Pike on the fly
By Paul Monaghan
The feeling of monotony is something most regular anglers experience during their career. I for one have felt it this season, in particular during those long dark winter months. Being a family man (sometimes it feels like a taxi driver), a couple of midweek evening sessions, for two or three hours is all I can find time for, along with the occasional Sunday morning. The trouble is, fishing during the dark hours does limit me somewhat, in terms of finding actively feeding species, with barbel and chub dominating my catches during late summer, autumn into winter. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the challenge and thrill of catching them both and have fared very well on all our club stretches over the years.
However, bad weather, leaky waterproofs, mud baths and aggressive wasps (don’t ask) have all contributed to my desire of not just going through the motions, especially in recent months.
You probably read that first paragraph and thought “you miserable so and so, you’re fishing three times a week, you lucky chap”. Or perhaps, maybe like me, you have lost that spark and are looking for a fresh challenge. Well in my forty something years of wisdom the word “monotony” has only one cure and that is change. It’s very easy to slip into the same old routine of tried and trusted methods of catching a fish, but I can assure you it is more rewarding to deviate and do something that is a little more challenging and perhaps out of your comfort zone, even if your catches are disappointing initially. This leads me on nicely to the purpose of this article.
Fly-fishing (stick with it) is a form of angling I’m extremely passionate about, and have been since I started fishing. It keeps me sane during the spring, be it casting a fly on a local reservoir or tying a new imitative bug or lure. Most non fly-fishers associate us with heavily stocked puddles full of supersized trout, or over-priced syndicated rivers only available to those with deep pockets. Well I hate to ruin your perception, because although the above is true in part, there are opportunities to take fly-fishing to the next level, which are easily accessible to all throughout the year. Game fish are not the only fish that can be caught on a fly! In recent years there has been an increasing movement, influenced by our Scandinavian cousins and friends across the pond in North America, to target predatory fish. All species can be caught on the fly with some cunning, but none are more exciting than our apex predator in the fish world, the esox Licius, otherwise known as the pike.
Those that fish for pike or other predators with a lure, will know exactly what I’m about to describe. It’s the hit or take that excites, and very often it will come out of the blue. Nothing beats the rush of witnessing a pike bolt out from almost under your feet, to snatch and engulf your lure or fly, in a blink of an eye. I would describe it as being similar to a jump scare you see in a horror movie. That early 1980’s classic ‘American Werewolf in London’ had a few memorable jumpy moments, which still to this day sneak into my thoughts on those dark nights. “Stick to the road, keep clear of the moor!”
Now I’m not going to pretend I’m an expert at catching pike on the fly, but my thirty years of fly-fishing does allow me to explore our rivers and lakes with some confidence and the skills required to adapt to the conditions faced. However, as with any method of angling there are no hard and fast rules and surprises do happen, with a few blanks along the way too. One very important point I would like to emphasise is that pike may look fearsome and hardy, but are in fact a fragile species and do suffer from poor handling. I have witnessed this many times, and having to surgically extract someone else’s treble hooks from a pike stomach, although capable, it is not an experience I relish. Therefore, it’s vital that you have the confidence in unhooking them carefully and quickly, meaning fishing with appropriate tackle and obtaining the proper equipment; suitably large net, unhooking matt, longnose pliers and cutters are essential. If you don’t know how to handle them properly, then I would suggest fishing with a fellow angler who does, before you take the leap on your own.
Hopefully you’re thinking this sounds like fun, but what items of tackle do you need to get started? Well actually you don’t need too much.
A 9ft fly rod with a line weight of 8-10, as you will be casting flies from 4 to 8 inches or even bigger, so it must be heavy enough and balanced to be able to shoot the line without the cast collapsing into a heap. The rod also needs to be heavy enough to play the fish for the least amount of time. A nine weight is a good all-rounder and is my choice for small to large rivers and lakes.
A sufficient capacity reel to store the line, paired with a minimum of 50 yards of 30lb backing. The reel is less important and needn’t be expensive, as pike do not strip yards and yards of line, but you never know as one day you might hook that monster!
The most important piece of the equipment, is to buy the best fly-line you can afford. A short tapered weighted forward intermediate line is the way to go, as it is will cast the fly with little effort for maximum distance. Rio Outbound or Airflow Sniper are very popular brands well worth considering. Also an intermediate line will sink very slowly and allow you to work the fly at various depths, depending upon the venue and therefore cover most situations. Anyone that struggles to cast, will be pleased to know that most pike I’ve caught have been close in.
Now onto the business end, the leader and trace needn’t be any more than six to eight feet. Use a heavy 20lb minimum monofilament, or fluorocarbon leader for better fly turnover and pulling out of hidden snags. I’m using an 18” titanium trace of 25lb, attached to a fastact clip to attach the fly. This trace doesn’t kink and hasn’t been replaced yet this year. Once you learn how to knot a titanium leader for your predator fishing, you won’t go back. Use the simple perfection knot, then loop to loop your fly line, leader and trace for a strong connection, which also allows you to replace elements of the leader with ease.
Flies typically imitate injured bait-fish like roach or perch, so silver, white, reds and greens are the colours, with some flash, that dominate my fly box. I also seem to have a thing for pink and purple, but we won’t go into that! Regardless of colour, pike need to be able to see the fly, or sense the disturbance caused by erratic movement to induce a take. Flies can be purchased online, but personally I find tying them much more fun and this allows for creative license. In fact I spend more time tying wacky looking flies than I do fishing, because it helps me relax in the evening. It’s not good for the bank balance though, as I always need some new material.
A word of advice is to start with a small fly until you get used to casting them, and make sure you de-barb the hook before you cast. Lastly personal safety is important so protect your eyes with some glasses, so as not to cause too much damage, if you’re like me and occasionally hook yourself!
That’s not a lot of equipment is it?
The beauty of fly-fishing for pike, or any other species is that you don’t need to take everything but the kitchen sink. This encourages you to get off your rear and explore the venue you are fishing, but remember yesterday’s hotspot may not be today’s and there’s always some interesting club stretches worth exploring. If I hadn’t walked a mile in search of pike one misty morning, I would have missed this beautiful autumnal scene last year.
I hope this article inspired you to try something different and if fly-fishing is not your thing, then try another method, but don’t let your fishing become boring – buck the trend, get out there and explore our venues and most importantly enjoy the experience.
All the best