Pike fly leaders can be from two up to nine feet. Fishing a floating line, I use a leader between seven and nine feet which includes a foot of twenty pound wire. Some pike fly fishers have written in the press, You don't need tapered leaders, others state you don't need wire. I disagree on both counts.
You want a leader with a big diameter butt section to turn over the large flies, I suggest around forty pound breaking strain with twenty pound strain where it joins the wire tippet the wire is to stop a pike biting through the line. There is only one knot to use when joining mono to wire, that's the Albright knot. Some anglers simply buy a wire trace, which comes fitted with a swivel and a snap. These are sold for spinning, not fly fishing. In fact most of what I have seen, I wouldn't use for any type of fishing. The best commercial leaders I have used are the Cortland Climax made for pike and muskie. It's an excellent leader, eight foot in length with fifteen inches of wire, tied in with an Albright knot. These leaders have never let me down but they are not cheap. I cut the leader back from the butt end by two feet then attach a two foot butt section of forty pound mono, which is then attached to the fly line. If you're making your own tapered leaders, it's most important that you use the same brand of mono, do not mix the makes. Kent Sherrington of Burnley Lancashire, a very experienced angler, tied me up some leaders last year which proved excellent.
Today it's possible to buy wire which can be knotted, or crimped. I have used both, but I prefer using crimps. Make sure you buy a good wire crimping tool with good quality crimps. Fishing a venue where I expect big pike twenty pound plus, I have more confidence when using wire and crimps. In Wisconsin some of my muskie fisherman friends use a snap swivel which they attach to the wire with a crimp. The idea is certainly a good one from the viewpoint of quickly changing flies but after losing the odd fly in casting, I have my doubts about this method. Hewever those muskie anglers assure me its OK to use snap swivels. I feel the jury is still out on the subject of knots, snaps and crimps.
The one area where you don't need tapered leaders is when you're fishing sinking lines. I use leaders between two and seven feet in length, made up of fifteen pound to twenty pound breaking strain mono and a foot of twenty pound wire. I.e. To fish a big buoyant type of fly close to the bottom, I use just two feet of leader, this includes a foot of wire. If I were to use a six foot leader, the fly would be way off the bottom, so defeating the object of dragging the fly close to the bottom. The line I use is a Teeny 350 - 400 grain shooting head. This type of set-up can often bring a big fish to the net when all else fails. For all other sinking lines, I will usually use a six or seven foot length of 15lb mono and twelve inches of twenty pound wire with an Albright knot to join wire to mono. The length of leader depends on what depth I want to fish the flies, also the sinking rate of the line being used. As in all forms of angling, things can change, from day to day. It all depends on the water and weather conditions, you have to be prepared for these changes if you want results.
Look in any tackle catalogue or visit a big tackle store, and you will see many accessories available to the pike angler / fly fisher. Many of these items you don't need. I am going to list what I consider are essential. What you do need is a good pair of pliers, make sure they will cut wire cleanly, the last thing you want is the wired frayed, especially when you are using crimps. The pliers will also be needed to break down the barbs on your hooks. Having mentioned pliers, you can of course purchase a good pair of scissors for cutting twenty or forty strand wire. Buy a good pair, I get two or three years of excellent use from my scissors. Don't try cutting wire with your best fly dressing scissors.
Protect Your Eyes and See the Fish
Fly fishing for pike is often very visual, we are certainly the hunter after the hunted. I just love to fish clear water rivers, streams, lakes and canals where I can visually seek the quarry. When fishing most canals you will have to be on the bank just after dawn, as once the boats start moving the water will soon colour up. Hunting pike visually requires good quality polarised glasses. You should never go fly fishing without wearing some eye protection. You never know when a fly will strike your eye. I buy my glasses from Optilabs with my prescription lenses included. These glasses come with removable safety shields, adjustable sides and the lenses offer protection against UV. I find the glasses ideal for use in low light conditions, even up to an hour before dusk, they offer me some help in fish spotting. I have two pairs of glasses with different coloured lenses for different light conditions. For further details call 020-8686-5708.
Wearing a long peaked cap is a big advantage when used in conjunction with polarised glasses.
Some other items of Tackle
After many years of fly fishing for pike, I would say the biggest percentage of hooked fish have been hooked in the scissors, or just inside the mouth where the fly can be quickly removed. Occasionally the fly will be deep in the mouth, that's when you need a good pair of long handled forceps or needle nosed pliers. The heavy duty hookouts from Masterline dealers are excellent; they come in two sizes, eight and ten inches.
Where I do have a problem, is in the storing of my pike flies. I have tried plastic lure boxes, wallets, fly boxes, plastic bags and a smaller version of the tarpon anglers stretcher frame, the latter has at times proved most useful. I purchased my small size stretcher bar in the United States. It can hold about twenty two flies, it will fit in the large back pocket of a flyfishing vest.
