Tuesday, July 27, 2021
Tuesday, July 27, 2021
As an author, traveler and professional fly-fishing guide, I had to cancel most of my 2020 projects, with only a curtailed guide season in Iceland surviving the global lockdown. But out of adversity comes opportunity—per ardua ad astra, as the Romans used to say.
I’d spent most of the first two months of the lockdown at home, becoming increasingly frustrated with imprisonment, while dutifully trying to follow social distancing recommendations. When May arrived I knew two things: If I wanted to fish, I needed to focus on local waters; at that time of the year, the pike were just coming off the spawn. I made a few trips to the west side of the Czech Republic, near the German border, to try and catch a monster on a fly. That trip made 2020 my Year Of The Pike, culminating with a remarkable December day in Sweden when I caught eight big pike in the brackish archipelago waters not far from Stockholm.
We were lucky—in other years those very waters were frozen in December. Instead, we enjoyed an idyllic day fishing some of the best water that Sweden offers. And my conclusion after this unexpected year pursuing these aggressive predators? Pike are the same no matter where you find them—thrilling to catch in shallow water, beautiful to study, and all capable of leaving a nasty cut with their razor-sharp teeth. I learned the latter at my own expense on several occasions. Here are some takeaways from 2020, my Year of The Pike.
All fish are affected by changing weather conditions. Depending on the weather, some species feed more aggressively while others make our lives more difficult, as they basically shut their mouths no matter what your throw at them.
In my experience most pike are caught as atmospheric pressure drops before storms and other unsettled weather. During summer, if I wake up after the weather has been stable and hot for a long time and find that it’s a cloudy or rainy day, that’s definitely the right morning to go off for pike! When you encounter that situation, drop everything and get the fishing gear out. But don’t overlook the sunny days if that is the only time you have to fish—pike will still feed in bright light, especially early or late in the season when water temperatures are low. Keep in mind that pike sense weather changes many hours before we do, so they can “come on” at unexpected times.
You might hook a pike anytime during the day, but early mornings and evenings are best. Hitting a day when pike feed from dawn to dusk is rare, but they do happen. You’ll need luck on your side to have that happen and the only way to increase your odds is to be on the water as often as you can.
Many fly fishers prefer to target pike in rivers. I prefer lakes with clear water, especially in weedy areas, such as bays and flats. These are the spots where pike hold during the summer months. Often, they relax in deeper holes behind, for example, a drop-off or a fallen tree or some other piece of structure that provides security. When the weather changes, or the light is low, these fish move out of deeper water and into feeding areas to chase baitfish. You can find them in surprisingly shallow water, even during fall and winter.
When targeting pike, it’s always good to cast your fly to a drop-off and swim it back towards a shallow area, which mimics what a real baitfish would do, while teasing any pike that may be holding in deeper water. Never pass a weedy area, fallen trees, or big rocks without covering them thoroughly. If the fish are really in feeding mode, they’ll be aggressive and it shouldn’t not take long to find out if you are in the right spot. For that reason, if you don’t have any action right away, don’t stick around—go find some fish in hunting mode.
I caught my final pike of 2020 in Sweden as the sun fell and a cold wind blew. I fished from a boat, covering a shallow area where thin, dying reeds barely poked out of the water. There were some open areas between the reeds, some no bigger than the size of a car. It was tricky casting, but I covered those open areas at last light, got a great hit, and watched a pike explode from the reeds. Five minutes later I was holding my catch, wearing a huge smile, knowing that 2020 hadn’t been a waste.
The pike season in Europe varies from country to country. Many fisheries do not allow fishing for pike during the spring and summer months. However, the best chances to get a trophy pike on the fly (at least in the Czech Republic) are after the spawn in May and June, and late in the season shortly before the water is covered with ice. During late fall the baitfish move into deeper parts of rivers and lakes and the pike jump at the chance to gain that last bit of weight before the winter months arrive.
Best Setup for Pike
Eight-to 10-weight rods rigged with intermediate lines and heavy heads are the ideal choices for pike. My favorite fly line for pike fishing is definitely RIO’s InTouch Pike/Musky as it smoothly loads 11-inch long flies without any problem. I consider intermediate fly lines as the most versatile for pike fishing, but there are situations when sinking or floating lines serve best. In Sweden, where we were fishing from a boat and casting towards drop-offs, the depth quickly fell to several meters. To get our flies to the bottom, where pike are usually waiting, we used Type 5 sinktips and flies with foam heads, which kept those offerings just above any snags.
Pike have lots of sharp teeth and are difficult on gear. If you use an insufficient leader you may reel in, find your fly missing and the leader bitten clean through. To combat those teeth I sometimes use a 70-pound mono tippet looped straight to my fly line. On other occasions I use a tapered leader with a 20-inch section of wire. To be sure you don’t lose a trophy pike, I strongly recommend using a piece of fluorocarbon connected to Trace Wire.
The Killer Flies
Pike are ambush predators, so a good silhouette is key to success. These fish must see your fly against the sky. Usually, pike will feed on anything with great movement, but it helps if your fly emits sound—pike can easily sense vibrations in the water.
We all want to catch big pike and big pike definitely feed on big baitfish. When hunting for these fish I definitely use big flies, up to 10 or 11-inches long. If you want to catch big pike, don’t waste your time with a minnow on the end of your line. You’ve got to go big. I prefer flashy flies with lots of movement. I like Dougie’s Sparkler (silver); my absolute favorite—and the fly I would use if I could only fish one—is the Pike Tube (fire tiger). Both are available from Fulling Mill.
In clean water I like to use bright colors. In dirty water I like silver colored flies that imitate roach and hot green/orange flies to imitate perch. To cover your bases, fill up your fly boxes with lots of Wiggletails. And don’t forget some poppers for those memorable summer evenings.
Good luck. I guarantee a huge pike is out there with your name on it!