I think it’s the teeth. When I was a kid, for fun whenever I caught a pike I’d keep it and cut the head off. Then I’d put the head on one of those ant piles you see. If other critters would stay away for a month or so I’d end up with a pike skull bleached white from the sun and picked clean from the ants.
Pike are apex predators in the water by me. A furious initial run adds sport with the added risk of cut fingers removing hooks from those toothy jaws. When a pikes mood is right; usually driven by weather, pursuing pike with a fly rod is awesome.
Catch pike with a fly rod – Heck Yes! I’ve found targeting pike requires a little shift from trout fishing, but pike will readily take a fly from above and below the water surface. Pike are ambush predators so with the right fly rod setup, you too can hold one of these toothy critters.
The Northern pike is an excellent fish to catch on a fly, but being a top-level predator, you need specific gear to reel them in. So, in this article, we’ll try and answer the question, can you catch pike on a fly?
The key to targeting pike is understanding what triggers the fish. Like I said, these are ambush predators. Northern pike use sight, time of day (temperature) and feel (vibrations), offer something up that serves these senses and you’ve got a receipt for success.
Sight, your fly is the key here. Match the hatch is what you hear, but with pike this means matching bait fish colors and other food items. Streamers, concentrate on greens, whites and silvers to match small bass and panfish. Pike flies have eyes, I really think this gives the pike a target to strike. An eight-inch bluegill is only going down a pike’s throat head first.
When it comes to top water flies, mice and big frog patterns are best bets. Brown mouse patterns with long black tails. For frogs look for a popper pattern in green with big legs that have action.
Time and temperature, mornings at sunrise and evenings at sunset have proven to be the best time for me. As the day warms pike tend to seek out cooler deeper waters. I’ve theorized that pike are nocturnal but I haven’t tried to fish them at night. Those big eyes would be perfect at night. Heck they look a lot like walleye.
Vibrations and feel, northern pike seem to have a better sense of feel. I’ve seen pike within feet of my boat slowly slick away if I accidentally bang on the boat. Word to the wise, be quiet, this has always helped for me. I know that when myself and the surroundings are quiet my concentration increases which allows me to sense things better – like a gentle strike.
To a lesser extent pike use their smell to detect predators, which for you and me means being careful with sunscreen, bug spray and gasoline. Try not to get these things on your equipment as it tends to spread on to flies and line. (source)
But for you to catch huge pike, your fly fishing setup needs to be sturdy but straightforward. After all, you will be fighting powerful pike all day long, and there is nothing more disappointing than your rod breaking when reeling in a pike. So, if you’re still not convinced that you can catch pike on a fly, please read on. Remember, the success of the trip will depend on the kind of gear you carry, so here are the best fishing equipment for catching pike:
Setting Up a Fly Rod for Pike
The predominate place you’ll catch pike is deeper in the water column. Additionally if you look at where a pike’s eyes are you’ll notice they’re on top of the skull. Meaning pike sulk in the depths looking up and to the side for a meal. Your fly rod setup needs to reliable get into the pikes vision.
My setup is a 9 weight, 9-foot fast action fly rod. I combine this with a decent reel. If you chase salmon, that reel is perfect. I wrote about those reels HERE.
What you load onto the reel is where things get specailized. A sinking fly line is going to work best. Sinking lines even if called out a sink tips have a sink rate measured in feet per second. (fps) I recommend a Type 3 sinking fly line. Specifically, Scientific Anglers sells a line called SONAR. The taper has the body (weight) shifted forward helping shoot big streamers out a bit easier.
When starting, buy a dedicated bite guard leader. It’s going to be expensive, but learning to tie a wire leader is going to slow down your learning curve.
A bite guard leader is going to have a section of HEAVY fluorocarbon leader at the end. (that attaches to fly) Tie a snap swivel on if you prefer or tie a surgeons loop to attach the streamer.
The rod you pick for catching pike can make or break your fishing trip; remember, you will be casting giant flies. A pike rod should be heavier than the ones used for catching trout in lakes and streams. The weight of the fly rod to target is between 7wt and 10wt, but the most versatile ones are 8wt and 9wt. But most anglers go for a 10wt fly rod because they can give you the extra power to cast giant pike flies. (source)
The length of the rod also matters a lot and for versatility; in fact, experts say that anything between 9 and 9.5 feet is perfect for pike fly fishing. (source) The big streamers require a fly rod with a longer length toss those wind resistant flies.
When picking an ideal reel for pike fly fishing, there are very few things you have to consider, and this includes:
- A reliable, smooth drag
- A reel for storing over 50 yards of backing and your fly line
Luckily, most fly reels on the market in the 7 wt to 10 wt range have these qualities. Remember, pike are strong for the initial run, but they rarely take you into the backing line. And if they do, then it will be for a brief period. After all, you will only be dealing with some short burst of speed, and when they relax, you can reel them in. (source)
Therefore, a reel that can accommodate a 50-yard line is perfect for pike fly fishing. Pike are known to tire themselves even without any pressure from the angler, and it’s pretty rare for this fish to take 30 yards of line. In fact, being a sprinter, they can tire after taking only 20 yards of line. (source)
Three factors need to be considered when selecting a fly line for pike;
- What type of water will you be fishing? If you think you’ll mostly be casting on lakes look for an intermediate sinking line. Your quarry is going to be a bit deeper in the water column and you’ve got to get the fly down to them.
If you’re fishing in moving water you might want to consider a full sink fly line. The current will lift the streamer requiring more weight to pull the streamer down.
Guide Recommended Tip: Scientific Anglers offers a Sonar Titan Sink Tip. The taper will help propel those big streamers out with ease.
