I moved slowly upstream peering intently into the gin clear water, the bright sunshine allowed me to see every pebble, stick and even the minnows in the bottom of the pool. No breeze ruffled the surface. A shoal of bait fish hung close to a weed bed. Nothing moved as I peered intently into the water. The combination of my long peaked cap, and polarised glasses helped me search deep into the flowing water.
I blinked, then squinted. Did I see a pike? Yes, there it is, I spotted a fin movement, then a tail moved, enough for me to realise I was looking at a pike. The perfect predator. My eyes move slowly up the length of a fish, it must be thirty inches or more in length. My heart beat a little faster as my brain went into overdrive as I computed the angle of the cast, then distance to target. I launched some line, then realised I needed a bit more. I pulled a few more feet from the reel. All the time I was keeping my eyes on the fish. I was the hunter, the hunted is a fish that goes back a few million years. It probably weighs 14lbs It's there for catching, if I don't make a mistake.
The fish is moving slowly upstream, I have just one chance. I shot the line, the fly landed with a slight plop, hardly breaking the water surface. The fish moves its head slightly then slowly turns. This is the moment I have been waiting for all morning. I twitched the line imparting life into the fly - a fly that was created in Northern Canada. It's tied up on a 3/0 Partridge hook using Polar bear hair and a few strands of crystal flash. It's some six inches long and comes alive in the water when moved.
I made a six inch strip, the pike was off the starting block moving fast towards my fly, creating a bow wave. I gave another quick strip of some three inches. The big one couldn't resist it, there was a big swirl, a boil. Then the fly had disappeared as the fish turned for the deep water. The strip strike set the hook, his speed and momentum carried the fish skywards, head shaking, gills flared. For a second, perhaps two, I stand spellbound, watching this fighting fury crash back into the water. It's like an explosion as the water erupts, the ever increasing circles going across the river. After some minutes the fish is bought to hand. I bend down then take the barbless hook from the scissors of the pike's mouth then watch it swim off slowly.
Catching A Pike On A fly Isn't new
In the Diary of A. J. Lane (1843) page 52 He writes: "Pike, and heavy ones too, rise tolerably freely to flys dressed very largely & of gaudy peacock feathers, shoe' be made up on large double or even sets of hooks".
At the bottom of the page it states "One of the best flies is an imitation of the Sand Martin".
I think we can forget the last sentence!
In the Badminton Library Fishing by H Cholmondeley-Pennell, Pike & Coarse Fish 1885 page 62 there is mention of fly fishing for pike. On page 95 in The Book of the All-round Angler by Bickerdyke there is a short article on fly fishing for pike. Then do we know the truth behind the Kenmure Monster? Taken it's said, from Loch Ken by the gamekeeper on a peacock herl tied on a hook. Isn't that a fly?
It all shows that fly fishing for pike isn't new. Though listening to some of the present day anglers who have started to fly fish for pike, it's something they have discovered! I caught my first pike on a fly made from a birds feather, whipped on a size 4 carp hook with some fine nylon line, then I added some silver paper from a Players cigarette packet along the shank of the hook. It's very difficult to find anything that's really new in angling. The hair rig, was used by tunny anglers, the boilie by American carp anglers. Who is to say the various Indian tribes in Canada didn't use a fly to catch pike.
When writing of flies, we are not talking of small flies, used for salmon and seatrout. Pike flies are sometimes seven or eight inches in length, often tied on a size 6/0 irons.
Some Successful Pike Flies
If you were to take a look in the fly boxes of a few anglers who target the pike, you will discover hundreds of different fly patterns. Just as today's anglers fishing for rainbow trout, carry several boxes of fly patterns, but only use a dozen flies. It's the same with us anglers who target the pike. I have several boxes of flies for pike, but for most of my fishing I probably only use a dozen patterns - but with various colour combinations that dozen probably grows to a hundred or more. Most of my pike flies are tied up on Partridge CS43 2/0 to 4/0 or Cox and Rawle uptide 1/0 TO 5/0 A few flies have been tied up on Ade Swier designed hooks.
