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How To Start Fly Fishing For Pike

Northern pike are a toothy critter that inhabit many lakes and some rivers in North America. They can grow to monstrous sizes, sometimes over 40 inches long.

Traditionally, pike have been caught with spinning gear using regular fishing tactics. They often eat large lures and big bait such as large minnows and chubs.

Fly fisherman can also target pike, and it can be an absolute blast. However, the gear you need is much more heavy duty than trout gear. Heavier rods, larger reels, and big flies will be necessary for hunting these fish with a fly rod.

This article will give you an idea of what gear you’ll need if you want to take your fly fishing game to the next level. It is actually less gear than you might think, and not nearly as involved as gearing up for trout fishing.

Pike on a fly can take thousands of casts to accomplish. You must be a strong willed angler and keep your hopes up even on tough days. It can take many outings before you put your fly in front of a willing pike. The best pike anglers are the ones who keep at it, despite the hard days.

Fly Rods For Pike

9 and 10 weight rods are most common for pike fly fishing. They allow you to throw large flies, and they are stout enough to fight these pike without breaking. A 9 weight is what I use here in Colorado, but if the pike where you live are really big – you may want a 10 weight.

Fast action rods are best for pike fishing. They need to be stiff enough to fight the fish effectively. The strong butt section helps with turning the pike so you can land them quicker.

Although you can buy premium 9 and 10 weight rods, I usually use budget rods for pike fishing. I don’t do it as often as trout fishing, so I couldn’t justify spending a bunch on a pike rod.

I have been fishing the Temple Fork Outfitters Pro II in a 9 foot 9 weight. It is a cheaper rod but it gets the job done. They’re only around $200 and they come with a lifetime warranty. For budget sticks, TFO does a great job. Check out the pro 2 rod below.

Fly Reels For Pike

You will definitely want a large arbor reel for this type of fishing. With each turn of the reel, you can retrieve more line than a standard arbor reel. This is necessary for maintaining the upper hand during the fight.

A high end drag isn’t super necessary, but it helps. Pike don’t generally run for extremely long distances, but you’ll need a drag that can put the brakes on the fish quickly. Most modern reel brands have drags that are very adequate.

My pike reel is a Lamson Speedster 3.5 – this translates to a 9 weight reel. It is quite large and would generally be used for saltwater fishing. Using this size of reel in freshwater isn’t very common, unless you’re going after big game species.

Fly Lines For Pike

There are many different options for pike fly lines. If the pike are in the shallows, you can use a full floating line. With a floating line, you’ll be throwing poppers or lightly weighted streamers. Pike spawn in the spring, so this is usually when you’ll find them up in the shallows. This makes them very easy to target because you can actually see them.

For summer and fall fishing, pike tend to move deeper into lakes. Sometimes reaching depths of 30 feet or more. For this scenario, I like a full sinking line. Rio’s mainstream full sink does the job just fine. Basically, the whole line is a sink tip. It has a level tungsten coating and sinks at 6-7 inches per second. When the fish are down deep, you can target them effectively with a full sinking fly line. Some manufacturers will only make up to an 8 weight in these lines. I have the 8 weight line on my 9 weight rod and it works pretty well. There is enough weight in the line to cast a 9 or 10 weight rod.

Flies For Pike

Every area will have their local favorites, but you can really get creative with pike flies. They will often go for crazy colors – red, yellow, pink, chartreuse. If your body of water has certain types of baitfish, you may want to imitate those. Perch imitations do well for lots of lakes.

If you’re not sure what to use, trying a crazy color pattern can work well. I have tied lots of variations of these, but my current favorite is red and yellow. It is just a slight variation of the Mark Engler pike fly. He is a legendary Colorado guide and he has caught tons of pike with a fly rod. This is an accomplishment that most fly fishers haven’t achieved. His pattern is simple and it’s super easy to tie. I used yellow EP fibers, red rabbit strip, and some silver flashabou. When tying pike flies, make sure to use glue for every step. You want the fly to be bombproof. After each material I tie in, I will add a dab of Wapsi’s Z-ment to lock it in.

