Sick of the local grayling river always being in flood? Tired of catching identikit stocked rainbows on a small stillwater? If you are looking for a new challenge to keep you going over the long winter months, then why not give pike fly fishing a go? Trust us, it’s fun!
In recent years interest in pike fishing has grown exponentially, and they are now recognised as a true sportfish by anglers across the UK and Europe. It’s fighting prowess and willingness to take a fly with gusto make it an ideal species to pursue in the winter months, a time when other fish species are less active and harder to catch.
Pike are a commonly found fish in UK water ways – chances are there is a canal, drain, gravel pit or coarse fishing lake right on your doorstep with fishing available for just a few pounds. These smaller venues are often easier to tackle for those wishing to start out with a fly, rather than massive intimidating reservoirs where fish location is much harder. Plus it’s far easier on the wallet if you fancy just a few hours out to flex the fly rod, and try and catch a few fish on a winters afternoon.
Pike can reach very large sizes with 20lb plus often caught by deadbait and lure anglers, depending on whether the water holds them. However your run of the mill captures on fly tackle will most likely be jack pike of perhaps 5/6lb in weight with the odd double mixed in on your typical waters, although you just never know what might come along and engulf your fly- check out the 40 pounder from Chew valley lake caught on fly fishing tackle below!
The tackle: What do you need?
Fly Rod: Casting big flies is the main issue. Being large and air resistant you need a fast action rod of a higher line rating to throw them. Line weights from 8 to 10 are needed to do the job. I personally recommend a 9 foot 9 weight rod; the Bluetooth nano fly rods from Airflo are just ideal. Although there are many other suitable rods on the market ranging from £100 upwards.
9 foot is the critical length for casting a pike fly. Longer rods increase leverage and in doing so make distance casting, accuracy and tight loops much harder to achieve. They are also more tiresome on the arm. One tip is to use a cast aid or tuck the butt of the rod into your jacket sleeve. This helps prevent wrist break and the handle giving you blisters and will ultimately improve comfort and also rod control.
Fly Line: A short compact head line with an aggressive from taper is essential both for turnover and distance. The Airflo Forty plus Sniper fly lines with their 28 foot heads are just ideal. Tough, durable and able to throw a 6 inch fly well over 30 yards they simply are the best on the market in my opinion. A non-stretch core also helps set the hooks and feel takes. Available in floating, intermediate, Di3 and Di7 there is a sniper fly line to cover all depths and eventualities.
If I had to pick just ONE fly line to start with it would be an intermediate. You can use it to search the layers and fish the fly really slow – which the pike absolutely love.
Fly Reel: For your reel choose something that will accommodate your line, and balance your rod. Don’t make the mistake of getting a whopping great salmon reel because you have a 10 weight line. It’s all about balance. Better to have a smaller reel with less backing, than a huge reel. Do not worry about backing – these fish make short powerful runs, but are not known to empty out a reel. So 20 – 30 yards or whatever it takes to fill your reel will more than suffice.
Leader and Accessories: One of the most important things to have is a leader with a wire trace. There are several ways to make one yourself, typically with stiff fluorocarbon from at least 15lb upwards with traditional pike rig wire that is used to make deadbait traces.
You can however get a ready made titanium predator polyleader from Airflo. These things not only turn over perfectly, but also allow you to change your flies very easily. The titanium wire they use simply will not kink – it can last just as long as a fly line does.
A set of long forceps is another essential, as is an unhooking matt and landing net of a sufficient size.
Retrieve: Pike like all sorts of retrieves, just like trout. A quick rolly-polly or fast strip can sometimes provoke a fierce strike if the pike are active or in a chasing mood. However the more effective cold water retrieve from experience is a slow figure of eight – just enough to work the fly slowly through the layers, just like a dead or dying fish. Intersperse with the odd longer strip, and pause and hang the fly along the retrieve.
This is something unique to fly fishing. When spinning with an artificial lure you simply cannot slow it down enough. On pressured lure fished waters the ultra slow fly retrieve can be a killer method. For this reason I like an intermediate line the most – you can inch it back in.
A fly fishing presentation suits the winter pikes metabolism – they are sluggish and want to conserve energy, but a slow moving prey item that requires just a little bit of energy to inhale rather than a full on charge is an easy meal. If nothing is happening make sure you mix it up retrieves to find what works best on the day.
Location: Pike like structure so start with targeting anything obvious – weed bed edges, wood or trees gong into the water, obvious drop offs, dam walls etc. Pike can often be just feet out from the shore, so don’t neglect casting right along the bank edges. Remember to fan cast and search a new area each cast – often if a pike is there it will react on the first chuck. Covering fresh water can be the key.
Sometimes the bigger pike can be found in deep open water or suspended mid water. These type of pike tend to be resting up digesting a meal but can be provoked into taking a fly worked across their snouts. This is where your faster sinking lines really come into play for dredging the bottom.
In late winter pike often move into shallower waters in a pre-spawn migration. So pay particular attention to old weed beds and shallow areas in February and March. Even water a few feet deep will hold pike in early spring.
The take: When the takes comes it often feels like no more than a pluck or gentle pull, just like weed. Resist the temptation to strike, just keep on going and you should find the line locks up. This is vital for getting a good hook up. When you are sure you are into the fish, strip-strike hard pulling down with your hand, then lift the rod into the fish. A quick knee jerk reaction lift of the rod will often result in a missed fish or hook pull.
The flies: Pike flies sized from 3 to 6 inches are typical, tied on hooks 2/0 to 6/0, although you can catch on much bigger and smaller patterns, such as zonkers. Try and imitate any prey fish you spot in the water. Perch and roach in particular are a pike’s favourite so bring some flies to mimic them.
Bright Yellow is a favourite colour of mine – for some reason pike seem to like it in cold muddy water. In clear cold water pink can also work really well. Red, white and black flies also all have their days. On very bright sunny days flies tied purely of flashy tinsel are my choice. These will draw pike up from deep water or from distance.
It’s also worth taking some buoyant flies. They can be fished booby style on a sinker, or waked and glugged across the surface. Even in winter pike will strike near the top if they are in shallow enough water.
Tying a pike fly is great fun. We sell plenty of materials to do this at Fishtec. The Sakuma manta sea hooks are the pike fly tier’s choice. Razor sharp and with just the right proportion they are wonderful hooks. If you do not tie your own, the superb predator flies by Fulling mill are a cut above many others available commercially.
How to handle a pike: Now you have landed your first one you need to unhook and return to the water ASAP. Pike are fairly fragile fish and do not tolerate mishandling or being out of the water for too long. However unhooking a pike caught on the fly is far easier with a large single fly hook than with any other method. I advise turning the pike upside down on the unhooking mat whilst you do it – they will be a lot calmer and cooperative! With care you can slide your hand under the gill plate to hold open the mouth, allowing you to get in with a forceps and push the fly out. Pressing down the barb will help with a quick release. Take time to revive the pike fully before releasing to fight another day.