Guide to the correct set up for Pike on fly.
The concept of fly-fishing for pike is not a new one. Books written during the 19th century, and indeed earlier, describe the idea of luring our largest freshwater predator using hooks dressed with cocktails of fur and feather. Much more recently fly-fishing for pike has grown in popularity, not just as an alternative to the customary methods used by pike anglers, but also as a fresh challenge to an increasing number of sport-fly-fishers emerging from a more traditional game angling background.
The purpose of this guide is to assist anglers who are new to the sport in understanding the important role which pike have to play in a modern, well managed fishery. Also, to encourage the use of tackle and equipment which is appropriate to the task, and most importantly of all, to promote a better understanding of how pike may be handled in a way which minimises any chance of harm either to the fish or the angler.
Fact and Fiction
Scientific studies have shown that pike control their own numbers and that in a natural environment a balance exists between the ratio of predatory fish and their prey. From a fisheries management point of view the removal of pike is rarely necessary and should not be undertaken without expert advice.
A detailed summary of the evidence available can be found in the booklet Pike in Your Waters published by The Pike Anglers Club Of Gt.Britain.
The pike has a deserved reputation for being the most fearsome predator in our lakes, lochs and rivers. However, whilst they are certainly a highly evolved and efficient hunter, pike are also extremely delicate creatures which must be handled with care and respect.
Pike do not attack or kill for fun and will only eat to sustain themselves. They do not waste energy by chasing prey which is difficult to catch if an easier option exists. Pike are scavengers, and this is demonstrated perfectly by the number of specimen fish caught each year on dead fish baits. Often, they will target weak or dying fish - which explains why flies or lures designed to mimic these are so successful.
Rods, Reels and Lines
Fly fishing for pike demands the use of powerful rods in order to cast the heavy lines needed to present large flies. A 9 or 10 foot rod designed to cast a 10 weight fly line will also possess enough backbone to subdue large fish. Pike which landed and returned to the water quickly, and with the minimum amount of fuss, will recover much more quickly than fish which are played to a standstill on light tackle.
This is especially true in warm weather when oxygen levels are low, and in Trout waters where pike attain specimen size much more quickly but tend to have a shorter life span because of their bulk.
There is no place in modern angling for line class fishing where credit was once given for landing specimen fish on the lightest line possible.
Several manufactures now offer rods designed specifically for pike fly fishing, and the use of one of these is strongly recommended.
Casting large flies is made easier by the use of heavy lines, and special Pike taper lines with an exaggerated weight forward profile are now available. Another option is to use a shooting head, but whatever fly line you choose it is vital ensure that your reel can also hold at least 100 metres of good quality backing.
Pike are capable of making short but very fast runs, and so it is advisable to use a reel with a good drag system which will help to absorb any sudden lunge made by the fish.
Leaders and Tippets
When using large flies turnover is aided by the use of a relatively short leader and many pike fly fishermen use a leader of 2 metres (6 feet) or less. The choice between a tapered or level leader is largely a matter of personal preference. However, its breaking strain must be at least 12 lbs. and a leader with a breaking strain closer to 20 lbs. may prove to be more manageable.
When fishing for pike the use of a wire trace is essential at all times. Pike have extremely sharp teeth which will cut through other materials. Some have advocated the use of hard nylon monofilament in a heavy breaking strain, whilst conceding that occasional bite-offs were inevitable. This simply isn’t good enough as the range of different trace wires now available gives the pike fly fisherman a number of reliable options.
Nylon coated wires are easily fused with the naked flame from a cigarette lighter and. Uncoated wires constructed from as many as 49 strands are now available, and these are extremely supple and capable of being knotted.
Wire traces must be at least 12 inches long.
Leaders and wire tippets should be checked regularly for any signs of damage, especially after catching a fish. Any abrasions to the leader or signs of the wire having become kinked or frayed should result in immediate replacement.