You can get really realistic with your patterns, and many pike anglers do. Some flies look exactly like a perch or minnow, and they can work well. These flies are often tied with EP fibers and large eyes for a very realistic look.

However, I don’t think most pike are super concerned with fly patterns. Fishing for them is mostly about being in the right place at the right time. Although, some pressured fisheries can put the pike on edge. They can become very picky and lock jawed. It just depends on where you’re fishing.

Larger hooks are necessary for pike. I like to fish #1/0 and #2/0 sized hooks. You can even go bigger if you want to. You don’t want the hook wire to be too heavy, though. It is easier to sink a finer wire hook into a pikes mouth – since their mouths are so bony. Sometimes heavy hooks will pop out.

Leaders For Pike

There are many options here. If you are fishing a sinking line, you won’t want a full sized leader. Since the fly should be tracking at the same depth of the line, 2-3 feet of tippet works well.

For floating lines, you can definitely fish a full length leader. Some companies like Rio make leaders specifically for toothy critters. They are mostly nylon, but they have a wire section at the end. This wire section holds up way better against a pikes teeth.

If you can get away with incorporating wire into your leader system, I would. Some pike are wire shy, but most don’t care. This knot-able wire acts as insurance so the pike won’t break you off. Usually a 1-2 foot section at the end of the leader is all you need.

For my sinking line system, I run 35 lb fluorocarbon to 20 lb wire. This way, the only thing getting close to the pikes mouth is the wire – which is extremely bite resistant.

Some folks don’t prefer wire, and they’ll just run heavy fluorocarbon or nylon tippet. You can fish 40-80 lb fluorocarbon if you want to, most pike will not know the difference.

My local pike fishery has very pressured pike. It is a small lake with lots of traffic. This is why I have to run smaller leaders i.e. 20 lb wire. Colorado isn’t exactly known for it’s pike fishing, so where there’s pike – people go there a lot.

Tactics For Pike Fly Fishing

Since most pike live in lakes, using a boat makes it a lot easier to catch them. There are budget friendly options available, and many anglers use belly boats for this. With these, you can paddle around with your feet and fish at the same time.

Since I don’t have a motor boat, I use my fly fishing raft. I just row around my local lake and fish from the rowers seat.

Serious anglers will invest in fishing boats with motors, livewells, depth finders, etc. But this is not necessary for pike fishing.

The main thing is to understand the body of water you are fishing. Some questions to think about are:

  • How deep is the lake?
  • Where are the pike holding right now?
  • What food sources are available to the pike?
  • Are certain areas of the lake more productive?
  • Do I need a sinking fly line or can I get away with a floating line?
  • Where are the weed beds located?
  • Have I caught pike in this location before?

By understanding your pike fishery, you are more likely to catch pike. My local lake isn’t very deep, maybe 20 feet at the deepest point. The pike like to hang out on the bottom and ambush prey. As I’m covering water, I’m making sure to get my fly down deep. With a sinking fly line, counting down in your head is a great way to manage your depth. If you are using a type 6 line, it will sink roughly 6 inches per second. So, every 2 seconds your line has sunk a foot. I use the count down method a lot to make sure my fly is in the zone.

If you are fishing a lake in the spring or early summer, lots of pike will hang out in shallow bays and weed beds. Targeting these fish is easier because you can often see them. Presenting unweighted streamers or even poppers can entice a bite. By being able to see the pike in these bays, it takes the guess work out of the equation.

As the summer progresses, pike like to hang out on drop offs. This is where shallow water turns deep very quickly. This is often at the edges of bays or reefs. This 10-15 foot deep zone is where lots of pike are caught. By knowing where the drop offs are, you can cover these areas effectively. I still like to use a sinking line for this, but my “count down” will be less seconds. Pike are often dwelling here so they can ambush prey, and the water is a bit colder.

For late summer fishing, the pike will go even deeper into the water column. This is where the sinking line really shines, and it’s a lot of casting and hoping that a pike will bite. Late summer pike fishing can be frustrating because you’re not even sure if the pike are seeing your fly, or if you’re in the right location.

By having a floatable watercraft, you can cover water better and explore new areas. Pike fishing from the shore can work, but you are much more limited.