To carry all my gear, I use a waterproof rucksack from Patagonia. It's big enough to carry everything I need, including my cameras and tape recorder. Most important of all, it doesn't cause me any problems with my casting.
Choose the best waders and jacket
Without doubt, I feel a good pair of stocking foot, chest high waders are an asset. I choose stocking foot waders as they are the best. I then buy a comfortable pair of wading boots. Chest waders will certainly help you catch a few more fish, often a big one, especially on rivers where it's possible to wade much of the area. My first pair of chest highs were neoprene, they were cumbersome, bulky and walking was often difficult - they were also useless in warm weather, it was like being in a Turkish bath. Then along came Simms who gave us Gortex waders. Without doubt, these breathable waders are excellent and the best. Light, comfortable, cool in summer and warm in winter. In 2001 Patagonia gave us breathable chest waders, with built in gravel guards, these are also excellent. A pair of these chest waders, topped off with a Patagonia SST jacket will certainly keep you dry and warm on the wettest of days.
Location Of Pike In Rivers
It doesn't matter how many hundreds of pounds you spend on tackle, if you don't have a knowledge of watercraft, then you're not going to catch many fish without a lot of luck or the services of a friend to act as a guide. We all get some luck, it's that type of pastime. But I try to make luck just a small percentage of my angling skills. I spend many hours at the waterside in summer when the rivers are low and gin clear making notes of the bottom formation, weed beds, snags, current speed and direction. I also make a special note of an area where fish are seen. Remember, pike love weeds and snags. Some river stretches these days have huge rocks dumped in the water to protect the river bank from erosion caused by floods. These are often good spots to find fish. The mouths of side streams also attract fish - more so if there is some overhead cover from willows, alders or some other trees. Areas of dead tree and other snags also prove attractive to the pike.
Some rivers in the north of England will have shallow areas of bed rock followed by a deep drop off. On sunny days you will often find the pike on the bedrock sunning themselves, or they can be found patrolling the deeper water at the drop-off where the bedrock ends. When you see flowing streamer weeds, pay careful attention to these areas. Pike can often be seen close to the weed or just under the weed. Don't pass up these areas, often a pike will be under the weed out of sight. I always fish hard in these areas, many times a pike has dived out from the weeds and grabbed my fly.
In areas of slow moving water, the inside of bends or bays with semi still water and lots of surface weed, I will spend quite a lot of time fishing these areas and my first choice pattern would be a frog pattern or a red tailed rat. It's surprising how much thick weed the pike will push through to grab your offering. Sometimes the fish will throw itself skywards, head shaking and gills flared as it grabs the fly. Why it does this I don't know but it's a very exciting form of fishing. You will sometimes come across an area of deep, dark looking water below a high bank, or with lots of trees, these are also good spots to try often throwing up a big fish.
Never neglect the shallow water, often over hung by grass or reeds tight to the bank. Stephen Ainscow was on a guided trip with me, walking three or four yards downstream to a point I had suggested he should fish, suddenly his reel screamed. The next minute a good double figure pike shot skywards, then crashed back in a shower of spray as it fought for it's freedom. Another thirty seconds later it had gone, throwing the fly back to Stephen with contempt. That pike had been lying up in about a foot of water, spotted Stephen's fly being dragged along the surface and grabbed it.
Pike Will Eat Static Flies
There are many times when a pike will follow the fly for some way, then leave it alone. If after three or four casts the pike continues this behaviour. I let the fly settle on the bottom. The pike will often come within an inch of the fly, then lay there watching it. Just as a cat does with a mouse. By gently moving the rod tip, a slight movement will be imparted into the fly. This often gets the pike a bit more interested. Then after a minute, or perhaps five minutes, the fish will move slowly forward and eat your fly. It's a most exciting form of fishing. As you stand there willing the fish to eat, your blood pressure quickly rises, as the adrenaline pumps through the body. I can guarantee your mouth will go dry, perspiration will run off your brow perhaps stinging your eyes - especially if the fish is a big one.
It's not only the pike that eat big flies. Trout, chub, grayling and perch will take them. Last week when I was guiding, I spotted half a dozen chub and suggested it was possible to catch them on a fly. Taking the clients rod, I flicked the Clouser Deep minnow towards midstream. Three chub investigated, one sucked the fly in, then immediately rejected it. As the fly swung in close to the bank, a big fish appeared and engulfed the fly. The strike connected with a powerful chub that moved off to midstream, I handed the rod to Stephen who enjoyed a few minutes having his string pulled. With no landing net, I waded out into the stream, where I gently lifted the chub in my arms then laid it on the soft grassy bank. It weighed in at 5-10-0.
A big brown trout will hit a big fly at dawn and dusk. Dusk is also a good time for big chub which will hit a red tailed rat savagely. Perch like a Clouser Deep minnow which they will strike during the brightest part of the day.
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