the delicate gill rakers otherwise the fish will bleed to death.
• Always de-barb your hooks this will speed up the unhooking time and give the pike you catch the best chance of survival. Pike are surprisingly delicate creatures and are easily damaged by rough handling and being kept out of the water for long periods of time, particularly in warm weather.
• Land fish carefully with a large landing net with soft knotless mesh if you are inexperienced at handling fish.
• If possible get an experienced pike angler to show you how to handle your catch.
Suggested Pike Kit List
• 9' 9 weight Farlows Saltwater Series Fly Rod
• Wychwood Trufly SLA Cassette Reel 7/8
• Rio Pike Flyline Floating
• Rio Striped Bass Aqualux Intermediate
• Seaguar Fluorocarbon 25lb bs
• Riverge 2mm Leader Rings
• American Fishing Wire 26lbs bs
• Flies – Fulling Mill Baitfish patterns size 4/0 and Sparklers size 6/0
• Landing Net - Mclean Salmon Weigh Net
• Sportfish 8" - Long nosed pliers
• Tough gardening glove
Can be very productive for Pike – a good general bit of advice is to look for the following clues as to where pike will be found.
• Look for features that may hold baitfish – weed beds, submerged trees, deep holes etc
• Look for shoals of Roach, Perch etc. Any large congregation of prey will attract pike – sometimes in surprisingly large numbers.
Again try to find the baitfish although I have found on large stillwaters, particularly stocked trout reservoirs large pike can be found in open water well away from obvious features. As they have no predator due to their size they are comfortable to lie up in open water waiting for a suitable prey fish to swim over. Like most fish they do not feed continuously but tend to switch on and off. Always fish into the evening. I have done particularly well as the light starts to fade.
Retrieving the fly
It is a mistake to fish the fly quickly as a default. A slow figure of eight retrieve can be very effective, as can a steady hand over hand retrieve. Try stopping the retrieve altogether – you will get good takes as the fly drops through the water. Vary the retrieve and you will find out what works best on any given day. There are days when it seems like every pike in the water is competing to eat your fly and others when you would swear blind that there is not a single pike in the water. But that's fishing I guess.