- You’re fly rod action; if you’re like me (a weakling) and tend to like a slower action fly rod you may want to get a fly line with taper shifted towards the tip of the line. Some manufactures will call this a “shooting line”
Example picture below
- Finally, you really need to assess your casting skill. If you aren’t a strong caster, select a fly line two sizes up. This will help you cast to a point. Since you’re overloading the fly rod, if you attempt to cast beyond your ability by overpowering your casting stroke the cast IS going to fall apart.
The best plan when chasing pike is to set yourself up with at least two fly lines. Pike on a fly is all about getting the streamer DOWN into the depths where these toothy critters live. Full sinking if the fish are 15 feet or more down. Intermediate sinking fishs well from 3 to 15 feet down.
Leaders are crucial when it comes to trying to turn over large flies. Additionally, pike have lots of sharp, line breaking teeth.
Don’t skimp on the leader you’re using. Most pike leaders are made with a heavy 12-inch section of +50 lbs. fluorocarbon. This section is called the bite guard. Attached to the guard is an eight-foot section of tapered leader to turn over those big flies.
fly fishing, with most anglers preferring either monofilament or fluorocarbon leaders. Whichever leader you pick, make sure it’s about 5ft. long. Anything longer than 5ft can cause resistance in the water. (source)
Unfortunately, wire isn’t the right option for fly fishing. Wire tends to spoke pike, plus attaching a fly to the wire every time can be pretty challenging. So, most experienced anglers go for a heavy fluorocarbon.
I’m a big advocate of SA (I live in Michigan USA and SA is located here) They offer a leader called Toothy Fish Stealth Leader – https://www.scientificanglers.com/product/toothy-fish-stealth-leader
Big streamers are the name of the game. Pike are ambush predators, sitting and waiting for a meal big enough to attack. Your job is to offer a meal big enough to get it to strike.
It’s not uncommon for a streamer to push 12 inches in length.
Your best bet is to think about the bait fish in the waters you’re fishing. Small bass, bigger panfish and perch. Popular colors are greens, reds, and yellows. Size 4/0 to 6/0 is standard.
In summers, when the water is warm or in winter, you need smaller files. And that is because it’s easy for the pike to digest smaller prey under such harsh conditions, so they will always go for smaller baits.
Guide Tip: Read more about pike flies in this article: 11 Best Flies for Pike
Another rule to consider when picking the right flies is dark flies for dark days and bright flies for bright days. Dark flies mean less flashy and vice versa.
During brighter days, pike tend to notice more brilliant flashes, so using a more brilliant fly colors with silver and white.
The benefit of casting heavy fly line is you can feel the line load the rod. To increase the loading and add some distance you need to learn how to double haul. A haul is pulling on the line at the start of the forward cast to add line speed.
The best way to see this is to watch it.
Double hauls can be tricky for beginners, but you can perfect this technique with a bit of practice. Double hauling can help the line move faster in the air while tightening the loop. (source) After casting the line, you can either retrieve the bait slowly or quickly. In warm summers and winter, it’s always a great idea to retrieve it slowly.
Guide Tip and Picture Credit: My good buddy Dustin Harley is a guide in South Bend IN. Dustin runs Ripple Guide Service and was kind enough to provide a picture. Recommendation – Fish with Dustin, he puts fish in the net!
In most North American waters northern pike spawn in mid-April, usually around the full moon. The water temperature needs to be about 47 degrees to kick-off spawning activity. source – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_pike
Northern pike feed on fish; like panfish and small bass, amphibians (frogs and toads), small mammals like mice, voles, ducklings and snakes. Source – https://www.fws.gov/fisheries/freshwater-fish-of-america/northern_pike.html#:~:text=DIET%3A%20Northern%20pike%20feed%20on,a%20large%20female%20northern%20pike.
Perch make up a big part of a northern pike’s diet, in fact Minnesota is see decline in perch with pike being one of the contributors. source https://www.twincities.com/2021/10/16/minnesotas-perch-problem-dnr-says-theyre-declining-in-size-number/
The largest pike ever captured and measured was 120cm long. This pike was caught at Nimwegan, Netherlands by Stephan Gockel in 2013. Source IFGA – https://igfa.org/igfa-world-records-search/?search_type=CommonNameSummary&search_term_1=Pike%2C+northern
Can you catch pike on a fly? To repeat – Heck Yes! But to be successful, you need the right gear and use some of the tips above. Sight (fly colors), time (temperature) and feel (vibrations and stealth) to your advantage. Pike want a big meal and aren’t afraid to attack big flies.
- Britannica staff, Pike Fish, https://www.britannica.com/animal/pike-fish/ Accessed September 27, 2021
- Barry Reynolds, Mastering pike on the fly: strategies and techniques, https://books.google.co.ke/books?id=gQBUgvlH0UoC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Can+You+Catch+Pike+On+A+Fly%3F&hl=en&sa=X&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=Can%20You%20Catch%20Pike%20On%20A%20Fly%3F&f=false/ Accessed September 27, 2021
- Editor Ireland on the Fly, Get started fly fishing for pike, https://medium.com/ireland-on-the-fly/get-started-fly-fishing-for-pike-4ec79728a39a/ Accessed September 27, 2021
- Alan Hanna, Fly fishing for big pike, https://books.google.co.ke/books?id=EKtdFRvecq0C&printsec=frontcover&dq=pike+fly+fishing+lines&hl=en&sa=X&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=pike%20fly%20fishing%20lines&f=false/ Accessed September 27, 2021
- YouTube contributor, Orvis – fly casting lessons- the double haul, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d8idd4kgXY4/ Accessed September 27, 2021