One of my most successful pike fly patterns is without doubt the Polar fly. It's tied as follows.
Tail-white Polar bear hair, not synthetic hair, and pearl crystal.
Body- pearl fritz or silver tinsel strip. The wings of white Polar bear hair, again not synthetic hair with pearl crystal hair.
Remarks- Two types of bodies should be tied up, as one will often work when the other doesn't. I don't know why this is so but that's the nature of the beast. This pattern is also excellent for many saltwater species including the bass.
Other patterns are the Polar perch with a tail of Polar hair, a body of gold tinsel with 12lb mono rib. The wings are yellow buck with green buck over tying with black silk. You can add purple crystal hair strands to wing, create barring effect on wing with black permanent pen. A fly pattern I really like is the Red tailed rat. There are many occasions when pike ignore a submerged fly, but will savagely hit a surface fished one. The Red tailed rat is quite simple to tie, with a tail of red buck and red crystal hair. The body is black deer hair, wedge shaped, tying silk is black. At one time I had eyes fixed on these mouse and rat type patterns, but I now feel they are a waste of time and money. All the pike will see is an outline of the red tailed rat as it is worked across the surface. Takes are usually very savage.
A pattern I first used in Canada with great success is the Sally Rand, named after the famous American fan dancer of the 1930's. The first time I used this pattern was in northern Canada. The lake water was a very strange colour caused by ash, from some huge forest fires that had been burning for several weeks. In fact so bad were the fires, the bush pilots often had difficulty finding the scrub airfield. On a couple of occasions we had to turn back and try the next day. I gave this pattern a simple name of orange marabou. It was on a Canadian trip when the name was changed. An American from Chicago noticed I was using this pattern with some success when others were struggling. After giving him a couple of these flies, he said "You know Martin those flies look like a fan the dancers use". He then told me of how his father had a fan dancer by the name of Sally Rand to entertain the punters at his booth during the big Chicago show in the 1930's. Hence the name change.
The tail of this fly comprises two orange marabou left on the quill, with a body of orange marabou with some silver oval, tinsel rib or orange cock hackle, palmered down the body. Wings are four orange cock hackle. Purple crystal hair may be added to the tail and wing. This is a good pattern for coloured water.
Three patterns I wouldn't be without are the Lefty Kreh Deceiver, Larry Dahlberg Rabbit Strip Diver and Bob Clouser Deep Minnow, all in various colour combinations. The latter two patterns are from the book Fly Patterns of the Umpqua Feather Merchants by Randall Kaufmann. E-mail address for Kaufmanns tackle shop is firstname.lastname@example.org
Clouser Deep Minnow tying instructions are on page 147. Thread-is 6/0 Chartreuse and White, Eyes-lead painted dark red with black pupils. Wings-are white buck tail on top; chartreuse buck tail underside with pearlescent Krystal Flash over the top. Tie this pattern in various colour combinations.
On page 185 you will find the tying for the Dahlberg Rabbit Strip diver Thread- is 3/0 white, Tail-is white rabbit strip, red flashabou. Collar-Red and white deer hair, Head-is red and white deer hair, Eyes-are yellow 4fi mm solid plastic. As with Clouser Deep Minnows I suggest you tie up a few in various colour combinations.
Lefty's Deceiver has been around since the early 1950's. It's a pattern I always have with me in various colour combinations at all times, both for fresh and saltwater fishing. I well remember sitting with Lefty in his home as he tied up some flies for a Bahamas bonefish trip. Watching his hands working, was pure magic. The man is certainly a genius. The tying for this pattern comes from page 134 of 'Pike On The Fly' by Barry Reynolds and John Berryman. Instructions are as follows:
Thread-white and chartreuse, Tail-white buck tail, shank length, inside white neck hackles (2 each side), extending one and a half times shank length, Body-silver tinsel with a collar of white buck tail, extending nearly to tip of tail. Topping-is chartreuse buck tail, as long as collar. Throat-several strands of red Krystal Flash. The head-is Chartreuse thread, lacquered. Eyes Applied with Faber-Castell uni-point marker.
