I have known for many years now that the most successful method in hooking and landing a pike is on the fly. In my humble opinion, this is without dispute, but that is, of course my opinion! I realise that many pike anglers reading this will start shouting at me now, extolling the virtues of their own favourite pike disciplines such as trolling, dead-baiting, jerk-baiting etc, etc, and of course, they are all highly successful methods.
However, for me personally, when you combine all the “jig-saw” components of the fly-fishing experience, there is little that can equal it. The stealth, comparatively delicate presentation, heart-stopping hit of the “take”, line ripping back through your fingers, dogged fight, tail-walking antics of a hooked fish, the ability of a pike to show its true worth on balanced tackle, along with not knowing whether the next fish will be a jack or a twenty pound-plus lunker! There is also the delight and satisfaction in fooling a pike on a home-tied creation.
As a self-confessed specimen hunter, finding the larger fish is of primary importance, and using the fly rod does not detract from this. I have given up counting the “20’s” that have fallen to my home-tied fly variations, and keenly await the day a “30” graces me with her presence. Of course, having said that, any pike taken on the fly is a delight and absolute pleasure.
The general requirement is a fly rod of 9’ to 9’6” casting a ten-weight line. This should be combined with a large arbour reel, and preferably, three suitable fly lines, namely a floating, an intermediate and a sinking line. If you wish to try one line to start with, go for an intermediate or a floating with sink tip. Either will give you the best all-round option of covering depths and finding fish.
There are many rod options available on today’s market; the potential pike-fly angler is spoilt for choice. The new Agility series from Shakespeare for example, offers a 9’6” ten weight at only £60. It is based on its successful predecessor, the Salt Fly, and at that price, there is little excuse not to give it a try. When I began, and it wasn’t really that long ago, I had to chop a foot off the end of my 10’ reservoir rod to provide enough power to cast a large fly. There was little else available!
Reels can be extremely expensive with in-numerable options available, especially as many salmon reels will lend themselves well to pike-fly fishing. However, there is something else to bear in mind. Having landed hundreds of pike on the fly, including fish just short of thirty pounds, I have yet to have a fish take me down to the backing line, or even come close! Large pike are dogged, stubborn fighters, and may perform acrobatics and aerial displays once hooked, and give extremely powerful bursts of speed, but rarely run any further than twenty-thirty yards. It is not un-usual to have your boat pulled round in circles when applying pressure to a twenty pounder! Nowadays I use a Shakespeare President which has performed faultlessly over the years. It has an excellent drag system, but I have yet to see it in action! This takes nothing away from the power of a pike; as typical predators, they are sprinters rather than long distance runners!
As with specialist rods and reels, pike flies are also available in most tackle shops. A small selection will get you started, and will tempt pike, but a large part of the fun is in tying your own concoctions. You do not have to be a master fly tyer when it comes to pike flies, and set patterns can go out the window, if you so desire. The fun begins with a handful of materials in various colours, a vice, strong thread and un-limited imagination. Materials such as Buck-tail can be sourced from the usual outlets, or stolen from the family Christmas tree, furry toys etc if you prefer to experiment!
If it doesn’t work, chop it up and try again. Perch and roach patterns are standard bread and butter, but trout imitations, surface poppers, eel replicas etc can all be given a special place in the rig wallet. As long as you can whip on, whip finish, and it stays together whilst casting and being mauled by a pike, then go for it.
At the business end, use a clear leader, 30-40lbs B/S. It does not have to be too long, six-eight feet being ideal, but must be used in conjunction with a wire “biting” trace for obvious reasons. This can be attached via a swivel, loop to loop or with a shock-leader knot. If preferred, there are other options available using wire re-enforced Kevlar etc that can be tied or knotted similar to nylon. Again, this is personal preference.
If you are a competent trout angler, or have no problem in casting a fly, obviously pike-fly angling is simply a matter of “beefing” the gear up a little. Normal casting techniques must be altered somewhat, with open stance casting more effective. For beginners, there are plenty of casting coaches throughout Ireland and a few lessons will soon have you dropping a fly into the killing zone. Learning to “double-haul” is probably the greatest recommendation. This increases the velocity of the fly, easily loading the rod and making casting a pleasure rather than a test of endurance!
As I write this blog, and re-live my past experiences, I find myself suffering from the pike-fly “bug” again, and yearn for the quiet back-waters in search of large, female “crocs” to tempt. Beware; if you haven’t already experienced it, this side of pike angling is extremely addictive, you have been warned!