Knots, Links and Swivels
Some anglers prefer to use a small swivel to connect the leader to the wire tippet, or some form of snap link to connect the fly to the trace. It is vital to make connections which will stand up to the riggers of repeated fly casting, and the strain of playing large fish. Snaps and swivels should be of the best quality you can obtain and should have a minimum breaking strain of 30 lbs. or more.
It is possible to use knots to make all the necessary connections. The leader should be connected to the fly line with a needle (or nail) knot and the wire tippet connected to the leader using an Albright special. Depending on your choice of wire, there are a number of methods by which you can attach the eye of a snap link or a hook to the wire tippet:
Nylon coated wire; twist melt (using a lighter to fuse the two ends together).
Single strand wire; Haywire twist.
Uncoated 7 strand wire; small double sleeved crimp, or series of twists.
Uncoated 49 strand wire, Pike fly wire or Braided wire; some can be knotted using Bowline knot, if in doubt use a small double sleeved crimp.
Most pike flies are tied on large single hooks. To aid unhooking, use barbless hooks. You can remove barbs by crushing them down with pliers or filing them flat. Some flies have a weed guard, which minimise the risk of snagging up in weedy water. Many saltwater fly patterns will catch pike. However, it is best to avoid stainless steel hooks as these will not rot away in the event that you unable to retrieve a fly.
A large landing net is vital. Although many pike anglers land their fish by hand, the length and flexibility of a fly rod makes this less practical for the fly fisherman. Round or pear-shaped nets should have a diameter of at least 30 inches. Alternatively, a bow framed triangular net with 42 inch arms may be used. The net should have a soft knotless mesh.
It is important to carry a pair of long nosed forceps for hook removal. Hook-out tools are a good alternative, and many pike anglers find that long nosed pliers give good purchase on the hook shank. In the event that a fish is awkwardly hooked, a pair of side cutters will enable the hook to be cut and removed in two pieces.
Once the pike is in the landing net, you may find that you can remove the hook without lifting the fish from the water. If you don’t intend to weigh or photograph the fish, it can then be released immediately from the net, thus removing the need for any unnecessary handling.
If you do remove the netted pike from the water, it must be prevented from damaging itself by thrashing about or slipping. In most circumstances an unhooking mat will be required to protect the fish whilst it is lay on the ground or in the bottom of a boat. As an alternative bubble wrap may be used, but on no account should the fish be laid upon a hard or rough surface.
With the pike lay on its back, kneel astride it to control its movement and then slip the fingers of your left hand under the gill cover. Taking care not to touch the gill rakers, slide your fingers forward until they rest on the inside of the pike’s lower jaw. Light upward pressure will encourage the fish to open its mouth so that the hook may be removed.
If desired the fish may be weighed and photographed before returning it to the water. Always use weigh slings - or an unhooking mat that doubles as a weigh sling. Never weigh a pike by suspending it from the scales by its chin. When taking photographs ensure the pike is kept under control and hold it close to the mat - just in case it slips.
Remember: Minimum Handling = Maximum Conservation.
When returning pike to the water it is important to support them in an upright position until they are ready to swim away. This can be done either by holding both flanks, or lightly gripping the wrist of the tail. Failure to support the fish until it has recovered can lead to phenomena known as gassing up. This occurs due to a build-up of lactic acid in the blood and will cause the fish to belly up. If the pike shows any signs of rolling onto its back, simply continue to support it until it can maintain itself in an upright position. You may well see that the fish is expelling bubbles from its mouth or gills and this is a good sign that it is correcting its natural buoyancy satisfactorily.
Don't Be Afraid to Ask
If you are having difficulty unhooking a pike, please do not be embarrassed to seek the assistance of another angler. We all have to start somewhere and there really is no substitute for practical experience. Likewise, if you see someone else in difficulty please offer whatever help is needed for the fish’s sake.
Personal and Public Safety
Always wear suitable eye protection when fly fishing.
Always wear a life jacket or buoyancy aid when going afloat.
Always be mindful of the presence of others; especially when casting.