I also have two frog patterns which have proved excellent fish catchers. We all know how pike love weeds, my frog patterns can be fished in the thickest of weeds, without getting caught up. When fishing reed beds I have had pike come a foot out of the water to grab a frog pattern as I pulled the frog up the reed stems..
The first frog pattern I used was made by Kent Sherrington of Burnley, Lancashire. It was made from balsa wood, painted yellow then given a couple of coats of epoxy. The other is made from an Edgewater Popper, colour yellow on a size 4/0 hook. I tie in some near hair to represent the back legs of frog. At the front I use two or three strands of three inches of round rubber hackle. At the front edge of the foam head, I fix two eyes. But as previously stated, I don't think the pike see these eyes. Finally I always take a few popping bugs, the same as used by saltwater anglers for snook, cobia, kingfish etc. A popping plug or bug creates a lot of noise, gives the impression of something big and injured, certainly something a pike can't resist.
Rods Reels and Lines
One thing is certain, the rod reel and line outfit you use for river or stillwater trout fishing won't be suitable for chucking flies, popping plugs, or bugs and frogs for pike. The lightest rod you can use will be an eight weight, and then only for the smaller patterns when fishing rivers and canals. My advice is go for a nine foot nine or ten weight. The best advice I can give is purchase a saltwater model. I have tried many rods over the years, some have been useless, especially in the early days of the 1960's. Some have done a better job than others. These days I am using the Thomas and Thomas SC series in four pieces with a short fighting butt which I have found most useful, especially when playing a big fish, or lifting a fish from deep water. The SC rods combine graphite technology with tapers that can lift a long line from the water. They work well at casting both short and long distances and they load very quickly, which is most important when you suddenly see a fish moving away. I have used my SC series of rods in fresh and saltwater with lots of confidence. They will be my number one rods in the Persian and Arabian Gulf later this year when I tackle the big cobia and kingfish and the little tunny, off Connecticut, in late October. Any rod that can handle the little tunny will be OK for the pike.
Sportsfish and Farlows both stock Thomas and Thomas rods. In your tackle shop you will find several brands of line which will be suitable for chucking big flies for pike. One line will not cover all aspects of pike fly fishing. To get the best out of the sport, you need at least three lines. Cortland lines are my first choice, the nine weight Ghost tip is probably my most used line. I can fish flies from the surface, down to four or five feet, depending on the speed of retrieve. This line comes with a fifteen foot clear tip, which is then built into a floating line, it will also lift cleanly off the water. Two other Cortland lines I use are both sinkers, a medium and fast sink. It's surprising how often you will use a fast sink line when fishing the big reservoirs and gravel pits. When fishing with a fast sink line I will often use a leader of three feet, perhaps eighteen inches.
Masterline International have a good range of competitively priced fly lines in their Toothy Critter series. Rio have a line that's ideal if you're a travelling angler and you can only purchase one rod and reel. It's the Versitip. It comes with four interchangeable fifteen foot tips, floating, clear intermediate, and two sink tips. All the lines I have mentioned can be used in saltwater, but not in the tropics. After every trip make sure your fly line is given a good clean, you will then find that you can cast a lot better on your next visit to the waterside, which means more chances of catching pike.
Reels for fly fishing are usually simple affairs, for pike fishing all you need is a simple reel. These fish don't make long fast runs, except on very rare occasions. A Young's 1500 series fly reel from Masterline International stockist in salmon size will prove quite adequate, either the Y1535 or Y1540 model. If you're planning to fish the ocean then you need a better quality reel. I have various models of reels from Sage, Loop, Abel, Tibor, Aaron, Richard Carter and JW Young's Sea Venture. They are all excellent reels, some costing several hundred pounds, designed for saltwater use and well engineered. The British made JW Young's Seaventure reel from Masterline International stockist, they are a good reel that you can use in confidence.
Next week I take a look at leaders, accessories and pike location in rivers